"He soars on the wings of Divine love
"It is perhaps not an exaggeration to say that the verse and prose works
combined of St. John of the Cross form at once the most grandiose and the most
melodious spiritual canticle to which any one man has ever given utterance.
The most sublime of all the Spanish mystics, he soars aloft on the wings of
Divine love to heights known to hardly any of them. . . . True to the character of his
thought, his style is always forceful and energetic, even to a fault.
When we study his treatises—principally that great composite work known
as the Ascent of Mount Carmel and the Dark Night—we have the impression of a
mastermind that has scaled the heights of mystical science;and from their summit
looks down upon and dominates the plain below and the paths leading upward. . . .
Nowhere else, again, is he quite so appealingly human; for, though he is human
even in his loftiest and sublimest passages, his intermingling of philosophy with
mystical theology; makes him seem particularly so. These treatises are a wonderful
illustration of the theological truth that graced far from destroying nature, ennobles
and dignifies it, and of the agreement always found between the natural and the
supernatural—between the principles of sound reason and the sublimest
manifestations of Divine grace."
E. ALLISON PEERS
OF THE SOUL
Saint John of the Cross
DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH
THIRD REVISED EDITION
Translated and edited, with an Introduction,
by E. ALLISON PEERS
from the critical edition of
P. SILVERIO DE SANTA TERESA, C.D.
A Division of Doubleday & Company, Inc.
Garden City, New York
IMAGE BOOKS EDITION 1959
by special arrangement with The Newman Press
Image Books edition published February 1959
1st printing January 1959
Electronic edition scanned by Harry Plantinga, 1994
This electronic text is in the public domain.
NIHIL OBSTAT: GEORGIVS SMITH, S.T.D, PH.D.
IMPRIMATVR: E. MORROGH BERNARD
WESTMONASTERII: DIE XXIV SEPTEMBRIS MCMLII
DISCALCED CARMELITES OF CASTILE,
WITH ABIDING MEMORIES OF THEIR HOSPITALITY AND KINDNESS
IN MADRID, ÁVILA AND BURGOS,
BUT ABOVE ALL OF THEIR DEVOTION TO
SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS,
I DEDICATE THIS TRANSLATION
PREFACE TO THE ELECTRONIC EDITION
TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION
TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL
CHAPTER I.—Sets down the first line and begins to treat of the imperfections of
CHAPTER II.—Of certain spiritual imperfections which beginners have with
respect to the habit of pride
CHAPTER III.—Of some imperfections which some of these souls are apt to have,
with respect to the second capital sin, which is avarice, in the spiritual sense
CHAPTER IV.—Of other imperfections which these beginners are apt to have with
respect to the third sin, which is luxury
CHAPTER V.—Of the imperfections into which beginners fall with respect to the
sin of wrath
CHAPTER VI.—Of imperfections with respect to spiritual gluttony
CHAPTER VII.—Of imperfections with respect to spiritual envy and sloth
CHAPTER VIII.—Wherein is expounded the first line of the first stanza, and a
beginning is made of the explanation of this dark night
CHAPTER IX.—Of the signs by which it will be known that the spiritual person is
walking along the way of this night and purgation of sense
CHAPTER X.—Of the way in which these souls are to conduct themselves in this
CHAPTER XI.—Wherein are expounded the three lines of the stanza
CHAPTER XII.—Of the benefits which this night causes in the soul
CHAPTER XIII.—Of other benefits which this night of sense causes in the soul
CHAPTER XIV.—Expounds this last verse of the first stanza
CHAPTER I.—Which begins to treat of the dark night of the spirit and says at what
time it begins
CHAPTER II.—Describes other imperfections which belong to these proficients
CHAPTER III.—Annotation for that which follows
CHAPTER IV.—Sets down the first stanza and the exposition thereof
CHAPTER V.—Sets down the first line and begins to explain how this dark
contemplation is not only night for the soul but is also grief and purgation
CHAPTER VI.—Of other kinds of pain that the soul suffers in this night
CHAPTER VII.—Continues the same matter and considers other afflictions and
constraints of the will
CHAPTER VIII.—Of other pains which afflict the soul in this state
CHAPTER IX.—How, although this night brings darkness to the spirit, it does so in
order to illumine it and give it light
CHAPTER X.—Explains this purgation fully by a comparison
CHAPTER XI.—Begins to explain the second line of the first stanza. Describes how,
as the fruit of these rigorous constraints, the soul finds itself with the
vehement passion of Divine love
CHAPTER XII.—Shows how this horrible night is purgatory, and how in it the
Divine wisdom illumines men on earth with the same illumination that
purges and illumines the angels in Heaven
CHAPTER XIII.—Of other delectable effects which are wrought in the soul by this
dark night of contemplation
CHAPTER XIV.—Wherein are set down and explained the last three lines of the
CHAPTER XV.—Sets down the second stanza and its exposition
CHAPTER XVI.—Explains how, though in darkness, the soul walks securely
CHAPTER XVII.—Explains how this dark contemplation is secret
CHAPTER XVIII.—Explains how this secret wisdom is likewise a ladder
CHAPTER XIX.—Begins to explain the ten steps of the mystic ladder of Divine love,
according to Saint Bernard and Saint Thomas. The first five are here treated
CHAPTER XX.—Wherein are treated the other five steps of love
CHAPTER XXI.—Which explains this word 'disguised,' and describes the colours of
the disguise of the soul in this night
CHAPTER XXII.—Explains the third line of the second stanza
CHAPTER XXIII.—Expounds the fourth line and describes the wondrous hidingplace
wherein the soul is set during this night. Shows how, although the devil
has an entrance into other places that are very high, he has none into this
CHAPTER XXIV.—Completes the explanation of the second stanza
CHAPTER XXV.—Wherein is expounded the third stanza
PREFACE TO THE ELECTRONIC EDITION
This electronic edition (v 0.9) has been scanned from an uncopyrighted 1959
Image Books third edition of the Dark Night and is therefore in the public domain.
The entire text except for the translator's preface and some of the footnotes have
been reproduced. Nearly 400 footnotes (and parts of footnotes) describing variations
among manuscripts have been omitted. Page number references in the footnotes
have been changed to chapter and section where possible. This edition has been
proofread once, but additional errors may remain. The translator's preface to the
first and second editions may be found with the electronic edition of Ascent of Mount
University of Pittsburgh
July 19, 1994.
A.V.—Authorized Version of the Bible (1611).
D.V.—Douai Version of the Bible (1609).
C.W.S.T.J.—The Complete Works of Saint Teresa of Jesus, translated and edited by
E. Allison Peers from the critical edition of P. Silverio de Santa Teresa, C.D.
London, Sheed and Ward, 1946. 3 vols.
H.—E. Allison Peers: Handbook to the Life and Times of St. Teresa and St. John of
the Cross. London, Burns Oates and Washbourne, 1953.
LL.—The Letters of Saint Teresa of Jesus, translated and edited by E. Allison Peers
from the critical edition of P. Silverio de Santa Teresa, C.D. London, Burns
Oates and Washbourne, 1951. 2 vols.
N.L.M.—National Library of Spain (Biblioteca Nacional), Madrid.
Obras (P. Silv.)—Obras de San Juan de la Cruz, Doctor de la Iglesia, editadas y
anotadas por el P. Silverio de Santa Teresa, C.D. Burgos, 1929-31. 5 vols.
S.S.M.—E. Allison Peers: Studies of the Spanish Mystics. Vol. I, London, Sheldon
Press, 1927; 2nd ed., London, S.P.C.K., 1951. Vol. II, London, Sheldon Press,
Sobrino.—Jose Antonio de Sobrino, S.J.: Estudios sobre San Juan de la Cruz y
nuevos textos de su obra. Madrid, 1950.
DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL
SOMEWHAT reluctantly, out of respect for a venerable tradition, we publish the
Dark Night as a separate treatise, though in reality it is a continuation of the Ascent
of Mount Carmel and fulfils the undertakings given in it:
The first night or purgation is of the sensual part of the soul, which is
treated in the present stanza, and will be treated in the first part of this book.
And the second is of the spiritual part; of this speaks the second stanza,
which follows; and of this we shall treat likewise, in the second and the third
part, with respect to the activity of the soul; and in the fourth part, with
respect to its passivity.1
This 'fourth part' is the Dark Night. Of it the Saint writes in a passage which
follows that just quoted:
And the second night, or purification, pertains to those who are already
proficient, occurring at the time when God desires to bring them to the state
of union with God. And this latter night is a more obscure and dark and
terrible purgation, as we shall say afterwards.2
In his three earlier books he has written of the Active Night, of Sense and of
Spirit; he now proposes to deal with the Passive Night, in the same order. He has
already taught us how we are to deny and purify ourselves with the ordinary help of
grace, in order to prepare our senses and faculties for union with God through love.
He now proceeds to explain, with an arresting freshness, how these same senses
and faculties are purged and purified by God with a view to the same end—that of
union. The combined description of the two nights completes the presentation of
active and passive purgation, to which the Saint limits himself in these treatises,
although the subject of the stanzas which he is glossing is a much wider one,
comprising the whole of the mystical life and ending only with the Divine embraces
of the soul transformed in God through love.
The stanzas expounded by the Saint are taken from the same poem in the two
treatises. The commentary upon the second, however, is very different from that
upon the first, for it assumes a much more advanced state of development. The
Active Night has left the senses and faculties well prepared, though not completely
prepared, for the reception of Divine influences and illuminations in greater
abundance than before. The Saint here postulates a principle of dogmatic theology—
that by himself, and with the ordinary aid of grace, man cannot attain to that
degree of purgation which is essential to his transformation in God. He needs
Divine aid more abundantly. 'However greatly the soul itself labours,' writes the
Saint, 'it cannot actively purify itself so as to be in the least degree prepared for the
Divine union of perfection of love, if God takes not its hand and purges it not in that
1Ascent, Bk. I, chap. i, § 2.
2Op, cit., § 3.
3Dark Night, Bk. 1, chap. iii, § 3.
The Passive Nights, in which it is God Who accomplishes the purgation, are
based upon this incapacity. Souls 'begin to enter' this dark night
when God draws them forth from the state of beginners—which is the
state of those that meditate on the spiritual road—and begins to set them in
the state of progressives—which is that of those who are already
contemplatives—to the end that, after passing through it, they may arrive at
the state of the perfect, which is that of the Divine union of the soul with
Before explaining the nature and effects of this Passive Night, the Saint touches, in
passing, upon certain imperfections found in those who are about to enter it and
which it removes by the process of purgation. Such travellers are still untried
proficients, who have not yet acquired mature habits of spirituality and who
therefore still conduct themselves as children. The imperfections are examined one
by one, following the order of the seven deadly sins, in chapters (ii-viii) which once
more reveal the author's skill as a director of souls. They are easy chapters to
understand, and of great practical utility, comparable to those in the first book of
the Ascent which deal with the active purgation of the desires of sense.
In Chapter viii, St. John of the Cross begins to describe the Passive Night of
the senses, the principal aim of which is the purgation or stripping of the soul of its
imperfections and the preparation of it for fruitive union. The Passive Night of
Sense, we are told, is 'common' and 'comes to many,' whereas that of Spirit 'is the
portion of very few.'5 The one is 'bitter and terrible' but 'the second bears no
comparison with it,' for it is 'horrible and awful to the spirit.'6 A good deal of
literature on the former Night existed in the time of St. John of the Cross and he
therefore promises to be brief in his treatment of it. Of the latter, on the other hand,
he will 'treat more fully . . . since very little has been said of this, either in speech or
in writing, and very little is known of it, even by experience.'7
Having described this Passive Night of Sense in Chapter viii, he explains
with great insight and discernment how it may be recognized whether any given
aridity is a result of this Night or whether it comes from sins or imperfections, or
from frailty or lukewarmness of spirit, or even from indisposition or 'humours' of the
body. The Saint is particularly effective here, and we may once more compare this
chapter with a similar one in the Ascent (II, xiii)—that in which he fixes the point
where the soul may abandon discursive meditation and enter the contemplation
which belongs to loving and simple faith.
Both these chapters have contributed to the reputation of St. John of the
Cross as a consummate spiritual master. And this not only for the objective value of
his observations, but because, even in spite of himself, he betrays the sublimity of
his own mystical experiences. Once more, too, we may admire the crystalline
transparency of his teaching and the precision of the phrases in which he clothes it.
To judge by his language alone, one might suppose at times that he is speaking of
mathematical, rather than of spiritual operations.
In Chapter x, the Saint describes the discipline which the soul in this Dark
Night must impose upon itself; this, as might be logically deduced from the Ascent,
consists in 'allowing the soul to remain in peace and quietness,' content 'with a
4Op. cit., Bk. I, chap. i, § 1.
5Dark Night, Bk. 1, chap. viii, § 1.
6Op. cit., Bk. I, chap. viii, § 2.
peaceful and loving attentiveness toward God.'8 Before long it will experience
enkindlings of love (Chapter xi), which will serve to purify its sins and imperfections
and draw it gradually nearer to God; we have here, as it were, so many stages of the
ascent of the Mount on whose summit the soul attains to transforming union.
Chapters xii and xiii detail with great exactness the benefits that the soul receives
from this aridity, while Chapter xiv briefly expounds the last line of the first stanza
and brings to an end what the Saint desires to say with respect to the first Passive
At only slightly greater length St. John of the Cross describes the Passive
Night of the Spirit, which is at once more afflictive and more painful than those
which have preceded it. This, nevertheless, is the Dark Night par excellence, of
which the Saint speaks in these words: 'The night which we have called that of
sense may and should be called a kind of correction and restraint of the desire
rather than purgation. The reason is that all the imperfections and disorders of the
sensual part have their strength and root in the spirit, where all habits, both good
and bad, are brought into subjection, and thus, until these are purged, the
rebellions and depravities of sense cannot be purged thoroughly.'9
Spiritual persons, we are told, do not enter the second night immediately
after leaving the first; on the contrary, they generally pass a long time, even years,
before doing so,10 for they still have many imperfections, both habitual and actual
(Chapter ii). After a brief introduction (Chapter iii), the Saint describes with some
fullness the nature of this spiritual purgation or dark contemplation referred to in
the first stanza of his poem and the varieties of pain and affliction caused by it,
whether in the soul or in its faculties (Chapters iv-viii). These chapters are brilliant
beyond all description; in them we seem to reach the culminating point of their
author's mystical experience; any excerpt from them would do them an injustice. It
must suffice to say that St. John of the Cross seldom again touches those same
heights of sublimity.
Chapter ix describes how, although these purgations seem to blind the spirit,
they do so only to enlighten it again with a brighter and intenser light, which it is
preparing itself to receive with greater abundance. The following chapter makes the
comparison between spiritual purgation and the log of wood which gradually
becomes transformed through being immersed in fire and at last takes on the fire's
own properties. The force with which the familiar similitude is driven home
impresses indelibly upon the mind the fundamental concept of this most sublime of
all purgations. Marvellous, indeed, are its effects, from the first enkindlings and
burnings of Divine love, which are greater beyond comparison than those produced
by the Night of Sense, the one being as different from the other as is the body from
the soul. 'For this (latter) is an enkindling of spiritual love in the soul, which, in the
midst of these dark confines, feels itself to be keenly and sharply wounded in strong
Divine love, and to have a certain realization and foretaste of God.'11 No less
wonderful are the effects of the powerful Divine illumination which from time to
time enfolds the soul in the splendours of glory. When the effects of the light that
wounds and yet illumines are combined with those of the enkindlement that melts
the soul with its heat, the delights experienced are so great as to be ineffable.
The second line of the first stanza of the poem is expounded in three
admirable chapters (xi-xiii), while one short chapter (xiv) suffices for the three lines
remaining. We then embark upon the second stanza, which describes the soul's
8Dark Night, Bk. I, chap. x, § 4.
9Op. cit., Bk. II, chap. iii, § 1.
10Op. cit., Bk. II, chap. i, § 1.
11Dark Night, Bk. II, chap. xi, § 1.
security in the Dark Night—due, among other reasons, to its being freed 'not only
from itself, but likewise from its other enemies, which are the world and the devil.'12
This contemplation is not only dark, but also secret (Chapter xvii), and in
Chapter xviii is compared to the 'staircase' of the poem. This comparison suggests to
the Saint an exposition (Chapters xviii, xix) of the ten steps or degrees of love which
comprise St. Bernard's mystical ladder. Chapter xxi describes the soul's 'disguise,'
from which the book passes on (Chapters xxii, xxiii) to extol the 'happy chance'
which led it to journey 'in darkness and concealment' from its enemies, both without
Chapter xxiv glosses the last line of the second stanza—'my house being now
at rest.' Both the higher and the lower 'portions of the soul' are now tranquillized
and prepared for the desired union with the Spouse, a union which is the subject
that the Saint proposed to treat in his commentary on the five remaining stanzas.
As far as we know, this commentary was never written. We have only the briefest
outline of what was to have been covered in the third, in which, following the same
effective metaphor of night, the Saint describes the excellent properties of the
spiritual night of infused contemplation, through which the soul journeys with no
other guide or support, either outward or inward, than the Divine love 'which
burned in my heart.'
It is difficult to express adequately the sense of loss that one feels at the
premature truncation of this eloquent treatise.13 We have already given our
opinion14 upon the commentaries thought to have been written on the final stanzas
of the 'Dark Night.' Did we possess them, they would explain the birth of the light—
'dawn's first breathings in the heav'ns above'—which breaks through the black
darkness of the Active and the Passive Nights; they would tell us, too, of the soul's
further progress towards the Sun's full brightness. It is true, of course, that some
part of this great gap is filled by St. John of the Cross himself in his other treatises,
but it is small compensation for the incomplete state in which he left this edifice of
such gigantic proportions that he should have given us other and smaller buildings
of a somewhat similar kind. Admirable as are the Spiritual Canticle and the Living
Flame of Love, they are not so completely knit into one whole as is this great double
treatise. They lose both in flexibility and in substance through the closeness with
which they follow the stanzas of which they are the exposition. In the Ascent and
the Dark Night, on the other hand, we catch only the echoes of the poem, which are
all but lost in the resonance of the philosopher's voice and the eloquent tones of the
preacher. Nor have the other treatises the learning and the authority of these.
Nowhere else does the genius of St. John of the Cross for infusing philosophy into
his mystical dissertations find such an outlet as here. Nowhere else, again, is he
quite so appealingly human; for, though he is human even in his loftiest and
sublimest passages, this intermingling of philosophy with mystical theology makes
him seem particularly so. These treatises are a wonderful illustration of the
theological truth that grace, far from destroying nature, ennobles and dignifies it,
and of the agreement always found between the natural and the supernatural—
between the principles of sound reason and the sublimest manifestations of Divine
MANUSCRIPTS OF THE DARK NIGHT
12Dark Night, Bk. II, chap. xvi, § 2.
13[On this, see Sobrino, pp. 159-66.]
14Cf. pp. lviii-lxiii, Ascent of Mount Carmel (Image Books edition).
The autograph of the Dark Night, like that of the Ascent of Mount Carmel, is
unknown to us: the second seems to have disappeared in the same period as the
first. There are extant, however, as many as twelve early copies of the Dark Night,
some of which, though none of them is as palaeographically accurate as the best
copy of the Ascent, are very reliable; there is no trace in them of conscious
adulteration of the original or of any kind of modification to fit the sense of any
passage into a preconceived theory. We definitely prefer one of these copies to the
others but we nowhere follow it so literally as to incorporate in our text its evident
discrepancies from its original.
MS. 3,446. An early MS. in the clear masculine hand of an Andalusian: MS.
3,446 in the National Library, Madrid. Like many others, this MS. was transferred
to the library from the Convento de San Hermenegildo at the time of the religious
persecutions in the early nineteenth century; it had been presented to the Archives
of the Reform by the Fathers of Los Remedios, Seville—a Carmelite house founded
by P. Grecián in 1574. It has no title and a fragment from the Living Flame of Love
is bound up with it.
This MS. has only two omissions of any length; these form part respectively of
Book II, Chapters xix and xxiii, dealing with the Passive Night of the Spirit. It has
many copyist's errors. At the same time, its antiquity and origin, and the good faith
of which it shows continual signs, give it, in our view, primacy over the other copies
now to come under consideration. It must be made clear, nevertheless, that there is
no extant copy of the Dark Night as trustworthy and as skilfully made as the
Alcaudete MS. of the Ascent.
MS. of the Carmelite Nuns of Toledo. Written in three hands, all early. Save
for a few slips of the copyist, it agrees with the foregoing; a few of its errors have
been corrected. It bears no title, but has a long sub-title which is in effect a partial
summary of the argument.
MS. of the Carmelite Nuns of Valladolid. This famous convent, which was one
of St. Teresa's foundations, is very rich in Teresan autographs, and has also a
number of important documents relating to St. John of the Cross, together with
some copies of his works. That here described is written in a large, clear hand and
probably dates from the end of the sixteenth century. It has a title similar to that of
the last-named copy. With few exceptions it follows the other most important MSS.
MS. Alba de Tormes. What has been said of this in the introduction to the
Ascent (Image Books edition, pp. 6-7) applies also to the Dark Night. It is complete,
save for small omissions on the part of the amanuensis, the 'Argument' at the
beginning of the poem, the verses themselves and a few lines from Book II, Chapter
MS. 6,624. This copy is almost identical with the foregoing. It omits the
'Argument' and the poem itself but not the lines from Book II, Chapter vii.
MS. 8,795. This contains the Dark Night, Spiritual Canticle, Living Flame of
Love, a number of poems by St. John of the Cross and the Spiritual Colloquies
between Christ and the soul His Bride. It is written in various hands, all very early
and some feminine. A note by P. Andrés de la Encarnación, on the reverse of the
first folio, records that the copy was presented to the Archives of the Reform by the
Discalced Carmelite nuns of Baeza. This convent was founded in 1589, two years
before the Saint's death, and the copy may well date from about this period. On the
second folio comes the poem 'I entered in—I knew not where.' On the reverse of the
third folio begins a kind of preface to the Dark Night, opening with the words:
'Begin the stanzas by means of which a soul may occupy itself and become fervent in
the love of God. It deals with the Dark Night and is divided into two books. The first
treats of the purgation of sense, and the second of the spiritual purgation of man. It
was written by P. Fr. Juan de la Cruz, Discalced Carmelite.' On the next folio, a so14
called 'Preface: To the Reader' begins: 'As a beginning and an explanation of these
two purgations of the Dark Night which are to be expounded hereafter, this chapter
will show how narrow is the path that leads to eternal life and how completely
detached and disencumbered must be those that are to enter thereby.' This
fundamental idea is developed for the space of two folios. There follows a sonnet on
the Dark Night,15 and immediately afterwards comes the text of the treatise.
The copy contains many errors, but its only omission is that of the last
chapter. There is no trace in it of any attempt to modify its original; indeed, the very
nature and number of the copyist's errors are a testimony to his good faith.
MS. 12,658. A note by P. Andrés states that he acquired it in Madrid but has
no more detailed recollection of its provenance. 'The Dark Night,' it adds, 'begins on
folio 43; our holy father is described simply as ''the second friar of the new
Reformation,"16 which is clear evidence of its antiquity.'
The Codex contains a number of opuscules, transcribed no doubt with a
devotional aim by the copyist. Its epoch is probably the end of the sixteenth century;
it is certainly earlier than the editions. There is no serious omission except that of
six lines of the 'Argument.' The authors of the other works copied include St.
Augustine, B. Juan de Ávila, P. Baltasar Álvarez and P. Tomás de Jesús.
The copies which remain to be described are all mutilated or abbreviated and
can be disposed of briefly:
MS. 13,498. This copy omits less of the Dark Night than of the Ascent but few
pages are without their omissions. In one place a meticulous pair of scissors has
removed the lower half of a folio on which the Saint deals with spiritual luxury.
MS. of the Carmelite Friars of Toledo. Dates from early in the seventeenth
century and has numerous omissions, especially in the chapters on the Passive
Night of the Spirit. The date is given (in the same hand as that which copies the
title) as 1618. This MS. also contains an opuscule by Suso and another entitled
'Brief compendium of the most eminent Christian perfection of P. Fr. Juan de la
MS. 18,160. The copyist has treated the Dark Night little better than the
Ascent; except from the first ten and the last three chapters, he omits freely.
MS. 12,411. Entitled by its copyist 'Spiritual Compendium,' this MS. contains
several short works of devotion, including one by Ruysbroeck. Of St. John of the
Cross's works it copies the Spiritual Canticle as well as the Dark Night; the latter is
headed: 'Song of one soul alone.' It also contains a number of poems, some of them
by the Saint, and many passages from St. Teresa. It is in several hands, all of the
seventeenth century. The copy of the Dark Night is most unsatisfactory; there are
omissions and abbreviations everywhere.
M.S. of the Carmelite Nuns of Pamplona. This MS. also omits and abbreviates
continually, especially in the chapters on the Passive Night of Sense, which are
reduced to a mere skeleton.
15[It contains a series of paradoxical statements, after the style of those in Ascent, Bk. I, chap. xiii,
and is of no great literary merit. P. Silverio reproduces it in Spanish on p. 302 (note) of his first
16The 'first friar' would be P. Antonio de Jesús, who was senior to St. John of the Cross in the
Carmelite Order, though not in the Reform.
Editio princeps. This is much more faithful to its original in the Dark Night
than in the Ascent. Both the passages suppressed17 and the interpolations18 are
relatively few and unimportant. Modifications of phraseology are more frequent and
alterations are also made with the aim of correcting hyperbaton. In the first book
about thirty lines are suppressed; in the second, about ninety. All changes which are
of any importance have been shown in the notes.
The present edition. We have given preference, as a general rule, to MS.
3,446, subjecting it, however, to a rigorous comparison with the other copies.
Mention has already been made in the introduction to the Ascent (Image Books
edition, pp. lxiii-lxvi) of certain apparent anomalies and a certain lack of uniformity
in the Saint's method of dividing his commentaries. This is nowhere more noticeable
than in the Dark Night. Instead of dividing his treatise into books, each with its
proper title, the Saint abandons this method and uses titles only occasionally. As
this makes comprehension of his argument the more difficult, we have adopted the
divisions which were introduced by P. Salablanca and have been copied by
M. Baruzi (Bulletin Hispanique, 1922, Vol. xxiv, pp. 18-40) complains that
this division weighs down the spiritual rhythm of the treatise and interrupts its
movement. We do not agree. In any case, we greatly prefer the gain of clarity, even
if the rhythm occasionally halts, to the other alternative—the constant halting of
the understanding. We have, of course, indicated every place where the title is
taken from the editio princeps and was not the work of the author.
The following abbreviations are adopted in the footnotes:
A = MS. of the Discalced Carmelite Friars of Alba.
B = MS. 6,624 (National Library, Madrid).
Bz. = MS. 8,795 (N.L.M.).
C = MS. 13,498 (N.L.M.).
G = MS. 18,160 (N.L.M.).
H = MS. 3,446 (N.L.M.).
M = MS. of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Toledo.
Mtr. = MS. 12,658.
P = MS. of the Discalced Carmelite Friars of Toledo.
V = MS. of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Valladolid.
E.p. = Editio princeps (1618).
MS. 12,411 and the MS. of the Discalced Carmelite nuns of Pamplona are
cited without abbreviations.
17The longest of these are one of ten lines in Bk. I, chap. iv, [in the original] and those of Bk. II,
chaps. vii, viii, xii, xiii, which vary from eleven to twenty-three lines. Bk. II, chap. xxiii, has also
18The chief interpolation is in Bk. I, chap. x.
Exposition of the stanzas describing the method followed by the soul in its journey
upon the spiritual road to the attainment of the perfect union of love with God, to the
extent that is possible in this life. Likewise are described the properties belonging to
the soul that has attained to the said perfection, according as they are contained in
the same stanzas.
IN this book are first set down all the stanzas which are to be expounded;
afterwards, each of the stanzas is expounded separately, being set down before its
exposition; and then each line is expounded separately and in turn, the line itself
also being set down before the exposition. In the first two stanzas are expounded the
effects of the two spiritual purgations: of the sensual part of man and of the
spiritual part. In the other six are expounded various and wondrous effects of the
spiritual illumination and union of love with God.
STANZAS OF THE SOUL
1. On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings—oh, happy
I went forth without being observed, My house being now at
2. In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised—oh,
In darkness and in concealment, My house being now at rest.
3. In the happy night, In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught, Without light or guide, save that which
burned in my heart.
4. This light guided me More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me—
A place where none appeared.
5. Oh, night that guided me, Oh, night more lovely than the
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, Lover transformed in
6. Upon my flowery breast, Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him, And the fanning of
the cedars made a breeze.
7. The breeze blew from the turret As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand he wounded my neck And caused all my
senses to be suspended.
8. I remained, lost in oblivion; My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself, Leaving my cares forgotten
among the lilies.
Begins the exposition of the stanzas which treat of the way and manner
which the soul follows upon the road of the union of love with God.
Before we enter upon the exposition of these stanzas, it is well to understand
here that the soul that utters them is now in the state of perfection, which is the
union of love with God, having already passed through severe trials and straits, by
means of spiritual exercise in the narrow way of eternal life whereof Our Saviour
speaks in the Gospel, along which way the soul ordinarily passes in order to reach
this high and happy union with God. Since this road (as the Lord Himself says
likewise) is so strait, and since there are so few that enter by it,19 the soul considers
it a great happiness and good chance to have passed along it to the said perfection of
love, as it sings in this first stanza, calling this strait road with full propriety 'dark
night,' as will be explained hereafter in the lines of the said stanza. The soul, then,
rejoicing at having passed along this narrow road whence so many blessings have
come to it, speaks after this manner.
BOOK THE FIRST
Which treats of the Night of Sense.
STANZA THE FIRST
On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings—oh, happy
I went forth without being observed, My house being now at
IN this first stanza the soul relates the way and manner which it followed in going
forth, as to its affection, from itself and from all things, and in dying to them all and
to itself, by means of true mortification, in order to attain to living the sweet and
delectable life of love with God; and it says that this going forth from itself and from
all things was a 'dark night,' by which, as will be explained hereafter, is here
understood purgative contemplation, which causes passively in the soul the
negation of itself and of all things referred to above.
2. And this going forth it says here that it was able to accomplish in the
strength and ardour which love for its Spouse gave to it for that purpose in the dark
contemplation aforementioned. Herein it extols the great happiness which it found
in journeying to God through this night with such signal success that none of the
three enemies, which are world, devil and flesh (who are they that ever impede this
road), could hinder it; inasmuch as the aforementioned night of purgative20
contemplation lulled to sleep and mortified, in the house of its sensuality, all the
19St. Matthew vii, 14.
20[More exactly: 'purificative.']
passions and desires with respect to their mischievous desires and motions. The
line, then, says:
On a dark night
Sets down the first line and begins to treat of the imperfections of beginners.
INTO this dark night souls begin to enter when God draws them forth from the
state of beginners—which is the state of those that meditate on the spiritual road—
and begins to set them in the state of progressives—which is that of those who are
already contemplatives—to the end that, after passing through it, they may arrive
at the state of the perfect, which is that of the Divine union of the soul with God.
Wherefore, to the end that we may the better understand and explain what night is
this through which the soul passes, and for what cause God sets it therein, it will be
well here to touch first of all upon certain characteristics of beginners (which,
although we treat them with all possible brevity, will not fail to be of service
likewise to the beginners themselves), in order that, realizing the weakness of the
state wherein they are, they may take courage, and may desire that God will bring
them into this night, wherein the soul is strengthened and confirmed in the virtues,
and made ready for the inestimable delights of the love of God. And, although we
may tarry here for a time, it will not be for longer than is necessary, so that we may
go on to speak at once of this dark night.
2. It must be known, then, that the soul, after it has been definitely converted
to the service of God, is, as a rule, spiritually nurtured and caressed by God, even as
is the tender child by its loving mother, who warms it with the heat of her bosom
and nurtures it with sweet milk and soft and pleasant food, and carries it and
caresses it in her arms; but, as the child grows bigger, the mother gradually ceases
caressing it, and, hiding her tender love, puts bitter aloes upon her sweet breast,
sets down the child from her arms and makes it walk upon its feet, so that it may
lose the habits of a child and betake itself to more important and substantial
occupations. The loving mother is like the grace of God, for, as soon as the soul is
regenerated by its new warmth and fervour for the service of God, He treats it in
the same way; He makes it to find spiritual milk, sweet and delectable, in all the
things of God, without any labour of its own, and also great pleasure in spiritual
exercises, for here God is giving to it the breast of His tender love, even as to a
3. Therefore, such a soul finds its delight in spending long periods—
perchance whole nights—in prayer; penances are its pleasures; fasts its joys; and its
consolations are to make use of the sacraments and to occupy itself in Divine things.
In the which things spiritual persons (though taking part in them with great
efficacy and persistence and using and treating them with great care) often find
themselves, spiritually speaking, very weak and imperfect. For since they are
moved to these things and to these spiritual exercises by the consolation and
pleasure that they find in them, and since, too, they have not been prepared for
them by the practice of earnest striving in the virtues, they have many faults and
imperfections with respect to these spiritual actions of theirs; for, after all, any
man's actions correspond to the habit of perfection attained by him. And, as these
persons have not had the opportunity of acquiring the said habits of strength, they
have necessarily to work like feebler children, feebly. In order that this may be seen
more clearly, and likewise how much these beginners in the virtues lacks with
respect to the works in which they so readily engage with the pleasure
aforementioned, we shall describe it by reference to the seven capital sins, each in
its turn, indicating some of the many imperfections which they have under each
heading; wherein it will be clearly seen how like to children are these persons in all
they do. And it will also be seen how many blessings the dark night of which we
shall afterwards treat brings with it, since it cleanses the soul and purifies it from
all these imperfections.
Of certain spiritual imperfections which beginners have with respect to the habit of
AS these beginners feel themselves to be very fervent and diligent in spiritual
things and devout exercises, from this prosperity (although it is true that holy
things of their own nature cause humility) there often comes to them, through their
imperfections, a certain kind of secret pride, whence they come to have some degree
of satisfaction with their works and with themselves. And hence there comes to
them likewise a certain desire, which is somewhat vain, and at times very vain, to
speak of spiritual things in the presence of others, and sometimes even to teach
such things rather than to learn them. They condemn others in their heart when
they see that they have not the kind of devotion which they themselves desire; and
sometimes they even say this in words, herein resembling the Pharisee, who
boasted of himself, praising God for his own good works and despising the
2. In these persons the devil often increases the fervour that they have and
the desire to perform these and other works more frequently, so that their pride and
presumption may grow greater. For the devil knows quite well that all these works
and virtues which they perform are not only valueless to them, but even become
vices in them. And such a degree of evil are some of these persons wont to reach
that they would have none appear good save themselves; and thus, in deed and
word, whenever the opportunity occurs, they condemn them and slander them,
beholding the mote in their brother's eye and not considering the beam which is in
their own;22 they strain at another's gnat and themselves swallow a camel.23
3. Sometimes, too, when their spiritual masters, such as confessors and
superiors, do not approve of their spirit and behavior (for they are anxious that all
they do shall be esteemed and praised), they consider that they do not understand
them, or that, because they do not approve of this and comply with that, their
confessors are themselves not spiritual. And so they immediately desire and
contrive to find some one else who will fit in with their tastes; for as a rule they
desire to speak of spiritual matters with those who they think will praise and
esteem what they do, and they flee, as they would from death, from those who
disabuse them in order to lead them into a safe road—sometimes they even harbour
ill-will against them. Presuming thus,24 they are wont to resolve much and
accomplish very little. Sometimes they are anxious that others shall realize how
spiritual and devout they are, to which end they occasionally give outward evidence
thereof in movements, sighs and other ceremonies; and at times they are apt to fall
21St. Luke xviii, 11-12.
22St. Matthew vii, 3.
23St. Matthew xxiii, 24.
into certain ecstasies, in public rather than in secret, wherein the devil aids them,
and they are pleased that this should be noticed, and are often eager that it should
be noticed more.25
4. Many such persons desire to be the favourites of their confessors and to
become intimate with them, as a result of which there beset them continual
occasions of envy and disquiet.26 They are too much embarrassed to confess their
sins nakedly, lest their confessors should think less of them, so they palliate them
and make them appear less evil, and thus it is to excuse themselves rather than to
accuse themselves that they go to confession. And sometimes they seek another
confessor to tell the wrongs that they have done, so that their own confessor shall
think they have done nothing wrong at all, but only good; and thus they always take
pleasure in telling him what is good, and sometimes in such terms as make it
appear to be greater than it is rather than less, desiring that he may think them to
be good, when it would be greater humility in them, as we shall say, to depreciate it,
and to desire that neither he nor anyone else should consider them of account.
5. Some of these beginners, too, make little of their faults, and at other times
become over-sad when they see themselves fall into them, thinking themselves to
have been saints already; and thus they become angry and impatient with
themselves, which is another imperfection. Often they beseech God, with great
yearnings, that He will take from them their imperfections and faults, but they do
this that they may find themselves at peace, and may not be troubled by them,
rather than for God's sake; not realizing that, if He should take their imperfections
from them, they would probably become prouder and more presumptuous still. They
dislike praising others and love to be praised themselves; sometimes they seek out
such praise. Herein they are like the foolish virgins, who, when their lamps could
not be lit, sought oil from others.27
6. From these imperfections some souls go on to develop28 many very grave
ones, which do them great harm. But some have fewer and some more, and some,
only the first motions thereof or little beyond these; and there are hardly any such
beginners who, at the time of these signs of fervour,29 fall not into some of these
errors.30 But those who at this time are going on to perfection proceed very
differently and with quite another temper of spirit; for they progress by means of
humility and are greatly edified, not only thinking naught of their own affairs, but
having very little satisfaction with themselves; they consider all others as far better,
and usually have a holy envy of them, and an eagerness to serve God as they do. For
the greater is their fervour, and the more numerous are the works that they
perform, and the greater is the pleasure that they take in them, as they progress in
humility, the more do they realize how much God deserves of them, and how little is
all that they do for His sake; and thus, the more they do, the less are they satisfied.
So much would they gladly do from charity and love for Him, that all they do seems
to them naught; and so greatly are they importuned, occupied and absorbed by this
loving anxiety that they never notice what others do or do not; or if they do notice it,
they always believe, as I say, that all others are far better than they themselves.
Wherefore, holding themselves as of little worth, they are anxious that others too
should thus hold them, and should despise and depreciate that which they do. And
further, if men should praise and esteem them, they can in no wise believe what
25[The original merely has: 'and are often eager.']
26[Lit., 'a thousand envies and disquietudes.']
27St. Matthew xxv, 8. [Lit., 'who, having their lamps dead, sought oil from without.']
28[Lit., 'to have.']
29[Lit., 'these fervours.']
30[Lit., 'into something of this.']
they say; it seems to them strange that anyone should say these good things of
7. Together with great tranquillity and humbleness, these souls have a deep
desire to be taught by anyone who can bring them profit; they are the complete
opposite of those of whom we have spoken above, who would fain be always
teaching, and who, when others seem to be teaching them, take the words from
their mouths as if they knew them already. These souls, on the other hand, being
far from desiring to be the masters of any, are very ready to travel and set out on
another road than that which they are actually following, if they be so commanded,
because they never think that they are right in anything whatsoever. They rejoice
when others are praised; they grieve only because they serve not God like them.
They have no desire to speak of the things that they do, because they think so little
of them that they are ashamed to speak of them even to their spiritual masters,
since they seem to them to be things that merit not being spoken of. They are more
anxious to speak of their faults and sins, or that these should be recognized rather
than their virtues; and thus they incline to talk of their souls with those who
account their actions and their spirituality of little value. This is a characteristic of
the spirit which is simple, pure, genuine and very pleasing to God. For as the wise
Spirit of God dwells in these humble souls, He moves them and inclines them to
keep His treasures secretly within and likewise to cast out from themselves all evil.
God gives this grace to the humble, together with the other virtues, even as He
denies it to the proud.
8. These souls will give their heart's blood to anyone that serves God, and will
help others to serve Him as much as in them lies. The imperfections into which they
see themselves fall they bear with humility, meekness of spirit and a loving fear of
God, hoping in Him. But souls who in the beginning journey with this kind of
perfection are, as I understand, and as has been said, a minority, and very few are
those who we can be glad do not fall into the opposite errors. For this reason, as we
shall afterwards say, God leads into the dark night those whom He desires to purify
from all these imperfections so that He may bring them farther onward.
Of some imperfections which some of these souls are apt to have, with respect to the
second capital sin, which is avarice, in the spiritual sense.
MANY of these beginners have also at times great spiritual avarice. They will be
found to be discontented with the spirituality which God gives them; and they are
very disconsolate and querulous because they find not in spiritual things the
consolation that they would desire. Many can never have enough of listening to
counsels and learning spiritual precepts, and of possessing and reading many books
which treat of this matter, and they spend their time on all these things rather than
on works of mortification and the perfecting of the inward poverty of spirit which
should be theirs. Furthermore, they burden themselves with images and rosaries
which are very curious; now they put down one, now take up another; now they
change about, now change back again; now they want this kind of thing, now that,
preferring one kind of cross to another, because it is more curious. And others you
will see adorned with agnusdeis31 and relics and tokens,32 like children with
trinkets. Here I condemn the attachment of the heart, and the affection which they
have for the nature, multitude and curiosity of these things, inasmuch as it is quite
contrary to poverty of spirit which considers only the substance of devotion, makes
use only of what suffices for that end and grows weary of this other kind of
multiplicity and curiosity. For true devotion must issue from the heart, and consist
in the truth and substances alone of what is represented by spiritual things; all the
rest is affection and attachment proceeding from imperfection; and in order that one
may pass to any kind of perfection it is necessary for such desires to be killed.
2. I knew a person who for more than ten years made use of a cross roughly
formed from a branch33 that had been blessed, fastened with a pin twisted round it;
he had never ceased using it, and he always carried it about with him until I took it
from him; and this was a person of no small sense and understanding. And I saw
another who said his prayers using beads that were made of bones from the spine of
a fish; his devotion was certainly no less precious on that account in the sight of
God, for it is clear that these things carried no devotion in their workmanship or
value. Those, then, who start from these beginnings and make good progress attach
themselves to no visible instruments, nor do they burden themselves with such, nor
desire to know more than is necessary in order that they may act well; for they set
their eyes only on being right with God and on pleasing Him, and therein consists
their covetousness. And thus with great generosity they give away all that they
have, and delight to know that they have it not, for God's sake and for charity to
their neighbour, no matter whether these be spiritual things or temporal. For, as I
say, they set their eyes only upon the reality of interior perfection, which is to give
pleasure to God and in naught to give pleasure to themselves.
3. But neither from these imperfections nor from those others can the soul be
perfectly purified until God brings it into the passive purgation of that dark night
whereof we shall speak presently. It befits the soul, however, to contrive to labour,
in so far as it can, on its own account, to the end that it may purge and perfect itself,
and thus may merit being taken by God into that Divine care wherein it becomes
healed of all things that it was unable of itself to cure. Because, however greatly the
soul itself labours, it cannot actively purify itself so as to be in the least degree
prepared for the Divine union of perfection of love, if God takes not its hand and
purges it not in that dark fire, in the way and manner that we have to describe.
Of other imperfections which these beginners are apt to have with respect to the third
sin, which is luxury.
MANY of these beginners have many other imperfections than those which I am
describing with respect to each of the deadly sins, but these I set aside, in order to
avoid prolixity, touching upon a few of the most important, which are, as it were,
31The agnusdeiwas a wax medal with a representation of the lamb stamped upon it, often blessed by
the Pope; at the time of the Saint such medals were greatly sought after, as we know from various
references in St. Teresa's letters.
32[The word nómina, translated 'token,' and normally meaning list, or 'roll,' refers to a relic on which
were written the names of saints. In modern Spanish it can denote a medal or amulet used
33[No doubt a branch of palm, olive or rosemary, blessed in church on Palm Sunday, like the English
palm crosses of to-day. 'Palm Sunday' is in Spanish Domingo de ramos:'Branch Sunday.']
the origin and cause of the rest. And thus, with respect to this sin of luxury (leaving
apart the falling of spiritual persons into this sin, since my intent is to treat of the
imperfections which have to be purged by the dark night), they have many
imperfections which might be described as spiritual luxury, not because they are so,
but because the imperfections proceed from spiritual things. For it often comes to
pass that, in their very spiritual exercises, when they are powerless to prevent it,
there arise and assert themselves in the sensual part of the soul impure acts and
motions, and sometimes this happens even when the spirit is deep in prayer, or
engaged in the Sacrament of Penance or in the Eucharist. These things are not, as I
say, in their power; they proceed from one of three causes.
2. The first cause from which they often proceed is the pleasure which human
nature takes in spiritual things. For when the spirit and the sense are pleased,
every part of a man is moved by that pleasure34 to delight according to its
proportion and nature. For then the spirit, which is the higher part, is moved to
pleasure35 and delight in God; and the sensual nature, which is the lower part, is
moved to pleasure and delight of the senses, because it cannot possess and lay hold
upon aught else, and it therefore lays hold upon that which comes nearest to itself,
which is the impure and sensual. Thus it comes to pass that the soul is in deep
prayer with God according to the spirit, and, on the other hand, according to sense it
is passively conscious, not without great displeasure, of rebellions and motions and
acts of the senses, which often happens in Communion, for when the soul receives
joy and comfort in this act of love, because this Lord bestows it (since it is to that
end that He gives Himself), the sensual nature takes that which is its own likewise,
as we have said, after its manner. Now as, after all, these two parts are combined in
one individual, they ordinarily both participate in that which one of them receives,
each after its manner; for, as the philosopher says, everything that is received is in
the recipient after the manner of the same recipient. And thus, in these beginnings,
and even when the soul has made some progress, its sensual part, being imperfect,
oftentimes receives the Spirit of God with the same imperfection. Now when this
sensual part is renewed by the purgation of the dark night which we shall describe,
it no longer has these weaknesses; for it is no longer this part that receives aught,
but rather it is itself received into the Spirit. And thus it then has everything after
the manner of the Spirit.
3. The second cause whence these rebellions sometimes proceed is the devil,
who, in order to disquiet and disturb the soul, at times when it is at prayer or is
striving to pray, contrives to stir up these motions of impurity in its nature; and if
the soul gives heed to any of these, they cause it great harm. For through fear of
these not only do persons become lax in prayer—which is the aim of the devil when
he begins to strive with them—but some give up prayer altogether, because they
think that these things attack them more during that exercise than apart from it,
which is true, since the devil attacks them then more than at other times, so that
they may give up spiritual exercises. And not only so, but he succeeds in portraying
to them very vividly things that are most foul and impure, and at times are very
closely related to certain spiritual things and persons that are of profit to their
souls, in order to terrify them and make them fearful; so that those who are affected
by this dare not even look at anything or meditate upon anything, because they
immediately encounter this temptation. And upon those who are inclined to
melancholy this acts with such effect that they become greatly to be pitied since
they are suffering so sadly; for this trial reaches such a point in certain persons,
when they have this evil humour, that they believe it to be clear that the devil is
ever present with them and that they have no power to prevent this, although some
of these persons can prevent his attack by dint of great effort and labour. When
these impurities attack such souls through the medium of melancholy, they are not
as a rule freed from them until they have been cured of that kind of humour, unless
the dark night has entered the soul, and rids them of all impurities, one after
4. The third source whence these impure motions are apt to proceed in order
to make war upon the soul is often the fear which such persons have conceived for
these impure representations and motions. Something that they see or say or think
brings them to their mind, and this makes them afraid, so that they suffer from
them through no fault of their own.
5. There are also certain souls of so tender and frail a nature that, when there
comes to them some spiritual consolation or some grace in prayer, the spirit of
luxury is with them immediately, inebriating and delighting their sensual nature in
such manner that it is as if they were plunged into the enjoyment and pleasure of
this sin; and the enjoyment remains, together with the consolation, passively, and
sometimes they are able to see that certain impure and unruly acts have taken
place. The reason for this is that, since these natures are, as I say, frail and tender,
their humours are stirred up and their blood is excited at the least disturbance. And
hence come these motions; and the same thing happens to such souls when they are
enkindled with anger or suffer any disturbance or grief.37
6. Sometimes, again, there arises within these spiritual persons, whether
they be speaking or performing spiritual actions, a certain vigour and bravado,
through their having regard to persons who are present, and before these persons
they display a certain kind of vain gratification. This also arises from luxury of
spirit, after the manner wherein we here understand it, which is accompanied as a
rule by complacency in the will.
7. Some of these persons make friendships of a spiritual kind with others,
which oftentimes arise from luxury and not from spirituality; this may be known to
be the case when the remembrance of that friendship causes not the remembrance
and love of God to grow, but occasions remorse of conscience. For, when the
friendship is purely spiritual, the love of God grows with it; and the more the soul
remembers it, the more it remembers the love of God, and the greater the desire it
has for God; so that, as the one grows, the other grows also. For the spirit of God
has this property, that it increases good by adding to it more good, inasmuch as
there is likeness and conformity between them. But, when this love arises from the
vice of sensuality aforementioned, it produces the contrary effects; for the more the
one grows, the more the other decreases, and the remembrance of it likewise. If that
sensual love grows, it will at once be observed that the soul's love of God is becoming
colder, and that it is forgetting Him as it remembers that love; there comes to it, too,
a certain remorse of conscience. And, on the other hand, if the love of God grows in
the soul, that other love becomes cold and is forgotten; for, as the two are contrary
to one another, not only does the one not aid the other, but the one which
predominates quenches and confounds the other, and becomes strengthened in
36[Lit., 'of everything.']
37All writers who comment upon this delicate matter go into lengthy and learned explanations of it,
though in reality there is little that needs to be added to the Saint's clear and apt exposition. It will
be remembered that St. Teresa once wrote to her brother Lorenzo, who suffered in this way: 'As to
those stirrings of sense. . . . I am quite clear they are of no account, so the best thing is to make no
account of them' (LL. 168). The most effective means of calming souls tormented by these favours is
to commend them to a discreet and wise director whose counsel they may safely follow. The
Illuminists committed the grossest errors in dealing with this matter.
itself, as the philosophers say. Wherefore Our Saviour said in the Gospel: 'That
which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.'38
That is to say, the love which is born of sensuality ends in sensuality, and that
which is of the spirit ends in the spirit of God and causes it to grow. This is the
difference that exists between these two kinds of love, whereby we may know them.
8. When the soul enters the dark night, it brings these kinds of love under
control. It strengthens and purifies the one, namely that which is according to God;
and the other it removes and brings to an end; and in the beginning it causes both
to be lost sight of, as we shall say hereafter.
Of the imperfections into which beginners fall with respect to the sin of wrath.
BY reason of the concupiscence which many beginners have for spiritual
consolations, their experience of these consolations is very commonly accompanied
by many imperfections proceeding from the sin of wrath; for, when their delight and
pleasure in spiritual things come to an end, they naturally become embittered, and
bear that lack of sweetness which they have to suffer with a bad grace, which affects
all that they do; and they very easily become irritated over the smallest matter—
sometimes, indeed, none can tolerate them. This frequently happens after they have
been very pleasantly recollected in prayer according to sense; when their pleasure
and delight therein come to an end, their nature is naturally vexed and
disappointed, just as is the child when they take it from the breast of which it was
enjoying the sweetness. There is no sin in this natural vexation, when it is not
permitted to indulge itself, but only imperfection, which must be purged by the
aridity and severity of the dark night.
2. There are other of these spiritual persons, again, who fall into another kind
of spiritual wrath: this happens when they become irritated at the sins of others,
and keep watch on those others with a sort of uneasy zeal. At times the impulse
comes to them to reprove them angrily, and occasionally they go so far as to indulge
it39 and set themselves up as masters of virtue. All this is contrary to spiritual
3. There are others who are vexed with themselves when they observe their
own imperfectness, and display an impatience that is not humility; so impatient are
they about this that they would fain be saints in a day. Many of these persons
purpose to accomplish a great deal and make grand resolutions; yet, as they are not
humble and have no misgivings about themselves, the more resolutions they make,
the greater is their fall and the greater their annoyance, since they have not the
patience to wait for that which God will give them when it pleases Him; this
likewise is contrary to the spiritual meekness aforementioned, which cannot be
wholly remedied save by the purgation of the dark night. Some souls, on the other
hand, are so patient as regards the progress which they desire that God would
gladly see them less so.
Of imperfections with respect to spiritual gluttony.
38St. John iii, 6.
39[Lit.'they even do it.']
WITH respect to the fourth sin, which is spiritual gluttony, there is much to be said,
for there is scarce one of these beginners who, however satisfactory his progress,
falls not into some of the many imperfections which come to these beginners with
respect to this sin, on account of the sweetness which they find at first in spiritual
exercises. For many of these, lured by the sweetness and pleasure which they find
in such exercises, strive more after spiritual sweetness than after spiritual purity
and discretion, which is that which God regards and accepts throughout the
spiritual journey.40 Therefore, besides the imperfections into which the seeking for
sweetness of this kind makes them fall, the gluttony which they now have makes
them continually go to extremes, so that they pass beyond the limits of moderation
within which the virtues are acquired and wherein they have their being. For some
of these persons, attracted by the pleasure which they find therein, kill themselves
with penances, and others weaken themselves with fasts, by performing more than
their frailty can bear, without the order or advice of any, but rather endeavouring to
avoid those whom they should obey in these matters; some, indeed, dare to do these
things even though the contrary has been commanded them.
2. These persons are most imperfect and unreasonable; for they
penance before subjection and obedience, which is penance according to reason and
discretion, and therefore a sacrifice more acceptable and pleasing to God than any
other. But such one-sided penance is no more than the penance of beasts, to which
they are attracted, exactly like beasts, by the desire and pleasure which they find
therein. Inasmuch as all extremes are vicious, and as in behaving thus such
persons41 are working their own will, they grow in vice rather than in virtue; for, to
say the least, they are acquiring spiritual gluttony and pride in this way, through
not walking in obedience. And many of these the devil assails, stirring up this
gluttony in them through the pleasures and desires which he increases within them,
to such an extent that, since they can no longer help themselves, they either change
or vary or add to that which is commanded them, as any obedience in this respect is
so bitter to them. To such an evil pass have some persons come that, simply because
it is through obedience that they engage in these exercises, they lose the desire and
devotion to perform them, their only desire and pleasure being to do what they
themselves are inclined to do, so that it would probably be more profitable for them
not to engage in these exercises at all.
3. You will find that many of these persons are very insistent with their
spiritual masters to be granted that which they desire, extracting it from them
almost by force; if they be refused it they become as peevish as children and go
about in great displeasure, thinking that they are not serving God when they are
not allowed to do that which they would. For they go about clinging to their own will
and pleasure, which they treat as though it came from God;42 and immediately their
directors43 take it from them, and try to subject them to the will of God, they
become peevish, grow faint-hearted and fall away. These persons think that their
own satisfaction and pleasure are the satisfaction and service of God.
4. There are others, again, who, because of this gluttony, know so little of
their own unworthiness and misery and have thrust so far from them the loving
fear and reverence which they owe to the greatness of God, that they hesitate not to
insist continually that their confessors shall allow them to communicate often. And,
40[Lit., 'spiritual road.']
41[Lit., 'these persons.']
42[Lit., 'and treat this as their God.']
43[The Spanish is impersonal: 'immediately this is taken from them,' etc.]
what is worse, they frequently dare to communicate without the leave and consent44
of the minister and steward of Christ, merely acting on their own opinion, and
contriving to conceal the truth from him. And for this reason, because they desire to
communicate continually, they make their confessions carelessly,45 being more
eager to eat than to eat cleanly and perfectly, although it would be healthier and
holier for them had they the contrary inclination and begged their confessors not to
command them to approach the altar so frequently: between these two extremes,
however, the better way is that of humble resignation. But the boldness referred to
is46 a thing that does great harm, and men may fear to be punished for such
5. These persons, in communicating, strive with every nerve to obtain some
kind of sensible sweetness and pleasure, instead of humbly doing reverence and
giving praise within themselves to God. And in such wise do they devote themselves
to this that, when they have received no pleasure or sweetness in the senses, they
think that they have accomplished nothing at all. This is to judge God very
unworthily; they have not realized that the least of the benefits which come from
this Most Holy Sacrament is that which concerns the senses; and that the invisible
part of the grace that it bestows is much greater; for, in order that they may look at
it with the eyes of faith, God oftentimes withholds from them these other
consolations and sweetnesses of sense. And thus they desire to feel and taste God as
though He were comprehensible by them and accessible to them, not only in this,
but likewise in other spiritual practices. All this is very great imperfection and
completely opposed to the nature of God, since it is Impurity in faith.
6. These persons have the same defect as regards the practice of prayer, for
they think that all the business of prayer consists in experiencing sensible pleasure
and devotion and they strive to obtain this by great effort,47 wearying and fatiguing
their faculties and their heads; and when they have not found this pleasure they
become greatly discouraged, thinking that they have accomplished nothing.
Through these efforts they lose true devotion and spirituality, which consist in
perseverance, together with patience and humility and mistrust of themselves, that
they may please God alone. For this reason, when they have once failed to find
pleasure in this or some other exercise, they have great disinclination and
repugnance to return to it, and at times they abandon it. They are, in fact, as we
have said, like children, who are not influenced by reason, and who act, not from
rational motives, but from inclination.48 Such persons expend all their effort in
seeking spiritual pleasure and consolation; they never tire therefore, of reading
books; and they begin, now one meditation, now another, in their pursuit of this
pleasure which they desire to experience in the things of God. But God, very justly,
wisely and lovingly, denies it to them, for otherwise this spiritual gluttony and
inordinate appetite would breed in numerable evils. It is, therefore, very fitting that
they should enter into the dark night, whereof we shall speak,49 that they may be
purged from this childishness.
7. These persons who are thus inclined to such pleasures have another very
great imperfection, which is that they are very weak and remiss in journeying upon
44[Lit., 'and opinion.']
46[Lit, 'the other boldnesses are.']
47[Lit., 'they strive to obtain this, as they say, by the strength of their arms.' The phrase is, of course,
understood in the Spanish to be metaphorical, as the words 'as they say' clearly indicate.]
48[Lit., 'who are not influenced, neither act by reason, but from pleasure.']
49[Lit., 'which we shall give.']
the hard50 road of the Cross; for the soul that is given to sweetness naturally has its
face set against all self-denial, which is devoid of sweetness.51
8. These persons have many other imperfections which arise hence, of which
in time the Lord heals them by means of temptations, aridities and other trials, all
of which are part of the dark night. All these I will not treat further here, lest I
become too lengthy; I will only say that spiritual temperance and sobriety lead to
another and a very different temper, which is that of mortification, fear and
submission in all things. It thus becomes clear that the perfection and worth of
things consist not in the multitude and the pleasantness of one's actions, but in
being able to deny oneself in them; this such persons must endeavour to compass, in
so far as they may, until God is pleased to purify them indeed, by bringing them52
into the dark night, to arrive at which I am hastening on with my account of these
Of imperfections with respect to spiritual envy and sloth.
WITH respect likewise to the other two vices, which are spiritual envy and sloth,
these beginners fail not to have many imperfections. For, with respect to envy,
many of them are wont to experience movements of displeasure at the spiritual good
of others, which cause them a certain sensible grief at being outstripped upon this
road, so that they would prefer not to hear others praised; for they become
displeased at others' virtues and sometimes they cannot refrain from contradicting
what is said in praise of them, depreciating it as far as they can; and their
annoyance thereat grows53 because the same is not said of them, for they would fain
be preferred in everything. All this is clean contrary to charity, which, as Saint Paul
says, rejoices in goodness.54 And, if charity has any envy, it is a holy envy,
comprising grief at not having the virtues of others, yet also joy because others have
them, and delight when others outstrip us in the service of God, wherein we
ourselves are so remiss.
2. With respect also to spiritual sloth, beginners are apt to be irked by the
things that are most spiritual, from which they flee because these things are
incompatible with sensible pleasure. For, as they are so much accustomed to
sweetness in spiritual things, they are wearied by things in which they find no
sweetness. If once they failed to find in prayer the satisfaction which their taste
required (and after all it is well that God should take it from them to prove them),
they would prefer not to return to it: sometimes they leave it; at other times they
continue it unwillingly. And thus because of this sloth they abandon the way of
perfection (which is the way of the negation of their will and pleasure for God's
sake) for the pleasure and sweetness of their own will, which they aim at satisfying
in this way rather than the will of God.
3. And many of these would have God will that which they themselves will,
and are fretful at having to will that which He wills, and find it repugnant to
accommodate their will to that of God. Hence it happens to them that oftentimes
50[áspero:harsh, rough, rugged.]
51[Lit., 'against all the sweetlessness of self-denial.']
52[Lit., 'causing them to enter.']
53[Lit., 'and, as they say, their eye (el ojo) grows'—a colloquial phrase expressing annoyance.]
541 Corinthians xiii, 6. The Saint here cites the sense, not the
letter, of the epistle.
they think that that wherein they find not their own will and pleasure is not the
will of God; and that, on the other hand, when they themselves find satisfaction,
God is satisfied. Thus they measure God by themselves and not themselves by God,
acting quite contrarily to that which He Himself taught in the Gospel, saying: That
he who should lose his will for His sake, the same should gain it; and he who should
desire to gain it, the same should lose it.55
4. These persons likewise find it irksome when they are commanded to do
that wherein they take no pleasure. Because they aim at spiritual sweetness and
consolation, they are too weak to have the fortitude and bear the trials of
perfection.56 They resemble those who are softly nurtured and who run fretfully
away from everything that is hard, and take offense at the Cross, wherein consist
the delights of the spirit. The more spiritual a thing is, the more irksome they find
it, for, as they seek to go about spiritual matters with complete freedom and
according to the inclination of their will, it causes them great sorrow and
repugnance to enter upon the narrow way, which, says Christ, is the way of life.57
5. Let it suffice here to have described these imperfections, among the many
to be found in the lives of those that are in this first state of beginners, so that it
may be seen how greatly they need God to set them in the state of proficients. This
He does by bringing them into the dark night whereof we now speak; wherein He
weans them from the breasts of these sweetnesses and pleasures, gives them pure
aridities and inward darkness, takes from them all these irrelevances and
puerilities, and by very different means causes them to win the virtues. For,
however assiduously the beginner practises the mortification in himself of all these
actions and passions of his, he can never completely succeed—very far from it—
until God shall work it in him passively by means of the purgation of the said night.
Of this I would fain speak in some way that may be profitable; may God, then, be
pleased to give me His Divine light, because this is very needful in a night that is so
dark and a matter that is so difficult to describe and to expound.
The line, then, is:
In a dark night.
Wherein is expounded the first line of the first stanza, and a beginning is made of the
explanation of this dark night.
THIS night, which, as we say, is contemplation, produces in spiritual persons two
kinds of darkness or purgation, corresponding to the two parts of man's nature—
namely, the sensual and the spiritual. And thus the one night or purgation will be
sensual, wherein the soul is purged according to sense, which is subdued to the
spirit; and the other is a night or purgation which is spiritual, wherein the soul is
purged and stripped according to the spirit, and subdued and made ready for the
union of love with God. The night of sense is common and comes to many: these are
the beginners; and of this night we shall speak first. The night of the spirit is the
portion of very few, and these are they that are already practised and proficient, of
whom we shall treat hereafter.
55St. Matthew xvi, 25.
56[Lit., 'they are very weak for the fortitude and trial of perfection.']
57St. Matthew vii, 14.
2. The first purgation or night is bitter and terrible to sense, as we shall now
show.58 The second bears no comparison with it, for it is horrible and awful to the
spirit, as we shall show59 presently. Since the night of sense is first in order and
comes first, we shall first of all say something about it briefly, since more is written
of it, as of a thing that is more common; and we shall pass on to treat more fully of
the spiritual night, since very little has been said of this, either in speech60 or in
writing, and very little is known of it, even by experience.
3. Since, then, the conduct of these beginners upon the way of God is
ignoble,61 and has much to do with their love of self and their own inclinations, as
has been explained above, God desires to lead them farther. He seeks to bring them
out of that ignoble kind of love to a higher degree of love for Him, to free them from
the ignoble exercises of sense and meditation (wherewith, as we have said, they go
seeking God so unworthily and in so many ways that are unbefitting), and to lead
them to a kind of spiritual exercise wherein they can commune with Him more
abundantly and are freed more completely from imperfections. For they have now
had practice for some time in the way of virtue and have persevered in meditation
and prayer, whereby, through the sweetness and pleasure that they have found
therein, they have lost their love of the things of the world and have gained some
degree of spiritual strength in God; this has enabled them to some extent to refrain
from creature desires, so that for God's sake they are now able to suffer a light
burden and a little aridity without turning back to a time62 which they found more
pleasant. When they are going about these spiritual exercises with the greatest
delight and pleasure, and when they believe that the sun of Divine favour is shining
most brightly upon them, God turns all this light of theirs into darkness, and shuts
against them the door and the source of the sweet spiritual water which they were
tasting in God whensoever and for as long as they desired. (For, as they were weak
and tender, there was no door closed to them, as Saint John says in the Apocalypse,
iii, 8). And thus He leaves them so completely in the dark that they know not
whither to go with their sensible imagination and meditation; for they cannot
advance a step in meditation, as they were wont to do afore time, their inward
senses being submerged in this night, and left with such dryness that not only do
they experience no pleasure and consolation in the spiritual things and good
exercises wherein they were wont to find their delights and pleasures, but instead,
on the contrary, they find insipidity and bitterness in the said things. For, as I have
said, God now sees that they have grown a little, and are becoming strong enough to
lay aside their swaddling clothes and be taken from the gentle breast; so He sets
them down from His arms and teaches them to walk on their own feet; which they
feel to be very strange, for everything seems to be going wrong with them.
4. To recollected persons this commonly happens sooner after their
beginnings than to others, inasmuch as they are freer from occasions of backsliding,
and their desires turn more quickly from the things of the world, which is necessary
if they are to begin to enter this blessed night of sense. Ordinarily no great time
passes after their beginnings before they begin to enter this night of sense; and the
great majority of them do in fact enter it, for they will generally be seen to fall into
5. With regard to this way of purgation of the senses, since it is so common,
we might here adduce a great number of quotations from Divine Scripture, where
60[plática:the word is frequently used in Spanish to denote an informal sermon or address.]
61[Lit., 'low'; the same word recurs below and is similarly translated .]
62[Lit., 'to the better time.']
many passages relating to it are continually found, particularly in the Psalms and
the Prophets. However, I do not wish to spend time upon these, for he who knows
not how to look for them there will find the common experience of this purgation to
Of the signs by which it will be known that the spiritual person is walking along the
way of this night and purgation of sense.
BUT since these aridities might frequently proceed, not from the night and
purgation of the sensual desires aforementioned, but from sins and imperfections, or
from weakness and lukewarmness, or from some bad humour or indisposition of the
body, I shall here set down certain signs by which it may be known if such aridity
proceeds from the aforementioned purgation, or if it arises from any of the
aforementioned sins. For the making of this distinction I find that there are three
2. The first is whether, when a soul finds no pleasure or consolation in the
things of God, it also fails to find it in any thing created; for, as God sets the soul in
this dark night to the end that He may quench and purge its sensual desire, He
allows it not to find attraction or sweetness in anything whatsoever. In such a case
it may be considered very probable63 that this aridity and insipidity proceed not
from recently committed sins or imperfections. For, if this were so, the soul would
feel in its nature some inclination or desire to taste other things than those of God;
since, whenever the desire is allowed indulgence in any imperfection, it immediately
feels inclined thereto, whether little or much, in proportion to the pleasure and the
love that it has put into it. Since, however, this lack of enjoyment in things above or
below might proceed from some indisposition or melancholy humour, which
oftentimes makes it impossible for the soul to take pleasure in anything, it becomes
necessary to apply the second sign and condition.
3. The second sign whereby a man may believe himself to be experiencing the
said purgation is that the memory is ordinarily centred upon God, with painful care
and solicitude, thinking that it is not serving God, but is backsliding, because it
finds itself without sweetness in the things of God. And in such a case it is evident
that this lack of sweetness and this aridity come not from weakness and
lukewarmness; for it is the nature of lukewarmness not to care greatly or to have
any inward solicitude for the things of God. There is thus a great difference between
aridity and lukewarmness, for lukewarmness consists in great weakness and
remissness in the will and in the spirit, without solicitude as to serving God;
whereas purgative aridity is ordinarily accompanied by solicitude, with care and
grief as I say, because the soul is not serving God. And, although this may
sometimes be increased by melancholy or some other humour (as it frequently is), it
fails not for that reason to produce a purgative effect upon the desire, since the
desire is deprived of all pleasure and has its care centred upon God alone. For, when
mere humour is the cause, it spends itself in displeasure and ruin of the physical
nature, and there are none of those desires to sense God which belong to purgative
aridity. When the cause is aridity, it is true that the sensual part of the soul has
fallen low, and is weak and feeble in its actions, by reason of the little pleasure
which it finds in them; but the spirit, on the other hand, is ready and strong.
63[Lit., 'And in this it is known very probably.']
4. For the cause of this aridity is that God transfers to the spirit the good
things and the strength of the senses, which, since the soul's natural strength and
senses are incapable of using them, remain barren, dry and empty. For the sensual
part of a man has no capacity for that which is pure spirit, and thus, when it is the
spirit that receives the pleasure, the flesh is left without savour and is too weak to
perform any action. But the spirit, which all the time is being fed, goes forward in
strength, and with more alertness and solicitude than before, in its anxiety not to
fail God; and if it is not immediately conscious of spiritual sweetness and delight,
but only of aridity and lack of sweetness, the reason for this is the strangeness of
the exchange; for its palate has been accustomed to those other sensual pleasures
upon which its eyes are still fixed, and, since the spiritual palate is not made ready
or purged for such subtle pleasure, until it finds itself becoming prepared for it by
means of this arid and dark night, it cannot experience spiritual pleasure and good,
but only aridity and lack of sweetness, since it misses the pleasure which aforetime
it enjoyed so readily.
5. These souls whom God is beginning to lead through these solitary places of
the wilderness are like to the children of Israel, to whom in the wilderness God
began to give food from Heaven, containing within itself all sweetness, and, as is
there said, it turned to the savour which each one of them desired. But withal the
children of Israel felt the lack of the pleasures and delights of the flesh and the
onions which they had eaten aforetime in Egypt, the more so because their palate
was accustomed to these and took delight in them, rather than in the delicate
sweetness of the angelic manna; and they wept and sighed for the fleshpots even in
the midst of the food of Heaven.64 To such depths does the vileness of our desires
descend that it makes us to long for our own wretched food65 and to be nauseated by
the indescribable66 blessings of Heaven.
6. But, as I say, when these aridities proceed from the way of the purgation of
sensual desire, although at first the spirit feels no sweetness, for the reasons that
we have just given, it feels that it is deriving strength and energy to act from the
substance which this inward food gives it, the which food is the beginning of a
contemplation that is dark and arid to the senses; which contemplation is secret and
hidden from the very person that experiences it; and ordinarily, together with the
aridity and emptiness which it causes in the senses, it gives the soul an inclination
and desire to be alone and in quietness, without being able to think of any
particular thing or having the desire to do so. If those souls to whom this comes to
pass knew how to be quiet at this time, and troubled not about performing any kind
of action, whether inward or outward, neither had any anxiety about doing
anything, then they would delicately experience this inward refreshment in that
ease and freedom from care. So delicate is this refreshment that ordinarily, if a man
have desire or care to experience it, he experiences it not; for, as I say, it does its
work when the soul is most at ease and freest from care; it is like the air which, if
one would close one's hand upon it, escapes.
7. In this sense we may understand that which the Spouse said to the Bride
in the Songs, namely: 'Withdraw thine eyes from me, for they make me to soar
aloft.'67 For in such a way does God bring the soul into this state, and by so different
a path does He lead it that, if it desires to work with its faculties, it hinders the
work which God is doing in it rather than aids it; whereas aforetime it was quite the
contrary. The reason is that, in this state of contemplation, which the soul enters
64Numbers xi, 5-6.
65[Lit., 'makes us to desire our miseries.']
67Canticles vi, 4 [A.V., vi, 5].
when it forsakes meditation for the state of the proficient, it is God Who is now
working in the soul; He binds its interior faculties, and allows it not to cling to the
understanding, nor to have delight in the will, nor to reason with the memory. For
anything that the soul can do of its own accord at this time serves only, as we have
said, to hinder inward peace and the work which God is accomplishing in the spirit
by means of that aridity of sense. And this peace, being spiritual and delicate,
performs a work which is quiet and delicate, solitary, productive of peace and
satisfaction68 and far removed from all those earlier pleasures, which were very
palpable and sensual. This is the peace which, says David, God speaks in the soul to
the end that He may make it spiritual.69 And this leads us to the third point.
8. The third sign whereby this purgation of sense may be recognized is that
the soul can no longer meditate or reflect in the imaginative sphere of sense as it
was wont, however much it may of itself endeavour to do so. For God now begins to
communicate Himself to it, no longer through sense, as He did aforetime, by means
of reflections which joined and sundered its knowledge, but by pure spirit, into
which consecutive reflections enter not; but He communicates Himself to it by an
act of simple contemplation, to which neither the exterior nor the interior senses of
the lower part of the soul can attain. From this time forward, therefore, imagination
and fancy can find no support in any meditation, and can gain no foothold by means
9. With regard to this third sign, it is to be understood that this
embarrassment and dissatisfaction of the faculties proceed not from indisposition,
for, when this is the case, and the indisposition, which never lasts for long,70 comes
to an end, the soul is able once again, by taking some trouble about the matter, to do
what it did before, and the faculties find their wonted support. But in the purgation
of the desire this is not so: when once the soul begins to enter therein, its inability to
reflect with the faculties grows ever greater. For, although it is true that at first,
and with some persons, the process is not as continuous as this, so that occasionally
they fail to abandon their pleasures and reflections of sense (for perchance by
reason of their weakness it was not fitting to wean them from these immediately),
yet this inability grows within them more and more and brings the workings of
sense to an end, if indeed they are to make progress, for those who walk not in the
way of contemplation act very differently. For this night of aridities is not usually
continuous in their senses. At times they have these aridities; at others they have
them not. At times they cannot meditate; at others they can. For God sets them in
this night only to prove them and to humble them, and to reform their desires, so
that they go not nurturing in themselves a sinful gluttony in spiritual things. He
sets them not there in order to lead them in the way of the spirit, which is this
contemplation; for not all those who walk of set purpose in the way of the spirit are
brought by God to contemplation, nor even the half of them—why, He best knows.
And this is why He never completely weans the senses of such persons from the
breasts of meditations and reflections, but only for short periods and at certain
seasons, as we have said.
Of the way in which these souls are to conduct themselves in this dark night.
68[Lit., 'satisfactory and pacific.']
69Psalm lxxxiv, 9 [A.V., lxxxv, 8].
70[The stress here is evidently on the transience of the distempers whether they be moral or
DURING the time, then, of the aridities of this night of sense (wherein God effects
the change of which we have spoken above, drawing forth the soul from the life of
sense into that of the spirit—that is, from meditation to contemplation—wherein it
no longer has any power to work or to reason with its faculties concerning the
things of God, as has been said), spiritual persons suffer great trials, by reason not
so much of the aridities which they suffer, as of the fear which they have of being
lost on the road, thinking that all spiritual blessing is over for them and that God
has abandoned them since they find no help or pleasure in good things. Then they
grow weary, and endeavour (as they have been accustomed to do) to concentrate
their faculties with some degree of pleasure upon some object of meditation,
thinking that, when they are not doing this and yet are conscious of making an
effort, they are doing nothing. This effort they make not without great inward
repugnance and unwillingness on the part of their soul, which was taking pleasure
in being in that quietness and ease, instead of working with its faculties. So they
have abandoned the one pursuit,71 yet draw no profit from the other; for, by seeking
what is prompted by their own spirit,72 they lose the spirit of tranquillity and peace
which they had before. And thus they are like to one who abandons what he has
done in order to do it over again, or to one who leaves a city only to re-enter it, or to
one who is hunting and lets his prey go in order to hunt it once more. This is useless
here, for the soul will gain nothing further by conducting itself in this way, as has
2. These souls turn back at such a time if there is none who understands
them; they abandon the road or lose courage; or, at the least, they are hindered from
going farther by the great trouble which they take in advancing along the road of
meditation and reasoning. Thus they fatigue and overwork their nature, imagining
that they are failing through negligence or sin. But this trouble that they are taking
is quite useless, for God is now leading them by another road, which is that of
contemplation, and is very different from the first; for the one is of meditation and
reasoning, and the other belongs neither to imagination nor yet to reasoning.
3. It is well for those who find themselves in this condition to take comfort, to
persevere in patience and to be in no wise afflicted. Let them trust in God, Who
abandons not those that seek Him with a simple and right heart, and will not fail to
give them what is needful for the road, until He bring them into the clear and pure
light of love. This last He will give them by means of that other dark night, that of
the spirit, if they merit His bringing them thereto.
4. The way in which they are to conduct themselves in this night of sense is to
devote themselves not at all to reasoning and meditation, since this is not the time
for it, but to allow the soul to remain in peace and quietness, although it may seem
clear to them that they are doing nothing and are wasting their time, and although
it may appear to them that it is because of their weakness that they have no desire
in that state to think of anything. The truth is that they will be doing quite
sufficient if they have patience and persevere in prayer without making any effort.73
What they must do is merely to leave the soul free and disencumbered and at rest
from all knowledge and thought, troubling not themselves, in that state, about what
they shall think or meditate upon, but contenting themselves with merely a
peaceful and loving attentiveness toward God, and in being without anxiety,
without the ability and without desired to have experience of Him or to perceive
71[Lit., 'spoiling themselves in the one.']
72[Lit., 'because they seek their spirit.']
73[Lit., 'without doing anything themselves.']
Him. For all these yearnings disquiet and distract the soul from the peaceful quiet
and sweet ease of contemplation which is here granted to it.
5. And although further scruples may come to them—that they are wasting
their time, and that it would be well for them to do something else, because they can
neither do nor think anything in prayer—let them suffer these scruples and remain
in peace, as there is no question save of their being at ease and having freedom of
spirit. For if such a soul should desire to make any effort of its own with its interior
faculties, this means that it will hinder and lose the blessings which, by means of
that peace and ease of the soul, God is instilling into it and impressing upon it. It is
just as if some painter were painting or dyeing a face; if the sitter were to move
because he desired to do something, he would prevent the painter from
accomplishing anything and would disturb him in what he was doing. And thus,
when the soul desires to remain in inward ease and peace, any operation and
affection or attentions wherein it may then seek to indulge74 will distract it and
disquiet it and make it conscious of aridity and emptiness of sense. For the more a
soul endeavours to find support in affection and knowledge, the more will it feel the
lack of these, which cannot now be supplied to it upon that road.
6. Wherefore it behoves such a soul to pay no heed if the operations of its
faculties become lost to it; it is rather to desire that this should happen quickly. For,
by not hindering the operation of infused contemplation that God is bestowing upon
it, it can receive this with more peaceful abundance, and cause its spirit to be
enkindled and to burn with the love which this dark and secret contemplation
brings with it and sets firmly in the soul. For contemplation is naught else than a
secret, peaceful and loving infusion from God, which, if it be permitted, enkindles
the soul with the spirit of love, according as the soul declares in the next lines,
Kindled in love with yearnings.
Wherein are expounded the three lines of the stanza.
THIS enkindling of love is not as a rule felt at the first, because it has not begun to
take hold upon the soul, by reason of the impurity of human nature, or because the
soul has not understood its own state, as we have said, and has therefore given it no
peaceful abiding-place within itself. Yet sometimes, nevertheless, there soon begins
to make itself felt a certain yearning toward God; and the more this increases, the
more is the soul affectioned and enkindled in love toward God, without knowing or
understanding how and whence this love and affection come to it, but from time to
time seeing this flame and this enkindling grow so greatly within it that it desires
God with yearning of love; even as David, when he was in this dark night, said of
himself in these words,75 namely: 'Because my heart was enkindled (that is to say,
in love of contemplation), my reins also were changed': that is, my desires for
sensual affections were changed, namely from the way of sense to the way of the
spirit, which is the aridity and cessation from all these things whereof we are
speaking. And I, he says, was dissolved in nothing and annihilated, and I knew not;
for, as we have said, without knowing the way whereby it goes, the soul finds itself
annihilated with respect to all things above and below which were accustomed to
74[Lit., 'which it may then wish to have.']
75Psalm lxxii, 21 [A.V., lxxiii, 21-2].
please it; and it finds itself enamoured, without knowing how. And because at times
the enkindling of love in the spirit grows greater, the yearnings for God become so
great in the soul that the very bones seem to be dried up by this thirst, and the
natural powers to be fading away, and their warmth and strength to be perishing
through the intensity76 of the thirst of love, for the soul feels that this thirst of love
is a living thirst. This thirst David had and felt, when he said: 'My soul thirsted for
the living God.'77 Which is as much as to say: A living thirst was that of my soul. Of
this thirst, since it is living, we may say that it kills. But it is to be noted that the
vehemence of this thirst is not continuous, but occasional although as a rule the soul
is accustomed to feel it to a certain degree.
2. But it must be noted that, as I began to say just now, this love is not as a
rule felt at first, but only the dryness and emptiness are felt whereof we are
speaking. Then in place of this love which afterwards becomes gradually enkindled,
what the soul experiences in the midst of these aridities and emptinesses of the
faculties is an habitual care and solicitude with respect to God, together with grief
and fear that it is not serving Him. But it is a sacrifice which is not a little pleasing
to God that the soul should go about afflicted and solicitous for His love. This
solicitude and care leads the soul into that secret contemplation, until, the senses
(that is, the sensual part) having in course of time been in some degree purged of
the natural affections and powers by means of the aridities which it causes within
them, this Divine love begins to be enkindled in the spirit. Meanwhile, however, like
one who has begun a cure, the soul knows only suffering in this dark and arid
purgation of the desire; by this means it becomes healed of many imperfections, and
exercises itself in many virtues in order to make itself meet for the said love, as we
shall now say with respect to the line following:
Oh, happy chance!
3. When God leads the soul into this night of sense in order to purge the sense
of its lower part and to subdue it, unite it and bring it into conformity with the
spirit, by setting it in darkness and causing it to cease from meditation (as He
afterwards does in order to purify the spirit to unite it with God, as we shall
afterwards say), He brings it into the night of the spirit, and (although it appears
not so to it) the soul gains so many benefits that it holds it to be a happy chance to
have escaped from the bonds and restrictions of the senses of or its lower self, by
means of this night aforesaid; and utters the present line, namely: Oh, happy
chance! With respect to this, it behoves us here to note the benefits which the soul
finds in this night, and because of which it considers it a happy chance to have
passed through it; all of which benefits the soul includes in the next line, namely:
I went forth without being observed.
4. This going forth is understood of the subjection to its sensual part which
the soul suffered when it sought God through operations so weak, so limited and so
defective as are those of this lower part; for at every step it stumbled into numerous
imperfections and ignorances, as we have noted above in writing of the seven capital
sins. From all these it is freed when this night quenches within it all pleasures,
whether from above or from below, and makes all meditation darkness to it, and
grants it other innumerable blessings in the acquirement of the virtues, as we shall
now show. For it will be a matter of great pleasure and great consolation, to one
76[Lit., 'livingness': cf. the quotation below.]
77Psalm xli, 3 [A.V., xlii, 2].
that journeys on this road, to see how that which seems to the soul so severe and
adverse, and so contrary to spiritual pleasure, works in it so many blessings. These,
as we say, are gained when the soul goes forth, as regards its affection and
operation, by means of this night, from all created things, and when it journeys to
eternal things, which is great happiness and good fortune:78 first, because of the
great blessing which is in the quenching of the desire and affection with respect to
all things; secondly, because they are very few that endure and persevere in
entering by this strait gate and by the narrow way which leads to life, as says Our
Saviour.79 The strait gate is this night of sense, and the soul detaches itself from
sense and strips itself thereof that it may enter by this gate, and establishes itself in
faith, which is a stranger to all sense, so that afterwards it may journey by the
narrow way, which is the other night—that of the spirit—and this the soul
afterwards enters in order in journey to God in pure faith, which is the means
whereby the soul is united to God. By this road, since it is so narrow, dark and
terrible (though there is no comparison between this night of sense and that other,
in its darkness and trials, as we shall say later), they are far fewer that journey, but
its benefits are far greater without comparison than those of this present night. Of
these benefits we shall now begin to say something, with such brevity as is possible,
in order that we may pass to the other night.
Of the benefits which this night causes in the soul.
THIS night and purgation of the desire, a happy one for the soul, works in it so
many blessings and benefits (although to the soul, as we have said, it rather seems
that blessings are being taken away from it) that, even as Abraham made a great
feast when he weaned his son Isaac,80 even so is there joy in Heaven because God is
now taking this soul from its swaddling clothes, setting it down from His arms,
making it to walk upon its feet, and likewise taking from it the milk of the breast
and the soft and sweet food proper to children, and making it to eat bread with
crust, and to begin to enjoy the food of robust persons. This food, in these aridities
and this darkness of sense, is now given to the spirit, which is dry and emptied of all
the sweetness of sense. And this food is the infused contemplation whereof we have
2. This is the first and principal benefit caused by this arid and dark night of
contemplation: the knowledge of oneself and of one's misery. For, besides the fact
that all the favours which God grants to the soul are habitually granted to them
enwrapped in this knowledge, these aridities and this emptiness of the faculties,
compared with the abundance which the soul experienced aforetime and the
difficulty which it finds in good works, make it recognize its own lowliness and
misery, which in the time of its prosperity it was unable to see. Of this there is a
good illustration in the Book of Exodus, where God, wishing to humble the children
of Israel and desiring that they should know themselves, commanded them to take
away and strip off the festal garments and adornments wherewith they were
accustomed to adorn themselves in the Wilderness, saying: 'Now from henceforth
strip yourselves of festal ornaments and put on everyday working dress, that ye
78[Lit., 'and chance': the same word as in the verse-line above.]
79St. Matthew vii, 14.
80Genesis xxi, 8.
may know what treatment ye deserve.'81 This is as though He had said: Inasmuch
as the attire that ye wear, being proper to festival and rejoicing, causes you to feel
less humble concerning yourselves than ye should, put off from you this attire, in
order that henceforth, seeing yourselves clothed with vileness, ye may know that ye
merit no more, and may know who ye are. Wherefore the soul knows the truth that
it knew not at first, concerning its own misery; for, at the time when it was clad as
for a festival and found in God much pleasure, consolation and support, it was
somewhat more satisfied and contented, since it thought itself to some extent to be
serving God. It is true that such souls may not have this idea explicitly in their
minds; but some suggestion of it at least is implanted in them by the satisfaction
which they find in their pleasant experiences. But, now that the soul has put on its
other and working attire—that of aridity and abandonment—and now that its first
lights have turned into darkness, it possesses these lights more truly in this virtue
of self-knowledge, which is so excellent and so necessary, considering itself now as
nothing and experiencing no satisfaction in itself; for it sees that it does nothing of
itself neither can do anything. And the smallness of this self-satisfaction, together
with the soul's affliction at not serving God, is considered and esteemed by God as
greater than all the consolations which the soul formerly experienced and the works
which it wrought, however great they were, inasmuch as they were the occasion of
many imperfections and ignorances. And from this attire of aridity proceed, as from
their fount and source of self-knowledge, not only the things which we have
described already, but also the benefits which we shall now describe and many more
which will have to be omitted.
3. In the first place, the soul learns to commune with God with more respect
and more courtesy, such as a soul must ever observe in converse with the Most
High. These it knew not in its prosperous times of comfort and consolation, for that
comforting favour which it experienced made its craving for God somewhat bolder
than was fitting, and discourteous and ill-considered. Even so did it happen to
Moses, when he perceived that God was speaking to him; blinded by that pleasure
and desire, without further consideration, he would have made bold to go to Him if
God had not commanded him to stay and put off his shoes. By this incident we are
shown the respect and discretion in detachment of desire wherewith a man is to
commune with God. When Moses had obeyed in this matter, he became so discreet
and so attentive that the Scripture says that not only did he not make bold to draw
near to God, but that he dared not even look at Him. For, having taken off the shoes
of his desires and pleasures, he became very conscious of his wretchedness in the
sight of God, as befitted one about to hear the word of God. Even so likewise the
preparation which God granted to Job in order that he might speak with Him
consisted not in those delights and glories which Job himself reports that he was
wont to have in his God, but in leaving him naked upon a dung-hill,82 abandoned
and even persecuted by his friends, filled with anguish and bitterness, and the earth
covered with worms. And then the Most High God, He that lifts up the poor man
from the dunghill, was pleased to come down and speak with him there face to face,
revealing to him the depths and heights83 of His wisdom, in a way that He had
never done in the time of his prosperity.
4. And here we must note another excellent benefit which there is in this
night and aridity of the desire of sense, since we have had occasion to speak of it. It
is that, in this dark night of the desire (to the end that the words of the Prophet
81Exodus xxxiii, 5.
82[Job ii, 7-8].
83[Lit., 'the deep heights.']
may be fulfilled, namely: 'Thy light shall shine in the darkness'84), God will
enlighten the soul, giving it knowledge, not only of its lowliness and wretchedness,
as we have said, but likewise of the greatness and excellence of God. For, as well as
quenching the desires and pleasures and attachments of sense, He cleanses and
frees the understanding that it may understand the truth; for pleasure of sense and
desire, even though it be for spiritual things, darkens and obstructs the spirit, and
furthermore that straitness and aridity of sense enlightens and quickens the
understanding, as says Isaias.85 Vexation makes us to understand how the soul that
is empty and disencumbered, as is necessary for His Divine influence, is instructed
supernaturally by God in His Divine wisdom, through this dark and arid night of
contemplation,86 as we have said; and this instruction God gave not in those first
sweetnesses and joys.
5. This is very well explained by the same prophet Isaias, where he says:
'Whom shall God teach His knowledge, and whom shall He make to understand the
hearing?' To those, He says, that are weaned from the milk and drawn away from
the breasts.87 Here it is shown that the first milk of spiritual sweetness is no
preparation for this Divine influence, neither is there preparation in attachment to
the breast of delectable meditations, belonging to the faculties of sense, which gave
the soul pleasure; such preparation consists rather in the lack of the one and
withdrawal from the other. Inasmuch as, in order to listen to God, the soul needs to
stand upright and to be detached, with regard to affection and sense, even as the
Prophet says concerning himself, in these words: I will stand upon my watch (this is
that detachment of desire) and I will make firm my step (that is, I will not meditate
with sense), in order to contemplate (that is, in order to understand that which may
come to me from God).88 So we have now arrived at this, that from this arid night
there first of all comes self-knowledge, whence, as from a foundation, rises this
other knowledge of God. For which cause Saint Augustine said to God: 'Let me know
myself, Lord, and I shall know Thee.'89 For, as the philosophers say, one extreme
can be well known by another.
6. And in order to prove more completely how efficacious is this night of
sense, with its aridity and its desolation, in bringing the soul that light which, as we
say, it receives there from God, we shall quote that passage of David, wherein he
clearly describes the great power which is in this night for bringing the soul this
lofty knowledge of God. He says, then, thus: 'In the desert land, waterless, dry and
pathless, I appeared before Thee, that I might see Thy virtue and Thy glory.'90 It is
a wondrous thing that David should say here that the means and the preparation
for his knowledge of the glory of God were not the spiritual delights and the many
pleasures which he had experienced, but the aridities and detachments of his
sensual nature, which is here to be understood by the dry and desert land. No less
wondrous is it that he should describe as the road to his perception and vision of the
virtue of God, not the Divine meditations and conceptions of which he had often
made use, but his being unable to form any conception of God or to walk by
meditation produced by imaginary consideration, which is here to be understood by
the pathless land. So that the means to a knowledge of God and of oneself is this
84Isaias lviii, 10.
85Isaias xxviii, 19. [The author omits the actual text.]
86To translate this passage at all, we must read the Dios cómo of P. Silverio (p. 403, 1. 20), which is
also found in P. Gerardo and elsewhere, as cómo Dios.
87Isaias xxviii, 9.
88Habacuc ii, 1.
89St. Augustine: Soliloq., Cap. ii.
90Psalm lxii, 3 [A.V., lxiii, 1-2].
dark night with its aridities and voids, although it leads not to a knowledge of Him
of the same plenitude and abundance that comes from the other night of the spirit,
since this is only, as it were, the beginning of that other.
7. Likewise, from the aridities and voids of this night of the desire, the soul
draws spiritual humility, which is the contrary virtue to the first capital sin, which,
as we said, is spiritual pride. Through this humility, which is acquired by the said
knowledge of self, the soul is purged from all those imperfections whereinto it fell
with respect to that sin of pride, in the time of its prosperity. For it sees itself so dry
and miserable that the idea never even occurs to it that it is making better progress
than others, or outstripping them, as it believed itself to be doing before. On the
contrary, it recognizes that others are making better progress than itself.
8. And hence arises the love of its neighbours, for it esteems them, and judges
them not as it was wont to do aforetime, when it saw that itself had great fervour
and others not so. It is aware only of its own wretchedness, which it keeps before its
eyes to such an extent that it never forgets it, nor takes occasion to set its eyes on
anyone else. This was described wonderfully by David, when he was in this night, in
these words: 'I was dumb and was humbled and kept silence from good things and
my sorrow was renewed.'91 This he says because it seemed to him that the good that
was in his soul had so completely departed that not only did he neither speak nor
find any language concerning it, but with respect to the good of others he was
likewise dumb because of his grief at the knowledge of his misery.
9. In this condition, again, souls become submissive and obedient upon the
spiritual road, for, when they see their own misery, not only do they hear what is
taught them, but they even desire that anyone soever may set them on the way and
tell them what they ought to do. The affective presumption which they sometimes
had in their prosperity is taken from them; and finally, there are swept away from
them on this road all the other imperfections which we noted above with respect to
this first sin, which is spiritual pride.
Of other benefits which this night of sense causes in the soul.
WITH respect to the soul's imperfections of spiritual avarice, because of which it
coveted this and that spiritual thing and found no satisfaction in this and that
exercise by reason of its covetousness for the desire and pleasure which it found
therein, this arid and dark night has now greatly reformed it. For, as it finds not the
pleasure and sweetness which it was wont to find, but rather finds affliction and
lack of sweetness, it has such moderate recourse to them that it might possibly now
lose, through defective use, what aforetime it lost through excess; although as a rule
God gives to those whom He leads into this night humility and readiness, albeit
with lack of sweetness, so that what is commanded them they may do for God's sake
alone; and thus they no longer seek profit in many things because they find no
pleasure in them.
2. With respect to spiritual luxury, it is likewise clearly seen that, through
this aridity and lack of sensible sweetness which the soul finds in spiritual things, it
is freed from those impurities which we there noted; for we said that, as a rule, they
proceeded from the pleasure which overflowed from spirit into sense.
3. But with regard to the imperfections from which the soul frees itself in this
dark night with respect to the fourth sin, which is spiritual gluttony, they may be
91Psalm xxxviii, 3 [A.V., xxxix, 2].
found above, though they have not all been described there, because they are
innumerable; and thus I will not detail them here, for I would fain make an end of
this night in order to pass to the next, concerning which we shall have to pronounce
grave words and instructions. Let it suffice for the understanding of the
innumerable benefits which, over and above those mentioned, the soul gains in this
night with respect to this sin of spiritual gluttony, to say that it frees itself from all
those imperfections which have there been described, and from many other and
greater evils, and vile abominations which are not written above, into which fell
many of whom we have had experience, because they had not reformed their desire
as concerning this inordinate love of spiritual sweetness. For in this arid and dark
night wherein He sets the soul, God has restrained its concupiscence and curbed its
desire so that the soul cannot feed upon any pleasure or sweetness of sense,
whether from above or from below; and this He continues to do after such manner
that the soul is subjected, reformed and repressed with respect to concupiscence and
desire. It loses the strength of its passions and concupiscence and it becomes sterile,
because it no longer consults its likings. Just as, when none is accustomed to take
milk from the breast, the courses of the milk are dried up, so the desires of the soul
are dried up. And besides these things there follow admirable benefits from this
spiritual sobriety, for, when desire and concupiscence are quenched, the soul lives in
spiritual tranquillity and peace; for, where desire and concupiscence reign not, there
is no disturbance, but peace and consolation of God.
4. From this there arises another and a second benefit, which is that the soul
habitually has remembrance of God, with fear and dread of backsliding upon the
spiritual road, as has been said. This is a great benefit, and not one of the least that
results from this aridity and purgation of the desire, for the soul is purified and
cleansed of the imperfections that were clinging to it because of the desires and
affections, which of their own accord deaden and darken the soul.
5. There is another very great benefit for the soul in this night, which is that
it practices several virtues together, as, for example, patience and longsuffering,
which are often called upon in these times of emptiness and aridity, when the soul
endures and perseveres in its spiritual exercises without consolation and without
pleasure. It practises the charity of God, since it is not now moved by the pleasure of
attraction and sweetness which it finds in its work, but only by God. It likewise
practises here the virtue of fortitude, because, in these difficulties and insipidities
which it finds in its work, it brings strength out of weakness and thus becomes
strong. All the virtues, in short—the theological and also the cardinal and moral—
both in body and in spirit, are practised by the soul in these times of aridity.
6. And that in this night the soul obtains these four benefits which we have
here described (namely, delight of peace, habitual remembrance and thought of God,
cleanness and purity of soul and the practice of the virtues which we have just
described), David tells us, having experienced it himself when he was in this night,
in these words: 'My soul refused consolations, I had remembrance of God, I found
consolation and was exercised and my spirit failed.'92 And he then says: 'And I
meditated by night with my heart and was exercised, and I swept and purified my
spirit'—that is to say, from all the affections.93
7. With respect to the imperfections of the other three spiritual sins which we
have described above, which are wrath, envy and sloth, the soul is purged hereof
likewise in this aridity of the desire and acquires the virtues opposed to them; for,
softened and humbled by these aridities and hardships and other temptations and
trials wherein God exercises it during this night, it becomes meek with respect to
92Psalm lxxvi, 4 [A.V., lxxvii, 3-4].
93Psalm lxxvi, 7 [A.V., lxxvii, 6].
God, and to itself, and likewise with respect to its neighbour. So that it is no longer
disturbed and angry with itself because of its own faults, nor with its neighbour
because of his, neither is it displeased with God, nor does it utter unseemly
complaints because He does not quickly make it holy.
8. Then, as to envy, the soul has charity toward others in this respect also;
for, if it has any envy, this is no longer a vice as it was before, when it was grieved
because others were preferred to it and given greater advantage. Its grief now
comes from seeing how great is its own misery, and its envy (if it has any) is a
virtuous envy, since it desires to imitate others, which is great virtue.
9. Neither are the sloth and the irksomeness which it now experiences
concerning spiritual things vicious as they were before. For in the past these sins
proceeded from the spiritual pleasures which the soul sometimes experienced and
sought after when it found them not. But this new weariness proceeds not from this
insuffficiency of pleasure, because God has taken from the soul pleasure in all
things in this purgation of the desire.
10. Besides these benefits which have been mentioned, the soul attains
innumerable others by means of this arid contemplation. For often, in the midst of
these times of aridity and hardship, God communicates to the soul, when it is least
expecting it, the purest spiritual sweetness and love, together with a spiritual
knowledge which is sometimes very delicate, each manifestation of which is of
greater benefit and worth than those which the soul enjoyed aforetime; although in
its beginnings the soul thinks that this is not so, for the spiritual influence now
granted to it is very delicate and cannot be perceived by sense.
11. Finally, inasmuch as the soul is now purged from the affections and
desires of sense, it obtains liberty of spirit, whereby in ever greater degree it gains
the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. Here, too, it is wondrously delivered from the
hands of its three enemies—devil, world and flesh; for, its pleasure and delight of
sense being quenched with respect to all things, neither the devil nor the world nor
sensuality has any arms or any strength wherewith to make war upon the spirit.
12. These times of aridity, then, cause the soul to journey in all purity in the
love of God, since it is no longer influenced in its actions by the pleasure and
sweetness of the actions themselves, as perchance it was when it experienced
sweetness, but only by a desire to please God. It becomes neither presumptuous nor
self-satisfied, as perchance it was wont to become in the time of its prosperity, but
fearful and timid with regard to itself, finding in itself no satisfaction whatsoever;
and herein consists that holy fear which preserves and increases the virtues. This
aridity, too, quenches natural energy and concupiscence, as has also been said. Save
for the pleasure, indeed, which at certain times God Himself infuses into it, it is a
wonder if it finds pleasure and consolation of sense, through its own diligence, in
any spiritual exercise or action, as has already been said.
13. There grows within souls that experience this arid night concern for God
and yearnings to serve Him, for in proportion as the breasts of sensuality,
wherewith it sustained and nourished the desires that it pursued, are drying up,
there remains nothing in that aridity and detachment save the yearning to serve
God, which is a thing very pleasing to God. For, as David says, an afflicted spirit is a
sacrifice to God.94
14. When the soul, then, knows that, in this arid purgation through which it
has passed, it has derived and attained so many and such precious benefits as those
which have here been described, it tarries not in crying, as in the stanza of which
we are expounding the lines, 'Oh, happy chance!—I went forth without being
observed.' That is, 'I went forth' from the bonds and subjection of the desires of
94Psalm l, 19 [A.V., li, 17]
sense and the affections, 'without being observed'—that is to say, without the three
enemies aforementioned being able to keep me from it. These enemies, as we have
said, bind the soul as with bonds, in its desires and pleasures, and prevent it from
going forth from itself to the liberty of the love of God; and without these desires
and pleasures they cannot give battle to the soul, as has been said.
15. When, therefore, the four passions of the soul—which are joy, grief, hope
and fear—are calmed through continual mortification; when the natural desires
have been lulled to sleep, in the sensual nature of the soul, by means of habitual
times of aridity; and when the harmony of the senses and the interior faculties
causes a suspension of labour and a cessation from the work of meditation, as we
have said (which is the dwelling and the household of the lower part of the soul),
these enemies cannot obstruct this spiritual liberty, and the house remains at rest
and quiet, as says the following line:
My house being now at rest.
Expounds this last line of the first stanza.
WHEN this house of sensuality was now at rest—that is, was mortified—its
passions being quenched and its desires put to rest and lulled to sleep by means of
this blessed night of the purgation of sense, the soul went forth, to set out upon the
road and way of the spirit, which is that of progressives and proficients, and which,
by another name, is called the way of illumination or of infused contemplation,
wherein God Himself feeds and refreshes the soul, without meditation, or the soul's
active help. Such, as we have said, is the night and purgation of sense in the soul. In
those who have afterwards to enter the other and more formidable night of the
spirit, in order to pass to the Divine union of love of God (for not all pass habitually
thereto, but only the smallest number), it is wont to be accompanied by formidable
trials and temptations of sense, which last for a long time, albeit longer in some
than in others. For to some the angel of Satan presents himself—namely, the spirit
of fornication—that he may buffet their senses with abominable and violent
temptations, and trouble their spirits with vile considerations and representations
which are most visible to the imagination, which things at times are a greater
affliction to them than death.
2. At other times in this night there is added to these things the spirit of
blasphemy, which roams abroad, setting in the path of all the conceptions and
thoughts of the soul intolerable blasphemies. These it sometimes suggests to the
imagination with such violence that the soul almost utters them, which is a grave
torment to it.
3. At other times another abominable spirit, which Isaias calls Spiritus
vertiginis,95 is allowed to molest them, not in order that they may fall, but that it
may try them. This spirit darkens their senses in such a way that it fills them with
numerous scruples and perplexities, so confusing that, as they judge, they can
never, by any means, be satisfied concerning them, neither can they find any help
for their judgment in counsel or thought. This is one of the severest goads and
horrors of this night, very closely akin to that which passes in the night of the spirit.
4. As a rule these storms and trials are sent by God in this night and
purgation of sense to those whom afterwards He purposes to lead into the other
95[The 'spirit of giddiness' of D.V., and 'perverse spirit' of A.V., Isaias xix, 14.]
night (though not all reach it), to the end that, when they have been chastened and
buffeted, they may in this way continually exercise and prepare themselves, and
continually accustom their senses and faculties to the union of wisdom which is to
be bestowed upon them in that other night. For, if the soul be not tempted,
exercised and proved with trials and temptations, it cannot quicken its sense of
Wisdom. For this reason it is said in Ecclesiasticus: 'He that has not been tempted,
what does he know? And he that has not been proved, what are the things that he
recognizes?'96 To this truth Jeremias bears good witness, saying: 'Thou didst
chastise me, Lord, and I was instructed.'97 And the most proper form of this
chastisement, for one who will enter into Wisdom, is that of the interior trials which
we are here describing, inasmuch as it is these which most effectively purge sense of
all favours and consolations to which it was affected, with natural weakness, and by
which the soul is truly humiliated in preparation for the exaltation which it is to
5. For how long a time the soul will be held in this fasting and penance of
sense, cannot be said with any certainty; for all do not experience it after one
manner, neither do all encounter the same temptations. For this is meted out by the
will of God, in conformity with the greater or the smaller degree of imperfection
which each soul has to purge away. In conformity, likewise, with the degree of love
of union to which God is pleased to raise it, He will humble it with greater or less
intensity or in greater or less time. Those who have the disposition and greater
strength to suffer, He purges with greater intensity and more quickly. But those
who are very weak are kept for a long time in this night, and these He purges very
gently and with slight temptations. Habitually, too, He gives them refreshments of
sense so that they may not fall away, and only after a long time do they attain to
purity of perfection in this life, some of them never attaining to it at all. Such are
neither properly in the night nor properly out of it; for, although they make no
progress, yet, in order that they may continue in humility and self-knowledge, God
exercises them for certain periods and at certain times98 in those temptations and
aridities; and at other times and seasons He assists them with consolations, lest
they should grow faint and return to seek the consolations of the world. Other souls,
which are weaker, God Himself accompanies, now appearing to them, now moving
farther away, that He may exercise them in His love; for without such turnings
away they would not learn to reach God.
6. But the souls which are to pass on to that happy and high estate, the union
of love, are wont as a rule to remain for a long time in these aridities and
temptations, however quickly God may lead them, as has been seen by experience.
It is time, then, to begin to treat of the second night.
96Ecclesiasticus xxxiv, 9-10.
97Jeremias xxxi, 18.
98[Lit., 'for certain days.']
BOOK THE SECOND
Of the Dark Night of the Spirit.
Which begins to treat of the dark nights of the spirit and says at what time it begins.
THE soul which God is about to lead onward is not led by His Majesty into this
night of the spirit as soon as it goes forth from the aridities and trials of the first
purgation and night of sense; rather it is wont to pass a long time, even years, after
leaving the state of beginners, in exercising itself in that of proficients. In this latter
state it is like to one that has come forth from a rigorous imprisonment;99 it goes
about the things of God with much greater freedom and satisfaction of the soul, and
with more abundant and inward delight than it did at the beginning before it
entered the said night. For its imagination and faculties are no longer bound, as
they were before, by meditation and anxiety of spirit, since it now very readily finds
in its spirit the most serene and loving contemplation and spiritual sweetness
without the labour of meditation; although, as the purgation of the soul is not
complete (for the principal part thereof, which is that of the spirit, is wanting,
without which, owing to the communication that exists between the one part and
the other,100 since the subject is one only, the purgation of sense, however violent it
may have been, is not yet complete and perfect), it is never without certain
occasional necessities, aridities, darknesses and perils which are sometimes much
more intense than those of the past, for they are as tokens and heralds of the
coming night of the spirit, and are not of as long duration as will be the night which
is to come. For, having passed through a period, or periods, or days of this night and
tempest, the soul soon returns to its wonted serenity; and after this manner God
purges certain souls which are not to rise to so high a degree of love as are others,
bringing them at times, and for short periods, into this night of contemplation and
purgation of the spirit, causing night to come upon them and then dawn, and this
frequently, so that the words of David may be fulfilled, that He sends His crystal—
that is, His contemplation—like morsels,101 although these morsels of dark
contemplation are never as intense as is that terrible night of contemplation which
we are to describe, into which, of set purpose, God brings the soul that He may lead
it to Divine union.
2. This sweetness, then, and this interior pleasure which we are describing,
and which these progressives find and experience in their spirits so easily and so
abundantly, is communicated to them in much greater abundance than aforetime,
overflowing into their senses more than was usual previously to this purgation of
sense; for, inasmuch as the sense is now purer, it can more easily feel the pleasures
of the spirit after its manner. As, however, this sensual part of the soul is weak and
incapable of experiencing the strong things of the spirit, it follows that these
proficients, by reason of this spiritual communication which is made to their
sensual part endure therein many frailties and sufferings and weaknesses of the
99[Lit., 'from a narrow prison.']
100[i.e., between sense and spirit.]
101Psalm cxlvii, 17 [D.V. and A.V.].
stomach, and in consequence are fatigued in spirit. For, as the Wise Man says: 'The
corruptible body presseth down the soul.'102 Hence comes it that the
communications that are granted to these souls cannot be very strong or very
intense or very spiritual, as is required for Divine union with God, by reason of the
weakness and corruption of the sensual nature which has a part in them. Hence
arise the raptures and trances and dislocations of the bones which always happen
when the communications are not purely spiritual—that is, are not given to the
spirit alone, as are those of the perfect who are purified by the second night of the
spirit, and in whom these raptures and torments of the body no longer exist, since
they are enjoying liberty of spirit, and their senses are now neither clouded nor
3. And in order that the necessity for such souls to enter this night of the
spirit may be understood, we will here note certain imperfections and perils which
belong to these proficients.
Describes other imperfections103 which belong to these proficients.
THESE proficients have two kinds of imperfection: the one kind is habitual; the
other actual. The habitual imperfections are the imperfect habits and affections
which have remained all the time in the spirit, and are like roots, to which the
purgation of sense has been unable to penetrate. The difference between the
purgation of these and that of this other kind is the difference between the root and
the branch, or between the removing of a stain which is fresh and one which is old
and of long standing. For, as we said, the purgation of sense is only the entrance
and beginning of contemplation leading to the purgation of the spirit, which, as we
have likewise said, serves rather to accommodate sense to spirit than to unite spirit
with God. But there still remain in the spirit the stains of the old man, although the
spirit thinks not that this is so, neither can it perceive them; if these stains be not
removed with the soap and strong lye of the purgation of this night, the spirit will
be unable to come to the purity of Divine union.
2. These souls have likewise the hebetudo mentis104 and the natural
roughness which every man contracts through sin, and the distraction and outward
clinging of the spirit, which must be enlightened, refined and recollected by the
afflictions and perils of that night. These habitual imperfections belong to all those
who have not passed beyond this state of the proficient; they cannot coexist, as we
say, with the perfect state of union through love.
3. To actual imperfections all are not liable in the same way. Some, whose
spiritual good is so superficial and so readily affected by sense, fall into greater
difficulties and dangers, which we described at the beginning of this treatise. For, as
they find so many and such abundant spiritual communications and apprehensions,
both in sense and in spirit wherein they oftentimes see imaginary and spiritual
visions (for all these things, together with other delectable feelings, come to many
souls in this state, wherein the devil and their own fancy very commonly practise
deceptions on them), and, as the devil is apt to take such pleasure in impressing
upon the soul and suggesting to it the said apprehensions and feelings, he
fascinates and deludes it with great ease unless it takes the precaution of resigning
102Wisdom ix, 15.
103[Lit., 'Continues with other imperfections.']
104[i.e., 'deadening of the mind.']
itself to God, and of protecting itself strongly, by means of faith, from all these
visions and feelings. For in this state the devil causes many to believe in vain
visions and false prophecies; and strives to make them presume that God and the
saints are speaking with them; and they often trust their own fancy. And the devil
is also accustomed, in this state, to fill them with presumption and pride, so that
they become attracted by vanity and arrogance, and allow themselves to be seen
engaging in outward acts which appear holy, such as raptures and other
manifestations. Thus they become bold with God, and lose holy fear, which is the
key and the custodian of all the virtues; and in some of these souls so many are the
falsehoods and deceits which tend to multiply, and so inveterate do they grow, that
it is very doubtful if such souls will return to the pure road of virtue and true
spirituality. Into these miseries they fall because they are beginning to give
themselves over to spiritual feelings and apprehensions with too great security,
when they were beginning to make some progress upon the way.
4. There is much more that I might say of these imperfections and of how
they are the more incurable because such souls consider them to be more spiritual
than the others, but I will leave this subject. I shall only add, in order to prove how
necessary, for him that would go farther, is the night of the spirit, which is
purgation, that none of these proficients, however strenuously he may have
laboured, is free, at best, from many of those natural affections and imperfect
habits, purification from which, we said, is necessary if a soul is to pass to Divine
5. And over and above this (as we have said already), inasmuch as the lower
part of the soul still has a share in these spiritual communications, they cannot be
as intense, as pure and as strong as is needful for the aforesaid union; wherefore, in
order to come to this union, the soul must needs enter into the second night of the
spirit, wherein it must strip sense and spirit perfectly from all these apprehensions
and from all sweetness, and be made to walk in dark and pure faith, which is the
proper and adequate means whereby the soul is united with God, according as Osee
says, in these words: 'I will betroth thee—that is, I will unite thee—with Me
Annotation for that which follows.
THESE souls, then, have now become proficients, because of the time which they
have spent in feeding the senses with sweet communications, so that their sensual
part, being thus attracted and delighted by spiritual pleasure, which came to it from
the spirit, may be united with the spirit and made one with it; each part after its
own manner eating of one and the same spiritual food and from one and the same
dish, as one person and with one sole intent, so that thus they may in a certain way
be united and brought into agreement, and, thus united, may be prepared for the
endurance of the stern and severe purgation of the spirit which awaits them. In this
purgation these two parts of the soul, the spiritual and the sensual, must be
completely purged, since the one is never truly purged without the other, the
purgation of sense becoming effective when that of the spirit has fairly begun.
Wherefore the night which we have called that of sense may and should be called a
kind of correction and restraint of the desire rather than purgation. The reason is
that all the imperfections and disorders of the sensual part have their strength and
105Osee ii, 20.
root in the spirit, where all habits, both good and bad, are brought into subjection,
and thus, until these are purged, the rebellions and depravities of sense cannot be
2. Wherefore, in this night following, both parts of the soul are purged
together, and it is for this end that it is well to have passed through the corrections
of the first night, and the period of tranquillity which proceeds from it, in order that,
sense being united with spirit, both may be purged after a certain manner and may
then suffer with greater fortitude. For very great fortitude is needful for so violent
and severe a purgation, since, if the weakness of the lower part has not first been
corrected and fortitude has not been gained from God through the sweet and
delectable communion which the soul has afterwards enjoyed with Him, its nature
will not have the strength or the disposition to bear it.
3. Therefore, since these proficients are still at a very low stage of progress,
and follow their own nature closely in the intercourse and dealings which they have
with God, because the gold of their spirit is not yet purified and refined, they still
think of God as little children, and speak of God as little children, and feel and
experience God as little children, even as Saint Paul says,106 because they have not
reached perfection, which is the union of the soul with God. In the state of union,
however, they will work great things in the spirit, even as grown men, and their
works and faculties will then be Divine rather than human, as will afterwards be
said. To this end God is pleased to strip them of this old man and clothe them with
the new man, who is created according to God, as the Apostle says,107 in the
newness of sense. He strips their faculties, affections and feelings, both spiritual
and sensual, both outward and inward, leaving the understanding dark, the will
dry, the memory empty and the affections in the deepest affliction, bitterness and
constraint, taking from the soul the pleasure and experience of spiritual blessings
which it had aforetime, in order to make of this privation one of the principles which
are requisite in the spirit so that there may be introduced into it and united with it
the spiritual form of the spirit, which is the union of love. All this the Lord works in
the soul by means of a pure and dark contemplation, as the soul explains in the first
stanza. This, although we originally interpreted it with reference to the first night
of sense, is principally understood by the soul of this second night of the spirit, since
this is the principal part of the purification of the soul. And thus we shall set it
down and expound it here again in this sense.
Sets down the first stanza and the exposition thereof.
On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings—oh, happy
I went forth without being observed, My house being now at
INTERPRETING this stanza now with reference to purgation, contemplation or
detachment or poverty of spirit, which here are almost one and the same thing, we
1061 Corinthians xiii, 11.
107[Ephesians iv, 24.]
can expound it after this manner and make the soul speak thus: In poverty, and
without protection or support in all the apprehensions of my soul—that is, in the
darkness of my understanding and the constraint of my will, in affliction and
anguish with respect to memory, remaining in the dark in pure faith, which is dark
night for the said natural faculties, the will alone being touched by grief and
afflictions and yearnings for the love of God—I went forth from myself—that is,
from my low manner of understanding, from my weak mode of loving and from my
poor and limited manner of experiencing God, without being hindered therein by
sensuality or the devil.
2. This was a great happiness and a good chance for me; for, when the
faculties had been perfectly annihilated and calmed, together with the passions,
desires and affections of my soul, wherewith I had experienced and tasted God after
a lowly manner, I went forth from my own human dealings and operations to the
operations and dealings of God. That is to say, my understanding went forth from
itself, turning from the human and natural to the Divine; for, when it is united with
God by means of this purgation, its understanding no longer comes through its
natural light and vigour, but through the Divine Wisdom wherewith it has become
united. And my will went forth from itself, becoming Divine; for, being united with
Divine love, it no longer loves with its natural strength after a lowly manner, but
with strength and purity from the Holy Spirit; and thus the will, which is now near
to God, acts not after a human manner, and similarly the memory has become
transformed into eternal apprehensions of glory. And finally, by means of this night
and purgation of the old man, all the energies and affections of the soul are wholly
renewed into a Divine temper and Divine delight.
There follows the line:
On a dark night.
Sets down the first line and begins to explain how this dark contemplation is not
only night for the soul but is also grief and torment.
THIS dark night is an inflowing of God into the soul, which purges it from its
ignorances and imperfections, habitual natural and spiritual, and which is called by
contemplatives infused contemplation, or mystical theology. Herein God secretly
teaches the soul and instructs it in perfection of love without its doing anything, or
understanding of what manner is this infused contemplation. Inasmuch as it is the
loving wisdom of God, God produces striking effects in the soul for, by purging and
illumining it, He prepares it for the union of love with God. Wherefore the same
loving wisdom that purges the blessed spirits and enlightens them is that which
here purges the soul and illumines it.
2. But the question arises: Why is the Divine light (which as we say,
illumines and purges the soul from its ignorances) here called by the soul a dark
night? To this the answer is that for two reasons this Divine wisdom is not only
night and darkness for the soul, but is likewise affliction and torment. The first is
because of the height of Divine Wisdom, which transcends the talent of the soul, and
in this way is darkness to it; the second, because of its vileness and impurity, in
which respect it is painful and afflictive to it, and is also dark.
3. In order to prove the first point, we must here assume a certain doctrine of
the philosopher, which says that, the clearer and more manifest are Divine things in
themselves the darker and more hidden are they to the soul naturally; just as, the
clearer is the light, the more it blinds and darkens the pupil of the owl, and, the
more directly we look at the sun, the greater is the darkness which it causes in our
visual faculty, overcoming and overwhelming it through its own weakness. In the
same way, when this Divine light of contemplation assails the soul which is not yet
wholly enlightened, it causes spiritual darkness in it; for not only does it overcome
it, but likewise it overwhelms it and darkens the act of its natural intelligence. For
this reason Saint Dionysius and other mystical theologians call this infused
contemplation a ray of darkness—that is to say, for the soul that is not enlightened
and purged—for the natural strength of the intellect is transcended and
overwhelmed by its great supernatural light. Wherefore David likewise said: That
near to God and round about Him are darkness and cloud;108 not that this is so in
fact, but that it is so to our weak understanding, which is blinded and darkened by
so vast a light, to which it cannot attain.109 For this cause the same David then
explained himself, saying: 'Through the great splendour of His presence passed
clouds'110—that is, between God and our understanding. And it is for this cause
that, when God sends it out from Himself to the soul that is not yet transformed,
this illumining ray of His secret wisdom causes thick darkness in the
4. And it is clear that this dark contemplation is in these its beginnings
painful likewise to the soul; for, as this Divine infused contemplation has many
excellences that are extremely good, and the soul that receives them, not being
purged, has many miseries that are likewise extremely bad, hence it follows that, as
two contraries cannot coexist in one subject—the soul—it must of necessity have
pain and suffering, since it is the subject wherein these two contraries war against
each other, working the one against the other, by reason of the purgation of the
imperfections of the soul which comes to pass through this contemplation. This we
shall prove inductively in the manner following.
5. In the first place, because the light and wisdom of this contemplation is
most bright and pure, and the soul which it assails is dark and impure, it follows
that the soul suffers great pain when it receives it in itself, just as, when the eyes
are dimmed by humours, and become impure and weak, the assault made upon
them by a bright light causes them pain. And when the soul suffers the direct
assault of this Divine light, its pain, which results from its impurity, is immense;
because, when this pure light assails the soul, in order to expel its impurity, the
soul feels itself to be so impure and miserable that it believes God to be against it,
and thinks that it has set itself up against God. This causes it sore grief and pain,
because it now believes that God has cast it away: this was one of the greatest trials
which Job felt when God sent him this experience, and he said: 'Why hast Thou set
me contrary to Thee, so that I am grievous and burdensome to myself?'111 For, by
means of this pure light, the soul now sees its impurity clearly (although darkly),
and knows clearly that it is unworthy of God or of any creature. And what gives it
most pain is that it thinks that it will never be worthy and that its good things are
all over for it. This is caused by the profound immersion of its spirit in the
knowledge and realization of its evils and miseries; for this Divine and dark light
now reveals them all to the eye, that it may see clearly how in its own strength it
can never have aught else. In this sense we may understand that passage from
108Psalm xcvi, 2 [A.V., xcvii, 2].
109[Lit., 'not attaining.']
110Psalm xvii, 13 [A.V., xviii, 12].
111Job vii, 20.
David, which says: 'For iniquity Thou hast corrected man and hast made his soul to
be undone and consumed: he wastes away as the spider.'112
6. The second way in which the soul suffers pain is by reason of its weakness,
natural, moral and spiritual; for, when this Divine contemplation assails the soul
with a certain force, in order to strengthen it and subdue it, it suffers such pain in
its weakness that it nearly swoons away. This is especially so at certain times when
it is assailed with somewhat greater force; for sense and spirit, as if beneath some
immense and dark load, are in such great pain and agony that the soul would find
advantage and relief in death. This had been experienced by the prophet Job, when
he said: 'I desire not that He should have intercourse with me in great strength, lest
He oppress me with the weight of His greatness.'113
7. Beneath the power of this oppression and weight the soul feels itself so far
from being favoured that it thinks, and correctly so, that even that wherein it was
wont to find some help has vanished with everything else, and that there is none
who has pity upon it. To this effect Job says likewise: 'Have pity upon me, have pity
upon me, at least ye my friends, because the hand of the Lord has touched me.'114 A
thing of great wonder and pity is it that the soul's weakness and impurity should
now be so great that, though the hand of God is of itself so light and gentle, the soul
should now feel it to be so heavy and so contrary,115 though it neither weighs it
down nor rests upon it, but only touches it, and that mercifully, since He does this
in order to grant the soul favours and not to chastise it.
Of other kinds of pain that the soul suffers in this night.
THE third kind of suffering and pain that the soul endures in this state results from
the fact that two other extremes meet here in one, namely, the Divine and the
human. The Divine is this purgative contemplation, and the human is the subject—
that is, the soul. The Divine assails the soul in order to renew it and thus to make it
Divine; and, stripping it of the habitual affections and attachments of the old man,
to which it is very closely united, knit together and conformed, destroys and
consumes its spiritual substance, and absorbs it in deep and profound darkness. As
a result of this, the soul feels itself to be perishing and melting away, in the
presence and sight of its miseries, in a cruel spiritual death, even as if it had been
swallowed by a beast and felt itself being devoured in the darkness of its belly,
suffering such anguish as was endured by Jonas in the belly of that beast of the
sea.116 For in this sepulchre of dark death it must needs abide until the spiritual
resurrection which it hopes for.
2. A description of this suffering and pain, although in truth it transcends all
description, is given by David, when he says: 'The lamentations of death compassed
me about; the pains of hell surrounded me; I cried in my tribulation.'117 But what
the sorrowful soul feels most in this condition is its clear perception, as it thinks,
that God has abandoned it, and, in His abhorrence of it, has flung it into darkness;
it is a grave and piteous grief for it to believe that God has forsaken it. It is this that
112Psalm xxxviii, 12 [A.V., xxxix, 11].
113Job xxiii, 6.
114Job xix, 21.
115[There is a reference here to Job vii, 20: cf. § 5, above.]
116Jonas ii, 1.
117Psalm xvii, 5-7 [A.V., xviii, 4-5].
David also felt so much in a like case, saying: 'After the manner wherein the
wounded are dead in the sepulchres,' being now cast off by Thy hand, so that Thou
rememberest them no more, even so have they set me in the deepest and lowest
lake, in the dark places and in the shadow of death, and Thy fury is confirmed upon
me and all Thy waves Thou hast brought in upon me.'118 For indeed, when this
purgative contemplation is most severe, the soul feels very keenly the shadow of
death and the lamentations of death and the pains of hell, which consist in its
feeling itself to be without God, and chastised and cast out, and unworthy of Him;
and it feels that He is wroth with it. All this is felt by the soul in this condition—
yea, and more, for it believes that it is so with it for ever.
3. It feels, too, that all creatures have forsaken it, and that it is contemned by
them, particularly by its friends. Wherefore David presently continues, saying:
'Thou hast put far from me my friends and acquaintances; they have counted me an
abomination.'119 To all this will Jonas testify, as one who likewise experienced it in
the belly of the beast, both bodily and spiritually. 'Thou hast cast me forth (he says)
into the deep, into the heart of the sea, and the flood hath compassed me; all its
billows and waves have passed over me. And I said, "I am cast away out of the sight
of Thine eyes, but I shall once again see Thy holy temple" (which he says, because
God purifies the soul in this state that it may see His temple); the waters compassed
me, even to the soul, the deep hath closed me round about, the ocean hath covered
my head, I went down to the lowest parts of the mountains; the bars of the earth
have shut me up for ever.'120 By these bars are here understood, in this sense,
imperfections of the soul, which have impeded it from enjoying this delectable
4. The fourth kind of pain is caused in the soul by another excellence of this
dark contemplation, which is its majesty and greatness, from which arises in the
soul a consciousness of the other extreme which is in itself—namely, that of the
deepest poverty and wretchedness: this is one of the chiefest pains that it suffers in
this purgation. For it feels within itself a profound emptiness and impoverishment
of three kinds of good, which are ordained for the pleasure of the soul which are the
temporal, the natural and the spiritual; and finds itself set in the midst of the evils
contrary to these, namely, miseries of imperfection, aridity and emptiness of the
apprehensions of the faculties and abandonment of the spirit in darkness. Inasmuch
as God here purges the soul according to the substance of its sense and spirit, and
according to the interior and exterior faculties, the soul must needs be in all its
parts reduced to a state of emptiness, poverty and abandonment and must be left
dry and empty and in darkness. For the sensual part is purified in aridity, the
faculties are purified in the emptiness of their perceptions and the spirit is purified
in thick darkness.
5. All this God brings to pass by means of this dark contemplation; wherein
the soul not only suffers this emptiness and the suspension of these natural
supports and perceptions, which is a most afflictive suffering (as if a man were
suspended or held in the air so that he could not breathe), but likewise He is
purging the soul, annihilating it, emptying it or consuming in it (even as fire
consumes the mouldiness and the rust of metal) all the affections and imperfect
habits which it has contracted in its whole life. Since these are deeply rooted in the
substance of the soul, it is wont to suffer great undoings and inward torment,
besides the said poverty and emptiness, natural and spiritual, so that there may
here be fulfilled that passage from Ezechiel which says: 'Heap together the bones
118Psalm lxxxvii, 6-8 [A.V., lxxxviii, 5-7].
119Psalm lxxxvii, 9 [A.V., lxxxviii, 8].
120Jonas ii, 4-7 [A.V., ii, 3-6].
and I will burn them in the fire; the flesh shall be consumed and the whole
composition shall be burned and the bones shall be destroyed.'121 Herein is
understood the pain which is suffered in the emptiness and poverty of the substance
of the soul both in sense and in spirit. And concerning this he then says: 'Set it also
empty upon the coals, that its metal may become hot and molten, and its
uncleanness may be destroyed within it, and its rust may be consumed.'122 Herein is
described the grave suffering which the soul here endures in the purgation of the
fire of this contemplation, for the Prophet says here that, in order for the rust of the
affections which are within the soul to be purified and destroyed, it is needful that,
in a certain manner, the soul itself should be annihilated and destroyed, since these
passions and imperfections have become natural to it.
6. Wherefore, because the soul is purified in this furnace like gold in a
crucible, as says the Wise Man,123 it is conscious of this complete undoing of itself in
its very substance, together with the direst poverty, wherein it is, as it were,
nearing its end, as may be seen by that which David says of himself in this respect,
in these words: 'Save me, Lord (he cries to God), for the waters have come in even
unto my soul; I am made fast in the mire of the deep and there is no place where I
can stand; I am come into the depth of the sea and a tempest hath overwhelmed me;
I have laboured crying, my throat has become hoarse, mine eyes have failed whilst I
hope in my God.'124 Here God greatly humbles the soul in order that He may
afterwards greatly exalt it; and if He ordained not that, when these feelings arise
within the soul, they should speedily be stilled, it would die in a very short space;
but there are only occasional periods when it is conscious of their greatest intensity.
At times, however, they are so keen that the soul seems to be seeing hell and
perdition opened. Of such are they that in truth go down alive into hell, being
purged here on earth in the same manner as there, since this purgation is that
which would have to be accomplished there. And thus the soul that passes through
this either enters not that place125 at all, or tarries there but for a very short time;
for one hour of purgation here is more profitable than are many there.
Continues the same matter and considers other afflictions end constraints of the will.
THE afflictions and constraints of the will are now very great likewise, and of such
a kind that they sometimes transpierce the soul with a sudden remembrance of the
evils in the midst of which it finds itself, and with the uncertainty of finding a
remedy for them. And to this is added the remembrance of times of prosperity now
past; for as a rule souls that enter this night have had many consolations from God,
and have rendered Him many services, and it causes them the greater grief to see
that they are far removed from that happiness and unable to enter into it. This was
also described by Job, who had had experience of it, in these words: 'I, who was wont
to be wealthy and rich, am suddenly undone and broken to pieces; He hath taken
me by my neck; He hath broken me and set me up for His mark to wound me; He
hath compassed me round about with His lances; He hath wounded all my loins; He
hath not spared; He hath poured out my bowels on the earth; He hath broken me
121Ezechiel xxiv, 10.
122Ezechiel xxiv, 11.
123Wisdom iii, 6.
124Psalm lxviii, 2-4 [A.V., lxix, 1-3].
with wound upon wound; He hath assailed me as a strong giant; I have sewed
sackcloth upon my skin and have covered my flesh with ashes; my face is become
swollen with weeping and mine eyes are blinded.'126
2. So many and so grievous are the afflictions of this night, and so many
passages of Scripture are there which could be cited to this purpose, that time and
strength would fail us to write of them, for all that can be said thereof is certainly
less than the truth. From the passages already quoted some idea may be gained of
them. And, that we may bring the exposition of this line to a close and explain more
fully what is worked in the soul by this night, I shall tell what Jeremias felt about
it, which, since there is so much of it, he describes and bewails in many words after
this manner: 'I am the man that see my poverty in the rod of His indignation; He
hath threatened me and brought me into darkness and not into light. So far hath
He turned against me and hath converted His hand upon me all the day! My skin
and my flesh hath He made old; He hath broken my bones; He hath made a fence
around me and compassed me with gall and trial; He hath set me in dark places, as
those that are dead for ever. He hath made a fence around me and against me, that
I may not go out; He hath made my captivity heavy. Yea, and when I have cried and
have entreated, He hath shut out my prayer. He hath enclosed my paths and ways
out with square stones; He hath thwarted my steps. He hath set ambushes for me;
He hath become to me a lion in a secret place. He hath turned aside my steps and
broken me in pieces, He hath made me desolate; He hath bent His bow and set me
as a mark for His arrow. He hath shot into my reins the daughters of His quiver. I
have become a derision to all the people, and laughter and scorn for them all the
day. He hath filled me with bitterness and hath made me drunken with wormwood.
He hath broken my teeth by number; He hath fed me with ashes. My soul is cast out
from peace; I have forgotten good things. And I said: "Mine end is frustrated and cut
short, together with my desire and my hope from the Lord. Remember my poverty
and my excess, the wormwood and the gall. I shall be mindful with remembrance
and my soul shall be undone within me in pains."'127
3. All these complaints Jeremias makes about these pains and trials, and by
means of them he most vividly depicts the sufferings of the soul in this spiritual
night and purgation. Wherefore the soul that God sets in this tempestuous and
horrible night is deserving of great compassion. For, although it experiences much
happiness by reason of the great blessings that must arise on this account within it,
when, as Job says, God raises up profound blessings in the soul out of darkness, and
brings up to light the shadow of death,128 so that, as David says, His light comes to
be as was His darkness;129 yet notwithstanding, by reason of the dreadful pain
which the soul is suffering, and of the great uncertainty which it has concerning the
remedy for it, since it believes, as this prophet says here, that its evil will never end,
and it thinks, as David says likewise, that God set it in dark places like those that
are dead,130 and for this reason brought its spirit within it into anguish and
troubled its heart,131 it suffers great pain and grief, since there is added to all this
(because of the solitude and abandonment caused in it by this dark night) the fact
that it finds no consolation or support in any instruction nor in a spiritual master.
For, although in many ways its director may show it good reason for being
comforted because of the blessings which are contained in these afflictions, it cannot
126Job xvi, 13-17 [A.V., xvi, 12-16].
127Lamentations iii, 1-20.
128Job xii, 22.
129Psalm cxxxviii, 12 [A.V., cxxxix, 12].
130[Lit., 'like to the dead of the world (or of the age).']
131Psalm cxlii, 3 [A.V., cxliii, 3-4].
believe him. For it is so greatly absorbed and immersed in the realization of those
evils wherein it sees its own miseries so clearly, that it thinks that, as its director
observes not that which it sees and feels, he is speaking in this manner because he
understands it not; and so, instead of comfort, it rather receives fresh affliction,
since it believes that its director's advice contains no remedy for its troubles. And, in
truth, this is so; for, until the Lord shall have completely purged it after the manner
that He wills, no means or remedy is of any service or profit for the relief of its
affliction; the more so because the soul is as powerless in this case as one who has
been imprisoned in a dark dungeon, and is bound hand and foot, and can neither
move nor see, nor feel any favour whether from above or from below, until the spirit
is humbled, softened and purified, and grows so keen and delicate and pure that it
can become one with the Spirit of God, according to the degree of union of love
which His mercy is pleased to grant it; in proportion to this the purgation is of
greater or less severity and of greater or less duration.
4. But, if it is to be really effectual, it will last for some years, however severe
it be; since the purgative process allows intervals of relief wherein, by the
dispensation of God, this dark contemplation ceases to assail the soul in the form
and manner of purgation, and assails it after an illuminative and a loving manner,
wherein the soul, like one that has gone forth from this dungeon and imprisonment,
and is brought into the recreation of spaciousness and liberty, feels and experiences
great sweetness of peace and loving friendship with God, together with a ready
abundance of spiritual communication. This is to the soul a sign of the health which
is being wrought within it by the said purgation and a foretaste of the abundance
for which it hopes. Occasionally this is so great that the soul believes its trials to be
at last over. For spiritual things in the soul, when they are most purely spiritual,
have this characteristic that, if trials come to it, the soul believes that it will never
escape from them, and that all its blessings are now over, as has been seen in the
passages quoted; and, if spiritual blessings come, the soul believes in the same way
that its troubles are now over, and that blessings will never fail it. This was so with
David, when he found himself in the midst of them, as he confesses in these words:
'I said in my abundance: "I shall never be moved."'132
5. This happens because the actual possession by the spirit of one of two
contrary things itself makes impossible the actual possession and realization of the
other contrary thing; this is not so, however, in the sensual part of the soul, because
its apprehension is weak. But, as the spirit is not yet completely purged and
cleansed from the affections that it has contracted from its lower part, while
changing not in so far as it is spirit, it can be moved to further afflictions in so far as
these affections sway it. In this way, as we see, David was afterwards moved, and
experienced many ills and afflictions, although in the time of his abundance he had
thought and said that he would never be moved. Just so is it with the soul in this
condition, when it sees itself moved by that abundance of spiritual blessings, and,
being unable to see the root of the imperfection and impurity which still remain
within it, thinks that its trials are over.
6. This thought, however, comes to the soul but seldom, for, until spiritual
purification is complete and perfected, the sweet communication is very rarely so
abundant as to conceal from the soul the root which remains hidden, in such a way
that the soul can cease to feel that there is something that it lacks within itself or
that it has still to do. Thus it cannot completely enjoy that relief, but feels as if one
of its enemies were within it, and although this enemy is, as it were, hushed and
asleep, it fears that he will come to life again and attack it.133 And this is what
132Psalm xxix, 7 [A.V., xxx, 6].
133[Lit., 'and play his tricks upon it.']
indeed happens, for, when the soul is most secure and least alert, it is dragged down
and immersed again in another and a worse degree of affliction which is severer and
darker and more grievous than that which is past; and this new affliction will
continue for a further period of time, perhaps longer than the first. And the soul
once more comes to believe that all its blessings are over for ever. Although it had
thought during its first trial that there were no more afflictions which it could
suffer, and yet, after the trial was over, it enjoyed great blessings, this experience is
not sufficient to take away its belief, during this second degree of trial, that all is
now over for it and that it will never again be happy as in the past. For, as I say,
this belief, of which the soul is so sure, is caused in it by the actual apprehension of
the spirit, which annihilates within it all that is contrary to it.
7. This is the reason why those who lie in purgatory suffer great misgivings
as to whether they will ever go forth from it and whether their pains will ever be
over. For, although they have the habit of the three theological virtues—faith, hope
and charity—the present realization which they have of their afflictions and of their
deprivation of God allows them not to enjoy the present blessing and consolation of
these virtues. For, although they are able to realize that they have a great love for
God, this is no consolation to them, since they cannot think that God loves them or
that they are worthy that He should do so; rather, as they see that they are
deprived of Him, and left in their own miseries, they think that there is that in
themselves which provides a very good reason why they should with perfect justice
be abhorred and cast out by God for ever.134 And thus although the soul in this
purgation is conscious that it has a great love for God and would give a thousand
lives for Him (which is the truth, for in these trials such souls love their God very
earnestly), yet this is no relief to it, but rather brings it greater affliction. For it
loves Him so much that it cares about naught beside; when, therefore, it sees itself
to be so wretched that it cannot believe that God loves it, nor that there is or will
ever be reason why He should do so, but rather that there is reason why it should be
abhorred, not only by Him, but by all creatures for ever, it is grieved to see in itself
134B. Bz., C, H. Mtr. all have this long passage on the suffering of the soul in Purgatory. It would be
rash, therefore, to deny that St. John of the Cross is its author, [or to suppose, as P. Gerardo did,
that he deleted it during a revision of his works]. An admirably constructed synthesis of these
questions will be found in B. Belarmino, De Purgatorio, Bk. II, chaps. iv, v. He asks if souls in
Purgatory are sure of their salvation. This was denied by Luther, and by a number of Catholic
writers, who held that, among the afflictions of these souls, the greatest is this very uncertainty,
some maintain that, though they have in fact such certainty, they are unaware of it. Belarmino
quotes among other authorities Denis the Carthusian De quattuor novissimis, Gerson (Lect. I De Vita
Spirituali) and John of Rochester (against Luther's 32nd article); these writers claim that, as sin
which is venial is only so through the Divine mercy, it may with perfect justice be rewarded by
eternal punishment, and thus souls that have committed venial sin cannot be confident of their
salvation. He also shows, however, that the common opinion of theologians is that the souls in
Purgatory are sure of their salvation, and considers various degrees of certainty, adding very truly
that, while these souls experience no fear, they experience hope, since they have not yet the Beatific
Uncertainty as to their salvation, it is said, might arise from ignorance of the sentence
passed upon them by the Judge or from the deadening of their faculties by the torments which they
are suffering. Belarmino refutes these and other suppositions with great force and effect. St. John of
the Cross seems to be referring to the last named when he writes of the realization of their afflictions
and their deprivation of God not allowing them to enjoy the blessings of the theological virtues. It is
not surprising if the Saint, not having examined very closely this question, of which he would have
read treatments in various authors, thought of it principally as an apt illustration of the purifying
and refining effects of passive purgation; and an apt illustration it certainly is.
reasons for deserving to be cast out by Him for Whom it has such great love and
Of other pains which afflict the soul in this state.
BUT there is another thing here that afflicts and distresses the soul greatly, which
is that, as this dark night has hindered its faculties and affections in this way, it is
unable to raise its affection or its mind to God, neither can it pray to Him, thinking,
as Jeremias thought concerning himself, that God has set a cloud before it through
which its prayer cannot pass.135 For it is this that is meant by that which is said in
the passage referred to, namely: 'He hath shut and enclosed my paths with square
stones.'136 And if it sometimes prays it does so with such lack of strength and of
sweetness that it thinks that God neither hears it nor pays heed to it, as this
Prophet likewise declares in the same passage, saying: 'When I cry and entreat, He
hath shut out my prayer.'137 In truth this is no time for the soul to speak with God;
it should rather put its mouth in the dust, as Jeremias says, so that perchance there
may come to it some present hope,138 and it may endure its purgation with patience.
It is God Who is passively working here in the soul; wherefore the soul can do
nothing. Hence it can neither pray nor pay attention when it is present at the
Divine offices,139 much less can it attend to other things and affairs which are
temporal. Not only so, but it has likewise such distractions and times of such
profound forgetfulness of the memory that frequent periods pass by without its
knowing what it has been doing or thinking, or what it is that it is doing or is going
to do, neither can it pay attention, although it desire to do so, to anything that
2. Inasmuch as not only is the understanding here purged of its light, and the
will of its affections, but the memory is also purged of meditation and knowledge, it
is well that it be likewise annihilated with respect to all these things, so that that
which David says of himself in this purgation may by fulfilled, namely: 'I was
annihilated and I knew not.'140 This unknowing refers to these follies and
forgetfulnesses of the memory, which distractions and forgetfulnesses are caused by
the interior recollection wherein this contemplation absorbs the soul. For, in order
that the soul may be divinely prepared and tempered with its faculties for the
Divine union of love, it would be well for it to be first of all absorbed, with all its
faculties, in this Divine and dark spiritual light of contemplation, and thus to be
withdrawn from all the affections and apprehensions of the creatures, which
condition ordinarily continues in proportion to its intensity. And thus, the simpler
and the purer is this Divine light in its assault upon the soul, the more does it
darken it, void it and annihilate it according to its particular apprehensions and
affections, with regard both to things above and to things below; and similarly, the
less simple and pure is it in this assault, the less deprivation it causes it and the
less dark is it. Now this is a thing that seems incredible, to say that, the brighter
and purer is supernatural and Divine light, the more it darkens the soul, and that,
135Lamentations iii, 44.
136[Lamentations iii, 9.]
137Lamentations iii, 9.
138Lamentations iii, 28.
139[Lit., 'at the Divine things.']
140Psalm lxxii, 22 [A.V., lxxiii, 22].
the less bright and pure is it, the less dark it is to the soul. Yet this may readily be
understood if we consider what has been proved above by the dictum of the
philosopher—namely, that the brighter and the more manifest in themselves are
supernatural things the darker are they to our understanding.
3. And, to the end that this may be understood the more clearly, we shall here
set down a similitude referring to common and natural light. We observe that a ray
of sunlight which enters through the window is the less clearly visible according as
it is the purer and freer from specks, and the more of such specks and motes there
are in the air, the brighter is the light to the eye. The reason is that it is not the
light itself that is seen; the light is but the means whereby the other things that it
strikes are seen, and then it is also seen itself, through its reflection in them; were it
not for this, neither it nor they would have been seen. Thus if the ray of sunlight
entered through the window of one room and passed out through another on the
other side, traversing the room, and if it met nothing on the way, or if there were no
specks in the air for it to strike, the room would have no more light than before,
neither would the ray of light be visible. In fact, if we consider it carefully, there is
more darkness where the ray is, since it absorbs and obscures any other light, and
yet it is itself invisible, because, as we have said, there are no visible objects which
it can strike.
4. Now this is precisely what this Divine ray of contemplation does in the
soul. Assailing it with its Divine light, it transcends the natural power of the soul,
and herein it darkens it and deprives it of all natural affections and apprehensions
which it apprehended aforetime by means of natural light; and thus it leaves it not
only dark, but likewise empty, according to its faculties and desires, both spiritual
and natural. And, by thus leaving it empty and in darkness, it purges and illumines
it with Divine spiritual light, although the soul thinks not that it has this light, but
believes itself to be in darkness, even as we have said of the ray of light, which
although it be in the midst of the room, yet, if it be pure and meet nothing on its
path, is not visible. With regard, however, to this spiritual light by which the soul is
assailed, when it has something to strike—that is, when something spiritual
presents itself to be understood, however small a speck it be and whether of
perfection or imperfection, or whether it be a judgment of the falsehood or the truth
of a thing—it then sees and understands much more clearly than before it was in
these dark places. And exactly in the same way it discerns the spiritual light which
it has in order that it may readily discern the imperfection which is presented to it;
even as, when the ray of which we have spoken, within the room, is dark and not
itself visible, if one introduce a hand or any other thing into its path, the hand is
then seen and it is realized that that sunlight is present.
5. Wherefore, since this spiritual light is so simple, pure and general, not
appropriated or restricted to any particular thing that can be understood, whether
natural or Divine (since with respect to all these apprehensions the faculties of the
soul are empty and annihilated), it follows that with great comprehensiveness and
readiness the soul discerns and penetrates whatsoever thing presents itself to it,
whether it come from above or from below; for which cause the Apostle said: That
the spiritual man searches all things, even the deep things of God.141 For by this
general and simple wisdom is understood that which the Holy Spirit says through
the Wise Man, namely: That it reaches wheresoever it wills by reason of its
purity;142 that is to say, because it is not restricted to any particular object of the
intellect or affection. And this is the characteristic of the spirit that is purged and
annihilated with respect to all particular affections and objects of the
1411 Corinthians ii, 10. [Lit., 'penetrates all things.']
142Wisdom vii, 24.
understanding, that in this state wherein it has pleasure in nothing and
understands nothing in particular, but dwells in its emptiness, darkness and
obscurity, it is fully prepared to embrace everything to the end that those words of
Saint Paul may be fulfilled in it: Nihil habentes, et omnia possidentes.143 For such
poverty of spirit as this would deserve such happiness.
How, although this night brings darkness to the spirit, it does so in order to illumine
it and give it light.
IT now remains to be said that, although this happy night brings darkness to the
spirit, it does so only to give it light in everything; and that, although it humbles it
and makes it miserable, it does so only to exalt it and to raise it up; and, although it
impoverishes it and empties it of all natural affection and attachment, it does so
only that it may enable it to stretch forward, divinely, and thus to have fruition and
experience of all things, both above and below, yet to preserve its unrestricted
liberty of spirit in them all. For just as the elements, in order that they may have a
part in all natural entities and compounds, must have no particular colour, odour or
taste, so as to be able to combine with all tastes odours and colours, just so must the
spirit be simple, pure and detached from all kinds of natural affection, whether
actual or habitual, to the end that it may be able freely to share in the breadth of
spirit of the Divine Wisdom, wherein, through its purity, it has experience of all the
sweetness of all things in a certain pre-eminently excellent way.144 And without this
purgation it will be wholly unable to feel or experience the satisfaction of all this
abundance of spiritual sweetness. For one single affection remaining in the spirit, or
one particular thing to which, actually or habitually, it clings, suffices to hinder it
from feeling or experiencing or communicating the delicacy and intimate sweetness
of the spirit of love, which contains within itself all sweetness to a most eminent
2. For, even as the children of Israel, solely because they retained one single
affection and remembrance—namely, with respect to the fleshpots and the meals
which they had tasted in Egypt146—could not relish the delicate bread of angels, in
the desert, which was the manna, which, as the Divine Scripture says, held
sweetness for every taste and turned to the taste that each one desired;147 even so
the spirit cannot succeed in enjoying the delights of the spirit of liberty, according to
the desire of the will, if it be still affectioned to any desire, whether actual or
habitual, or to particular objects of understanding, or to any other apprehension.
The reason for this is that the affections, feelings and apprehensions of the perfect
spirit, being Divine, are of another kind and of a very different order from those that
are natural. They are pre-eminent, so that, in order both actually and habitually to
possess the one, it is needful to expel and annihilate the other, as with two contrary
things, which cannot exist together in one person. Therefore it is most fitting and
necessary, if the soul is to pass to these great things, that this dark night of
contemplation should first of all annihilate and undo it in its meannesses, bringing
it into darkness, aridity, affliction and emptiness; for the light which is to be given
1432 Corinthians vi, 10.
144[Lit., 'with a certain eminence of excellence.']
145[Lit., '. . . sweetness, with great eminence.']
146Exodus xvi, 3.
147Wisdom xvi, 21.
to it is a Divine light of the highest kind, which transcends all natural light, and
which by nature can find no place in the understanding.
3. And thus it is fitting that, if the understanding is to be united with that
light and become Divine in the state of perfection, it should first of all be purged and
annihilated as to its natural light, and, by means of this dark contemplation, be
brought actually into darkness. This darkness should continue for as long as is
needful in order to expel and annihilate the habit which the soul has long since
formed in its manner of understanding, and the Divine light and illumination will
then take its place. And thus, inasmuch as that power of understanding which it
had aforetime is natural, it follows that the darkness which it here suffers is
profound and horrible and most painful, for this darkness, being felt in the deepest
substance of the spirit, seems to be substantial darkness. Similarly, since the
affection of love which is to be given to it in the Divine union of love is Divine, and
therefore very spiritual, subtle and delicate, and very intimate, transcending every
affection and feeling of the will, and every desire thereof, it is fitting that, in order
that the will may be able to attain to this Divine affection and most lofty delight,
and to feel it and experience it through the union of love, since it is not, in the way
of nature, perceptible to the will, it be first of all purged and annihilated in all its
affections and feelings, and left in a condition of aridity and constraint,
proportionate to the habit of natural affections which it had before, with respect
both to Divine things and to human. Thus, being exhausted, withered and
thoroughly tried in the fire of this dark contemplation, and having driven away
every kind148 of evil spirit (as with the heart of the fish which Tobias set on the
coals149), it may have a simple and pure disposition, and its palate may be purged
and healthy, so that it may feel the rare and sublime touches of Divine love,
wherein it will see itself divinely transformed, and all the contrarieties, whether
actual or habitual, which it had aforetime, will be expelled, as we are saying.
4. Moreover, in order to attain the said union to which this dark night is
disposing and leading it, the soul must be filled and endowed with a certain glorious
magnificence in its communion with God, which includes within itself innumerable
blessings springing from delights which exceed all the abundance that the soul can
naturally possess. For by nature the soul is so weak and impure that it cannot
receive all this. As Isaias says: 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it
entered into the heart of man, that which God hath prepared, etc.'150 It is meet,
then, that the soul be first of all brought into emptiness and poverty of spirit and
purged from all help, consolation and natural apprehension with respect to all
things, both above and below. In this way, being empty, it is able indeed to be poor
in spirit and freed from the old man, in order to live that new and blessed life which
is attained by means of this night, and which is the state of union with God.
5. And because the soul is to attain to the possession of a sense, and of a
Divine knowledge, which is very generous and full of sweetness, with respect to
things Divine and human, which fall not within the common experience and natural
knowledge of the soul (because it looks on them with eyes as different from those of
the past as spirit is different from sense and the Divine from the human), the spirit
must be straitened151 and inured to hardships as regards its common and natural
experience, and be brought by means of this purgative contemplation into great
anguish and affliction, and the memory must be borne far from all agreeable and
148[Lit., 'from every kind.' But see Tobias viii, 2. The 'deprived' of e.p. gives the best reading of this
phrase, but the general sense is clear from the Scriptural reference.]
149Tobias viii, 2.
150Isaias lxiv, 4 [1 Corinthians ii, 9].
151[Lit., 'be made thin.']
peaceful knowledge, and have an intimated sense and feeling that it is making a
pilgrimage and being a stranger to all things, so that it seems to it that all things
are strange and of a different kind from that which they were wont to be. For this
night is gradually drawing the spirit away from its ordinary and common
experience of things and bringing it nearer the Divine sense, which is a stranger
and an alien to all human ways. It seems now to the soul that it is going forth from
its very self, with much affliction. At other times it wonders if it is under a charm or
a spell, and it goes about marvelling at the things that it sees and hears, which
seem to it very strange and rare, though they are the same that it was accustomed
to experience aforetime. The reason of this is that the soul is now becoming alien
and remote from common sense and knowledge of things, in order that, being
annihilated in this respect, it may be informed with the Divine—which belongs
rather to the next life than to this.
6. The soul suffers all these afflictive purgations of the spirit to the end that
it may be begotten anew in spiritual life by means of this Divine inflowing, and in
these pangs may bring forth the spirit of salvation, that the saying of Isaias may be
fulfilled: 'In Thy sight, O Lord, we have conceived, and we have been as in the pangs
of labour, and we have brought forth the spirit of salvation.'152 Moreover, since by
means of this contemplative night the soul is prepared for the attainment of inward
peace and tranquillity, which is of such a kind and so delectable that, as the
Scripture says, it passes all understanding,153 it behoves the soul to abandon all its
former peace. This was in reality no peace at all, since it was involved in
imperfections; but to the soul aforementioned it appeared to be so, because it was
following its own inclinations, which were for peace. It seemed, indeed, to be a
twofold peace—that is, the soul believed that it had already acquired the peace of
sense and that of spirit, for it found itself to be full of the spiritual abundance of this
peace of sense and of spirit—as I say, it is still imperfect. First of all, then, it must
be purged of that former peace and disquieted concerning it and withdrawn from
it.154 Even so was Jeremias when, in the passage which we quoted from him, he felt
and lamented155 thus, in order to express the calamities of this night that is past,
saying: 'My soul is withdrawn and removed from peace.'156
7. This is a painful disturbance, involving many misgivings, imaginings, and
strivings which the soul has within itself, wherein, with the apprehension and
realization of the miseries it which it sees itself, it fancies that it is lost and that its
blessings have gone for ever. Wherefore the spirit experiences pain and sighing so
deep that they cause it vehement spiritual groans and cries, to which at times it
gives vocal expression; when it has the necessary strength and power it dissolves
into tears, although this relief comes but seldom. David describes this very aptly, in
a Psalm, as one who has had experience of it, where he says: 'I was exceedingly
afflicted and humbled; I roared with the groaning of my heart.'157 This roaring
implies great pain; for at times, with the sudden and acute remembrance of these
miseries wherein the soul sees itself, pain and affliction rise up and surround it, and
I know not how the affections of the soul could be described158 save in the similitude
152Isaias xxvi, 17-18.
153[Philippians iv, 7.]
154[We have here split up a parenthesis of about seventy words.]
155[Lit., 'and wept.']
156Lamentations iii, 17.
157Psalm xxxvii, 9 [A.V., xxxviii, 8].
158[Lit., '. . . sees itself, it arises and is surrounded with pain and affliction the affections of the soul,
that I know not how it could be described.' A confused, ungrammatical sentence, of which, however,
the general meaning is not doubtful.]
of holy Job, when he was in the same trials, and uttered these words: 'Even as the
overflowing of the waters, even so is my roaring.'159 For just as at times the waters
make such inundations that they overwhelm and fill everything, so at times this
roaring and this affliction of the soul grow to such an extent that they overwhelm it
and penetrate it completely, filling it with spiritual pain and anguish in all its deep
affections and energies, to an extent surpassing all possibility of exaggeration.
8. Such is the work wrought in the soul by this night that hides the hopes of
the light of day. With regard to this the prophet Job says likewise: 'In the night my
mouth is pierced with sorrows and they that feed upon me sleep not.'160 Now here
by the mouth is understood the will, which is transpierced with these pains that
tear the soul to pieces, neither ceasing nor sleeping, for the doubts and misgivings
which transpierce the soul in this way never cease.
9. Deep is this warfare and this striving, for the peace which the soul hopes
for will be very deep; and the spiritual pain is intimate and delicate, for the love
which it will possess will likewise be very intimate and refined. The more intimate
and the more perfect the finished work is to be and to remain, the more intimate,
perfect and pure must be the labour; the firmer the edifice, the harder the labour.
Wherefore, as Job says, the soul is fading within itself, and its vitals are being
consumed without any hope.161 Similarly, because in the state of perfection toward
which it journeys by means of this purgative night the soul will attain to the
possession and fruition of innumerable blessings, of gifts and virtues, both according
to the substance of the soul and likewise according to its faculties, it must needs see
and feel itself withdrawn from them all and deprived of them all and be empty and
poor without them; and it must needs believe itself to be so far from them that it
cannot persuade itself that it will ever reach them, but rather it must be convinced
that all its good things are over. The words of Jeremias have a similar meaning in
that passage already quoted, where he says: 'I have forgotten good things.'162
10. But let us now see the reason why this light of contemplation, which is so
sweet and blessed to the soul that there is naught more desirable (for, as has been
said above, it is the same wherewith the soul must be united and wherein it must
find all the good things in the state of perfection that it desires), produces, when it
assails the soul, these beginnings which are so painful and these effects which are
so disagreeable, as we have here said.
1l. This question is easy for us to answer, by explaining, as we have already
done in part, that the cause of this is that, in contemplation and the Divine
inflowing, there is naught that of itself can cause affliction, but that they rather
cause great sweetness and delight, as we shall say hereafter. The cause is rather
the weakness and imperfection from which the soul then suffers, and the
dispositions which it has in itself and which make it unfit for the reception of them.
Wherefore, when the said Divine light assails the soul, it must needs cause it to
suffer after the manner aforesaid.
Explains this purgation fully by a comparison.
159Job iii, 24.
160Job xxx, 17.
161Job xxx, 16.
162Lamentations iii, 17.
FOR the greater clearness of what has been said, and of what has still to be said, it
is well to observe at this point that this purgative and loving knowledge or Divine
light whereof we here speak acts upon the soul which it is purging and preparing for
perfect union with it in the same way as fire acts upon a log of wood in order to
transform it into itself; for material fire, acting upon wood, first of all begins to dry
it, by driving out its moisture and causing it to shed the water which it contains
within itself. Then it begins to make it black, dark and unsightly, and even to give
forth a bad odour, and, as it dries it little by little, it brings out and drives away all
the dark and unsightly accidents which are contrary to the nature of fire. And,
finally, it begins to kindle it externally and give it heat, and at last transforms it
into itself and makes it as beautiful as fire. In this respect, the wood has neither
passivity nor activity of its own, save for its weight, which is greater, and its
substance, which is denser, than that of fire, for it has in itself the properties and
activities of fire. Thus it is dry and it dries; it is hot and heats; it is bright and gives
brightness; and it is much less heavy than before. All these properties and effects
are caused in it by the fire.
2. In this same way we have to philosophize with respect to this Divine fire of
contemplative love, which, before it unites and transforms the soul in itself, first
purges it of all its contrary accidents. It drives out its unsightliness, and makes it
black and dark, so that it seems worse than before and more unsightly and
abominable than it was wont to be. For this Divine purgation is removing all the
evil and vicious humours which the soul has never perceived because they have
been so deeply rooted and grounded in it; it has never realized, in fact, that it has
had so much evil within itself. But now that they are to be driven forth and
annihilated, these humours reveal themselves, and become visible to the soul
because it is so brightly illumined by this dark light of Divine contemplation
(although it is no worse than before, either in itself or in relation to God); and, as it
sees in itself that which it saw not before, it is clear to it that not only is it unfit to
be seen by God, but deserves His abhorrence, and that He does indeed abhor it. By
this comparison we can now understand many things concerning what we are
saying and purpose to say.
3. First, we can understand how the very light and the loving wisdom which
are to be united with the soul and to transform it are the same that at the beginning
purge and prepare it: even as the very fire which transforms the log of wood into
itself, and makes it part of itself, is that which at the first was preparing it for that
4. Secondly, we shall be able to see how these afflictions are not felt by the
soul as coming from the said Wisdom, since, as the Wise Man says, all good things
together come to the soul with her.163 They are felt as coming from the weakness
and imperfection which belong to the soul; without such purgation, the soul cannot
receive its Divine light, sweetness and delight, even as the log of wood, when the
fire acts upon it, cannot immediately be transformed until it be made ready;
wherefore the soul is greatly afflicted. This statement is fully supported by the
Preacher, where he describes all that he suffered in order that he might attain to
union with wisdom and to the fruition of it, saying thus: 'My soul hath wrestled
with her and my bowels were moved in acquiring her; therefore it shall possess a
5. Thirdly, we can learn here incidentally in what manner souls are afflicted
in purgatory. For the fire would have no power over them, even though they came
into contact with it, if they had no imperfections for which to suffers. These are the
163Wisdom vii, 11.
164Ecclesiasticus li, 28-9 [A.V., li, 19-21].
material upon which the fire of purgatory seizes; when that material is consumed
there is naught else that can burn. So here, when the imperfections are consumed,
the affliction of the soul ceases and its fruition remains.
6. The fourth thing that we shall learn here is the manner wherein the soul,
as it becomes purged and purified by means of this fire of love, becomes ever more
enkindled in love, just as the wood grows hotter in proportion as it becomes the
better prepared by the fire. This enkindling of love, however, is not always felt by
the soul, but only at times when contemplation assails it less vehemently, for then it
has occasion to see, and even to enjoy, the work which is being wrought in it, and
which is then revealed to it. For it seems that the worker takes his hand from the
work, and draws the iron out of the furnace, in order that something of the work
which is being done may be seen; and then there is occasion for the soul to observe
in itself the good which it saw not while the work was going on. In the same way,
when the flame ceases to attack the wood, it is possible to see how much of it has
7. Fifthly, we shall also learn from this comparison what has been said
above—namely, how true it is that after each of these periods of relief the soul
suffers once again, more intensely and keenly than before. For, after that revelation
just referred to has been made, and after the more outward imperfections of the soul
have been purified, the fire of love once again attacks that which has yet to be
consumed and purified more inwardly. The suffering of the soul now becomes more
intimate, subtle and spiritual, in proportion as the fire refines away the finer,165
more intimate and more spiritual imperfections, and those which are most deeply
rooted in its inmost parts. And it is here just as with the wood, upon which the fire,
when it begins to penetrate it more deeply, acts with more force and vehemence166
in preparing its most inward part to possess it.
8. Sixthly, we shall likewise learn here the reason why it seems to the soul
that all its good is over, and that it is full of evil, since naught comes to it at this
time but bitterness; it is like the burning wood, which is touched by no air nor by
aught else than by consuming fire. But, when there occur other periods of relief like
the first, the rejoicing of the soul will be more interior because the purification has
been more interior also.
9. Seventhly, we shall learn that, although the soul has the most ample joy at
these periods (so much so that, as we said, it sometimes thinks that its trials can
never return again, although it is certain that they will return quickly), it cannot
fail to realize, if it is aware (and at times it is made aware) of a root of imperfection
which remains, that its joy is incomplete, because a new assault seems to be
threatening it;167 when this is so, the trial returns quickly. Finally, that which still
remains to be purged and enlightened most inwardly cannot well be concealed from
the soul in view of its experience of its former purification;168 even as also in the
wood it is the most inward part that remains longest unkindled,169 and the
difference between it and that which has already been purged is clearly perceptible;
and, when this purification once more assails it most inwardly, it is no wonder if it
seems to the soul once more that all its good is gone, and that it never expects to
165[Lit., 'more delicate.']
167[The sudden change of metaphor is the author's. The 'assault' is, of course, the renewed growth of
168[Lit., '. . . from the soul, with regard to that which has already been purified.']
169[Lit., 'not enlightened': the word is the same as that used just above.]
experience it again, for, now that it has been plunged into these most inward
sufferings, all good coming from without is over.170
10. Keeping this comparison, then, before our eyes, together with what has
already been said upon the first line of the first stanza concerning this dark night
and its terrible properties, it will be well to leave these sad experiences of the soul
and to begin to speak of the fruit of its tears and their blessed properties, whereof
the soul begins to sing from this second line:
Kindled in love171 with yearnings,
Begins to explain the second line of the first stanza. Describes how, as the fruit of
these rigorous constraints, the soul finds itself with the vehement passion of Divine
IN this line the soul describes the fire of love which, as we have said, like the
material fire acting upon the wood, begins to take hold upon the soul in this night of
painful contemplation. This enkindling now described, although in a certain way it
resembles that which we described above as coming to pass in the sensual part of
the soul, is in some ways as different from that other as is the soul from the body, or
the spiritual part from the sensual. For this present kind is an enkindling of
spiritual love in the soul, which, in the midst of these dark confines, feels itself to be
keenly and sharply wounded in strong Divine love, and to have a certain realization
and foretaste of God, although it understands nothing definitely, for, as we say, the
understanding is in darkness.
2. The spirit feels itself here to be deeply and passionately in love, for this
spiritual enkindling produces the passion of love. And, inasmuch as this love is
infused, it is passive rather than active, and thus it begets in the soul a strong
passion of love. This love has in it something of union with God, and thus to some
degree partakes of its properties, which are actions of God rather than of the soul,
these being subdued within it passively. What the soul does here is to give its
consent; the warmth and strength and temper and passion of love—or enkindling,
as the soul here calls it—belong172 only to the love of God, which enters increasingly
into union with it. This love finds in the soul more occasion and preparation to unite
itself with it and to wound it, according as all the soul's desires are the more
recollected,173 and are the more withdrawn from and disabled for the enjoyment of
aught either in Heaven or in earth.
3. This takes place to a great extent, as has already been said, in this dark
purgation, for God has so weaned all the inclinations and caused them to be so
recollected174 that they cannot find pleasure in anything they may wish. All this is
done by God to the end that, when He withdraws them and recollects them in
Himself, the soul may have more strength and fitness to receive this strong union of
love of God, which He is now beginning to give it through this purgative way,
wherein the soul must love with great strength and with all its desires and powers
both of spirit and of sense; which could not be if they were dispersed in the
170[The word translated 'over' is rendered 'gone' just above.]
171[Lit., 'in loves'; and so throughout the exposition of this line.]
172[Lit., 'cling,' 'adhere.']
173[Lit., 'shut up.']
174[Here, and below, the original has recogidos, the word normally translated 'recollected']
enjoyment of aught else. For this reason David said to God, to the end that he might
receive the strength of the love of this union with God: 'I will keep my strength for
Thee;'175 that is, I will keep the entire capacity and all the desires and energies of
my faculties, nor will I employ their operation or pleasure in aught else than
4. In this way it can be realized in some measure how great and how strong
may be this enkindling of love in the spirit, wherein God keeps in recollection all the
energies, faculties and desires of the soul, both of spirit and of sense, so that all this
harmony may employ its energies and virtues in this love, and may thus attain to a
true fulfilment of the first commandment, which sets aside nothing pertaining to
man nor excludes from this love anything that is his, but says: 'Thou shalt love thy
God with all thy heart and with all thy mind, with all thy soul and with all thy
5. When all the desires and energies of the soul, then, have been recollected
in this enkindling of love, and when the soul itself has been touched and wounded in
them all, and has been inspired with passion, what shall we understand the
movements and digressions of all these energies and desires to be, if they find
themselves enkindled and wounded with strong love and without the possession and
satisfaction thereof, in darkness and doubt? They will doubtless be suffering
hunger, like the dogs of which David speaks as running about the city177; finding no
satisfaction in this love, they keep howling and groaning. For the touch of this love
and Divine fire dries up the spirit and enkindles its desires, in order to satisfy its
thirst for this Divine love, so much so that it turns upon itself a thousand times and
desires God in a thousand ways and manners, with the eagerness and desire of the
appetite. This is very well explained by David in a psalm, where he says: 'My soul
thirsted for Thee: in how many manners does my soul long for Thee!'178—that is, in
desires. And another version reads: 'My soul thirsted for Thee, my soul is lost (or
perishes) for Thee.'
6. It is for this reason that the soul says in this line that it was 'kindled in
love with yearnings.'179 For in all the things and thoughts that it revolves within
itself, and in all the affairs and matters that present themselves to it, it loves in
many ways, and also desires and suffers in the desire in many ways, at all times
and in all places, finding rest in naught, and feeling this yearning in its enkindled
wound, even as the prophet Job declares, saying: 'As the hart180 desireth the
shadow, and as the hireling desireth the end of his work, so I also had vain months
and numbered to myself wearisome and laborious nights. If I lie down to sleep, I
shall say: "When shall I arise?" And then I shall await the evening and shall be full
of sorrows even until the darkness of night.'181 Everything becomes cramping to this
soul: it cannot live182 within itself; it cannot live either in Heaven or on earth; and it
is filled with griefs until the darkness comes to which Job here refers, speaking
spiritually and in the sense of our interpretation. What the soul here endures is
afflictions and suffering without the consolation of a certain hope of any light and
175Psalm lviii, 10 [A V., lix, 9].
176Deuteronomy vi, 5.
177Psalm lviii, 15-16 [A.V., lix, 14-15].
178Psalm lxii, 2 [A.V., lxiii, 1].
179[Lit., as in the verses, 'in loves.']
180[For cievro, hart, read siervo, servant, and we have the correct quotation from Scripture. The
change, however, was evidently made by the Saint knowingly. In P. Gerardo's edition, the Latin text,
with cervus, precedes the Spanish translation, with ciervo.]
181Job vii, 2-4.
182[No cabe: Lit., 'it cannot be contained,' 'there is no room for it.']
spiritual good. Wherefore the yearning and the grief of this soul in this enkindling
of love are greater because it is multiplied in two ways: first, by the spiritual
darkness wherein it finds itself, which afflicts it with its doubts and misgivings; and
then by the love of God, which enkindles and stimulates it, and, with its loving
wound, causes it a wondrous fear. These two kinds of suffering at such a season are
well described by Isaias, where he says: 'My soul desired Thee in the night'183—that
is, in misery.
7. This is one kind of suffering which proceeds from this dark night; but, he
goes on to say, with my spirit, in my bowels, until the morning, I will watch for
Thee. And this is the second way of grieving in desire and yearning which comes
from love in the bowels of the spirit, which are the spiritual affections. But in the
midst of these dark and loving afflictions the soul feels within itself a certain
companionship and strength, which bears it company and so greatly strengthens it
that, if this burden of grievous darkness be taken away, it often feels itself to be
alone, empty and weak. The cause of this is that, as the strength and efficacy of the
soul were derived and communicated passively from the dark fire of love which
assailed it, it follows that, when that fire ceases to assail it, the darkness and power
and heat of love cease in the soul.
Shows how this horrible night is purgatory, and how in it the Divine wisdom
illumines men on earth with the same illumination that purges and illumines the
angels in Heaven.
FROM what has been said we shall be able to see how this dark night of loving fire,
as it purges in the darkness, so also in the darkness enkindles the soul. We shall
likewise be able to see that, even as spirits are purged in the next life with dark
material fire, so in this life they are purged and cleansed with the dark spiritual fire
of love. The difference is that in the next life they are cleansed with fire, while here
below they are cleansed and illumined with love only. It was this love that David
entreated, when he said: Cor mundum crea in me, Deus, etc.184 For cleanness of
heart is nothing less than the love and grace of God. For the clean of heart are
called by our Saviour 'blessed'; which is as if He had called them 'enkindled with
love',185 since blessedness is given by nothing less than love.
2. And Jeremias well shows how the soul is purged when it is illumined with
this fire of loving wisdom (for God never grants mystical wisdom without love, since
love itself infuses it), where he says: 'He hath sent fire into my bones, and hath
taught me.'186 And David says that the wisdom of God is silver tried in fire187—that
is, in purgative fire of love. For this dark contemplation infuses into the soul love
and wisdom jointly, to each one according to his capacity and need, enlightening the
soul and purging it, in the words of the Wise Man, from its ignorances, as he said
was done to himself.
3. From this we shall also infer that the very wisdom of God which purges
these souls and illumines them purges the angels from their ignorances, giving
them knowledge, enlightening them as to that which they knew not, and flowing
183Isaias xxvi, 9.
184Psalm l, 12 [A.V., li, 10].
186Lamentations i, 13.
187Psalm xi, 7 [A.V., xii, 6].
down from God through the first hierarchies even to the last, and thence to men.188
All the works, therefore, which are done by the angels, and all their inspirations,
are said in the Scriptures, with truth and propriety, to be the work of God and of
themselves; for ordinarily these inspirations come through the angels, and they
receive them likewise one from another without any delay—as quickly as a ray of
sunshine is communicated through many windows arranged in order. For although
it is true that the sun's ray itself passes through them all, still each one passes it on
and infuses it into the next, in a modified form, according to the nature of the glass,
and with rather more or rather less power and brightness, according as it is nearer
to the sun or farther from it.
4. Hence it follows that, the nearer to God are the higher spirits and the
lower, the more completely are they purged and enlightened with more general
purification; and that the lowest of them will receive this illumination very much
less powerfully and more remotely. Hence it follows that man, who is the lowest of
all those to whom this loving contemplation flows down continually from God, will,
when God desires to give it him, receive it perforce after his own manner in a very
limited way and with great pain. For, when the light of God illumines an angel, it
enlightens him and enkindles189 him in love, since, being pure spirit, he is prepared
for that infusion. But, when it illumines man, who is impure and weak, it illumines
him, as has been said above, according to his nature. It plunges him into darkness
and causes him affliction and distress, as does the sun to the eye that is weak;190 it
enkindles him with passionate yet afflictive love, until he be spiritualized and
refined by this same fire of love; and it purifies him until he can receive with
sweetness the union of this loving infusion after the manner of the angels, being
now purged, as by the help of the Lord we shall explain later. But meanwhile he
receives this contemplation and loving knowledge in the constraint and yearning of
love of which we are here speaking.
5. This enkindling and yearning of love are not always perceived by the soul.
For in the beginning, when this spiritual purgation commences, all this Divine fire
is used in drying up and making ready the wood (which is the soul) rather than in
giving it heat. But, as time goes on, the fire begins to give heat to the soul, and the
soul then very commonly feels this enkindling and heat of love. Further, as the
understanding is being more and more purged by means of this darkness, it
sometimes comes to pass that this mystical and loving theology, as well as
enkindling the will, strikes and illumines the other faculty also—that of the
understanding—with a certain Divine light and knowledge, so delectably and
delicately that it aids the will to conceive a marvellous fervour, and, without any
action of its own, there burns in it this Divine fire of love, in living flames, so that it
now appears to the soul a living fire by reason of the living understanding which is
given to it. It is of this that David speaks in a Psalm, saying: 'My heart grew hot
within me, and, as I meditated, a certain fire was enkindled.'191
6. This enkindling of love, which accompanies the union of these two
faculties, the understanding and the will, which are here united, is for the soul a
thing of great richness and delight; for it is a certain touch of the Divinity and is
already the beginning192 of the perfection of the union of love for which it hopes.
Now the soul attains not to this touch of so sublime a sense and love of God, save
188The Schoolmen frequently assert that the lower angels are purged and illumined by the higher.
Cf. St. Thomas, Summa, I, q. 106, a. 1, ad. 1.
189[Lit., 'and softens.']
190[More literally, 'is sick.']
191Psalm xxxviii, 4 [A.V., xxxix, 3].
192[Lit., 'the beginnings.']
when it has passed through many trials and a great part of its purgation. But for
other touches which are much lower than these, and which are of ordinary
occurrence, so much purgation is not needful.
7. From what we have said it may here be inferred how in these spiritual
blessings, which are passively infused by God into the soul, the will may very well
love even though the understanding understand not; and similarly the
understanding may understand and the will love not. For, since this dark night of
contemplation consists of Divine light and love, just as fire contains light and heat,
it is not unbefitting that, when this loving light is communicated, it should strike
the will at times more effectively by enkindling it with love and leaving the
understanding in darkness instead of striking it with light; and, at other times, by
enlightening it with light, and giving it understanding, but leaving the will in
aridity (as it is also true that the heat of the fire can be received without the light
being seen, and also the light of it can be seen without the reception of heat); and
this is wrought by the Lord, Who infuses as He wills.193
Of other delectable effects which are wrought in the soul by this dark night of
THIS type of enkindling will explain to us certain of the delectable effects which
this dark night of contemplation works in the soul. For at certain times, as we have
just said, the soul becomes enlightened in the midst of all this darkness, and the
light shines in the darkness;194 this mystical intelligence flows down into the
understanding and the will remains in dryness—I mean, without actual union of
love, with a serenity and simplicity which are so delicate and delectable to the sense
of the soul that no name can be given to them. Thus the presence of God is felt, now
after one manner, now after another.
2. Sometimes, too, as has been said, it wounds the will at the same time, and
enkindles love sublimely, tenderly and strongly; for we have already said that at
certain times these two faculties, the understanding and the will, are united, when,
the more they see, the more perfect and delicate is the purgation of the
understanding. But, before this state is reached, it is more usual for the touch of the
enkindling of love to be felt in the will than for the touch of intelligence to be felt in
3. But one question arises here, which is this: Why, since these two faculties
are being purged together, are the enkindling and the love of purgative
contemplation at first more commonly felt in the will than the intelligence thereof is
felt in the understanding? To this it may be answered that this passive love does not
now directly strike the will, for the will is free, and this enkindling of love is a
passion of love rather than the free act of the will; for this heat of love strikes the
substance of the soul and thus moves the affections passively. And so this is called
passion of love rather than a free act of the will, an act of the will being so called
193The Saint here treats a question often debated by philosophers and mystics—that of love and
knowledge. Cf. also Spiritual Canticle, Stanza XVII, and Living Flame, Stanza III. Philosophers
generally maintain that it is impossible to love without knowledge, and equally so to love more of an
object than what is known of it. Mystics have, however, their own solutions of the philosophers'
difficulty and the speculative Spanish mystics have much to say on the matter. (Cf., for example, the
Médula Mistica, Trat. V, Chap. iv, and the Escuela de Oración, Trat. XII, Duda v.)
194St. John i, 5.
only in so far as it is free. But these passions and affections subdue the will, and
therefore it is said that, if the soul conceives passion with a certain affection, the
will conceives passion; and this is indeed so, for in this manner the will is taken
captive and loses its liberty, according as the impetus and power of its passion carry
it away. And therefore we can say that this enkindling of love is in the will—that is,
it enkindles the desire of the will; and thus, as we say, this is called passion of love
rather than the free work of the will. And, because the receptive passion of the
understanding can receive intelligence only in a detached and passive way (and this
is impossible without its having been purged), therefore until this happens the soul
feels the touch of intelligence less frequently than that of the passion of love. For it
is not necessary to this end that the will should be so completely purged with
respect to the passions, since these very passions help it to feel impassioned love.
4. This enkindling and thirst of love, which in this case belongs to the spirit,
is very different from that other which we described in writing of the night of sense.
For, though the sense has also its part here, since it fails not to participate in the
labour of the spirit, yet the source and the keenness of the thirst of love is felt in the
superior part of the soul—that is, in the spirit. It feels, and understands what it
feels and its lack of what it desires, in such a way that all its affliction of sense,
although greater without comparison than in the first night of sense, is as naught to
it, because it recognizes within itself the lack of a great good which can in no way be
5. But here we must note that although, at the beginning, when this spiritual
night commences, this enkindling of love is not felt, because this fire of love has not
begun to take a hold, God gives the soul, in place of it, an estimative love of Himself
so great that, as we have said, the greatest sufferings and trials of which it is
conscious in this night are the anguished thoughts that it195 has lost God and the
fears that He has abandoned it. And thus we may always say that from the very
beginning of this night the soul is touched with yearnings of love, which is now that
of estimation,196 and now again, that of enkindling. And it is evident that the
greatest suffering which it feels in these trials is this misgiving; for, if it could be
certified at that time that all is not lost and over, but that what is happening to it is
for the best—as it is—and that God is not wroth, it would care naught for all these
afflictions, but would rejoice to know that God is making use of them for His good
pleasure. For the love of estimation which it has for God is so great, even though it
may not realize this and may be in darkness, that it would be glad, not only to
suffer in this way, but even to die many times over in order to give Him satisfaction.
But when once the flame has enkindled the soul, it is wont to conceive, together
with the estimation that it already has for God, such power and energy, and such
yearning for Him, when He communicates to it the heat of love, that, with great
boldness, it disregards everything and ceases to pay respect to anything, such are
the power and the inebriation of love and desire. It regards not what it does, for it
would do strange and unusual things in whatever way and manner may present
themselves, if thereby its soul might find Him Whom it loves.
6. It was for this reason that Mary Magdalene, though as greatly concerned
for her own appearance as she was aforetime, took no heed of the multitude of men
who were at the feast, whether they were of little or of great importance; neither did
she consider that it was not seemly, and that it looked ill, to go and weep and shed
tears among the guests provided that, without delaying an hour or waiting for
195[Lit., 'the yearning to think of it.']
196[The word translated 'estimation' might also be rendered 'reverent love.' The 'love of estimation,'
which has its seat in the understanding, is contrasted with the 'enkindling' or the 'love of desire,'
which has its seat in the will. So elsewhere in this paragraph.]
another time and season, she could reach Him for love of Whom her soul was
already wounded and enkindled. And such is the inebriating power and the
boldness of love, that, though she knew her Beloved to be enclosed in the sepulchre
by the great sealed stone, and surrounded by soldiers who were guarding Him lest
His disciples should steal Him away,197 she allowed none of these things to impede
her, but went before daybreak with the ointments to anoint Him.
7. And finally, this inebriating power and yearning of love caused her to ask
one whom she believed to be a gardener and to have stolen Him away from the
sepulchre, to tell her, if he had taken Him, where he had laid Him, that she might
take Him away;198 considering not that such a question, according to independent
judgment and reason, was foolish; for it was evident that, if the other had stolen
Him, he would not say so, still less would he allow Him to be taken away. It is a
characteristic of the power and vehemence of love that all things seem possible to it,
and it believes all men to be of the same mind as itself. For it thinks that there is
naught wherein one may be employed, or which one may seek, save that which it
seeks itself and that which it loves; and it believes that there is naught else to be
desired, and naught wherein it may be employed, save that one thing, which is
pursued by all. For this reason, when the Bride went out to seek her Beloved,
through streets and squares,199 thinking that all others were doing the same, she
begged them that, if they found Him, they would speak to Him and say that she was
pining for love of Him.200 Such was the power of the love of this Mary that she
thought that, if the gardener would tell her where he had hidden Him, she would go
and take Him away, however difficult it might be made for her.
8. Of this manner, then, are the yearnings of love whereof this soul becomes
conscious when it has made some progress in this spiritual purgation. For it rises
up by night (that is, in this purgative darkness) according to the affections of the
will. And with the yearnings and vehemence of the lioness or the she-bear going to
seek her cubs when they have been taken away from her and she finds them not,
does this wounded soul go forth to seek its God. For, being in darkness, it feels itself
to be without Him and to be dying of love for Him. And this is that impatient love
wherein the soul cannot long subsist without gaining its desire or dying. Such was
Rachel's desire for children when she said to Jacob: 'Give me children, else shall I
9. But we have now to see how it is that the soul which feels itself so
miserable and so unworthy of God, here in this purgative darkness, has
nevertheless strength, and is sufficiently bold and daring, to journey towards union
with God. The reason is that, as love continually gives it strength wherewith it may
love indeed, and as the property of love is to desire to be united, joined and made
equal and like to the object of its love, that it may perfect itself in love's good things,
hence it comes to pass that, when this soul is not perfected in love, through not
having as yet attained to union, the hunger and thirst that it has for that which it
lacks (which is union) and the strength set by love in the will which has caused it to
become impassioned, make it bold and daring by reason of the enkindling of its will,
although in its understanding, which is still dark and unenlightened, it feels itself
to be unworthy and knows itself to be miserable.
10. I will not here omit to mention the reason why this Divine light, which is
always light to the soul, illumines it not as soon as it strikes it, as it does
197St. John xx, 1 [St. Matthew xxvii, 62-6].
198St. John xx, 15.
199[Lit., 'outskirts,' 'suburbs.']
200Canticles v, 8.
201Genesis xxx, 1.
afterwards, but causes it the darkness and the trials of which we have spoken.
Something has already been said concerning this, but the question must now be
answered directly. The darkness and the other evils of which the soul is conscious
when this Divine light strikes it are not darkness or evils caused by this light, but
pertain to the soul itself, and the light illumines it so that it may see them.
Wherefore it does indeed receive light from this Divine light; but the soul cannot see
at first, by its aid, anything beyond what is nearest to it, or rather, beyond what is
within it—namely, its darknesses or its miseries, which it now sees through the
mercy of God, and saw not aforetime, because this supernatural light illumined it
not. And this is the reason why at first it is conscious of nothing beyond darkness
and evil; after it has been purged, however, by means of the knowledge and
realization of these, it will have eyes to see, by the guidance of this light, the
blessings of the Divine light; and, once all these darknesses and imperfections have
been driven out from the soul, it seems that the benefits and the great blessings
which the soul is gaining in this blessed night of contemplation become clearer.
11. From what has been said, it is clear that God grants the soul in this state
the favour of purging it and healing it with this strong lye of bitter purgation,
according to its spiritual and its sensual part, of all the imperfect habits and
affections which it had within itself with respect to temporal things and to natural,
sensual and spiritual things, its inward faculties being darkened, and voided of all
these, its spiritual and sensual affections being constrained and dried up, and its
natural energies being attenuated and weakened with respect to all this (a condition
which it could never attain of itself, as we shall shortly say). In this way God makes
it to die to all that is not naturally God, so that, once it is stripped and denuded of
its former skin, He may begin to clothe it anew. And thus its youth is renewed like
the eagle's and it is clothed with the new man, which, as the Apostle says, is created
according to God.202 This is naught else but His illumination of the understanding
with supernatural light, so that it is no more a human understanding but becomes
Divine through union with the Divine. In the same way the will is informed with
Divine love, so that it is a will that is now no less than Divine, nor does it love
otherwise than divinely, for it is made and united in one with the Divine will and
love. So, too, is it with the memory; and likewise the affections and desires are all
changed and converted divinely, according to God. And thus this soul will now be a
soul of heaven, heavenly, and more Divine than human. All this, as we have been
saying, and because of what we have said, God continues to do and to work in the
soul by means of this night, illumining and enkindling it divinely with yearnings for
God alone and for naught else whatsoever. For which cause the soul then very justly
and reasonably adds the third line to the song, which says:
. . . oh, happy chance!—
I went forth without being observed.
Wherein are set down and explained the last three lines of the first stanza.
THIS happy chance was the reason for which the soul speaks, in the next lines, as
202Ephesians iv, 4.
I went forth without being observed, My house being now at
It takes the metaphor from one who, in order the better to accomplish something,
leaves his house by night and in the dark, when those that are in the house are now
at rest, so that none may hinder him. For this soul had to go forth to perform a deed
so heroic and so rare—namely to become united with its Divine Beloved—and it had
to leave its house, because the Beloved is not found save alone and without, in
solitude. It was for this reason that the Bride desired to find Him alone, saying:
'Who would give Thee to me, my brother, that I might find Thee alone, without, and
that my love might be communicated to Thee.'203 It is needful for the enamoured
soul, in order to attain to its desired end, to do likewise, going forth at night, when
all the domestics in its house are sleeping and at rest—that is, when the low
operations, passions and desires of the soul (who are the people of the household)
are, because it is night, sleeping and at rest. When these are awake, they invariably
hinder the soul from seeking its good, since they are opposed to its going forth in
freedom. These are they of whom Our Saviour speaks in the Gospel, saying that
they are the enemies of man.204 And thus it would be meet that their operations and
motions should be put to sleep in this night, to the end that they may not hinder the
soul from attaining the supernatural blessings of the union of love of God, for, while
these are alive and active, this cannot be. For all their work and their natural
motions hinder, rather than aid, the soul's reception of the spiritual blessings of the
union of love, inasmuch as all natural ability is impotent with respect to the
supernatural blessings that God, by means of His own infusion, bestows upon the
soul passively, secretly and in silence. And thus it is needful that all the faculties
should receive this infusion, and that, in order to receive it, they should remain
passive, and not interpose their own base acts and vile inclinations.
2. It was a happy chance for this soul that on this night God should put to
sleep all the domestics in its house—that is, all the faculties, passions, affections
and desires which live in the soul, both sensually and spiritually. For thus it went
forth 'without being observed'—that is, without being hindered by these affections,
etc., for they were put to sleep and mortified in this night, in the darkness of which
they were left, that they might not notice or feel anything after their own low and
natural manner, and might thus be unable to hinder the soul from going forth from
itself and from the house of its sensuality. And thus only could the soul attain to the
spiritual union of perfect love of God.
3. Oh, how happy a chance is this for the soul which can free itself from the
house of its sensuality! None can understand it, unless, as it seems to me, it be the
soul that has experienced it. For such a soul will see clearly how wretched was the
servitude in which it lay and to how many miseries it was subject when it was at
the mercy of its faculties and desires, and will know how the life of the spirit is true
liberty and wealth, bringing with it inestimable blessings. Some of these we shall
point out, as we proceed, in the following stanzas, wherein it will be seen more
clearly what good reason the soul has to sing of the happy chance of its passage
from this dreadful night which has been described above.
Sets down the second stanza and its exposition.
203Canticles viii, 1.
204St. Matthew x, 36.
In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised—oh,
In darkness and concealment, My house being now at rest.
IN this stanza the soul still continues to sing of certain properties of the darkness of
this night, reiterating how great is the happiness which came to it through them. It
speaks of them in replying to a certain tacit objection, saying that it is not to be
supposed that, because in this night and darkness it has passed through so many
tempests of afflictions, doubts, fears and horrors, as has been said, it has for that
reason run any risk of being lost. On the contrary, it says, in the darkness of this
night it has gained itself. For in the night it has freed itself and escaped subtly from
its enemies, who were continually hindering its progress. For in the darkness of the
night it changed its garments and disguised itself with three liveries and colours
which we shall describe hereafter; and went forth by a very secret ladder, which
none in the house knew, the which ladder, as we shall observe likewise in the
proper place, is living faith. By this ladder the soul went forth in such complete
hiding and concealment, in order the better to execute its purpose, that it could not
fail to be in great security; above all since in this purgative night the desires,
affections and passions of the soul are put to sleep, mortified and quenched, which
are they that, when they were awake and alive, consented not to this.
The first line, then, runs thus:205
In darkness and secure.
Explains how, though in darkness, the soul walks securely.
THE darkness which the soul here describes relates, as we have said, to the desires
and faculties, sensual, interior and spiritual, for all these are darkened in this night
as to their natural light, so that, being purged in this respect, they may be illumined
with respect to the supernatural. For the spiritual and the sensual desires are put
to sleep and mortified, so that they can experience206 nothing, either Divine or
human; the affections of the soul are oppressed and constrained, so that they can
neither move nor find support in anything; the imagination is bound and can make
no useful reflection; the memory is gone; the understanding is in darkness, unable
to understand anything; and hence the will likewise is arid and constrained and all
the faculties are void and useless; and in addition to all this a thick and heavy cloud
is upon the soul, keeping it in affliction, and, as it were, far away from God.207 It is
in this kind of 'darkness' that the soul says here it travelled 'securely.'
205[Lit., 'The line, then, continues, and says thus.' In fact, however, the author is returning to the
first line of the stanza.]
207Some have considered this description exaggerated, but it must be borne in mind that all souls
are not tested alike and the Saint is writing of those whom God has willed to raise to such sanctity
that they drain the cup of bitterness to the dregs. We have already seen (Bk. I, chap. xiv, § 5) that 'all
do not experience (this) after one manner . . . for (it) is meted out by the will of God, in conformity
with the greater or the smaller degree of imperfection which each soul has to purge away, (and) in
conformity, likewise, with the degree of love of union to which God is pleased to raise it' (Bk. I, chap
2. The reason for this has been clearly expounded; for ordinarily the soul
never strays save through its desires or its tastes or its reflections or its
understanding or its affections; for as a rule it has too much or too little of these, or
they vary or go astray, and hence the soul becomes inclined to that which behoves it
not. Wherefore, when all these operations and motions are hindered, it is clear that
the soul is secure against being led astray by them; for it is free, not only from itself,
but likewise from its other enemies, which are the world and the devil. For when
the affections and operations of the soul are quenched, these enemies cannot make
war upon it by any other means or in any other manner.
3. It follows from this that, the greater is the darkness wherein the soul
journeys and the more completely is it voided of its natural operations, the greater
is its security. For, as the Prophet says,208 perdition comes to the soul from itself
alone—that is, from its sensual and interior desires and operations; and good, says
God, comes from Me alone. Wherefore, when it is thus hindered from following the
things that lead it into evil, there will then come to it forthwith the blessings of
union with God in its desires and faculties, which in that union He will make Divine
and celestial. Hence, at the time of this darkness, if the soul considers the matter, it
will see very clearly how little its desire and its faculties are being diverted to
things that are useless and harmful; and how secure it is from vainglory and pride
and presumption, vain and false rejoicing and many other things. It follows clearly,
then, that, by walking in darkness, not only is the soul not lost, but it has even
greatly gained, since it is here gaining the virtues.
4. But there is a question which at once arises here—namely, since the things
of God are of themselves profitable to the soul and bring it gain and security, why
does God, in this night, darken the desires and faculties with respect to these good
things likewise, in such a way that the soul can no more taste of them or busy itself
with them than with these other things, and indeed in some ways can do so less?
The answer is that it is well for the soul to perform no operation touching spiritual
things at that time and to have no pleasure in such things, because its faculties and
desires are base, impure and wholly natural; and thus, although these faculties be
given the desire and interest in things supernatural and Divine, they could not
receive them save after a base and a natural manner, exactly in their own fashion.
For, as the philosopher says, whatsoever is received comes to him that receives it
after the manner of the recipient. Wherefore, since these natural faculties have
neither purity nor strength nor capacity to receive and taste things that are
supernatural after the manner of those things, which manner is Divine, but can do
so only after their own manner, which is human and base, as we have said, it is
meet that its faculties be in darkness concerning these Divine things likewise. Thus,
being weaned and purged and annihilated in this respect first of all, they may lose
that base and human way of receiving and acting, and thus all these faculties and
desires of the soul may come to be prepared and tempered in such a way as to be
able to receive, feel and taste that which is Divine and supernatural after a sublime
and lofty manner, which is impossible if the old man die not first of all.
5. Hence it follows that all spiritual things, if they come not from above and
be not communicated by the Father of lights to human desire and free will
(howsoever much a man may exercise his taste and faculties for God, and howsoever
much it may seem to the faculties that they are experiencing these things), will not
be experienced after a Divine and spiritual manner, but after a human and natural
manner, just as other things are experienced, for spiritual blessings go not from
man to God, but come from God to man. With respect to this (if this were the proper
place for it) we might here explain how there are many persons whose many tastes
208Osee xiii, 9.
and affections and the operations of whose faculties are fixed upon God or upon
spiritual things, and who may perhaps think that this is supernatural and spiritual,
when it is perhaps no more than the most human and natural desires and actions.
They regard these good things with the same disposition as they have for other
things, by means of a certain natural facility which they possess for directing their
desires and faculties to anything whatever.
6. If perchance we find occasion elsewhere in this book, we shall treat of this,
describing certain signs which indicate when the interior actions and motions of the
soul, with respect to communion with God, are only natural, when they are
spiritual, and when they are both natural and spiritual. It suffices for us here to
know that, in order that the interior motions and acts of the soul may come to be
moved by God divinely, they must first be darkened and put to sleep and hushed to
rest naturally as touching all their capacity and operation, until they have no more
7. Therefore, O spiritual soul, when thou seest thy desire obscured, thy
affections arid and constrained, and thy faculties bereft of their capacity for any
interior exercise, be not afflicted by this, but rather consider it a great happiness,
since God is freeing thee from thyself and taking the matter from thy hands. For
with those hands, howsoever well they may serve thee, thou wouldst never labour so
effectively, so perfectly and so securely (because of their clumsiness and
uncleanness) as now, when God takes thy hand and guides thee in the darkness, as
though thou wert blind, to an end and by a way which thou knowest not. Nor
couldst thou ever hope to travel with the aid of thine own eyes and feet, howsoever
good thou be as a walker.
8. The reason, again, why the soul not only travels securely, when it travels
thus in the darkness, but also achieves even greater gain and progress, is that
usually, when the soul is receiving fresh advantage and profit, this comes by a way
that it least understands—indeed, it quite commonly believes that it is losing
ground. For, as it has never experienced that new feeling which drives it forth and
dazzles it and makes it depart recklessly from its former way of life, it thinks itself
to be losing ground rather than gaining and progressing, since it sees that it is
losing with respect to that which it knew and enjoyed, and is going by a way which
it knows not and wherein it finds no enjoyment. It is like the traveller, who, in order
to go to new and unknown lands, takes new roads, unknown and untried, and
journeys unguided by his past experience, but doubtingly and according to what
others say. It is clear that such a man could not reach new countries, or add to his
past experience, if he went not along new and unknown roads and abandoned those
which were known to him. Exactly so, one who is learning fresh details concerning
any office or art always proceeds in darkness, and receives no guidance from his
original knowledge, for if he left not that behind he would get no farther nor make
any progress; and in the same way, when the soul is making most progress, it is
travelling in darkness, knowing naught. Wherefore, since God, as we have said, is
the Master and Guide of this blind soul, it may well and truly rejoice, once it has
learned to understand this, and say: 'In darkness and secure.'
9. There is another reason why the soul has walked securely in this darkness,
and this is because it has been suffering; for the road of suffering is more secure and
even more profitable than that of fruition and action: first, because in suffering the
strength of God is added to that of man, while in action and fruition the soul is
practising its own weaknesses and imperfections; and second, because in suffering
the soul continues to practise and acquire the virtues and become purer, wiser and
10. But there is another and a more important reason why the soul now
walks in darkness and securely; this emanates from the dark light or wisdom
aforementioned. For in such a way does this dark night of contemplation absorb and
immerse the soul in itself, and so near does it bring the soul to God, that it protects
and delivers it from all that is not God. For this soul is now, as it were, undergoing a
cure, in order that it may regain its health—its health being God Himself. His
Majesty restricts it to a diet and abstinence from all things, and takes away its
appetite for them all. It is like a sick man, who, if he is respected by those in his
house, is carefully tended so that he may be cured; the air is not allowed to touch
him, nor may he even enjoy the light, nor must he hear footsteps, nor yet the noise
of those in the house; and he is given food that is very delicate, and even that only
in great moderation—food that is nourishing rather than delectable.
11. All these particularities (which are for the security and safekeeping of the
soul) are caused by this dark contemplation, because it brings the soul nearer to
God. For the nearer the soul approaches Him, the blacker is the darkness which it
feels and the deeper is the obscurity which comes through its weakness; just as, the
nearer a man approaches the sun, the greater are the darkness and the affliction
caused him through the great splendour of the sun and through the weakness and
impurity of his eyes. In the same way, so immense is the spiritual light of God, and
so greatly does it transcend our natural understanding, that the nearer we
approach it, the more it blinds and darkens us. And this is the reason why, in Psalm
xvii, David says that God made darkness His hiding-place and covering, and His
tabernacle around Him dark water in the clouds of the air.209 This dark water in the
clouds of the air is dark contemplation and Divine wisdom in souls, as we are
saying. They continue to feel it is a thing which is near Him, as the tabernacle
wherein He dwells, when God brings them ever nearer to Himself. And thus, that
which in God is supreme light and refulgence is to man blackest darkness, as Saint
Paul says, according as David explains in the same Psalm, saying: 'Because of the
brightness which is in His presence, passed clouds and cataracts'210—that is to say,
over the natural understanding, the light whereof, as Isaias says in Chapter V:
Obtenebrata est in caligine ejus.211
12. Oh, miserable is the fortune of our life, which is lived in such great peril
and wherein it is so difficult to find the truth. For that which is most clear and true
is to us most dark and doubtful; wherefore, though it is the thing that is most
needful for us, we flee from it. And that which gives the greatest light and
satisfaction to our eyes we embrace and pursue, though it be the worst thing for us,
and make us fall at every step. In what peril and fear does man live, since the very
natural light of his eyes by which he has to guide himself is the first light that
dazzles him and leads him astray on his road to God! And if he is to know with
certainty by what road he travels, he must perforce keep his eyes closed and walk in
darkness, that he may be secure from the enemies who inhabit his own house—that
is, his senses and faculties.
13. Well hidden, then, and well protected is the soul in these dark waters,
when it is close to God. For, as these waters serve as a tabernacle and dwellingplace
for God Himself, they will serve the soul in the same way and for a perfect
protection and security, though it remain in darkness, wherein, as we have said, it
is hidden and protected from itself, and from all evils that come from creatures; for
to such the words of David refer in another Psalm, where he says: 'Thou shalt hide
them in the hiding-place of Thy face from the disturbance of men; Thou shalt
protect them in Thy tabernacle from the contradiction of tongues.'212 Herein we
209Psalm xvii, 12 [A.V., xviii, 11].
210Psalm xvii, 13 [A.V., xviii, 12].
211Isaias v, 30.
212Psalm xxx, 21 [A.V., xxxi, 20].
understand all kinds of protection; for to be hidden in the face of God from the
disturbance of men is to be fortified with this dark contemplation against all the
chances which may come upon the soul from men. And to be protected in His
tabernacle from the contradiction of tongues is for the soul to be engulfed in these
dark waters, which are the tabernacle of David whereof we have spoken. Wherefore,
since the soul has all its desires and affections weaned and its faculties set in
darkness, it is free from all imperfections which contradict the spirit, whether they
come from its own flesh or from other creatures. Wherefore this soul may well say
that it journeys 'in darkness and secure.'
14. There is likewise another reason, which is no less effectual than the last,
by which we may understand how the soul journeys securely in darkness; it is
derived from the fortitude by which the soul is at once inspired in these obscure and
afflictive dark waters of God. For after all, though the waters be dark, they are none
the less waters, and therefore they cannot but refresh and fortify the soul in that
which is most needful for it, although in darkness and with affliction. For the soul
immediately perceives in itself a genuine determination and an effectual desire to
do naught which it understands to be an offence to God, and to omit to do naught
that seems to be for His service. For that dark love cleaves to the soul, causing it a
most watchful care and an inward solicitude concerning that which it must do, or
must not do, for His sake, in order to please Him. It will consider and ask itself a
thousand times if it has given Him cause to be offended; and all this it will do with
much greater care and solicitude than before, as has already been said with respect
to the yearnings of love. For here all the desires and energies and faculties of the
soul are recollected from all things else, and its effort and strength are employed in
pleasing its God alone. After this manner the soul goes forth from itself and from all
created things to the sweet and delectable union of love of God, 'In darkness and
By the secret ladder, disguised.
Explains how this dark contemplation is secret.
THREE things have to be expounded with reference to three words contained in this
present line. Two (namely, 'secret' and 'ladder') belong to the dark night of
contemplation of which we are treating; the third (namely, 'disguised') belongs to
the soul by reason of the manner wherein it conducts itself in this night. As to the
first, it must be known that in this line the soul describes this dark contemplation,
by which it goes forth to the union of love, as a secret ladder, because of the two
properties which belong to it—namely, its being secret and its being a ladder. We
shall treat of each separately.
2. First, it describes this dark contemplation as 'secret,' since, as we have
indicated above, it is mystical theology, which theologians call secret wisdom, and
which, as Saint Thomas says is communicated and infused into the soul through
love.213 This happens secretly and in darkness, so as to be hidden from the work of
the understanding and of other faculties. Wherefore, inasmuch as the faculties
aforementioned attain not to it, but the Holy Spirit infuses and orders it in the soul,
as says the Bride in the Songs, without either its knowledge or its understanding, it
213'Propter hoc Gregorius (Hom. 14 in Ezech.) constituit vitam contemplativam in charitate Dei.' Cf.
Summa Theologica, 2a, 2ae, q. 45, a. 2.
is called secret. And, in truth, not only does the soul not understand it, but there is
none that does so, not even the devil; inasmuch as the Master Who teaches the soul
is within it in its substance, to which the devil may not attain, neither may natural
sense nor understanding.
3. And it is not for this reason alone that it may be called secret, but likewise
because of the effects which it produces in the soul. For it is secret not only in the
darknesses and afflictions of purgation, when this wisdom of love purges the soul,
and the soul is unable to speak of it, but equally so afterwards in illumination, when
this wisdom is communicated to it most clearly. Even then it is still so secret that
the soul cannot speak of it and give it a name whereby it may be called; for, apart
from the fact that the soul has no desire to speak of it, it can find no suitable way or
manner or similitude by which it may be able to describe such lofty understanding
and such delicate spiritual feeling. And thus, even though the soul might have a
great desire to express it and might find many ways in which to describe it, it would
still be secret and remain undescribed. For, as that inward wisdom is so simple, so
general and so spiritual that it has not entered into the understanding enwrapped
or cloaked in any form or image subject to sense, it follows that sense and
imagination (as it has not entered through them nor has taken their form and
colour) cannot account for it or imagine it, so as to say anything concerning it,
although the soul be clearly aware that it is experiencing and partaking of that rare
and delectable wisdom. It is like one who sees something never seen before, whereof
he has not even seen the like; although he might understand its nature and have
experience of it, he would be unable to give it a name, or say what it is, however
much he tried to do so, and this in spite of its being a thing which he had perceived
with the senses. How much less, then, could he describe a thing that has not
entered through the senses! For the language of God has this characteristic that,
since it is very intimate and spiritual in its relations with the soul, it transcends
every sense and at once makes all harmony and capacity of the outward and inward
senses to cease and be dumb.
4. For this we have both authorities and examples in the Divine Scripture.
For the incapacity of man to speak of it and describe it in words was shown by
Jeremias,214 when, after God had spoken with him, he knew not what to say, save
'Ah, ah, ah!' This interior incapacity—that is, of the interior sense of the
imagination—and also that of the exterior sense corresponding to it was also
demonstrated in the case of Moses, when he stood before God in the bush;215 not
only did he say to God that after speaking with Him he knew not neither was able
to speak, but also that not even (as is said in the Acts of the Apostles)216 with the
interior imagination did he dare to meditate, for it seemed to him that his
imagination was very far away and was too dumb, not only to express any part of
that which he understood concerning God, but even to have the capacity to receive
aught therefrom. Wherefore, inasmuch as the wisdom of this contemplation is the
language of God to the soul, addressed by pure spirit to pure spirit, naught that is
less than spirit, such as the senses, can perceive it, and thus to them it is secret,
and they know it not, neither can they say it,217 nor do they desire to do so, because
they see it not.
5. We may deduce from this the reason why certain persons—good and fearful
souls—who walk along this road and would like to give an account of their spiritual
214Jeremias i, 6.
215Exodus iv, 10 [cf. iii, 2].
216Acts vii, 32.
217[Or: 'and they know not how to say it nor are able to do so.']
state to their director,218 are neither able to do so nor know how. For the reason we
have described, they have a great repugnance in speaking of it, especially when
their contemplation is of the purer sort, so that the soul itself is hardly conscious of
it. Such a person is only able to say that he is satisfied, tranquil and contented and
that he is conscious of the presence of God, and that, as it seems to him, all is going
well with him; but he cannot describe the state of his soul, nor can he say anything
about it save in general terms like these. It is a different matter when the
experiences of the soul are of a particular kind, such as visions, feelings, etc., which,
being ordinarily received under some species wherein sense participates, can be
described under that species, or by some other similitude. But this capacity for
being described is not in the nature of pure contemplation, which is indescribable,
as we have said, for the which reason it is called secret.
6. And not only for that reason is it called secret, and is so, but likewise
because this mystical knowledge has the property of hiding the soul within itself.
For, besides performing its ordinary function, it sometimes absorbs the soul and
engulfs it in its secret abyss, in such a way that the soul clearly sees that it has
been carried far away from every creature and; has become most remote
therefrom;219 so that it considers itself as having been placed in a most profound
and vast retreat, to which no human creature can attain, such as an immense
desert, which nowhere has any boundary, a desert the more delectable, pleasant
and lovely for its secrecy, vastness and solitude, wherein, the more the soul is raised
up above all temporal creatures, the more deeply does it find itself hidden. And so
greatly does this abyss of wisdom raise up and exalt the soul at this time, making it
to penetrate the veins of the science of love, that it not only shows it how base are
all properties of the creatures by comparison with this supreme knowledge and
Divine feeling, but likewise it learns how base and defective, and, in some measure,
how inapt, are all the terms and words which are used in this life to treat of Divine
things, and how impossible it is, in any natural way or manner, however learnedly
and sublimely they may be spoken of, to be able to know and perceive them as they
are, save by the illumination of this mystical theology. And thus, when by means of
this illumination the soul discerns this truth, namely, that it cannot reach it, still
less explain it, by common or human language, it rightly calls it secret.
7. This property of secrecy and superiority over natural capacity, which
belongs to this Divine contemplation, belongs to it, not only because it is
supernatural, but also inasmuch as it is a road that guides and leads the soul to the
perfections of union with God; which, as they are things unknown after a human
manner, must be approached, after a human manner, by unknowing and by Divine
ignorance. For, speaking mystically, as we are speaking here, Divine things and
perfections are known and understood as they are, not when they are being sought
after and practised, but when they have been found and practised. To this purpose
speaks the prophet Baruch concerning this Divine wisdom: 'There is none that can
know her ways nor that can imagine her paths.'220 Likewise the royal Prophet
speaks in this manner concerning this road of the soul, when he says to God: 'Thy
lightnings lighted and illumined the round earth; the earth was moved and
trembled. Thy way is in the sea and Thy paths are in many waters; and Thy
footsteps shall not be known.'221
218[Lit., 'to him that rules them.']
219[Lit., 'that is set most far away and most remote from every creatures.']
220Baruch iii, 31.
221Psalm lxxvi, 19-20 [A.V., lxxvii, 18-19].
8. All this, speaking spiritually, is to be understood in the sense wherein we
are speaking. For the illumination of the round earth222 by the lightnings of God is
the enlightenment which is produced by this Divine contemplation in the faculties
of the soul; the moving and trembling of the earth is the painful purgation which is
caused therein; and to say that the way and the road of God whereby the soul
journeys to Him is in the sea, and His footprints are in many waters and for this
reason shall not be known, is as much as to say that this road whereby the soul
journeys to God is as secret and as hidden from the sense of the soul as the way of
one that walks on the sea, whose paths and footprints are not known, is hidden from
the sense of the body. The steps and footprints which God is imprinting upon the
souls that He desires to bring near to Himself, and to make great in union with His
Wisdom, have also this property, that they are not known. Wherefore in the Book of
Job mention is made of this matter, in these words: 'Hast thou perchance known the
paths of the great clouds or the perfect knowledges?'223 By this are understood the
ways and roads whereby God continually exalts souls and perfects them in His
Wisdom, which souls are here understood by the clouds. It follows, then, that this
contemplation which is guiding the soul to God is secret wisdom.
Explains how this secret wisdom is likewise a ladder.
IT now remains to consider the second point—namely, how this secret wisdom is
likewise a ladder. With respect to this it must be known that we can call this secret
contemplation a ladder for many reasons. In the first place, because, just as men
mount by means of ladders and climb up to possessions and treasures and things
that are in strong places, even so also, by means of this secret contemplation,
without knowing how, the soul ascends and climbs up to a knowledge and
possession of224 the good things and treasures of Heaven. This is well expressed by
the royal prophet David, when he says: 'Blessed is he that hath Thy favour and
help, for such a man hath placed in his heart ascensions into the vale of tears in the
place which he hath appointed; for after this manner the Lord of the law shall give
blessing, and they shall go from virtue to virtue as from step to step, and the God of
gods shall be seen in Sion.'225 This God is the treasure of the strong place of Sion,
which is happiness.
2. We may also call it a ladder because, even as the ladder has those same
steps in order that men may mount, it has them also that they may descend; even so
is it likewise with this secret contemplation, for those same communications which
it causes in the soul raise it up to God, yet humble it with respect to itself. For
communications which are indeed of God have this property, that they humble the
soul and at the same time exalt it. For, upon this road, to go down is to go up, and to
go up, to go down, for he that humbles himself is exalted and he that exalts himself
is humbled.226 And besides the fact that the virtue of humility is greatness, for the
exercise of the soul therein, God is wont to make it mount by this ladder so that it
may descend, and to make it descend so that it may mount, that the words of the
222[Lit., 'of the roundness of the earth.']
223Job xxxvii, 16.
224[Lit., 'rises to scale, know and possess.']
225Psalm lxxxiii, 6 [A.V., lxxxiv, 7].
226St. Luke xiv, 11.
Wise Man may thus be fulfilled, namely: 'Before the soul is exalted, it is humbled;
and before it is humbled, it is exalted.'227
3. Speaking now in a natural way, the soul that desires to consider it will be
able to see how on this road (we leave apart the spiritual aspect, of which the soul is
not conscious) it has to suffer many ups and downs, and how the prosperity which
it enjoys is followed immediately by certain storms and trials; so much so, that it
appears to have been given that period of calm in order that it might be forewarned
and strengthened against the poverty which has followed; just as after misery and
torment there come abundance and calm. It seems to the soul as if, before
celebrating that festival, it has first been made to keep that vigil. This is the
ordinary course and proceeding of the state of contemplation until the soul arrives
at the state of quietness; it never remains in the same state for long together, but is
ascending and descending continually.
4. The reason for this is that, as the state of perfection, which consists in the
perfect love of God and contempt for self, cannot exist unless it have these two
parts, which are the knowledge of God and of oneself, the soul has of necessity to be
practised first in the one and then in the other, now being given to taste of the one—
that is, exaltation—and now being made to experience the other—that is,
humiliation—until it has acquired perfect habits; and then this ascending and
descending will cease, since the soul will have attained to God and become united
with Him, which comes to pass at the summit of this ladder, for the ladder rests and
leans upon Him. For this ladder of contemplation, which, as we have said, comes
down from God, is prefigured by that ladder which Jacob saw as he slept, whereon
angels were ascending and descending, from God to man, and from man to God,
Who Himself was leaning upon the end of the ladder.228 All this, says Divine
Scripture, took place by night, when Jacob slept, in order to express how secret is
this road and ascent to God, and how different from that of man's knowledge. This
is very evident, since ordinarily that which is of the greatest profit in it—namely, to
be ever losing oneself and becoming as nothing229—is considered the worst thing
possible; and that which is of least worth, which is for a soul to find consolation and
sweetness (wherein it ordinarily loses rather than gains), is considered best.
5. But, speaking now somewhat more substantially and properly of this
ladder of secret contemplation, we shall observe that the principal characteristic of
contemplation, on account of which it is here called a ladder, is that it is the science
of love. This, as we have said, is an infused and loving knowledge of God, which
enlightens the soul and at the same time enkindles it with love, until it is raised up
step by step, even unto God its Creator. For it is love alone that unites and joins the
soul with God. To the end that this may be seen more clearly, we shall here indicate
the steps of this Divine ladder one by one, pointing out briefly the marks and effects
of each, so that the soul may conjecture hereby on which of them it is standing. We
shall therefore distinguish them by their effects, as do Saint Bernard and Saint
Thomas,230 for to know them in themselves is not possible after a natural manner,
inasmuch as this ladder of love is, as we have said, so secret that God alone is He
that measures and weighs it.
227Proverbs xviii, 12.
228Genesis xxviii, 12.
229[Lit., 'and annihilating oneself.']
230'Ut dicit Bernardus, Magna res est amor, sed sunt in eo gradus. Loquendo ergo aliquantulum
magis moraliter quam realiter, decem amoris gradus distinguere possumus' (D. Thom., De dilectione
Dei et proximi, cap. xxvii. Cf. Opusc. LXI of the edition of Venice, 1595).
Begins to explain the ten steps231 of the mystic ladder of Divine love, according to
Saint Bernard and Saint Thomas. The first five are here treated.
WE observe, then, that the steps of this ladder of love by which the soul mounts, one
by one, to God, are ten. The first step of love causes the soul to languish, and this to
its advantage. The Bride is speaking from this step of love when she says: 'I adjure
you, daughters of Jerusalem, that, if ye find my Beloved, ye tell Him that I am sick
with love.'232 This sickness, however, is not unto death, but for the glory of God, for
in this sickness the soul swoons as to sin and as to all things that are not God, for
the sake of God Himself, even as David testifies, saying: 'My soul hath swooned
away'233—that is, with respect to all things, for Thy salvation. For just as a sick
man first of all loses his appetite and taste for all food, and his colour changes, so
likewise in this degree of love the soul loses its taste and desire for all things and
changes its colour and the other accidentals of its past life, like one in love. The soul
falls not into this sickness if excess of heat be not communicated to it from above,
even as is expressed in that verse of David which says: Pluviam voluntariam
segregabis, Deus, haereditati tuae, et infirmata est,234 etc. This sickness and
swooning to all things, which is the beginning and the first step on the road to God,
we clearly described above, when we were speaking of the annihilation wherein the
soul finds itself when it begins to climb235 this ladder of contemplative purgation,
when it can find no pleasure, support, consolation or abiding-place in anything
soever. Wherefore from this step it begins at once to climb to the second.
2. The second step causes the soul to seek God without ceasing. Wherefore,
when the Bride says that she sought Him by night upon her bed (when she had
swooned away according to the first step of love) and found Him not, she said: 'I will
arise and will seek Him Whom my soul loveth.'236 This, as we say, the soul does
without ceasing as David counsels it, saying: 'Seek ye ever the face of God, and seek
ye Him in all things, tarrying not until ye find Him;'237 like the Bride, who, having
enquired for Him of the watchmen, passed on at once and left them. Mary
Magdalene did not even notice the angels at the sepulchre.238 On this step the soul
now walks so anxiously that it seeks the Beloved in all things. In whatsoever it
thinks, it thinks at once of the Beloved. Of whatsoever it speaks, in whatsoever
matters present themselves, it is speaking and communing at once with the
Beloved. When it eats, when it sleeps, when it watches, when it does aught soever,
all its care is about the Beloved, as is said above with respect to the yearnings of
love. And now, as love begins to recover its health and find new strength in the love
of this second step, it begins at once to mount to the third, by means of a certain
degree239 of new purgation in the night, as we shall afterwards describe, which
produces in the soul the following effects.
231[The word translated 'step' may also (and often more elegantly) be rendered 'degree.' The same
word is kept, however, throughout the translation of this chapter except where noted below.]
232Canticles v, 8.
233Psalm cxlii, 7 [A.V., cxliii, 7].
234Psalm lxvii, 10 [A.V., lxviii, 9].
235[Lit., 'to enter (upon).']
236Canticles iii, 2.
237Psalm civ, 4 [A.V., cv, 4].
238St. John xx.
239[The word in the Spanish is that elsewhere translated 'step.']
3. The third step of the ladder of love is that which causes the soul to work
and gives it fervour so that it fails not. Concerning this the royal Prophet says:
'Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, for in His commandments he is eager to
labour greatly.'240 Wherefore if fear, being the son of love, causes within him this
eagerness to labour,241 what will be done by love itself? On this step the soul
considers great works undertaken for the Beloved as small; many things as few; and
the long time for which it serves Him as short, by reason of the fire of love wherein
it is now burning. Even so to Jacob, though after seven years he had been made to
serve seven more, they seemed few because of the greatness of his love.242 Now if
the love of a mere creature could accomplish so much in Jacob, what will love of the
Creator be able to do when on this third step it takes possession of the soul? Here,
for the great love which the soul bears to God, it suffers great pains and afflictions
because of the little that it does for God; and if it were lawful for it to be destroyed a
thousand times for Him it would be comforted. Wherefore it considers itself useless
in all that it does and thinks itself to be living in vain. Another wondrous effect
produced here in the soul is that it considers itself as being, most certainly, worse
than all other souls: first, because love is continually teaching it how much is due to
God;243 and second, because, as the works which it here does for God are many and
it knows them all to be faulty and imperfect, they all bring it confusion and
affliction, for it realizes in how lowly a manner it is working for God, Who is so high.
On this third step, the soul is very far from vainglory or presumption, and from
condemning others. These anxious effects, with many others like them, are
produced in the soul by this third step; wherefore it gains courage and strength
from them in order to mount to the fourth step, which is that that follows.
4. The fourth step of this ladder of love is that whereby there is caused in the
soul an habitual suffering because of the Beloved, yet without weariness. For, as
Saint Augustine says, love makes all things that are great, grievous and
burdensome to be almost naught. From this step the Bride was speaking when,
desiring to attain to the last step, she said to the Spouse: 'Set me as a seal upon thy
heart, as a seal upon thine arm; for love—that is, the act and work of love—is strong
as death, and emulation and importunity last as long as hell.'244 The spirit here has
so much strength that it has subjected the flesh and takes as little account of it as
does the tree of one of its leaves. In no way does the soul here seek its own
consolation or pleasure, either in God, or in aught else, nor does it desire or seek to
pray to God for favours, for it sees clearly that it has already received enough of
these, and all its anxiety is set upon the manner wherein it will be able to do
something that is pleasing to God and to render Him some service such as He
merits and in return for what it has received from Him, although it be greatly to its
cost. The soul says in its heart and spirit: Ah, my God and Lord! How many are
there that go to seek in Thee their own consolation and pleasure, and desire Thee to
grant them favours and gifts; but those who long to do Thee pleasure and to give
Thee something at their cost, setting their own interests last, are very few. The
failure, my God, is not in Thy unwillingness to grant us new favours, but in our
neglect to use those that we have received in Thy service alone, in order to constrain
Thee to grant them to us continually. Exceeding lofty is this step of love; for, as the
soul goes ever after God with love so true, imbued with the spirit of suffering for His
sake, His Majesty oftentimes and quite habitually grants it joy, and visits it sweetly
240Psalm cxi, 1 [A.V., cxii, 1].
241[Lit., 'makes in him this labour of eagerness.']
242Genesis xxix, 20.
243[Lit., 'how much God merits.']
244Canticles viii, 5.
and delectably in the spirit; for the boundless love of Christ, the Word, cannot suffer
the afflictions of His lover without succouring him. This He affirmed through
Jeremias, saying: 'I have remembered thee, pitying thy youth and tenderness, when
thou wentest after Me in the wilderness.'245 Speaking spiritually, this denotes the
detachment which the soul now has interiorly from every creature, so that it rests
not and nowhere finds quietness. This fourth step enkindles the soul and makes it
to burn in such desire for God that it causes it to mount to the fifth, which is that
5. The fifth step of this ladder of love makes the soul to desire and long for
God impatiently. On this step the vehemence of the lover to comprehend the
Beloved and be united with Him is such that every delay, however brief, becomes
very long, wearisome and oppressive to it, and it continually believes itself to be
finding the Beloved. And when it sees its desire frustrated (which is at almost every
moment), it swoons away with its yearning, as says the Psalmist, speaking from
this step, in these words: 'My soul longs and faints for the dwellings of the Lord.'246
On this step the lover must needs see that which he loves, or die; at this step was
Rachel, when, for the great longing that she had for children, she said to Jacob, her
spouse: 'Give me children, else shall I die.'247 Here men suffer hunger like dogs and
go about and surround the city of God. On this step, which is one of hunger,248 the
soul is nourished upon love; for, even as is its hunger, so is its abundance; so that it
rises hence to the sixth step, producing the effects which follow.
Wherein are treated the other five steps of love.
ON the sixth step the soul runs swiftly to God and touches Him again and again;
and it runs without fainting by reason of its hope. For here the love that has made it
strong makes it to fly swiftly. Of this step the prophet Isaias speaks thus: 'The
saints that hope in God shall renew their strength; they shall take wings as the
eagle; they shall fly and shall not faint,'249 as they did at the fifth step. To this step
likewise alludes that verse of the Psalm: 'As the hart desires the waters, my soul
desires Thee, O God.'250 For the hart, in its thirst, runs to the waters with great
swiftness. The cause of this swiftness in love which the soul has on this step is that
its charity is greatly enlarged within it, since the soul is here almost wholly
purified, as is said likewise in the Psalm, namely: Sine iniquitate cucurri.251 And in
another Psalm: 'I ran the way of Thy commandments when Thou didst enlarge my
heart';252 and thus from this sixth step the soul at once mounts to the seventh,
which is that which follows.
2. The seventh step of this ladder makes the soul to become vehement in its
boldness. Here love employs not its judgment in order to hope, nor does it take
counsel so that it may draw back, neither can any shame restrain it; for the favour
which God here grants to the soul causes it to become vehement in its boldness.
245Jeremias ii, 2.
246Psalm lxxxiii, 2 [A.V., lxxxiv, 2].
247Genesis xxx, 1.
248[Lit., 'On this hungering step.']
249Isaias xl, 31.
250Psalm xli, 2 [A.V., xlii, 1].
251Psalm lviii, 5 [A.V., lix, 4].
252Psalm cxviii, 32 [A.V., cxix, 32].
Hence follows that which the Apostle says, namely: That charity believeth all
things, hopeth all things and is capable of all things.253 Of this step spake Moses,
when he entreated God to pardon the people, and if not, to blot out his name from
the book of life wherein He had written it.254 Men like these obtain from God that
which they beg of Him with desire. Wherefore David says: 'Delight thou in God and
He will give thee the petitions of thy heart.'255 On this step the Bride grew bold, and
said: Osculetur me osculo oris sui.256 To this step it is not lawful for the soul to
aspire boldly, unless it feel the interior favour of the King's sceptre extended to it,
lest perchance it fall from the other steps which it has mounted up to this point, and
wherein it must ever possess itself in humility. From this daring and power which
God grants to the soul on this seventh step, so that it may be bold with God in the
vehemence of love, follows the eighth, which is that wherein it takes the Beloved
captive and is united with Him, as follows.
3. The eighth step of love causes the soul to seize Him and hold Him fast
without letting Him go, even as the Bride says, after this manner: 'I found Him
Whom my heart and soul love; I held Him and I will not let Him go.'257 On this step
of union the soul satisfies her desire, but not continuously. Certain souls climb some
way,258 and then lose their hold; for, if this state were to continue, it would be glory
itself in this life; and thus the soul remains therein for very short periods of time. To
the prophet Daniel, because he was a man of desires, was sent a command from God
to remain on this step, when it was said to him: 'Daniel, stay upon thy step, because
thou art a man of desires.'259 After this step follows the ninth, which is that of souls
now perfect, as we shall afterwards say, which is that that follows.
4. The ninth step of love makes the soul to burn with sweetness. This step is
that of the perfect, who now burn sweetly in God. For this sweet and delectable
ardour is caused in them by the Holy Spirit by reason of the union which they have
with God. For this cause Saint Gregory says, concerning the Apostles, that when the
Holy Spirit came upon them visibly they burned inwardly and sweetly through
love.260 Of the good things and riches of God which the soul enjoys on this step, we
cannot speak; for if many books were to be written concerning it the greater part
would still remain untold. For this cause, and because we shall say something of it
hereafter, I say no more here than that after this follows the tenth and last step of
this ladder of love, which belongs not to this life.
5. The tenth and last step of this secret ladder of love causes the soul to
become wholly assimilated to God, by reason of the clear and immediate261 vision of
God which it then possesses; when, having ascended in this life to the ninth step, it
goes forth from the flesh. These souls, who are few, enter not into purgatory, since
they have already been wholly purged by love. Of these Saint Matthew says: Beati
mundo corde: quoniam ipsi Deum videbunt.262 And, as we say, this vision is the
cause of the perfect likeness of the soul to God, for, as Saint John says, we know
that we shall be like Him.263 Not because the soul will come to have the capacity of
2531 Corinthians xiii, 7.
254Exodus xxxii, 31-2.
255Psalm xxxvi, 4 [A.V., xxxvii, 4].
256Canticles i, 1.
257Canticles iii, 4.
258[Lit., 'attain to setting their foot.']
259Daniel x, 11.
260'Dum Deum in ignis visione suscipiunt, per amorem suaviter arserunt' (Hom. XXX in Evang.).
261[i.e., direct, not mediate.]
262St. Matthew v, 8.
263St. John iii, 2.
God, for that is impossible; but because all that it is will become like to God, for
which cause it will be called, and will be, God by participation.
6. This is the secret ladder whereof the soul here speaks, although upon these
higher steps it is no longer very secret to the soul, since much is revealed to it by
love, through the great effects which love produces in it. But, on this last step of
clear vision, which is the last step of the ladder whereon God leans, as we have said
already, there is naught that is hidden from the soul, by reason of its complete
assimilation. Wherefore Our Saviour says: 'In that day ye shall ask Me nothing,'
etc.264 But, until that day, however high a point the soul may reach, there remains
something hidden from it—namely, all that it lacks for total assimilation in the
Divine Essence. After this manner, by this mystical theology and secret love, the
soul continues to rise above all things and above itself, and to mount upward to God.
For love is like fire, which ever rises upward with the desire to be absorbed in the
centre of its sphere.
Which explains the word 'disguised,' and describes the colours of the disguise of the
soul in this night.
Now that we have explained the reasons why the soul called this contemplation a
'secret ladder,' it remains for us to explain likewise the word 'disguised,' and the
reason why the soul says also that it went forth by this 'secret ladder' in 'disguise.'
2. For the understanding of this it must be known that to disguise oneself is
naught else but to hide and cover oneself beneath another garb and figure than
one's own—sometimes in order to show forth, under that garb or figure, the will and
purpose which is in the heart to gain the grace and will of one who is greatly loved;
sometimes, again, to hide oneself from one's rivals and thus to accomplish one's
object better. At such times a man assumes the garments and livery which best
represent and indicate the affection of his heart and which best conceal him from
3. The soul, then, touched with the love of Christ the Spouse, and longing to
attain to His grace and gain His goodwill, goes forth here disguised with that
disguise which most vividly represents the affections of its spirit and which will
protect it most securely on its journey from its adversaries and enemies, which are
the devil, the world and the flesh. Thus the livery which it wears is of three chief
colours—white, green and purple—denoting the three theological virtues, faith,
hope and charity. By these the soul will not only gain the grace and goodwill of its
Beloved, but it will travel in security and complete protection from its three
enemies: for faith is an inward tunic of a whiteness so pure that it completely
dazzles the eyes of the understanding.265 And thus, when the soul journeys in its
vestment of faith, the devil can neither see it nor succeed in harming it, since it is
well protected by faith—more so than by all the other virtues—against the devil,
who is at once the strongest and the most cunning of enemies.
4. It is clear that Saint Peter could find no better protection than faith to save
him from the devil, when he said: Cui resistite fortes in fide.266 And in order to gain
the grace of the Beloved, and union with Him, the soul cannot put on a better vest
264St. John xvi, 23.
265[Lit., 'that it dislocates the sight of all understanding.']
2661 St. Peter v, 9.
and tunic,267 to serve as a foundation and beginning of the other vestments of the
virtues, than this white garment268 of faith, for without it, as the Apostle says, it is
impossible to please God, and with it, it is impossible to fail to please Him. For He
Himself says through a prophet: Sponsabo te mihi in fide.269 Which is as much as to
say: If thou desirest, O soul, to be united and betrothed to Me, thou must come
inwardly clad in faith.
5. This white garment of faith was worn by the soul on its going forth from
this dark night, when, walking in interior constraint and darkness, as we have said
before, it received no aid, in the form of light, from its understanding, neither from
above, since Heaven seemed to be closed to it and God hidden from it, nor from
below, since those that taught it satisfied it not. It suffered with constancy and
persevered, passing through those trials without fainting or failing the Beloved,
Who in trials and tribulations proves the faith of His Bride, so that afterwards she
may truly repeat this saying of David, namely: 'By the words of Thy lips I kept hard
6. Next, over this white tunic of faith the soul now puts on the second colour,
which is a green vestment. By this, as we said, is signified the virtue of hope,
wherewith, as in the first case, the soul is delivered and protected from the second
enemy, which is the world. For this green colour of living hope in God gives the soul
such ardour and courage and aspiration to the things of eternal life that, by
comparison with what it hopes for therein, all things of the world seem to it to be, as
in truth they are, dry and faded and dead and nothing worth. The soul now divests
and strips itself of all these worldly vestments and garments, setting its heart upon
naught that is in the world and hoping for naught, whether of that which is or of
that which is to be, but living clad only in the hope of eternal life. Wherefore, when
the heart is thus lifted up above the world, not only can the world neither touch the
heart nor lay hold on it, but it cannot even come within sight of it.
7. And thus, in this green livery and disguise, the soul journeys in complete
security from this second enemy, which is the world. For Saint Paul speaks of hope
as the helmet of salvation271—that is, a piece of armour that protects the whole
head, and covers it so that there remains uncovered only a visor through which it
may look. And hope has this property, that it covers all the senses of the head of the
soul, so that there is naught soever pertaining to the world in which they can be
immersed, nor is there an opening through which any arrow of the world can wound
them. It has a visor, however, which the soul is permitted to use so that its eyes
may look upward, but nowhere else; for this is the function which hope habitually
performs in the soul, namely, the directing of its eyes upwards to look at God alone,
even as David declared that his eyes were directed, when he said: Oculi mei semper
ad Dominum.272 He hoped for no good thing elsewhere, save as he himself says in
another Psalm: 'Even as the eyes of the handmaid are set upon the hands of her
mistress, even so are our eyes set upon our Lord God, until He have mercy upon us
as we hope in Him.'273
8. For this reason, because of this green livery (since the soul is ever looking
to God and sets its eyes on naught else, neither is pleased with aught save with Him
alone), the Beloved has such great pleasure with the soul that it is true to say that
267[Lit., 'a better undershirt and tunic.']
268[Lit., 'this whiteness.']
269Osee, ii, 20.
270Psalm xvi, 4 [A.V., xvii, 4].
2711 Thessalonians v, 8.
272Psalm xxiv, 15 [A.V., xxv, 15].
273Psalm cxxii, 2 [A.V., cxxiii, 2].
the soul obtains from Him as much as it hopes for from Him. Wherefore the Spouse
in the Songs tells the Bride that, by looking upon Him with one eye alone, she has
wounded His heart.274 Without this green livery of hope in God alone it would be
impossible for the soul to go forth to encompass this loving achievement, for it would
have no success, since that which moves and conquers is the importunity of hope.
9. With this livery of hope the soul journeys in disguise through this secret
and dark night whereof we have spoken; for it is so completely voided of every
possession and support that it fixes its eyes and its care upon naught but God,
putting its mouth in the dust,275 if so be there may be hope—to repeat the quotation
made above from Jeremias.276
10. Over the white and the green vestments, as the crown and perfection of
this disguise and livery, the soul now puts on the third colour, which is a splendid
garment of purple. By this is denoted the third virtue, which is charity. This not
only adds grace to the other two colours, but causes the soul to rise to so lofty a
point that it is brought near to God, and becomes very beautiful and pleasing to
Him, so that it makes bold to say: 'Albeit I am black, O daughters of Jerusalem, I
am comely; wherefore the King hath loved me and hath brought me into His
chambers.'277 This livery of charity, which is that of love, and causes greater love in
the Beloved, not only protects the soul and hides it from the third enemy, which is
the flesh (for where there is true love of God there enters neither love of self nor
that of the things of self), but even gives worth to the other virtues, bestowing on
them vigour and strength to protect the soul, and grace and beauty to please the
Beloved with them, for without charity no virtue has grace before God. This is the
purple which is spoken of in the Songs,278 upon which God reclines. Clad in this
purple livery the soul journeys when (as has been explained above in the first
stanza) it goes forth from itself in the dark night, and from all things created,
'kindled in love with yearnings,' by this secret ladder of contemplation, to the
perfect union of love of God, its beloved salvation.279
11. This, then, is the disguise which the soul says that it wears in the night of
faith, upon this secret ladder, and these are its three colours. They constitute a most
fit preparation for the union of the soul with God, according to its three faculties,
which are understanding, memory and will. For faith voids and darkens the
understanding as to all its natural intelligence, and herein prepares it for union
with Divine Wisdom. Hope voids and withdraws the memory from all creature
possessions; for, as Saint Paul says, hope is for that which is not possessed;280 and
thus it withdraws the memory from that which it is capable of possessing, and sets
it on that for which it hopes. And for this cause hope in God alone prepares the
memory purely for union with God. Charity, in the same way, voids and annihilates
the affections and desires of the will for whatever is not God, and sets them upon
Him alone; and thus this virtue prepares this faculty and unites it with God
through love. And thus, since the function of these virtues is the withdrawal of the
soul from all that is less than God, their function is consequently that of joining it
12. And thus, unless it journeys earnestly, clad in the garments of these three
virtues, it is impossible for the soul to attain to the perfection of union with God
274Canticles iv, 9.
275Lamentations iii, 29.
276Ibid. [For the quotation, see Bk. II, chap. viii, § 1, above.]
277Canticles i, 3. [A.V., i, 4.] [For 'chambers' the Spanish has 'bed.']
278Canticles iii, 10.
280Romans viii, 24.
through love. Wherefore, in order that the soul might attain that which it desired,
which was this loving and delectable union with its Beloved, this disguise and
clothing which it assumed was most necessary and convenient. And likewise to have
succeeded in thus clothing itself and persevering until it should obtain the end and
aspiration which it had so much desired, which was the union of love, was a great
and happy chance, wherefore in this line the soul also says:
Oh, happy chance!
Explains the third281 line of the second stanza.
IT is very clear that it was a happy chance for this soul to go forth with such an
enterprise as this, for it was its going forth that delivered it from the devil and from
the world and from its own sensuality, as we have said. Having attained liberty of
spirit, so precious and so greatly desired by all, it went forth from low things to
high; from terrestrial, it became celestial; from human, Divine. Thus it came to have
its conversation in the heavens, as has the soul in this state of perfection, even as
we shall go on to say in what follows, although with rather more brevity.
2. For the most important part of my task, and the part which chiefly led me
to undertake it, was the explanation of this night to many souls who pass through it
and yet know nothing about it, as was said in the prologue. Now this explanation
and exposition has already been half completed. Although much less has been said
of it than might be said, we have shown how many are the blessings which the soul
bears with it through the night and how happy is the chance whereby it passes
through it, so that, when a soul is terrified by the horror of so many trials, it is also
encouraged by the certain hope of so many and such precious blessings of God as it
gains therein. And furthermore, for yet another reason, this was a happy chance for
the soul; and this reason is given in the following line:
In darkness and in concealment.
Expounds the fourth line282 and describes the wondrous hiding place wherein the
soul is set during this night. Shows how, although the devil has an entrance into
other places that are very high, he has none into this.
'IN concealment' is as much as to say 'in a hiding-place,' or 'in hiding'; and thus,
what the soul here says (namely, that it went forth 'in darkness and in
concealment') is a more complete explanation of the great security which it
describes itself in the first line of the stanza as possessing, by means of this dark
contemplation upon the road of the union of the love of God.
2. When the soul, then, says 'in darkness and in concealment,' it means that,
inasmuch as it journeyed in darkness after the manner aforementioned, it went in
281i.e., in the original Spanish and in our verse rendering of the poem in The Complete Works of St.
John of the Cross, Ed. by E. Allison Peers, Vol. II (The Newman Press, Westminster, Md.).
282i.e., in the original Spanish and in our verse rendering of the poem in The Complete Works of St.
John of the Cross, Ed. by E. Allison Peers, Vol. II (The Newman Press, Westminster, Md.).
hiding and in concealment from the devil and from his wiles and stratagems. The
reason why, as it journeys in the darkness of this contemplation, the soul is free,
and is hidden from the stratagems of the devil, is that the infused contemplation
which it here possesses is infused into it passively and secretly, without the
knowledge of the senses and faculties, whether interior or exterior, of the sensual
part. And hence it follows that, not only does it journey in hiding, and is free from
the impediment which these faculties can set in its way because of its natural
weakness, but likewise from the devil; who, except through these faculties of the
sensual part, cannot reach or know that which is in the soul, nor that which is
taking place within it. Wherefore, the more spiritual, the more interior and the
more remote from the senses is the communication, the farther does the devil fall
short of understanding it.
3. And thus it is of great importance for the security of the soul that its
inward communication with God should be of such a kind that its very senses of the
lower part will remain in darkness283 and be without knowledge of it, and attain not
to it: first, so that it may be possible for the spiritual communication to be more
abundant, and that the weakness of its sensual part may not hinder the liberty of
its spirit; secondly because, as we say, the soul journeys more securely since the
devil cannot penetrate so far. In this way we may understand that passage where
Our Saviour, speaking in a spiritual sense, says: 'Let not thy left hand know what
thy right hand doeth.'284 Which is as though He had said: Let not thy left hand
know that which takes place upon thy right hand, which is the higher and spiritual
part of the soul; that is, let it be of such a kind that the lower portion of thy soul,
which is the sensual part, may not attain to it; let it be a secret between the spirit
and God alone.
4. It is quite true that oftentimes, when these very intimate and secret
spiritual communications are present and take place in the soul, although the devil
cannot get to know of what kind and manner they are, yet the great repose and
silence which some of them cause in the senses and the faculties of the sensual part
make it clear to him that they are taking place and that the soul is receiving a
certain blessing from them. And then, as he sees that he cannot succeed in
thwarting them in the depth of the soul, he does what he can to disturb and disquiet
the sensual part—that part to which he is able to attain—now by means of
afflictions, now by terrors and fears, with intent to disquiet and disturb the higher
and spiritual part of the soul by this means, with respect to that blessing which it
then receives and enjoys. But often, when the communication of such contemplation
makes its naked assault upon the soul and exerts its strength upon it, the devil,
with all his diligence, is unable to disturb it; rather the soul receives a new and a
greater advantage and a securer peace. For, when it feels the disturbing presence of
the enemy, then—wondrous thing!—without knowing how it comes to pass, and
without any efforts of its own, it enters farther into its own interior depths, feeling
that it is indeed being set in a sure refuge, where it perceives itself to be most
completely withdrawn and hidden from the enemy. And thus its peace and joy,
which the devil is attempting to take from it, are increased; and all the fear that
assails it remains without; and it becomes clearly and exultingly conscious of its
secure enjoyment of that quiet peace and sweetness of the hidden Spouse, which
neither the world nor the devil can give it or take from it. In that state, therefore, it
realizes the truth of the words of the Bride about this, in the Songs, namely: 'See
how threescore strong men surround the bed of Solomon, etc., because of the fears of
283[The Spanish also admits of the rendering: 'remain shut off from it by darkness.']
284Matthew vi, 3.
the night.'285 It is conscious of this strength and peace, although it is often equally
conscious that its flesh and bones are being tormented from without.
5. At other times, when the spiritual communication is not made in any great
measure to the spirit, but the senses have a part therein, the devil more easily
succeeds in disturbing the spirit and raising a tumult within it, by means of the
senses, with these terrors. Great are the torment and the affliction which are then
caused in the spirit; at times they exceed all that can be expressed. For, when there
is a naked contact of spirit with spirit, the horror is intolerable which the evil spirit
causes in the good spirit (I mean, in the soul), when its tumult reaches it. This is
expressed likewise by the Bride in the Songs, when she says that it has happened
thus to her at a time when she wished to descend to interior recollection in order to
have fruition of these blessings. She says: 'I went down into the garden of nuts to
see the apples of the valleys, and if the vine had flourished. I knew not; my soul
troubled me because of the chariots'—that is, because of the chariots and the noise
of Aminadab, which is the devil.286
6. At other times it comes to pass that the devil is occasionally able to see
certain favours which God is pleased to grant the soul when they are bestowed upon
it by the mediation of a good angel; for of those favours which come through a good
angel God habitually allows the enemy to have knowledge: partly so that he may do
that which he can against them according to the measure of justice, and that thus
he may not be able to allege with truth that no opportunity is given him for
conquering the soul, as he said concerning Job.287 This would be the case if God
allowed not a certain equality between the two warriors—namely, the good angel
and the bad—when they strive for the soul, so that the victory of either may be of
the greater worth, and the soul that is victorious and faithful in temptation may be
the more abundantly rewarded.
7. We must observe, therefore, that it is for this reason that, in proportion as
God is guiding the soul and communing with it, He gives the devil leave to act with
it after this manner. When the soul has genuine visions by the instrumentality of
the good angel (for it is by this instrumentality that they habitually come, even
though Christ reveal Himself, for He scarcely ever appears288 in His actual person),
God also gives the wicked angel leave to present to the soul false visions of this very
type in such a way that the soul which is not cautious may easily be deceived by
their outward appearance, as many souls have been. Of this there is a figure in
Exodus,289 where it is said that all the genuine signs that Moses wrought were
wrought likewise in appearance by the magicians of Pharao. If he brought forth
frogs, they brought them forth likewise; if he turned water into blood, they did the
8. And not only does the evil one imitate God in this type of bodily vision, but
he also imitates and interferes in spiritual communications which come through the
instrumentality of an angel, when he succeeds in seeing them, as we say (for, as Job
said290: Omne sublime videt). These, however, as they are without form and figure
(for it is the nature of spirit to have no such thing), he cannot imitate and
counterfeit like those others which are presented under some species or figure. And
285Canticles iii, 7-8.
286Canticles vi, 10 [A.V., vi, 11-12].
287Job i, 1-11.
288Such is the unanimous opinion of theologians. Some, with St. Thomas (Pt. III, q. 57, a. 6), suppose
that the appearance which converted St. Paul near Damascus was that of Our Lord Jesus Christ in
289Exodus vii, 11-22; viii, 7.
290Job xli, 25.
thus, in order to attack the soul, in the same way as that wherein it is being visited,
his fearful spirit presents a similar vision in order to attack and destroy spiritual
things by spiritual. When this comes to pass just as the good angel is about to
communicate spiritual contemplation to the soul, it is impossible for the soul to
shelter itself in the secrecy and hiding-place of contemplation with sufficient
rapidity not to be observed by the devil; and thus he appears to it and produces a
certain horror and perturbation of spirit which at times is most distressing to the
soul. Sometimes the soul can speedily free itself from him, so that there is no
opportunity for the aforementioned horror of the evil spirit to make an impression
on it; and it becomes recollected within itself, being favoured, to this end, by the
effectual spiritual grace that the good angel then communicates to it.
9. At other times the devil prevails and encompasses the soul with a
perturbation and horror which is a greater affliction to it than any torment in this
life could be. For, as this horrible communication passes direct from spirit to spirit,
in something like nakedness and clearly distinguished from all that is corporeal, it
is grievous beyond what every sense can feel; and this lasts in the spirit for some
time, yet not for long, for otherwise the spirit would be driven forth from the flesh
by the vehement communication of the other spirit. Afterwards there remains to it
the memory thereof, which is sufficient to cause it great affliction.
10. All that we have here described comes to pass in the soul passively,
without its doing or undoing anything of itself with respect to it. But in this
connection it must be known that, when the good angel permits the devil to gain
this advantage of assailing the soul with this spiritual horror, he does it to purify
the soul and to prepare it by means of this spiritual vigil for some great spiritual
favour and festival which he desires to grant it, for he never mortifies save to give
life, nor humbles save to exalt, which comes to pass shortly afterwards. Then,
according as was the dark and horrible purgation which the soul suffered, so is the
fruition now granted it of a wondrous and delectable spiritual contemplation,
sometimes so lofty that there is no language to describe it. But the spirit has been
greatly refined by the preceding horror of the evil spirit, in order that it may be able
to receive this blessing; for these spiritual visions belong to the next life rather than
to this, and when one of them is seen this is a preparation for the next.
11. This is to be understood with respect to occasions when God visits the soul
by the instrumentality of a good angel, wherein, as has been said, the soul is not so
totally in darkness and in concealment that the enemy cannot come within reach of
it. But, when God Himself visits it, then the words of this line are indeed fulfilled,
and it is in total darkness and in concealment from the enemy that the soul receives
these spiritual favours of God. The reason for this is that, as His Majesty dwells
substantially in the soul, where neither angel nor devil can attain to an
understanding of that which comes to pass, they cannot know the intimate and
secret communications which take place there between the soul and God. These
communications, since the Lord Himself works them, are wholly Divine and
sovereign, for they are all substantial touches of Divine union between the soul and
God; in one of which the soul receives a greater blessing than in all the rest, since
this is the loftiest degree291 of prayer in existence.
12. For these are the touches that the Bride entreated of Him in the Songs,
saying: Osculetur me osculo oris sui.292 Since this is a thing which takes place in
such close intimacy with God, whereto the soul desires with such yearnings to
attain, it esteems and longs for a touch of this Divinity more than all the other
favours that God grants it. Wherefore, after many such favours have been granted
291[Lit., 'step.' Cf. Bk. II, chap. xix, first note, above.]
292Canticles i, 1.
to the Bride in the said Songs, of which she has sung therein, she is not satisfied,
but entreats Him for these Divine touches, saying: 'Who shall give Thee to me, my
brother, that I might find Thee alone without, sucking the breasts of my mother, so
that I might kiss Thee with the mouth of my soul, and that thus no man should
despise me or make bold to attack me.'293 By this she denotes the communication
which God Himself alone makes to her, as we are saying, far from all the creatures
and without their knowledge, for this is meant by 'alone and without, sucking,
etc.'—that is, drying up and draining the breasts of the desires and affections of the
sensual part of the soul. This takes place when the soul, in intimate peace and
delight, has fruition of these blessings, with liberty of spirit, and without the
sensual part being able to hinder it, or the devil to thwart it by means thereof. And
then the devil would not make bold to attack it, for he would not reach it, neither
could he attain to an understanding of these Divine touches in the substance of the
soul in the loving substance of God.
13. To this blessing none attains save through intimate purgation and
detachment and spiritual concealment from all that is creature; it comes to pass in
the darkness, as we have already explained at length and as we say with respect to
this line. The soul is in concealment and in hiding, in the which hiding-place, as we
have now said, it continues to be strengthened in union with God through love,
wherefore it sings this in the same phrase, saying: 'In darkness and in concealment.'
14. When it comes to pass that those favours are granted to the soul in
concealment (that is, as we have said, in spirit only), the soul is wont, during some
of them, and without knowing how this comes to pass, to see itself so far with drawn
and separated according to the higher and spiritual part, from the sensual and
lower portion, that it recognizes in itself two parts so distinct from each other that it
believes that the one has naught to do with the other, but that the one is very
remote and far withdrawn from the other. And in reality, in a certain way, this is so;
for the operation is now wholly spiritual, and the soul receives no communication in
its sensual part. In this way the soul gradually becomes wholly spiritual; and in this
hiding-place of unitive contemplation its spiritual desires and passions are to a
great degree removed and purged away. And thus, speaking of its higher part, the
soul then says in this last line:
My house being now at rest.294
Completes the explanation of the second stanza.
THIS is as much as to say: The higher portion of my soul being like the lower part
also, at rest with respect to its desires and faculties, I went forth to the Divine union
of the love of God.
2. Inasmuch as, by means of that war of the dark night, as has been said, the
soul is combated and purged after two manners—namely, according to its sensual
and its spiritual part—with its senses, faculties and passions, so likewise after two
manners—namely, according to these two parts, the sensual and the spiritual—with
all its faculties and desires, the soul attains to an enjoyment of peace and rest. For
this reason, as has likewise been said, the soul twice pronounces this line—
293Canticles viii, 1.
294The word translated 'at rest' is a past participle: more literally, 'stilled.'
namely,295 in this stanza and in the last—because of these two portions of the soul,
the spiritual and the sensual, which, in order that they may go forth to the Divine
union of love, must needs first be reformed, ordered and tranquillized with respect
to the sensual and to the spiritual, according to the nature of the state of innocence
which was Adam's.296 And thus this line which, in the first stanza, was understood
of the repose of the lower and sensual portion, is, in this second stanza, understood
more particularly of the higher and spiritual part; for which reason it is repeated.297
3. This repose and quiet of this spiritual house the soul comes to attain,
habitually and perfectly (in so far as the condition of this life allows), by means of
the acts of the substantial touches of Divine union whereof we have just spoken;
which, in concealment, and hidden from the perturbation of the devil, and of its own
senses and passions, the soul has been receiving from the Divinity, wherein it has
been purifying itself, as I say, resting, strengthening and confirming itself in order
to be able to receive the said union once and for all, which is the Divine betrothal
between the soul and the Son of God. As soon as these two houses of the soul have
together become tranquillized and strengthened, with all their domestics—namely,
the faculties and desires—and have put these domestics to sleep and made them to
be silent with respect to all things, both above and below, this Divine Wisdom
immediately unites itself with the soul by making a new bond of loving possession,
and there is fulfilled that which is written in the Book of Wisdom, in these words:
Dum quietum silentium contineret omnia, et nox in suo cursu medium iter haberet,
omnipotens sermo tuus Domine a regalibus sedibus.298 The same thing is described
by the Bride in the Songs,299 where she says that, after she had passed by those
who stripped her of her mantle by night and wounded her, she found Him Whom
her soul loved.
4. The soul cannot come to this union without great purity, and this purity is
not gained without great detachment from every created thing and sharp
mortification. This is signified by the stripping of the Bride of her mantle and by her
being wounded by night as she sought and went after the Spouse; for the new
mantle which belonged to the betrothal could not be put on until the old mantle was
stripped off. Wherefore, he that refuses to go forth in the night aforementioned to
seek the Beloved, and to be stripped of his own will and to be mortified, but seeks
Him upon his bed and at his own convenience, as did the Bride,300 will not succeed
in finding Him. For this soul says of itself that it found Him by going forth in the
dark and with yearnings of love.
295[Lit., 'twice repeats'—a loosely used phrase.]
296H omits this last phrase, which is found in all the other Codices, and in e.p. The latter adds:
'notwithstanding that the soul is not wholly free from the temptations of the lower part.' The
addition is made so that the teaching of the Saint may not be confused with that of the Illuminists,
who supposed the contemplative in union to be impeccable, do what he might. The Saint's meaning is
that for the mystical union of the soul with God such purity and tranquillity of senses and faculties
are needful that his condition resembles that state of innocence in which Adam was created, but
without the attribute of impeccability, which does not necessarily accompany union, nor can be
attained by any, save by a most special privilege of God. Cf. St. Teresa's Interior Castle, VII, ii. St.
Teresa will be found occasionally to explain points of mystical doctrine which St. John of the Cross
takes as being understood.
297[Lit., 'twice repeated.']
298Wisdom xviii, 14.
299Canticles v, 7.
300Canticles iii, 1.
Wherein is expounded the third stanza.
In the happy night, In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught, Without light or guide, save that which
burned in my heart.
THE soul still continues the metaphor and similitude of temporal night in
describing this its spiritual night, and continues to sing and extol the good
properties which belong to it, and which in passing through this night it found and
used, to the end that it might attain its desired goal with speed and security. Of
these properties it here sets down three.
2. The first, it says, is that in this happy night of contemplation God leads the
soul by a manner of contemplation so solitary and secret, so remote and far distant
from sense, that naught pertaining to it, nor any touch of created things, succeeds in
approaching the soul in such a way as to disturb it and detain it on the road of the
union of love.
3. The second property whereof it speaks pertains to the spiritual darkness of
this night, wherein all the faculties of the higher part of the soul are in darkness.
The soul sees naught, neither looks at aught neither stays in aught that is not God,
to the end that it may reach Him, inasmuch as it journeys unimpeded by obstacles
of forms and figures, and of natural apprehensions, which are those that are wont to
hinder the soul from uniting with the eternal Being of God.
4. The third is that, although as it journeys it is supported by no particular
interior light of understanding, nor by any exterior guide, that it may receive
satisfaction therefrom on this lofty road—it is completely deprived of all this by this
thick darkness—yet its love alone, which burns at this time, and makes its heart to
long for the Beloved, is that which now moves and guides it, and makes it to soar
upward to its God along the road of solitude, without its knowing how or in what
There follows the line:
In the happy night.301
301Thus end the majority of the MSS. Cf. pp. lxviii-lxiii, Ascent of Mount Carmel (Image Books
edition), 26-27, on the incomplete state of this treatise. The MSS. say nothing of this, except that in
the Alba de Tormes MS. we read: 'Thus far wrote the holy Fray John of the Cross concerning the
purgative way, wherein he treats of the active and the passive [aspect] of it as is seen in the treatise
of the Ascent of the Mount and in this of the Dark Night, and, as he died, he wrote no more. And
hereafter follows the illuminative way, and then the unitive.' Elsewhere we have said that the lack of
any commentary on the last five stanzas is not due to the Saint's death, since he lived for many years
after writing the commentary on the earlier stanzas.