A SPIRITUAL CANTICLE OF THE SOUL AND THE BRIDEGROOM CHRIST 

 

PROLOGUE AND THE 40 STANZAS OF THE SPIRITUAL CANTICLE

 

PROLOGUE

INASMUCH as this canticle seems to have been written with some fervour of love of God, whose wisdom and love are, as is said in the book of Wisdom, [9] so vast that they reach 'from end unto end,' and as the soul, taught and moved by Him, manifests the same abundance and strength in the words it uses, I do not purpose here to set forth all that greatness and fulness the spirit of love, which is fruitful, embodies in it. Yea, rather it would be foolishness to think that the language of love and the mystical intelligence--and that is what these stanzas are--can be at all explained in words of any kind, for the Spirit of our Lord who helps our weakness--as St. Paul saith [10]--dwelling in us makes petitions for us with groaning unutterable for that which we cannot well understand or grasp so as to be able to make it known. 'The Spirit helpeth our infirmity . . . the Spirit Himself requesteth for us with groanings unspeakable.' For who can describe that which He shows to loving souls in whom He dwells? Who can set forth in words that which He makes them feel? and, lastly, who can explain that for which they long?

2. Assuredly no one can do it; not even they themselves who experience it. That is the reason why they use figures of special comparisons and similitudes; they hide somewhat of that which they feel and in the abundance of the Spirit utter secret mysteries rather than express themselves in clear words.

3. And if these similitudes be not received in the simplicity of a loving mind, and in the sense in which they are uttered, they will seem to be effusions of folly rather than the language of reason; as any one may see in the divine Canticle of Solomon, and in others of the sacred books, wherein the Holy Ghost, because ordinary and common speech could not convey His meaning, uttered His mysteries in strange terms and similitudes. It follows from this, that after all that the holy doctors have said, and may say, no words of theirs can explain it; nor can words do it; and so, in general, all that is said falls far short of the meaning.

4. The stanzas that follow having been written under influence of that love which proceeds from the overflowing mystical intelligence, cannot be fully explained. Indeed I do not purpose any such thing, for my sole object is to throw some general light over them, which in my opinion is the better course. It is better to leave the outpourings of love in their own fulness, that every one may apply them according to the measure of his spirit and power, than to pare them down to one particular sense which is not suited to the taste of every one. And though I do put forth a particular explanation, still others are not to be bound by it. The mystical wisdom--that is, the love, of which these stanzas speak--does not require to be distinctly understood in order to produce the effect of love and tenderness in the soul, for it is in this respect like faith, by which we love God without a clear comprehension of Him.

5. I shall therefore be very concise, though now and then unable to avoid some prolixity where the subject requires it, and when the opportunity is offered of discussing and explaining certain points and effects of prayer: many of which being referred to in these stanzas, I must discuss some of them. I shall, however, pass over the more ordinary ones, and treat briefly of the more extraordinary to which they are subject who, by the mercy of God, have advanced beyond the state of beginners. This I do for two reasons: the first is, that much is already written concerning beginners; and the second is, that I am addressing those who have received from our Lord the grace of being led on from the elementary state and are led inwards to the bosom of His divine love.

6. I therefore trust, though I may discuss some points of scholastic theology relating to the interior commerce of the soul with God, that I am not using such language altogether in vain, and that it will be found profitable for pure spirituality. For though some may be altogether ignorant of scholastic theology by which the divine verities are explained, yet they are not ignorant of mystical theology, the science of love, by which those verities are not only learned, but at the same time are relished also.

7. And in order that what I am going to say may be the better received, I submit myself to higher judgments, and unreservedly to that of our holy mother the Church, intending to say nothing in reliance on my own personal experience, or on what I have observed in other spiritual persons, nor on what I have heard them say-- though I intend to profit by all this--unless I can confirm it with the sanction of the divine writings, at least on those points which are most difficult of comprehension.

8. The method I propose to follow in the matter is this: first of all, to cite the words of the text and then to give that explanation of them which belongs to the subject before me. I shall now transcribe all the stanzas and place them at the beginning of this treatise. In the next place, I shall take each of them separately, and explain them line by line, each line in its proper place before the explanation.

 

 

SONG OF THE SOUL AND THE BRIDEGROOM

I

THE BRIDE

Where hast Thou hidden Thyself, And abandoned me in my groaning, O my Beloved? Thou hast fled like the hart, Having wounded me. I ran after Thee, crying; but Thou wert gone.

II

O shepherds, you who go Through the sheepcots up the hill, If you shall see Him Whom I love the most, Tell Him I languish, suffer, and die.

III

In search of my Love I will go over mountains and strands; I will gather no flowers, I will fear no wild beasts; And pass by the mighty and the frontiers.

IV

O groves and thickets Planted by the hand of the Beloved; O verdant meads Enamelled with flowers, Tell me, has He passed by you?

V

ANSWER OF THE CREATURES

A thousand graces diffusing He passed through the groves in haste, And merely regarding them As He passed Clothed them with His beauty.

VI

THE BRIDE

Oh! who can heal me? Give me at once Thyself, Send me no more A messenger Who cannot tell me what I wish.

VII

All they who serve are telling me Of Thy unnumbered graces; And all wound me more and more, And something leaves me dying, I know not what, of which they are darkly speaking.

VIII

But how thou perseverest, O life, Not living where thou livest; The arrows bring death Which thou receivest From thy conceptions of the Beloved.

IX

Why, after wounding This heart, hast Thou not healed it? And why, after stealing it, Hast Thou thus abandoned it, And not carried away the stolen prey?

X

Quench Thou my troubles, For no one else can soothe them; And let mine eyes behold Thee, For thou art their light, And I will keep them for Thee alone.

XI

Reveal Thy presence, And let the vision and Thy beauty kill me, Behold the malady Of love is incurable Except in Thy presence and before Thy face.

XII

O crystal well! Oh that on Thy silvered surface Thou wouldest mirror forth at once Those eyes desired Which are outlined in my heart!

XIII

Turn them away, O my Beloved! I am on the wing:

THE BRIDEGROOM

Return, My Dove! The wounded hart Looms on the hill In the air of thy flight and is refreshed.

XIV

My Beloved is the mountains, The solitary wooded valleys, The strange islands, The roaring torrents, The whisper of the amorous gales;

XV

The tranquil night At the approaches of the dawn, The silent music, The murmuring solitude, The supper which revives, and enkindles love.

XVI

Catch us the foxes, For our vineyard hath flourished; While of roses We make a nosegay, And let no one appear on the hill.

XVII

O killing north wind, cease! Come, south wind, that awakenest love! Blow through my garden, And let its odours flow, And the Beloved shall feed among the flowers.

XVIII

O nymphs of Judea! While amid the flowers and the rose-trees The amber sends forth its perfume, Tarry in the suburbs, And touch not our thresholds.

XIX

Hide thyself, O my Beloved! Turn Thy face to the mountains, Do not speak, But regard the companions Of her who is travelling amidst strange islands.

XX

THE BRIDEGROOM

Light-winged birds, Lions, fawns, bounding does, Mountains, valleys, strands, Waters, winds, heat, And the terrors that keep watch by night;

XXI

By the soft lyres And the siren strains, I adjure you, Let your fury cease, And touch not the wall, That the bride may sleep in greater security.

XXII

The bride has entered The pleasant and desirable garden, And there reposes to her heart's content; Her neck reclining On the sweet arms of the Beloved.

XXIII

Beneath the apple-tree There wert thou betrothed; There I gave thee My hand, And thou wert redeemed Where thy mother was corrupted.

XXIV

THE BRIDE

Our bed is of flowers By dens of lions encompassed, Hung with purple, Made in peace, And crowned with a thousand shields of gold.

XXV

In Thy footsteps The young ones run Thy way; At the touch of the fire And by the spiced wine, The divine balsam flows.

XXVI

In the inner cellar Of my Beloved have I drunk; and when I went forth Over all the plain I knew nothing, And lost the flock I followed before.

XXVII

There He gave me His breasts, There He taught me the science full of sweetness. And there I gave to Him Myself without reserve; There I promised to be His bride.

XXVIII

My soul is occupied, And all my substance in His service; Now I guard no flock, Nor have I any other employment: My sole occupation is love.

XXIX

If, then, on the common land I am no longer seen or found, You will say that I am lost; That, being enamoured, I lost myself; and yet was found.

XXX

Of emeralds, and of flowers In the early morning gathered, We will make the garlands, Flowering in Thy love, And bound together with one hair of my head.

XXXI

By that one hair Thou hast observed fluttering on my neck, And on my neck regarded, Thou wert captivated; And wounded by one of my eyes.

XXXII

When Thou didst regard me, Thine eyes imprinted in me Thy grace: For this didst Thou love me again, And thereby mine eyes did merit To adore what in Thee they saw

XXXIII

Despise me not, For if I was swarthy once Thou canst regard me now; Since Thou hast regarded me, Grace and beauty hast Thou given me.

XXXIV

THE BRIDEGROOM

The little white dove Has returned to the ark with the bough; And now the turtle-dove Its desired mate On the green banks has found.

XXXV

In solitude she lived, And in solitude built her nest; And in solitude, alone Hath the Beloved guided her, In solitude also wounded with love.

XXXVI

THE BRIDE

Let us rejoice, O my Beloved! Let us go forth to see ourselves in Thy beauty, To the mountain and the hill, Where the pure water flows: Let us enter into the heart of the thicket.

XXXVII

We shall go at once To the deep caverns of the rock Which are all secret, There we shall enter in And taste of the new wine of the pomegranate.

XXXVIII

There thou wilt show me That which my soul desired; And there Thou wilt give at once, O Thou, my life! That which Thou gavest me the other day.

XXXIX

The breathing of the air, The song of the sweet nightingale, The grove and its beauty In the serene night, With the flame that consumes, and gives no pains.

XL

None saw it; Neither did Aminadab appear The siege was intermitted, And the cavalry dismounted At the sight of the waters.

 

ARGUMENT

These stanzas describe the career of a soul from its first entrance on the service of God till it comes to the final state of perfection--the spiritual marriage. They refer accordingly to the three states or ways of the spiritual training--the purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways, some properties and effects of which they explain.

The first stanzas relate to beginners--to the purgative way. The second to the advanced--to the state of spiritual betrothal; that is, the illuminative way. The next to the unitive way--that of the perfect, the spiritual Marriage. The unitive way, that of the perfect, follows the illuminative, which is that of the advanced.

The last stanzas treat of the beatific state, which only the already perfect soul aims at.

 

A SPIRITUAL CANTICLE OF THE SOUL AND 
THE BRIDEGROOM CHRIST

( ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS)

INDEX
AND
INTRODUCTION
PART 1 PROLOGUE AND 40 STANZAS OF THE SPIRITUAL CANTICLE PART 2 EXPLANATION OF  STANZAS   1 TO 10 PART 3 EXPLANATION OF  STANZAS 11 TO 21 PART 4 EXPLANATION OF STANZAS 22 TO 30 PART 5 EXPLANATION OF STANZAS 31 TO 40 AND ENDNOTES

 

 

 

INDEX OF THE COLLECTED WORKS OF SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS

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