“A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ”: (Stanza One) John of the Cross


STANZA I

THE BRIDE

Where have You hidden Yourself,

And abandoned me to my sorrow, O my Beloved!

You have fled like the hart,

Having wounded me.

I ran after You, crying; but You were gone.

IN this first stanza the soul, enamored of the Word, the Son of God,

the Bridegroom, desiring to be united to Him in the clear and

substantial vision, sets before Him the anxieties of its love,

complaining of His absence. And this the more so because, now pierced

and wounded with love, for which it had abandoned all things, even

itself, it has still to endure the absence of the Beloved, Who has not

released it from its mortal flesh, that it might have the fruition of

Him in the glory of eternity. Hence it cries out,

“Where have You hidden Yourself?”

2. It is as if the soul said, “Show me, O You the Word, my Bridegroom,

the place where You are hidden.” It asks for the revelation of the

divine Essence; for the place where the Son of God is hidden is,

according to St. John, “the bosom of the Father,” [18] which is the

divine Essence, transcending all mortal vision, and hidden from all

human understanding, as Isaiah says, speaking to God, “Verily You are a

hidden God.” [19] From this we learn that the communication and sense

of His presence, however great they may be, and the most sublime and

profound knowledge of God which the soul may have in this life, are not

God essentially, neither have they any affinity with Him, for in very

truth He is still hidden from the soul; and it is therefore expedient

for it, amid all these grandeurs, always to consider Him as hidden, and

to seek Him in His hiding place, saying,

“Where have You hidden Yourself?”

3. Neither sublime communications nor sensible presence furnish any

certain proof of His gracious presence; nor is the absence thereof, and

aridity, any proof of His absence from the soul. “If He come to me, I

shall not see Him; if He depart, I shall not understand.” [20] That is,

if the soul have any great communication, or impression, or spiritual

knowledge, it must not on that account persuade itself that what it

then feels is to enjoy or see God clearly and in His Essence, or that

it brings it nearer to Him, or Him to it, however deep such feelings

may be. On the other hand, when all these sensible and spiritual

communications fail it, and it is itself in dryness, darkness, and

desolation, it must not on that account suppose that God is far from

it; for in truth the former state is no sign of its being in a state of

grace, nor is the latter a sign that it is not; for “man knows not

whether he is worthy of love or hatred” [21] in the sight of God.

4. The chief object of the soul in these words is not to ask only for

that affective and sensible devotion, wherein there is no certainty or

evidence of the possession of the Bridegroom in this life; but

principally for that clear presence and vision of His Essence, of which

it longs to be assured and satisfied in the next. This, too, was the

object of the bride who, in the divine song desiring to be united to

the Divinity of the Bridegroom Word, prayed to the Father, saying,

“Show me where You feed, where You lie in the midday.” [22] For to ask

to be shown the place where He fed was to ask to be shown the Essence

of the Divine Word, the Son; because the Father feeds nowhere else but

in His only begotten Son, Who is the glory of the Father. In asking to

be shown the place where He lies in the midday, was to ask for the same

thing, because the Son is the sole delight of the Father, Who lies in

no other place, and is comprehended by no other thing, but in and by

His beloved Son, in Whom He reposes wholly, communicating to Him His

whole Essence, in the “midday,” which is eternity, where the Father is

ever begetting and the Son ever begotten.

5. This pasture, then, is the Bridegroom Word, where the Father feeds

in infinite glory. He is also the bed of flowers whereupon He reposes

with infinite delight of love, profoundly hidden from all mortal vision

and every created thing. This is the meaning of the bride-soul when she

says,

“Where have You hidden Yourself?”

6. That the thirsty soul may find the Bridegroom, and be one with Him

in the union of love in this life — so far as that is possible — and

quench its thirst with that drink which it is possible to drink of at

His hands in this life, it will be as well — since that is what the

Soul asks of Him — that we should answer for Him, and point out the

special spot where He is hidden, that He may be found there in that

perfection and sweetness of which this life is capable, and that the

soul may not begin to loiter uselessly in the footsteps of its

companions.

7. We must remember that the Word, the Son of God, together with the

Father and the Holy Spirit, is hidden in essence and in presence, in

the inmost being of the soul. That soul, therefore, that will find Him,

must go out from all things in will and affection, and enter into the

profoundest self-recollection, and all things must be to it as if they

existed not. Hence, St. Augustine says: “I found You not without, O

Lord; I sought You without in vain, for You are within,” [23] God is

therefore hidden within the soul, and the true contemplative will seek

Him there in love, saying,

“Where have You hidden Yourself?”

8. O you soul, then, most beautiful of creatures, who so long to know

the place where your Beloved is, that you may seek Him, and be united

to Him, you know now that you are yourself that very tabernacle where

He dwells, the secret chamber of His retreat where He is hidden.

Rejoice, therefore, and exult, because all your good and all your hope

is so near you as to be within you; or, to speak more accurately, that

you can not be without it, “for lo, the kingdom of God is within you.”

[24] So says the Bridegroom Himself, and His servant, St. Paul, adds:

“You are the temple of the living God.” [25] What joy for the soul to

learn that God never abandons it, even in mortal sin; how much less in

a state of grace! [26]

9. What more can you desire, what more can you seek without, seeing

that within you have your riches, your delight, your satisfaction, your

fullness and your kingdom; that is, your Beloved, Whom you desire and

seek? Rejoice, then, and be glad in Him with interior recollection,

seeing that you have Him so near. Then love Him, then desire Him, then

adore Him, and go not to seek Him out of yourself, for that will be but

distraction and weariness, and you shall not find Him; because there is

no fruition of Him more certain, more ready, or more intimate than that

which is within.

10. One difficulty alone remains: though He is within, yet He is

hidden. But it is a great matter to know the place of His secret rest,

that He may be sought there with certainty. The knowledge of this is

that which you ask for here, O soul, when with loving affection you

cry,

“Where have You hidden Yourself?”

11. You will still urge and say, How is it, then, that I find Him not,

nor feel Him, if He is within my soul? It is because He is hidden, and

because you hide not yourself also that you may find Him and feel Him;

for he that will seek that which is hidden must enter secretly into the

secret place where it is hidden, and when he finds it, he is himself

hidden like the object of his search. Seeing, then, that the Bridegroom

whom you love is “the treasure hidden in the field” [27] of your soul,

for which the wise merchant gave all that he had, so you, if you will

find Him, must forget all that is yours, withdraw from all created

things, and hide yourself in the secret retreat of the spirit, shutting

the door upon yourself — that is, denying your will in all things —

and praying to your Father in secret. [28] Then you, being hidden with

Him, will be conscious of His presence in secret, and will love Him,

possess Him in secret, and delight in Him in secret, in a way that no

tongue or language can express.

12. Courage, then, O soul most beautiful, you know now that your

Beloved, Whom you desire, dwells hidden within your breast; strive,

therefore, to be truly hidden with Him, and then you shall embrace Him,

and be conscious of His presence with loving affection. Consider also

that He bids you, by the mouth of Isaiah, to come to His secret

hiding-place, saying, “Go, . . . enter into your chambers, shut your

doors upon you”; that is, all your faculties, so that no created thing

shall enter: “be hid a little for a moment,” [29] that is, for the

moment of this mortal life; for if now during this life which is short,

you will “with all watchfulness keep your heart,” [30] as the wise man

says, God will most assuredly give you, as He has promised by the

prophet Isaiah, “hidden treasures and mysteries of secrets.” [31] The

substance of these secrets is God Himself, for He is the substance of

the faith, and the object of it, and the faith is the secret and the

mystery. And when that which the faith conceals shall be revealed and

made manifest, that is the perfection of God, as St. Paul says, “When

that which is perfect is come,” [32] then shall be revealed to the soul

the substance and mysteries of these secrets.

13. Though in this mortal life the soul will never reach to the

interior secrets as it will in the next, however much it may hide

itself, still, if it will hide itself with Moses, “in the hole of the

rock” — which is a real imitation of the perfect life of the

Bridegroom, the Son of God — protected by the right hand of God, it

will merit the vision of the “back parts”; [33] that is, it will reach

to such perfection here, as to be united, and transformed by love, in

the Son of God, its Bridegroom. So effectually will this be wrought

that the soul will feel itself so united to Him, so learned and so

instructed in His secrets, that, so far as the knowledge of Him in this

life is concerned, it will be no longer necessary for it to say: “Where

have You hidden Yourself?”

14. You know then, O soul, how you are to demean yourself if you will

find the Bridegroom in His secret place. But if you will hear it again,

hear this one word full of substance and unapproachable truth: Seek Him

in faith and love, without seeking to satisfy yourself in anything, or

to understand more than is expedient for you to know; for faith and

love are the two guides of the blind; they will lead you, by a way you

know not, to the secret chamber of God. Faith, the secret of which I am

speaking, is the foot that journeys onwards to God, and love is the

guide that directs its steps. And while the soul meditates on the

mysterious secrets of the faith, it will merit the revelation, on the

part of love, of that which the faith involves, namely, the Bridegroom

Whom it longs for, in this life by spiritual grace, and the divine

union, as we said before, [34] and in the next in essential glory, face

to face, hidden now.

15. But meanwhile, though the soul attains to union, the highest state

possible in this life, yet inasmuch as He is still hidden from it in

the bosom of the Father, as I have said, the soul longing for the

fruition of Him in the life to come, ever cries, “Where have You hidden

Yourself?”

16. You do well, then, O soul, in seeking Him always in His secret

place; for you greatly magnify God, and draw near to Him, esteeming Him

as far beyond and above all you can reach. Rest, therefore, neither

wholly nor in part, on what your faculties can embrace; never seek to

satisfy yourself with what you comprehend of God, but rather with what

you comprehend not; and never rest on the love of, and delight in, that

which you can understand and feel, but rather on that which is beyond

your understanding and feeling: this is, as I have said, to seek Him by

faith.

17. God is, as I said before, [35] inaccessible and hidden, and though

it may seem that you have found Him, felt Him, and comprehended Him,

yet you must ever regard Him as hidden, serve Him as hidden, in secret.

Do not be like many unwise, who, with low views of God, think that when

they cannot comprehend Him, or be conscious of His presence, that He is

then farther away and more hidden, when the contrary is true, namely,

that He is nearer to them when they are least aware of it; as the

prophet David says, “He put darkness His covert,” [36] Thus, when you

are near to Him, the very infirmity of your vision makes the darkness

palpable; you do well, therefore, at all times, in prosperity as well

as in adversity, spiritual or temporal, to look upon God as hidden, and

to say to Him, “Where have You hidden Yourself?

And left me to my sorrow, O my Beloved?”

18. The soul calls Him “my Beloved,” the more to move Him to listen to

its cry, for God, when loved, most readily listens to the prayer of him

who loves Him. Thus He speaks Himself: “If you abide in Me . . . you

shall ask whatever thing you will, and it shall be done to you.” [37]

The soul may then with truth call Him Beloved, when it is wholly His,

when the heart has no attachments but Him, and when all the thoughts

are continually directed to Him. It was the absence of this that made

Delilah say to Samson, “How do you say you love me when your mind is

not with me?” [38] The mind comprises the thoughts and the feelings.

Some there are who call the Bridegroom their Beloved, but He is not

really beloved, because their heart is not wholly with Him. Their

prayers are, therefore, not so effectual before God, and they shall not

obtain their petitions until, persevering in prayer, they fix their

minds more constantly upon God and their hearts more wholly in loving

affection upon Him, for nothing can be obtained from God but by love.

19. The words, “And left me to my sorrow,” tell us that the absence of

the Beloved is the cause of continual sadness in him who loves; for as

such a one loves none else, so, in the absence of the object beloved,

nothing can console or relieve him. This is, therefore, a test to

discern the true lover of God. Is he satisfied with anything less than

God? Do I say satisfied? Yes, if a man possess all things, he cannot be

satisfied; the greater his possessions the less will be his

satisfaction, for the satisfaction of the heart is not found in

possessions, but in detachment from all things and in poverty of

spirit. This being so, the perfection of love in which we possess God,

by a grace most intimate and special, lives in the soul in this life

when it has reached it, with a certain satisfaction, which however is

not full, for David, notwithstanding all his perfection, hoped for that

in heaven saying, “I shall be satisfied when Your glory shall appear.”

[39]

20. Thus, then, the peace and tranquillity and satisfaction of heart to

which the soul may attain in this life are not sufficient to relieve it

from its groaning, peaceful and painless though it be, while it hopes

for that which is still wanting. Groaning belongs to hope, as the

Apostle says of himself and others, though perfect, “Ourselves also,

who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within

ourselves, waiting for the adoption of the sons of God.” [40] The soul

groans when the heart is enamored, for where love wounds there is heard

the groaning of the wounded one, complaining feelingly of the absence

of the Beloved, especially when, after tasting of the sweet

conversation of the Bridegroom, it finds itself suddenly alone, and in

aridity, because He has gone away. That is why it cries,

“You have fled like the hart.”

21. Here it is to be observed that in the Canticle of Canticles the

bride compares the Bridegroom to the roe and the hart on the mountains

— “My Beloved is like a roe and to a fawn of harts” [41] — not only

because He is shy, solitary, and avoids companions as the hart, but

also for his sudden appearance and disappearance. That is His way in

His visits to devout souls in order to comfort and encourage them, and

in the withdrawing and absence which He makes them feel after those

visits in order to try, humble, and teach them. For that purpose He

makes them feel the pain of His absence most keenly, as the following

words show:

“Having wounded me.”

22. It is as if it had said, “It was not enough that I should feel the

pain and grief which Your absence causes, and from which I am

continually suffering, but You must, after wounding me with the arrow

of Your love, and increasing my longing and desire to see You, run away

from me with the swiftness of the hart, and not permit me to lay hold

of You, even for a moment.”

23. For the clearer understanding of this we are to keep in mind that,

beside the many kinds of God’s visits to the soul, in which He wounds

it with love, there are commonly certain secret touches of love, which,

like a fiery arrow, pierce and penetrate the soul, and burn it with the

fire of love. These are properly called the wounds of love, and it is

of these the soul is here speaking. These wounds so inflame the will,

that the soul becomes so enveloped with the fire of love as to appear

consumed thereby. They make it go forth out of itself, and be renewed,

and enter on another life, as the phoenix from the fire.

24. David, speaking of this, says, “My heart has been inflamed, and my

reins have been changed; and I am brought to nothing, and I knew not.”

[42] The desires and affections, called the reins by the prophet, are

all stirred and divinely changed in this burning of the heart, and the

soul, through love, melted into nothing, knowing nothing but love. At

this time the changing of the reins is a great pain, and longing for

the vision of God; it seems to the soul that God treats it with

intolerable severity, so much so that the severity with which love

treats it seems to the soul unendurable, not because it is wounded —

for it considers such wounds to be its salvation — but because it is

thus suffering from its love, and because He has not wounded it more

deeply so as to cause death, that it may be united to Him in the life

of perfect love. The soul, therefore, magnifying its sorrows, or

revealing them, says,

“Having wounded me.”

25. The soul says in effect, “You have abandoned me after wounding me,

and You have left me dying of love; and then You have hidden Yourself

as a hart swiftly running away.” This impression is most profound in

the soul; for by the wound of love, made in the soul by God, the

affections of the will lead most rapidly to the possession of the

Beloved, whose touch it felt, and as rapidly also, His absence, and its

inability to have the fruition of Him here as it desires. Thereupon

succeed the groaning because of His absence; for these visitations of

God are not like those which recreate and satisfy the soul, because

they are rather for wounding than for healing — more for afflicting

than for satisfying it, seeing that they tend rather to quicken the

knowledge, and increase the longing, and consequently pain with the

longing for the vision of God. They are called the spiritual wounds of

love, most sweet to the soul and desirable; and, therefore, when it is

thus wounded the soul would willingly die a thousand deaths, because

these wounds make it go forth out of itself, and enter into God, which

is the meaning of the words that follow:

“I ran after You, crying; but You were gone.”

26. There can be no remedy for the wounds of love but from Him who

inflicted them. And so the wounded soul, urged by the vehemence of that

burning which the wounds of love occasion, runs after the Beloved,

crying to Him for relief. This spiritual running after God has a

two-fold meaning. The first is a going forth from all created things,

which is effected by hating and despising them; the second, a going

forth out of oneself, by forgetting self, which is brought about by the

love of God. For when the love of God touches the soul with that

vividness of which we are here speaking, it so elevates it, that it

goes forth not only out of itself by self-forgetfulness, but it is also

drawn away from its own judgment, natural ways and inclinations, crying

after God, “O my Bridegroom,” as if saying, “By this touch of Yours and

wound of love have You drawn me away not only from all created things,

but also from myself — for, in truth, soul and body seem now to part

— and raised me up to Yourself, crying after You in detachment from

all things that I might be attached to You:

“You were gone.”

27. As if saying, “When I sought Your presence, I found You not; and I

was detached from all things without being able to cling to You —

borne painfully by the gales of love without help in You or in myself.”

This going forth of the soul in search of the Beloved is the rising of

the bride in the Canticle: “I will rise and go about the city; in the

streets and the high ways I will seek Him Whom my soul loves. I have

sought Him and have not found . . . they wounded me.” [43] The rising

of the bride — speaking spiritually — is from that which is mean to

that which is noble; and is the same with the going forth of the soul

out of its own ways and inferior love to the ennobling love of God. The

bride says that she was wounded because she found him not; [44] so the

soul also says of itself that it is wounded with love and forsaken;

that is, the loving soul is ever in pain during the absence of the

Beloved, because it has given itself up wholly to Him hoping for the

reward of its self-surrender, the Possession of the Beloved. Still the

Beloved withholds Himself while the soul has lost all things, and even

itself, for Him; it obtains no compensation for its loss, seeing that

it is deprived of Him whom it loves.

28. This pain and sense of the absence of God is wont to be so

oppressive in those who are going onwards to the state of perfection,

that they would die if God did not interpose when the divine wounds are

inflicted upon them. As they have the palate of the will wholesome, and

the mind pure and disposed for God, and as they taste in some degree of

the sweetness of divine love, which they supremely desire, so they also

suffer supremely; for, having but a glimpse of an infinite good which

they are not permitted to enjoy, that is to them an ineffable pain and

torment.

__________________________________________________________________

[18] John 1:18

[19] Isa. 45:15

[20] Job 9:11

[21] Eccles. 9:1

[22] Cant. 1:6

[23] Soliloq.,’ c. 31. Opp. Ed. Ben. tom. vi. app. p. 98.

[24] Luke 17:21

[25] 2 Cor. 6:16

[26] Mt. Carmel,’ Bk. 2, c. 5. sect. 3.

[27] Matt. 13:44

[28] Matt. 6:6

[29] Isa. 26:20

[30] Prov. 4:23

[31] Isa. 45:3

[32] 1 Cor. 13:10

[33] Exod. 33:22, 23

[34] Sect. 4.

[35] Sect. 2.

[36] Ps. 17:12

[37] John 15:7

[38] Judg. 16:15

[39] Ps. 16:15

[40] Rom. 8:23

[41] Cant. 2:9

[42] Ps. 72:21, 22

[43] Cant. 3:2, 5:7

[44] Cant. 5:6, 7

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