Ascent 3

2.5-2.14  Response post

2.5  John feels he needs to stop and explain the nature of union with God.  But here’s where things get complex.  He begins with declaring his intention not to discuss here the divisions and types of union but in so doing he in fact introduces them.  First he explains substantial union which always exists between God and creation or the creature would be annihilated and cease to exist.  The union of likeness is the union he wants to consider for this presentation.   But this is another kind of union and then there are degrees and states…As a footnote explains:  The chief distinctions of union are:  permanent and transitory; in the substance and in the faculties; habitual and actual…and this is fundamental because the whole process of purification flows from the nature of the union.

So he begins with the union of likeness…it is supernatural and exists when God’s will and the soul’s are in conformity so that nothing in the one is repugnant to the other and the soul rests transformed in God through love.  Here he introduces purgation again…ridding oneself of what is repugnant (not in harmony) to God’s will should be understood not only of one’s acts but of one’s habits as well.  Only then will the soul receive the likeness of God, communicated through love and grace.  God communicates himself more to those more conformed to his will.  The more souls through attachment and habit are clothed with their own abilities and with creatures, the less they afford God the opportunity to transform their souls.

John illustrates with examples.  First consider a smudgy window with sunlight trying to come through.  The less dirt, or obstacle, the more light can be seen on the other side.  When the window is perfectly clean, it disappears and only the sunlight is seen.  So the soul with its imperfections and the divine light of God’s being.  A soul makes room for God by wiping away all the smudges and smears of creatures, by uniting its will perfectly to God’s; for to love is to labor to divest and deprive oneself for God of all that is not God.  Then God will so communicate his supernatural being to the soul that it will appear to be God himself and possess what God possesses.  One of John’s famous quotes–so great a union is caused that all the things of both God and the soul become one in participant transformation and the soul appears to be God more than a soul.  Indeed, it is God by participation…its being is naturally as distinct from God’s as it was before.  The preparation for this union is not an understanding by the soul, nor the taste, feeling, or imagining of God, or of any other object, but purity and love; the stripping off and perfect renunciation of all such experiences for God alone.  The illumination of the soul, and its union with God, corresponds to the measure of its purity.

Another example:  a perfect painting with great and fine detail.  How much detail a person sees depends on the acuity of vision. …but while one who possesses the clearest faculty will discern the greatest number of excellent qualities and perfections; there is so much to behold in the painting (God) that no matter how much one sees in it, still more remains unseen.  So individuals may have truly reached union but it will be proportional to their capacity.  This depends on what the Lord wishes to grant.  So the saints’ vision of God in heaven; some see more, others less, but all see him and are happy because their capacity is fully satisfied.  Those who do not reach purity in the measure of their capacity never reach true peace and satisfaction; they have not attained in their faculties the nakedness and emptiness that are required for union.

2.6  the theological virtues perfect the faculties of the soul and produce emptiness and darkness in them.

John associates each theological virtue (faith, hope, love) with one of the three faculties (intellect, memory and will) and explains (in the remaining chapters of The Ascent) how they cause emptiness and darkness–faith in the intellect, hope in the memory, and charity in the will and unite the soul with God in this life.  So these virtues void their faculties–faith causes a void of understanding in the intellect, hope begets an emptiness of possession, ideas or thoughts, in the memory and charity produces, in the will, nakedness and emptiness of affection and joy in all that is not God.

Faith is concerned with things that are not manifest to the intellect.  For though faith brings certitude, it does not bring clarity, but only darkness.  Hope puts the memory in darkness as regards earthly and heavenly objects unpossessed.  St. Paul says, How does a person hope for what is already seen, for what is seen is possessed.   Charity obliges us to love God above all and withdraw affection from all in order to center it on God, thus causing an emptiness.  So these three virtues leave the soul in emptiness and darkness in respect to all things.

We must lead the faculties of the soul to these three virtues and inform each faculty with one of them by stripping and darkening it.  Doing this refers to the active night of the spirit where one does what lies in one’s power to enter this night.  (similar to the disciplines of the active night of the senses)  So for this spiritual night the soul finds a way to empty and purity the spiritual faculties of all that is not God so they can abide in the darkness of these virtues which are the means and preparation for the soul’s union with God.  This provides complete security against the cunning of the devil and the power of self-love.  Usually self-love deceives and hinders the journey of spiritual persons because they do not know how to denude and govern themselves by means of these virtues.  Remember, I (John) am now especially addressing those who have begun to enter the state of contemplation (proficients); we will deal with the characteristics of beginners in the second book (The Dark Night).

2.7  the extreme narrowness of the path to eternal life; the denudation and freedom required; the nakedness of the intellect.  Jesus says in Mt:  How narrow is the gate and constricting the way to life and few there are who find it.  This indicates that the beginning of the journey involves a narrowness and divestment of the will regarding all sensory and temporal objects by loving God more than any of them.  This applies too to the spiritual or rational part.  Few there are with the knowledge and desire to enter into this supreme nakedness and emptiness of spirit.  As this path on the high mount of perfection is narrow and steep, it demands travelers who are neither weighed down by the lower part of their nature nor burdened in the higher part.  This is a venture in which God alone is sought and gained.

The journey must embody a dispossession and annihilation in the spiritual part of one’s nature.  Jesus in Mk:  If anyone wishes to follow my way, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his soul will lose it, but whoever loses it for me will gain it.  Who can make this counsel understandable and practicable and attractive.  Some are content with a certain degree of virtue, perseverance in prayer, and mortification, but never achieve the nakedness, poverty, selflessness, or spiritual purity.  For they still feed and clothe their natural selves with spiritual feelings and consolations instead of divesting and denying themselves of these for God’s sake.  They think denial in worldly matters is sufficient without annihilation and purification in the spiritual domain.  When the annihilation of all sweetness in God–the pure spiritual cross and nakedness of Christ’s poverty of spirit-is offered in dryness, distaste and trial, they run,  seeking only delightful communications from God.  John calls this a spiritual sweet tooth and says they become enemies of the cross of Christ.

A genuine spirit seeks rather the distasteful in God than the delectable and leans more toward suffering and going without everything for God and realizes that anything else is the seeking of self in God which is contrary to loving God.  Who can explain the extent of denial the Lord wishes.  This negation must be similar to a natural, and spiritual death in all things.  By chosing what most resembles the cross one gains one’s soul.  The disciples who sought the glory of a place at Christ’s side in heaven were offered the chalice he was about to drink instead.  By this chalice is meant the denudation, annihilation and death to one’s natural self.  On the narrow road to union with God, there is room only for self-denial and the cross which is the supporting staff that lightens and eases the journey.–My yoke is sweet and my burden is light.  If a person decidedly wants to find and endure trial in all things for God, they will discover in them great relief and sweetness.

John wants to emphasize that the road to God does not entail a multiplicity of considerations, methods,  manners and experiences.  These may be necessary for beginners.   But only one thing is necessary:  true self-denial, exterior and interior through surrender of self both to suffering for Christ and annihilation in all things.  In the exercise of this self-denial everything is discovered and accomplished.  If one fails in this everything else amounts to going round in circles even if one enjoys experiences and communications as lofty as angels.  A person makes progress only by imitating Jesus.  Christ is the way and that way is death to our natural selves in the sensory and spiritual parts of the soul.  Jesus died spiritually to the sensory part and on the cross he died naturally.  He was annihilated without any consolation from the Father.  In that moment he brought about the reconciliation and union of the human race with God.

The soul’s union with God and the greatness of the soul’s accomplishments will be measured by the annihilation in the sensory and spiritual parts of the soul.    When reduced to nothing, the highest degree of humility, the spiritual union between the soul and God will be accomplished.  This union is the most sublime state attainable in this life.  The journey does not consist in consolations, delights, and spiritual feelings, but in the living death of the cross, sensory and spiritual, exterior and interior.  Christ is little known to many who consider themselves his friends for they seek themselves and their comfort, loving themselves very much but not loving him very much by seeking his trial and death.  Let us address the intellect of spiritual people, particularly those whom God has favored with the state of contemplation.  We will consider faith.

2.8  No creature or knowledge can serve as a proximate means for divine union.  All that can be grasped by the intellect would serve as an obstacle to faith, the means to union with God.  John prepares to prove this and says he…will also deal with the difficulty and harm occasioned by these exterior and interior ideas, for because of them the intellect does not advance through faith.

He uses the axiom: all means must be proportionate the their end.  If the intellect is to reach union with God insofar as it is possible in this life, it must take the means that bears the proximate likeness to God and unites with him.  Intellectual comprehension of God is impossible because the intellect can grasp an object only through the senses.  The intellect, while in the prison of this body is neither capable of nor prepared for the knowledge of God.  Either one must die or go without this knowledge.  Moses did not dare to look at the bush while God was present.  Elijah covered his face (blinded his intellect) in the presence of God.  Everything the intellect can understand, the will enjoy and the imagination picture is most unlike and disproportionate to God.  In order to draw nearer the divine, the intellect must advance by unknowing rather than by the desire to know, and by blinding itself and remaining in darkness rather than by opening the eyes.

Contemplation by which the soul has a higher knowledge of God is called mystical theology.  Aristotle taught that just as the sun is total darkness to the eyes of a bat, so the brightness of light in God is total darkness to our intellect.  The loftier and clearer the things of God are in themselves, the more unknown and obscure they are to us.  What is highest in God is least known by humans.  (St. Paul)  If the intellect desired to use any means to this union it would be encumbered by them and they would become an occasion of many errors and delusions in the ascent of this mount.

2.9   To be prepared for this union the intellect must be cleansed and emptied of everything relating to sense, divested and liberated of everything clearly intelligible, inwardly pacified and silenced and supported by faith alone.  For the likeness between faith and God is so close than no other difference exists than that between believing in God and seeing him.  Just as God is infinite, faith proposes an infinite God.  And just as God is darkness to our intellect, faith dazzles and blinds us.  Only by faith does God manifest himself to the soul. The greater one’s faith, the closer is one’s union with God.

The intellect must be blind and dark and abide in faith alone.  God soars above all understanding.  Often God communicated with people in the Old Testament at night in darkness.  All of this darkness signifies the obscurity of faith with which the divinity is clothed while communicating itself to the soul.  Union with God in this life and direct communication with him demands that we be united with the darkness in which God promised to dwell, and was pleased to reveal his secrets.

2.10  We must discuss in particular all the concepts and apprehensions of the intellect.  To discuss both the advantages and the harm that intellectual concepts cause to the soul’s faith we need to set up a division of the natural and supernatural apprehensions of the intellect.  Later we will be able to guide the intellect in a more logical order through them into the night and darkness of faith.  John is now getting into the details and he is big on details and categories and divisions, so be prepared but do not get frustrated or confused by all this.

The intellect gets ideas naturally and supernaturally.  Natural knowledge is all that can be understood by way of the bodily senses or through reflection.  Supernatural knowledge comprises everything imparted to the intellect in a way transcending the intellect’s natural ability and capacity.  Supernatural knowledge is subdivided into corporeal and spiritual.  The corporeal is made up of two kinds, knowledge received from the exterior bodily senses, and knowledge received from the interior bodily senses, including all the imagination can apprehend, form, or fashion.

The spiritual is also made up of two kinds.  One is distinct and particular knowledge; the other, vague dark, and general knowledge.  The particular knowledge includes four kinds of distinct apprehensions communicated to the spirit without the means of bodily senses: visions, revelations, locutions, and spiritual feelings.  The dark and general knowledge (contemplation which is imparted in faith) is of one kind only.  We have to lead the soul to this contemplation by guiding it through all these other apprehensions and divesting it of them.

All of these divisions and dissections tend to confuse so I will attempt to outline:

Natural Knowledge

  • understanding by way of senses
  • understanding by way of reflection

Supernatural Knowledge

1.  corporeal

  • received from exterior bodily senses
  • received from interior bodily senses
  • all the imagination can apprehend, form or fashion

2.  spiritual, particular

  • distinct and particular communicated without means of bodily senses
  • visions
  • revelations
  • locutions
  • spiritual feelings

3.  spiritual, vague, dark and general–one kind only–contemplation

2.11 The impediment and harm caused by intellectual apprehensions arising from objects supernaturally represented to the exterior senses and the proper conduct of the soul in their regard–The first kind of knowledge originates naturally and was discussed in the first book.

Supernatural knowledge reaches the intellect by way of exterior bodily senses–sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.  Through these senses spiritual persons can perceive supernatural representations and objects.

  • Sight: seeing people from the other life-like saints or angels, or unusual lights
  • Hearing:  hear words sometimes from the vision, sometimes without seeing anyone
  • Smell:  sweet or floral fragrance without seeing their origin
  • Taste:  very exquisite savors beyond the normal
  • Touch:  extreme delight so intense that all the bones rejoice, flourish and bathe in it.  This is usually termed spiritual unction because it passes from the spirit to the senses.  It is an overflow from the affection and devotion of the sensible spirit which individuals receive in their own way.

Even though these may come from God, one must never rely on them or accept them.  Rather, flee from them completely and have no desire to examine whether they are bad or good.  The more exterior and corporeal they are, the less likely is their divine origin.  God’s self-communication is more commonly and appropriately given to the spirit where there is greater profit for the soul than to the senses where there is extreme danger and deception.  Spiritual things are as different from what is sensed as the body from the soul and sensibility from reason.  Individuals who esteem these apprehensions are in serious error and extreme danger of being deceived.  They will at least hinder their spiritual growth.  These should always be considered as from the devil for this is where he is capable of deceiving the soul more readily than through a more interior and spiritual kind.

The more exterior and corporeal (like messages from God or visions), the less profitable they are to the soul due to the extreme distance from the spiritual.  Some spirituality results if corporeal communications are from God but far less than if from interior and more spiritual means.  Even these are a ready occasion for the breeding of error, presumption, and vanity in the soul because their palpable, tangible and material nature strongly affects the senses so that one’s judgment deems them more worthwhile.  A person then, forsaking faith, will follow after these.  The more importance one gives to these communications the further one strays from faith, the way and means to union with God.

Furthermore, persons receiving these apprehensions often develop a special opinion of themselves–that now they are important in God’s eyes.  This is contrary to humility.  The devil often purveys sights, sounds, etc. to the senses for this reason and to induce them into many evils.   Such representations and feelings must always be rejected.  Even thought they may be from God, this rejection is no affront to God.  Nor will one, by rejecting them and not wanting them, fail to receive the effect and fruit God wishes to produce through them.  If the corporeal vision or feeling in the senses has a divine origin, it produces the effect in the spirit at the moment of its perception.  This is also true of the more interior communications which God gives without the individual’s ability and effort.  He causes the desired effect which does not depend on one’s wanting the communication or acknowledging it.

Those from the devil, even unwanted, cause in the spirit agitation, or dryness, or vanity, or presumption.  Diabolical communications are not as efficacious in doing harm as God’s are in doing good.  The diabolical ones can only arouse the first movements without being able to move the will when it is unwilling to be moved.  Communications from God, however, penetrate the soul, move the will to love, and leave their effect within.   The soul can no more resist their effect than can a window withstand the sunlight shining through it.

A soul should NEVER want to accept these communications even if they are from God.  If it does, six kinds of harm result:

  1. faith will gradually diminish for sensible experience detracts from it.
  2. sensory things are an impediment to the spirit because they detain the soul and prevent the spirit from soaring to the invisible
  3. the soul begins to develop a possessive attitude toward these communications and fails to continue its journey to genuine renunciation and nakedness of spirit.
  4. the soul gradually loses the effect of these communications and the interior spirituality they produce because the person sets their eyes on the sensible aspect and thus does not receive so copiously the spirituality caused by them.
  5. these souls gradually lose God’s favor because they receive these favors as belonging to themselves and do not profit from them.  God does not bestow them so that the soul may desire to receive them, for a person must never absolutely believe that they are from God.
  6. in desiring to accept them the soul opens the door to the devil who can then easily deceive and feign other communications.  (He can transform himself into an angel of light)

Regardless, it is always good to reject these apprehensions.  Otherwise the devil is given a free hand and his representations multiply while God’s gradually cease.  Then the soul will meet great difficulty in returning to God.  On the other hand, when a humble and dispossessed soul renounces and opposes these representations, God will augment his favors and give better ones.

If individuals remain both faithful and retiring in the midst of these favors, the Lord will not cease raising them degree by degree until they reach divine union and transformation.  Our Lord proves and elevates the soul by first bestowing graces that are exterior, lowly, and proportioned to the small capacity of sense.  If the person reacts well by taking these first morsels with moderation for strength and nourishment, God will bestow a more abundant and higher quality food.   If individuals are victorious over the devil in the first degree, they will pass on to the second, etc. through all the seven degrees of love until the Bridegroom puts them in the wine cellar of perfect charity.

It is regrettable that many are even incapable of severing the first head of the seven of the beast through denial of the sensible objects of the world.  Spiritual persons ought to deny all apprehensions and the temporal delight of the exterior senses if they desire to cut off the first and second heads of the beast and enter the first room of love and the second of living faith.  The devil is most pleased when he sees that people desire to accept revelations or messages from God and are inclined toward them giving him an excellent opportunity to inject errors and disparage faith.  People desiring these expose themselves to many temptations.

2.12  Natural imaginative apprehensions, inadequate means to union with God, cause harm from attachment to them.  The natural apprehensions of the interior corporeal senses will be discussed next.  So far we have discussed:

  1. divesting the exterior senses of their natural apprehensions and consequently, of the natural strength of the appetites in Book 1.
  2. beginning to divest these senses of the supernatural exterior apprehensions so as to lead the soul into the night of spirit

Now we consider the interior corporeal sense (imaginative power and phantasy).  We must also empty this sense of every imaginative form and apprehension that can be naturally grasped for they cannot lead to union with God before the activity ceases.  Imagination and phantasy are of service to each other because one is discursive with images and the other forms them; so we will not differentiate when speaking of them.  These forms are represented to the interior senses through material images/figures.

These apprehensions are of two kinds, supernatural and natural.  The supernatural, represented passively without the work of the senses, will be discussed later.  The natural are those the soul can actively construct by its own power.  Meditation is the work of these two faculties since it is a discursive act built on forms figures and images like imagining Christ at the pillar, or glory as a beautiful light.  The soul will have to empty itself of these images and leave this sense in darkness if it is to reach divine union.  The imagination cannot fashion anything beyond what it has experienced through the senses.  These imaginings cannot approach the reality they are based on let alone a greater reality.

Those who imagine God through some of these figures are very far from him.  These forms, considerations, and methods are necessary to beginners that the soul may be enamored and fed through the senses.  They are suitable as the remote means to union with God which souls must ordinarily use to attain spiritual repose.  Yet these must not be so used that one always employs them and never advances.  If one stays on the steps and does not leave the stairs behind, one never reaches the goal.

Consequently, a person who wants to arrive at union with the Supreme Repose and Good in this life must climb all the steps, which are consideration, forms and concepts, and then leave them behind.   Many spiritual persons, after having exercised themselves in approaching God through images, forms, and meditations suitable for beginners, err greatly if they do not determine, dare, or know how to detach themselves from these methods to which they are accustomed.  For God then wishes to lead them to more spiritual,interior, and invisible graces by removing the gratification derived from discursive meditation.  They still hold on, using images as before.  But they draw out little or no satisfaction as before.  Rather aridity, fatigue, and restlessness of soul increase in the measure of their striving for former sweetness, now unattainable.   Spiritual nourishment will now be had only by pacifying the soul and leaving it to its more spiritual quiet and repose.  They become engrossed in one general pure act.  The faculties have ceased to work once the soul has reached the goal.

It is sad to see many disturb their soul when it desires to abide in the calm and repose of interior quietude,where it is filled with God’s peace and refreshment.  Desiring to retrace their steps they turn back and draw their soul out to more exterior activity, to considerations even with strong reluctance in the soul.  In this state they imagine themselves to be idle and doing nothing and they are filled with aridity and trials from using means that no longer work.  The more their effort, the less they will gain.  The more they persist, the worse their state becomes because they drag the soul away from spiritual peace as they try to do what is already done.

The proper advice is that they learn to abide in quietude and loving attentiveness to God and pay no heed to the imagination and its work.  Now the faculties do not work actively but passively receiving what God is effecting in them.  If at times the soul does put the faculties to work, it should proceed with gentleness of love, moved more by God than by its own abilities.

2.13 The signs in spiritual persons that they should discontinue discursive meditation and pass on to the state of contemplation.  One ought to discontinue discursive meditation (employing images, forms, and figures) only at the proper time so that the practice will not be abandoned sooner or later than required by the spirit.  By these sensitive means beginners dispose their spirit and habituate it to spiritual things and at the same time they void their senses of all other base, temporal, secular, and natural forms and images.

Some signs and indications to judge whether it is the appropriate time for the spiritual person to discontinue discursive meditation:

1.  the realization that one cannot make discursive meditation or receive satisfaction as before.  Dryness is now the outcome of fixing the senses on objects that formerly provided satisfaction.

2.  An awareness of a disinclination to fix the imagination or sense faculties on other particular objects exterior or interior.  Even in deep recollection the imagination wanders freely but the person no longer want to fix it on extraneous things.   (No desire to look at, hear, etc. even “holy” pictures, books, sermons, etc. but prefer silence, darkness, etc. choosing solitude, eyes closed…repeating a mantra (holy word) to block out every image or thought.)

3.  The surest sign is that the person likes to remain alone in loving awareness of God, without particular considerations, in interior peace and quiet and repose, and without the acts and exercises, at least those where one progresses from point to point, of the intellect, memory, and will.   One prefers to remain only in the general loving awareness and knowledge, without any particular knowledge or understanding.  (Not wanting to leave time of prayer/adoration rather than wondering when it will end.)

To safely abandon discursive meditation one must observe within themselves at least these three signs together.  Any one or combination of two of these can be caused by dissipation, tepidity, or lack of diligence, or some other ill of the brain or heart could cause suspension of the senses.  So the third sign is of great importance.  Actually, at the beginning of this state, loving knowledge is hardly noticeable because it is initially extremely subtle and delicate, almost imperceptible, and because a person who is habituated to meditation which is wholly sensible, hardly perceives this insensible, purely spiritual experience.  This is true especially if the person is still resisting and striving after the other more sensory experience before one becomes habituated to this calm.  Eventually, in this calm, general loving knowledge of God will increase.  This is more enjoyable than all other things because without the soul’s labor it affords peace, rest, savor and delight.

2.14 Reasons why these three signs are necessary in order to journey on the road of the spirit.  When a person is unable to meditate or derive satisfaction from it, this is the first sign a spiritual person should give up the imaginative way, or sensory meditation and enter the way of the spirit which is the contemplative way.   First, they have been granted all the spiritual good obtainable through discursive meditation on the things of God.  They will no longer find them cause of former satisfaction, the support and satisfaction they received when there was grace and profit for the soul.  Second, these persons have now acquired habitually and substantially, the spirit of meditation.  The purpose of discursive meditation is the acquisition of knowledge and love of God.  Many acts will engender a habit.  God too is wont to effect this habit in many souls, placing them in contemplation without these acts as means or without many of them.

The labor of meditation on particular ideas has now been converted to general loving knowledge which is neither distinct nor particular.  The moment prayer begins the soul drinks peaceably from a store of water without the labor and need to fetch the water through the past considerations, forms, and figures.  (echos of T’s four waters) The moment the soul recollected itself in the presence of God it enters into an act of general, loving, peaceful and tranquil knowledge, drinking wisdom, love, and delight.  This is why these people experience difficulty and displeasure when they are asked to meditate and work with particular concepts.  This is like turning away from captured prey to hunt for another.

For many, it is difficult in the beginning, after having labored for so long to become comfortable with the method and the fruits of discursive meditation, to now rest in the loving knowledge of God.  They feel like they are wasting time or being derelict and straying from the right road and so they turn back to the images and reasoning.  But they no longer find success or satisfaction and are disturbed at the thought of backsliding and going astray.  They are indeed getting lost but not in the way they imagine.  They are approaching the spirit being imparted to them in which the less they understand, the further they penetrate into the night of the spirit through which they must pass to a union with God beyond all-knowing.

As for the second sign, it is obvious that they find worldly images dissatisfying, even those that concern God, which are more conformable to their state.  Nevertheless, the imagination usually wanders back and forth, but these persons do not desire to find delight in this, rather they are troubled about it because of the disturbance it brings to this gratifying peace.

Enough has been said about the necessity for the third sign, the loving general knowledge or awareness of God.  However one important reason that this loving knowledge and awareness of God in the soul is required before discontinuing discursive meditation is that without it the soul would be neither doing anything nor receiving anything.  A person can neither conceive nor receive knowledge save through either the sensitive (discursive) or spiritual (contemplative) faculties.  The difference is like that between toil and rest, or cooking and eating.  But this general knowledge is necessary for progress.  It is at times so delicate, spiritual, and interior in proportion to the soul’s own purity, simplicity and perfection, that one does not perceive or feel it.  The purer, simpler and more perfect the general knowledge is, the darker and less perceptible it seems.  On the other hand, the less pure and simple the knowledge is, the more important and clearer it appears to the individual since it is mixed with forms intelligible to the senses.

This is a classic example used by John:  the ray of light pervaded by particles of dust is more intelligible or recognizable by the senses than the pure ray of light purified of the dust which seems more obscure and even incomprehensible to the eye.  The spiritual light has a similar relationship to the intellect, the eye of the soul.  This supernatural general knowledge is so divested and freed of all intelligible forms that it is imperceptible and is, at times, the cause of darkness because it dispossesses the intellect of its customary lights, forms and phantasms.

When this divine light does not strike so forcibly, individuals perceive neither darkness nor light nor anything at all.  They sometimes remain in deep oblivion, unaware of what is happening around them or the passage of time.  The purity and simplicity of the knowledge is the cause because the soul is rendered simple, pure, and clear of all apprehensions and forms and united with pure knowledge which is independent of time.

When this soul returns to itself, it observes the effects that have been produced in themselves.  These effects are: an elevation of the mind to heavenly knowledge and an abstraction and withdrawal from all objects, forms and figures and from the remembrance of them.  It can seem to these individuals that they have been idle because of the suspension of the senses or faculties.  But even though the interaction of the sensory and spiritual faculties ceased, the intellect is occupied with this pure general knowledge.  The soul can say, though I sleep, my heart watches, supernaturally elevated to supernatural knowledge.

This knowledge does not always occupy the entire soul and thus this forgetfulness is infrequent.  The sign that the soul is supernaturally occupied is the abstraction of the intellect from all particular knowledge of temporal or spiritual things and an unwillingness to think on any of these.  When this knowledge is communicated only to the intellect it can be imperceptible to the soul but ordinarily it is also communicated to the will and people will understand if they wish to discern.  They will be aware of the delight of love, without particular knowledge of what they love.  This communication consequently is called a general loving knowledge, for just as it is imparted obscurely to the intellect, so too a vague delight and love are given to the will.

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