2.15-2.21 Response 4
2.15 Proficients at the beginning of their entry into this general knowledge of contemplation must at times practice discursive meditation and work with the natural faculties. In the beginning the habit of contemplation is not so perfect that one can at will enter into this act. One can at times in a natural way meditate discursively and discover something new. This will continue until they acquire the habit of contemplation to a certain perfect degree. They will at times find themselves in loving or peaceful awareness without having first done any active work. In this loving awareness the soul receives God’s self-communication passively just as the eye receives light. If individuals desire to consider and understand particular things at this time, no matter how spiritual these may be, they would hinder the light of the spirit. When individuals have finished voiding themselves of all forms and apprehensible images, they will abide in this pure and simple light and be perfectly transformed in this light which is never lacking to the soul. When spiritual persons cannot meditate, they should learn to remain in God’s presence with a loving attention and a tranquil intellect even though they feel they are idle. Learn to be empty of all things–interiorly and exteriorly–and you will behold that I am God. (Ps. 46)
ch 16 The imaginative apprehensions represented supernaturally to the phantasy are incapable of serving as a proximate means to union with God. It is appropriate that we discuss the supernatural apprehensions that are called imaginative visions which pertain to the phantasy just as natural apprehensions that also belong to the category of image, form, and figure. We are referring to everything supernaturally represented to the imagination in this category without the intervention of the five senses. The phantasy along with the memory can represent these to the intellect and can compose and imagine other objects resembling those known.
It should be noted that God and the devil can represent forms to these faculties; beautiful and perfect ones. God can thereby teach great wisdom while the devil attempts, with his seemingly good visions, to deceive the soul. These imaginative visions are received more frequently than are corporeal ones and they do not appear to differ except in their perfection and the effect produced. They are more subtle and effective in the soul.
The devil ordinarily comes with natural or supernatural wiles to the imagination and phantasy, for it is the gate and entry to the soul. God does not depend on this means alone for instructing the soul, for he dwells in it substantially. My intent is to instruct the intellect about these so that it may not be hindered and impeded from union with divine wisdom by the good ones, nor deceived by the false ones. Individuals should neither feed upon nor encumber themselves with them, whether these visions be diabolical or recognized as from God. Neither should people desire to accept them or keep them. Remain detached, divested, pure, and simple as union demands. In order to be united with him, the soul should not be limited by any particular form or knowledge. You will hear this again and again from John.
In the high state of union God does not communicate himself to the soul–nor is this possible–through the disguise of any imaginative vision, likeness, or figure, but mouth to mouth: the pure and naked essence of God (the mouth of God in love) with the pure and naked essence of the soul (the mouth of the soul in the love of God). A person must be careful not to lean upon imaginative visions, forms, or particular ideas. They cannot serve as a proportionate or proximate means but rather would be a hindrance. A person should renounce them and endeavor to avoid them. If they are from God they will impart the intended effect and admitting them is unnecessary; rather one should always deny them. At the moment they are present in the imagination they are also in the soul and infuse the knowledge and love, or sweetness, or whatever God wants them to cause in the soul passively. A negative will, humbly and lovingly resigned, cannot resist the supernatural infusions. Only imperfection and impurity of soul hinder these communications as stains on a window hinder the passage of light.
In the measure the individuals divest themselves of willful attachment to the apprehensions, they will prepare themselves for the goods and communications caused by them. People are unable to apprehend or understand the spirituality infused in the soul; neither do they know the way they receive this spirituality nor how they may speak about it. I affirm that the unintelligible or unimaginable elements in these vision is communicated passively, exclusive of any effort of the soul to understand. The eyes of the soul should be ever withdrawn from distinct, visible, and intelligible apprehensions. These provide no security or foundation for faith. Its eyes should be fixed on the invisible, on what belongs to the spirit, and on what brings the soul to union with God in faith. One cannot advance in faith without closing one’s eyes to everything pertaining to the senses and to clear, particular knowledge.
As a result of their ignorance about visions many do not know how to respond and think that when they are aware that they are of divine origin, it is good to admit and trust them. They do not reflect that, as with worldly goods, failure to deny them can be a hindrance and cause attachment and possessiveness. They also impose on others the task of discerning the truth or falsity which God does not intend and which can be dangerous for the unlearned. St. Peter asserts in his second letter, that we should live in darkness with our eyes closed to all other lights and, in this darkness, faith alone–which is dark also–should be the light we use. The intellect–the holder on which the candle of faith is placed–must remain in darkness until the day, in the next life, when the clear vision of God dawns upon the soul; and in this life, until the daybreak of transformation and union with God.
ch 17 God’s procedure and purpose in communicating spiritual goods by means of the senses If it is true that God in giving supernatural visions does not want one thereby to desire, lean upon, or pay attention to them, why does he give them at all when through them a person can fall into numerous dangers and errors or at least encounter the many impediments to further progress described here. Furthermore, why would God do this if he can communicate to the soul substantially what he bestows upon it through the sensible communication of these visions and forms? To answer we need three fundamental principles.
- The works that are done are well-ordered by God. (Rom. 13;1)
- The wisdom of God, though she touches from one end to the other, disposes all things gently. (Wis. 8;1)
- God moves each according to its mode.
A great deal may be said about God’s intention and method in bestowing these goods. In order to lift the soul from its low state to the high state of divine union he must do so with order, gently and according to the mode of the soul. God must begin by touching the low state of the senses and gradually bring the soul to spiritual wisdom which is incomprehensible to the senses by leading them first through discursive meditation. This is the reason God gives a person visions, forms, and other sensitive and spiritual knowledge–not because he does not desire to give spiritual wisdom immediately. He would if sense and spirit, human and divine, could be united by one act. But God perfects people gradually, according to human nature and proceeds from the lowest and most exterior to the highest and most interior:
- He perfects the corporeal senses with exterior objects that are good such as sermons, Masses, statues, mortifying the palate at meals and other disciplines.
- He perfects the more by granting some supernatural favors and gifts like corporeal visions, sweet odors, locutions, and delights in the sense of touch whereby the senses are confirmed in virtue and the appetites withdrawn from evil objects. The interior bodily senses of imagination and phantasy are also gradually perfected and accustomed to good through meditations and holy reasoning.
- He enlightens and spiritualizes them further with some imaginative visions from which the spirit profits at the same time. This natural and supernatural exercise gradually reforms and refines the spirit.
This is God’s method to bring the soul, step by step to the innermost good though sometimes he does not do so exactly this way. When souls have completely attained spiritual communion with God they will be void of all sensory apprehensions concerning God. Once the taste and savor of the spirit is experienced, everything carnal is insipid. As a result perfect spirit pays no attention to the senses.
Is it necessary to begin with the sensory only later to set it aside, just as an infant must be nourished at the breast until it can be weaned? I reply in regard to discursive meditation, that they must not turn away from the breast until they arrive at the time and season suitable–when God brings the soul to a more spiritual converse, to contemplation. Regarding imaginative visions or other supernatural communications, I affirm that at whatever time or season they occur, individuals must have no desire to admit them even if they come from God.
- He produces the effect in the soul without its being able to hinder this although it can impede the vision whereby the effect to be communicated becomes more substantial even though given differently. There is no imperfection or possessiveness if they renounce these apprehensions with humility and misgivings.
- Individuals free themselves from the task and danger of discerning the true visions from the false. Such an effort is profitless, a hindrance to the soul, and an occasion of many imperfections. This will also be true for imaginative visions.
One can be sure that if the Lord did not have to, he would never communicate the abundance of his Spirit through these aqueducts of forms and particular knowledge. It is regrettable that a soul, having as it were an infinite capacity, should be fed, because of its limited spirituality and sensory capacity, with morsels for the senses.
In conclusion, individuals must not fix the eyes of their souls on that rind of the figure and object supernaturally accorded to the exterior senses, such as locutions to the sense of hearing, visions and lights to the sense of sight; fragrance to the sense of smell; delicious and sweet tastes to the palate; and other delights usually derived from the spirit to the sense of touch, as is more commonly the case with spiritual persons. Neither must they place their eyes on interior imaginative visions. They must instead renounce all these things. They must fix the eyes of their souls only on the valuable spirituality these cause, and endeavor to preserve it by putting into practice and properly carrying out whatever is for the service of God and pay no attention to nor desire any sensible gratification. With this attitude they take from these apprehensions only what God wants them to take: the spirit of devotion. They reject the sensory element, which would not have been imparted had they possessed the capacity to receive spirituality without the exercise of the senses.
2.18 The harm caused by spiritual masters not giving souls adequate guidance regarding visions and how both can be misled even by visions of divine origin. My motivation is the want of discretion I have noticed in regard to these supernatural apprehensions. Counting them as authentic and from God and trusting them, many have gone astray and become bewildered. The blind leading the blind do fall. There is danger when the director makes them the topic of conversation giving them the semblance of importance so the soul stays attached to them instead of being built up in faith, detached, emptied, and divested so as to soar to the heights of dark faith. Their desire for these visions is also stimulated and they become more attached. Numerous imperfections arise because they lose humility at least. They feel pleased and satisfied rather than humble. Although they are unaware of it, the devil then secretly augments this feeling. There is no growth in faith unless souls turn away from these visions. There are other, more subtle kinds of harm, more hateful in God’s eyes resulting from failure to walk wholly on the road of nakedness.
Instead of giving instruction on the discernment of good and bad visions, by refusing to pay attention to them, one escapes all this effort of discernment and does what one ought. But these confessors do not stop at discernment. They direct the soul to request a revelation about some matter for them and the poor souls do so in the belief that this method of gaining knowledge is lawful. If in response to their request, God reveals the matter, they become more self-confident thinking that God is pleased with the petition when in reality he is displeased and does not desire it. They often act or believe in accordance with the revelation since they are attached to this manner of dealing with God and their will become adapted and firmly rooted in them. There is gross delusion, for God’s revelations or locutions do not always conform to our understanding according to what seems to be the meaning of the words.
2.19 Even though visions and locutions are from God, we can be misled by them. The first reason is that our manner of understanding them is defective, and the second is that their basic causes are sometimes variable. In many ways souls are misled by understanding God’s locutions and revelations according to the letter. God’s chief objective is to express and impart the spirit that is within the communication like the fruit inside the rind. The soul should renounce then the literal sense in these cases and live in the darkness of faith, for faith is the spirit that is incomprehensible to the senses. We must not consider a prophesy from the perspective of our own perception and language, for God’s language is very different and difficult. Consider all the misunderstandings about the prophesies about Christ.
The spiritual master should turn them away from all visions and locutions and teach them to remain in freedom and the darkness of faith, in which liberty and abundance of spirit are received with the wisdom and understanding proper to God’s words. It is impossible to judge and understand the things of God correctly if one judges them according to the senses. God’s words and visions may be true and certain, yet they can mislead us if we do not know how to understand them according to the purpose and the meaning God has in giving them. The safest and most suitable method of procedure is to oblige souls to flee prudently from these supernatural things and to accustom them, to purity of spirit in dark faith, the means toward union.
2.20 How God’s words, though always true are not always certain because they may depend on the causes. God’s affirmations are frequently founded on creatures which are liable to change and failure; consequently words based on these can also change and fail. We should not think, therefore that because revelations and locutions come from God–especially if they are dependent on human changeable causes–they will infallibly and literally come to pass. God is above the heavens and speaks from the depths of eternity; we on this earth are blind and understand only the ways of the flesh and of time. If we are not to understand or get involved in these locutions, why does God communicate them? Everything will be understood at the opportune time and when God wills we will understand clearly. God does nothing without cause and truth. But people cannot completely grasp God’s meaning.
2.21 God’s displeasure at requests for revelations and locutions even though he sometimes answers them. How he is frequently angered in spite of his condescension and response. Some spiritual persons convince themselves that their curiosity to know certain things through supernatural means is good and pleasing to God because he responds to their urgent request. In truth, regardless of his reply, such behavior is neither good nor pleasing to God. Not only is he displeased, but frequently angered and deeply offended because no creature may licitly go beyond the boundaries naturally ordained by God. To desire to investigate and arrive at knowledge in a supernatural way is to go beyond the natural limits and God is offended.
So why does God sometimes answer? Well, sometimes the devil answers but when God does, he does so because of the weakness of the individual who desires to advance in this way. God does this in the singularly sensory communion that many weak and tender souls have with him. He gives according to each one’s mode not because he is pleased with that communication. It belongs to God to bestow in this manner, when, how, and to whomever he wills and for whatever reason and without any right on the part of the soul. The fact that he responds does not mean that he is pleased with the practice.
I consider a desire to know things through supernatural means far worse than a desire for spiritual gratification in the sensitive part of the soul. I fail to see how a person who tries to get knowledge in this supernatural way can help but sin, at least venially, no matter how excellent the motives or advanced in perfection the person may be. Even though, whether we desire it or not, some supernatural truths are told to us, we should receive this truth not because it is privately revealed but because it is reasonable and we should brush aside all feelings about revelations. We ought to consider and examine the reasonableness of revelations even more than other truths since, in order to deceive souls, the devil says much that is true and will come to pass.
God, though angered, condescends in this and many other ways to the desire of souls. The desire to communicate with God in this way is extremely dangerous. The person attached to such ways will go far astray and become bewildered for among them there are usually many from the devil for he commonly deals with souls as God does, imparting communications so similar to God’s that his meddling is hardly discernible since he can see very clearly and thus predict truly in most cases.
We would never finish recounting the ways the devil uses because of their intricacy and the devil’s craftiness in inserting lies. One cannot be free from him without fleeing from all revelations, visions, and supernatural communications. God is rightly angered with anyone who admits them, for he sees the rashness of exposing oneself to this danger, presumption, curiosity, and pride, to the root and foundation of vainglory, to contempt for the things of God and to the beginning of the numerous evils into which many fall or lead others. God becomes so angry with these individuals that he purposely allows them to go astray, experience delusion, suffer spiritual darkness and abandon an established way of life, delivering themselves over to their vanities.
In this way God permits the devil to blind and delude many who merit this. They believe him so firmly and consider him a good spirit, that it is impossible for anyone who tries to persuade them of the diabolic origin for, with God’s permission, they have been afflicted with the spirit of misunderstanding. (!Kgs.22) The devil intervenes, answering in harmony with the person’s desire and pleasure, and that man will let himself become seriously deluded.