Ascent 5

2.25-2.32  Response 5

ch. 22  This is a foundational chapter containing two important concepts.  Why, in the law of grace, it is not permitted to question God through supernatural means as it was in the old law.  John addresses this even though he acknowledges that it will slow his progress.  Again, it is not God’s will that souls desire supernatural communication of distinct knowledge from visions, locutions.  However, in the Old Testament we see that this kind of communication with God was lawful and God even commanded it.  He reproved them for not asking for permission or approval on numerous occasions, especially prophets, kings, and priests.

First important point:  In the new law of grace it is different than it was previously.  At that time faith was not yet perfectly grounded so it was necessary for them to question God and for him to answer.  But in the era of grace, now that the faith is established through Christ and the Gospel law made manifest, there is no reason for inquiring of him in this way or expecting him to answer as before.  In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word–and he has no more to say.

That which God formerly spoke to our fathers through the prophets in many ways and manifest now, finally, in these days, he has spoken to us all at once in his Son. (Heb.1)  God has become, as it were, mute, with no more to say because he has given us the All, who is his Son.  Those who now desire to question God or receive some vision or revelation are guilty not only of foolish behavior, but also of offending God by not fixing their eyes entirely on Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty.  God could answer them as follows…(see par. 5)  If I have already told you all things in my Word…You will not find anything to ask or desire of me through revelations and visions.  Behold him well, for in him you will uncover all of these already made and given, and many more.

Anyone wanting to get something in a supernatural way would be accusing God of not having given us in his Son, all that is required.  We must be guided by the law of Christ and by the Church.  Any departure from this road is not only curiosity but extraordinary boldness.  One should not believe anything coming in a supernatural way.  If an angel from heaven should preach to you any Gospel other than that which we humans have preached, let him be accursed and excommunicated. (Gal.1)

Second important point:  God is so pleased that the rule and direction of humans be through other humans and that a person be governed by natural reason, that he does not want us to bestow entire credence on his supernatural communications, until they pass through this human channel of the mouth of another human person.  We see this in the Church’s hesitancy to give credence to the words and visions, even of saints.  Jesus said, where two or three are gathered to consider what is for the greater honor and glory of my name, there I am in the midst of them, that is, clarifying and confirming truths in their hearts.  Thus God announces that he does not want the soul to believe by itself the communications it thinks are of divine origin or for anybody to be assured or confirmed in them without the Church or her ministers.  So whatever is received through supernatural means should immediately be told clearly, integrally, and simply to one’s spiritual master, even though there is no apparent reason for doing so.   When one dreads telling the director, this indicates a lack of humility and for that very reason one should submit to the ordeal.  Do not give credence or affirmation to people who claim to be told things by God without the Church’s approval.

ch 23  Begins the discussion of the intellectual apprehensions that come in a purely spiritual way.  My goal has been to liberate the intellect from these apprehensions and direct it to the night of faith.  Now we will consider the four kinds of intellectual apprehensions:  visions, revelations, locutions, and spiritual feelings.  Here these are purely spiritual because they are not communicated to the intellect through the corporeal senses as are imaginative corporeal visions.  They are clearly, distinctly and supernaturally imparted to the intellect without any of the exterior or interior bodily senses serving as means and this is done passively without the soul’s positing any act, at least through its own effort.  In a broad sense these can all be called visions of the soul because all that is intelligible to the intellect, the spiritual eye of the soul, causes spiritual vision.  There are no shapes or voices involved; often not even distinct words.

The intellect derives knowledge or spiritual vision without the apprehension of any form, image or figure of the natural imagination or phantasy.  These experiences are bestowed immediately upon the soul by a supernatural work and by a supernatural means.  As with the imaginative corporeal apprehensions, we must guide the soul and direct it past them into the spiritual realm of faith, to divine and substantial union with God, lest the solitude and denudation requisite for this union be impeded by the hindrance and weakness these apprehensions occasion.  These are nobler, safer and more advantageous and more purely communicated because they are interior, purely spiritual and less exposed to the devil’s meddling.  They are passive and involve none of the soul’s own work or imagination.  Nonetheless, through lack of caution the intellect might be encumbered or even highly deceived.  So they should be the object of neither our aims nor desires.  We will deal with each of these next.

ch 24  Two kinds of supernatural spiritual visions–the corporeal  dealing with corporeal substances and the incorporeal or separate substances.  The corporeal visions deal with the material things of heaven and earth. The soul, even while in the body, can see these objects by means of a certain supernatural light from God with the power to see all heavenly and earthly objects that are absent as in the Apocalypse. The incorporeal visions cannot be seen by this light but by another higher light called the light of glory. These cannot occur in this life. If God should desire the soul to see, it would depart immediately from the body and be loosed from this mortal life. In some rare cases these visions occur in a very transient way when through a special dispensation of the natural law, God preserves the nature and life of the individual, abstracts the spirit entirely, and by his power supplies the natural functions of the soul toward the body. (Moses, Elijah and St. Paul) God imparts this kind of vision only to those who are very strong in the spirit of the Church and God’s law as were these three.

Though the spiritual substances cannot be unclothed and seen clearly by the intellect, they can be felt in the substance of the soul by the most delightful touches and conjunctions.  These pertain to the category of spiritual feelings to be considered later.  We are guiding the pen toward the conjunction and union of the soul with the divine substance.  We will consider this when dealing with the vague or dark mystical knowledge, and treating of how, by means of this loving and obscure knowledge, God joins himself to the soul in a high and divine degree.  In a way, this dark loving knowledge, which is faith, serves as a means for divine union in this life, as does the light of glory for the clear vision of God in the next.

As the eyes see an object by means of natural light, so the intellect through supernatural light sees interiorly the same object and others according to God’s wishes.  The difference lies in the mode and the manner.  Spiritual and intellectual visions are far clearer and more delicate than corporeal ones.  The absence of presence of the object is of no importance.  Sometimes the soul sees as if a flash of lightning illumines a dark night making the object clearly and distinctly visible only to leave them in darkness again while the forms and images of the objects remain in the phantasy.  This illumination takes place far more perfectly in the soul for the objects seen in that light are so impressed that as often as the soul adverts to them it beholds them as before.  They are never entirely removed though they do become more remote with time.  The effects these visions produce in the soul are quietude, illumination, happiness resembling that of glory, delight, purity, love, humility, and an elevation and inclination toward God with different degrees of each at different times.  This is due to the spirit that receives them as well as to God’s wishes.

Through spiritual suggestion and by means of a certain natural light, the devil can also cause these visions in the soul.  A great difference lies between diabolical and divine visions, for the effects of diabolical visions are unlike those produced by the divine.  The devil’s visions produce spiritual dryness in one’s communion with God and an inclination to self-esteem, to admitting them and considering them important.  They do not cause the mildness of humility and the love of God.  Neither are the forms impressed with a delicate clarity nor are they lasting.

None of these can be a proximate means to union with God.  To advance by faith, a person should behave in a a purely negative way as with other visions.  Souls should not desire to cling to them.  Even if the remembrance of these visions really does stir the soul to some contemplation and love of God, denudation, pure faith, and darkness regarding them will stir and elevate it much more and without its knowing how or whence it comes.  Just as faith is infused and rooted more deeply in the soul by means of that emptiness, darkness, and nakedness regarding all things, or by spiritual poverty, so too the charity of God is simultaneously infused and deeply rooted in the soul.  The more individuals desire darkness and annihilation of themselves regarding all visions, the greater will be the infusion of faith and consequently of hope and love, since these three theological virtues increase together.  A person does not always grasp or feel this love because it does not reside with tenderness in the senses, but resides in the soul.  At times it may overflow into the senses imparting a gentle tender feeling.  To attain that love, happiness, and joy caused and produced in the soul by these visions, individuals should possess fortitude, mortification and love so as to remain in emptiness and darkness regarding all creatures.  It behooves us to go to God through the negation of all.

ch. 25 The nature and kinds of revelation.  The second kind of spiritual apprehensions are termed revelations and belong to the spirit of prophesy.  A revelation is a disclosure of some hidden truth or the manifestation of some secret or mystery.  There are two kinds.  First, the disclosure of truths to the intellect called intellectual notions or concepts.  In them God bestows clear and manifest understanding of naked truths of temporal and spiritual objects as well.  Secondly we have the manifestation of secrets to which the term revelation is more properly applied.

ch 26  The two kinds of knowledge of naked truths and the proper conduct of the soul in their regard.  What naked truths are in themselves for the soul is beyond words.  I wish only to guide the soul through them to divine union so a brief discussion will suffice.  This kind of vision is far different from the kind we just dealt with.  It rather consists of an intellectual vision and understanding of truths about God, or a vision of present past or future events that bears great resemblance to the spirit of prophesy.  This type of knowledge is divided into two kinds.  The object of one is the Creator and that of the other is the creature.  Both bring intense delight to the soul.  Yet those of God produce an incomprehensible delight.  There are no words to describe them.  God is the direct object of this knowledge in that one of his attributes is sublimely experienced and this experience remains fixed in the soul.  Since this communication is pure contemplation, the soul clearly understands that it is ineffable and can only attempt to describe what they felt and tasted through general expressions.  (David, Moses, St. Paul)

This divine knowledge of God never deals with particular things so one cannot express it in particular terms unless something less than God is included with the knowledge of him.  This knowledge can be received only by a person who has arrived at union with God, for it is that very union.  It consists of a certain touch of the divinity produced in the soul and thus it is God who is experienced and tasted.  Although the touch of knowledge and delight that penetrates the substance of the soul is not manifest and clear, as in glory, it is so sublime and lofty that the devil is unable to meddle or produce anything similar.

The devil could ape that experience by presenting some very sensible feelings of grandeur and fulfillment, trying to persuade the soul that these are from God.  But this does not enter the substance of the soul and fill it with love as does the divine touch, one of which would be sufficient not only to remove all the imperfections that the soul has been unable to eradicate throughout its entire life but also to fill it with virtues and blessing from God.  These touches bring such sweetness and intimate delight in the soul that one of them would more than compensate for all the trials suffered in life.  Through them souls become courageous and so resolved to suffer for Christ that they find it a special suffering to observe that they do not suffer.

People are incapable of communicating this sublime knowledge or imagining it on their own because it transcends what is naturally attainable.  God usually grants these divine touches when the soul is least expecting.  They are so sensible that they sometimes cause not only the soul but also the body to tremble.  They may occur from reading or hearing one word from Scripture.  They do not always have the same efficacy and often are very weak, yet one of these touches and divine awakenings is worth more to the soul than countless thoughts about God’s creatures and works.  Since it is imparted passively, individuals do not have to be concerned about desiring it.  They should remain humble and resigned about it, for God will do his work when and how he wishes.

I do not say that people should behave negatively regarding this knowledge, as they should with other apprehensions because this is an aspect of the union toward which we are directing the soul which is the reason for the denudation and detachment from all other apprehensions.  God’s means for granting such a grace are humility, suffering for love of him, and resignations as to all recompense.  They are not bestowed upon a possessive soul.  The individual receiving them is one who loves with great detachment.

The second kind of knowledge or vision of interior truths is far different because it deals with things inferior to God.  This includes knowledge of the truth of things in themselves and of human deeds and events.  This kind of knowledge is so embedded in the soul without anyone telling it anything.   It has a spiritual knowledge of the truth that resembles clear vision.  This knowledge pertains to the spirit of prophesy or the discernment of spirits.  Though persons may consider their knowledge certain and true, and be unable to cast off that passive interior assent, they must not, because of this conviction, fail to disclose and believe and give the ascent of reason to the instructions of their spiritual director.  In that way they will be led by faith to divine union, for a soul must journey more by believing than by understanding.

We could expound a great deal on the deception the devil can and does cause with regard to this kind of knowledge.  He will ingrain intellectual ideas so deeply in the soul that they will seem true and if the soul is not humble it will be brought to believe a thousand lies.  Sometimes the devil presents clearly and falsely the sins of others and causes them to be spread abroad causing many sins to be committed.  Regardless of whether any of this knowledge is from God, it will profit the soul little if attached to it.   If they do not deny this knowledge it will be an obstacle and the occasion of serious harm and error.  People should  desire to journey to God by unknowing and always give an account of revelations to their confessor and abide by his counsel.  While good knowledge produces good effects and evil knowledge evil effects it is sufficient to insist on the rejection of all knowledge as a control against any error.

ch. 27 The second kind of revelation: the disclosure of secrets and hidden mysteries which can be either a contribution or a hindrance toward union with God. How the devil can greatly deceive souls in this matter.  This disclosure of secrets can be divided into two categories.  The first concerns God himself, including the revelation of the mystery of the Trinity and unity of God.   The second concerns God in his works.  This comprises the remaining articles of our Catholic faith and propositions of truths about these which embody revelatory prophecies, promises and threats from God and past or future events in regard to this matter of faith.  We can include in this category many other particular facts revealed about the universe in general and in particular regarding kingdoms, families and individuals.   These revelations are not only by word but may include signs, figures, and likenesses.  Even in our time God grants revelations of this kind.

The devil can be a great meddler with this kind of revelation since they involve words, figures, etc. so he can make counterfeits more easily than when the revelation is solely to the spirit.  To preserve the appropriate purity of faith one should not believe already revealed truths because they are again revealed but rest simply on the doctrine of the Church.  To deceive and introduce lies the devil first lures a person by including truths and then he proceeds with beguilement.

It behooves souls not to want to understand the truths of faith clearly, so that they may thereby conserve pure and entire the merit of faith and pass through this night of intellect to the divine light of union.  The devil joins together many apparent and appropriate facts and uses the imagination and senses making it seem the events will undoubtably occur.  He causes the soul to be so convinced and tenacious about them that if it has no humility it cannot be torn from its opinion and made to believe the contrary.  The pure, cautious, simple and humble soul should resist and reject revelations with as much effort and care as it would extremely dangerous temptations, in order to reach the union of love.

ch. 28  The nature and kinds of supernatural locutions received by the spirit.  I discussed prophetic apprehensions only briefly.  There is much to expound about each of these kinds of prophesy and one would never know it all fully.  I have pointed out the substantial part of the doctrine and the caution that is necessary in dealing with these prophesies or anything resembling them.

The third kind of apprehensions are the supernatural locutions.  These are usually produced in the spirit without the use of the bodily senses.  The classes can be reduced to three:  successive, formal, and substantial locutions.  Successive locutions are the word and reasonings that the spirit usually forms and deduces while recollected.  Formal locutions are certain distinct and formal words the spirit receives, whether or not recollected, not from itself but from another.  Substantial locutions are other words that are also produced formally in the spirit, regardless of whether one is recollected, and that cause in the substance of the soul the power and very substance they signify.

ch. 29  The first kind of locution the recollected spirit sometimes forms; its origin and the profit or harm it may occasion.  Successive words always occur when the spirit is recollected and attentively absorbed in some consideration.  The individual will reason, thought by thought, forming precise words and judgments, discovering unknown truths with clarity and ease.  It will seem that the soul is doing nothing and is being taught by another through a dialogue.  In a way they really are speaking with another for the Holy Spirit helps them form true concepts, words and judgments and thus they utter them to themselves as though to another person.  Though there is no deception of the intellect, there often is deception in the formal words and statements deduced.  The light is often so delicate and spiritual that the intellect does not succeed in being completely informed by it because the intellect joins its own lowly capacity to the thread of truth it has begun to grasp and can easily change the truth while it still seems to be coming from another.

I fear the outright heresies that can be articulated by souls who experience these locutions and immediately baptize all as coming from God and say “God told me…God answered me” when they, more often than not, were the only source of such words.  Furthermore, the desire for such locutions and attachment to them will cause these persons to formulate their own answers and think that God is speaking to them.  They will commit serious blunders if they do not practice serious restraint and they should be counselled to renounce such discursive methods.  For through these methods they usually derive more vanity of speech and impurity of soul than humility and mortification.  Therefore these locutions can be a serious obstacle to souls in their journey to divine union, because, by paying attention to them, they are drawn away from the abyss of faith.  The soul should remain in obscurity and journey by love in the darkness of faith.  The Holy Spirit will not illumine the soul more in any other method than by faith.

There are some intellects so lively and subtle that they easily reason and form ideas and judgments so vivid that they think they come from God.  Such an occurrence is frequent and many are deluded by it into thinking that theirs is the enjoyment of a high degree of prayer or communication and they may even write these down or have others do so.  These have no value and result only in vainglory.  These people should learn to give importance to nothing other than the establishment of their wills in humble love, and suffering in imitation of the life and mortifications of the Son of God.

The devil too meddles a great deal in this area, especially with persons who have a particular attachment to them.  By subtly deceiving them he gradually brings about their ruin.  Manifestly, then, these locutions can originate in the intellect from three causes: the divine Spirit who moves and illumines the intellect, the natural light of the intellect, and the devil who can speak to it through suggestion.   This is very difficult to recognize.   Pay no heed to them; be interested only in directing the will, with fortitude, toward God.  We do not have to pry into profundities and curiosities in which there is seldom a lack of danger.  One should not have more knowledge than is fitting.–Paul

2.30 Interior words formally and supernaturally produced in the spirit; their danger and a necessary precaution against delusion.  The second kind of locution is called formal and is produced supernaturally in the spirit without the use of any senses.  They are called formal because another person formally utters to the spirit without intervention of the soul.   These can even occur while the soul is not recollected and thinking of something far from what is spoken.  This is never the case in successive locutions. Sometimes these locutions are very explicit but usually seem like ideas spoken to the spirit.  They are received as though one person is speaking to another without any previous knowledge of or control over what is said.  Ordinarily they are given merely for the purpose of teaching or shedding light on some truth.  When God is the cause, the effect is always produced in the soul for it gives the soul readiness to accomplish what is communicated and clarity in understanding it.   When the locutions are from the devil both ease and readiness may be given in matters that involve prestige.

Successive locutions do no move the spirit so much as formal ones do, yet this does not prevent the successive ones from producing a greater effect in some cases.  However there is considerable difference in the manner in which the effect is produced.  The soul is clearly aware that formal locutions are not from within but from another.  A person should pay no more attention to all these formal locutions than to the other kind.  Besides occupying the spirit with matters irrelevant to faith, they will make one an easy victim for the devil’s deceits.  Individuals should not do what these words tell them nor pay attention to them, whether they be from  a good or bad spirit.  They should always reveal them to a wise confessor or mature person who will give prayerful consideration and instruction.  A person’s attitude ought to be one of resignation and negation.  It is always better not to pay any attention to them nor to speak of them to anyone for the soul can easily fall into the hands of persons who will harm them.  It should be kept in mind that individuals must never follow their own opinions about these locutions or do or admit anything told through them without ample advice and counsel.  Strange and subtle deceits can occur and I believe a person who is not opposed to experiencing such things cannot help but be deceived.

2.31 Substantial locutions produced in the spirit.  How they differ from formal locutions and the benefit that comes from them.  The resignation and respect that should be had in their regard.  The third kind of interior locution is the substantial.  Although these are also formal, formally impressed in the soul, they are different in that their effect is vital and substantial.  If the Lord should formally say “be good” or “love me” to the soul, it would immediately and substantially become good or be filled with love for the Lord.  The locution produces what is said.  God bestows substantial locutions on certain souls as in the case of Abraham, Moses and the beneficiaries of the healing words of Jesus.  These locutions are as important and valuable as are the life, virtue, and incomparable blessings they impart.  A locution of this sort does more good for a person than a whole lifetime of deeds.

As far as these locutions, the soul has nothing to do, desire, refrain from desiring, reject or fear because God never grants them for a purpose other than to bring about what they express.  Desiring or rejecting them will not hinder their effect.  The soul should be resigned and humble about them.  Their effect is received in the soul passively.  The soul need not fear any deception because neither the intellect nor the devil can intervene.  The devil is incapable of producing any passive substantial effect unless the soul has surrendered itself, its will, voluntarily.  From experience we observe that he has great power through suggestion even with good souls but he is unable to produce any substantial effect in them completely.  There is no comparison between God’s word and the devil’s and in the case of locutions, the effect of the devil’s is nothing.  Consequently these locutions are a great aid to union with God.  The more interior and substantial they are, the more advantageous for the soul…Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.

2.32 The intellectual apprehensions of the spiritual feelings supernaturally imparted to the soul.  The cause and the attitude necessary to avoid hindering the journey toward union with God.  The fourth and last kind of intellectual apprehension which the intellect receives from the spiritual feelings that are often granted supernaturally to spiritual persons, are of two kinds:  the first comprises feeling in the affection of the will; the second, feelings in the substance of the soul.  These can take place in many ways.

Those in the will are very sublime when from God, but the feelings in the substance of the soul are the loftiest and are exceptionally advantageous and good.  Neither the soul nor its director can know their origin of the works for which God bestows them.  These favors are not dependent on the works or reflections of the soul.  God grants them to whom he wills and for the reason he wills.  Some who have done very many good works will never be given these touches and another with very few good works may receive an abundance of the most sublime touches.  Most of the time this favor is granted when it is farthest from the mind and least expected.

These feelings are not allied to the intellect but to the will as I will discuss in the following book.  Yet most of the time, the apprehension, knowledge, and understanding of them overflows into the intellect.  This overflow is true with both the touches in the will and those in the substance of the soul, whether they be sudden touches or lasting and successive.  This apprehension is usually an exceptionally sublime and delightful experience of God in the intellect.  It cannot be given a name, nor can the feeling from which it overflows.  This knowledge is now of one kind and then of another according to the touches produced by God and the property of these touches.  It may be sometimes more sublime and clear than at other times.

The feelings we mentioned are produced passively in individuals without their doing anything to receive them.  So too, the knowledge is received passively.  To avoid error as a result of these feelings and any impediment to the profit coming from them, the intellect should do nothing about them, other than passively receive them and refrain from meddling through the use of its natural capacity which easily can undo that delicate knowledge, unattainable naturally.  The intellect by its own activity finds this knowledge incomprehensible, but comprehends it only by receiving it.

Thus a person should not strive after this knowledge or want it lest the intellect begin to form other knowledge on its own, or the devil find an entrance for his false knowledge which he can easily effect my means of feelings he can bestow on the soul that is seeking or attached to this knowledge.  A person should be resigned, humble, and passive with respect to it.  It will be received when God is pleased to grant it and when he sees that the soul is humble and unpossessive so as not to hinder the tremendous benefit, for all these feelings are touchesB of union, and the union is produced passively in the soul.  There is no intellectual apprehension that cannot be reduced to one of these kinds.


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