Dark Night of the Soul


Saint John of the Cross




Translated and edited, with an Introduction,


from the critical edition of




This electronic edition (v 0.9) was scanned in 1994 from an
uncopyrighted 1959 Image Books third edition of the Dark Night. The
entire text except for the translator’s preface and some of the
footnotes have been reproduced. Nearly 400 footnotes (and parts of
footnotes) describing variations among manuscripts have been omitted.
Page number references in the footnotes have been changed to chapter
and section where possible. This edition has been proofread once, but
additional errors may remain. The translator’s preface to the first and
second editions may be found with the electronic edition of Ascent of
Mount Carmel.


A.V.–Authorized Version of the Bible (1611).

D.V.–Douai Version of the Bible (1609).

C.W.S.T.J.–The Complete Works of Saint Teresa of Jesus, translated and
edited by E. Allison Peers from the critical edition of P. Silverio de
Santa Teresa, C.D. London, Sheed and Ward, 1946. 3 vols.

H.–E. Allison Peers: Handbook to the Life and Times of St. Teresa and
St. John of the Cross. London, Burns Oates and Washbourne, 1953.

LL.–The Letters of Saint Teresa of Jesus, translated and edited by E.
Allison Peers from the critical edition of P. Silverio de Santa Teresa,
C.D. London, Burns Oates and Washbourne, 1951. 2 vols.

N.L.M.–National Library of Spain (Biblioteca Nacional), Madrid.

Obras (P. Silv.)–Obras de San Juan de la Cruz, Doctor de la Iglesia,
editadas y anotadas por el P. Silverio de Santa Teresa, C.D. Burgos,
1929-31. 5 vols.

S.S.M.–E. Allison Peers: Studies of the Spanish Mystics. Vol. I,
London, Sheldon Press, 1927; 2nd ed., London, S.P.C.K., 1951. Vol. II,
London, Sheldon Press, 1930.

Sobrino.–Jose Antonio de Sobrino, S.J.: Estudios sobre San Juan de la
Cruz y nuevos textos de su obra. Madrid, 1950.



SOMEWHAT reluctantly, out of respect for a venerable tradition, we
publish the Dark Night as a separate treatise, though in reality it is
a continuation of the Ascent of Mount Carmel and fulfils the
undertakings given in it:

The first night or purgation is of the sensual part of the soul,
which is treated in the present stanza, and will be treated in the
first part of this book. And the second is of the spiritual part; of
this speaks the second stanza, which follows; and of this we shall
treat likewise, in the second and the third part, with respect to
the activity of the soul; and in the fourth part, with respect to
its passivity. [1]

This fourth part’ is the Dark Night. Of it the Saint writes in a
passage which follows that just quoted:

And the second night, or purification, pertains to those who are
already proficient, occurring at the time when God desires to bring
them to the state of union with God. And this latter night is a more
obscure and dark and terrible purgation, as we shall say afterwards.

In his three earlier books he has written of the Active Night, of Sense
and of Spirit; he now proposes to deal with the Passive Night, in the
same order. He has already taught us how we are to deny and purify
ourselves with the ordinary help of grace, in order to prepare our
senses and faculties for union with God through love. He now proceeds
to explain, with an arresting freshness, how these same senses and
faculties are purged and purified by God with a view to the same
end–that of union. The combined description of the two nights
completes the presentation of active and passive purgation, to which
the Saint limits himself in these treatises, although the subject of
the stanzas which he is glossing is a much wider one, comprising the
whole of the mystical life and ending only with the Divine embraces of
the soul transformed in God through love.

The stanzas expounded by the Saint are taken from the same poem in the
two treatises. The commentary upon the second, however, is very
different from that upon the first, for it assumes a much more advanced
state of development. The Active Night has left the senses and
faculties well prepared, though not completely prepared, for the
reception of Divine influences and illuminations in greater abundance
than before. The Saint here postulates a principle of dogmatic
theology–that by himself, and with the ordinary aid of grace, man
cannot attain to that degree of purgation which is essential to his
transformation in God. He needs Divine aid more abundantly. However
greatly the soul itself labours,’ writes the Saint, it cannot actively
purify itself so as to be in the least degree prepared for the Divine
union of perfection of love, if God takes not its hand and purges it
not in that dark fire.’ [3]

The Passive Nights, in which it is God Who accomplishes the purgation,
are based upon this incapacity. Souls begin to enter’ this dark night

when God draws them forth from the state of beginners–which is the
state of those that meditate on the spiritual road–and begins to
set them in the state of progressives–which is that of those who
are already contemplatives–to the end that, after passing through
it, they may arrive at the state of the perfect, which is that of
the Divine union of the soul with God. [4]

Before explaining the nature and effects of this Passive Night, the
Saint touches, in passing, upon certain imperfections found in those
who are about to enter it and which it removes by the process of
purgation. Such travellers are still untried proficients, who have not
yet acquired mature habits of spirituality and who therefore still
conduct themselves as children. The imperfections are examined one by
one, following the order of the seven deadly sins, in chapters
(ii-viii) which once more reveal the author’s skill as a director of
souls. They are easy chapters to understand, and of great practical
utility, comparable to those in the first book of the Ascent which deal
with the active purgation of the desires of sense.

In Chapter viii, St. John of the Cross begins to describe the Passive
Night of the senses, the principal aim of which is the purgation or
stripping of the soul of its imperfections and the preparation of it
for fruitive union. The Passive Night of Sense, we are told, is common’
and comes to many,’ whereas that of Spirit is the portion of very few.’
[5] The one is bitter and terrible’ but the second bears no comparison
with it,’ for it is horrible and awful to the spirit.’ [6] A good deal
of literature on the former Night existed in the time of St. John of
the Cross and he therefore promises to be brief in his treatment of it.
Of the latter, on the other hand, he will treat more fully . . . since
very little has been said of this, either in speech or in writing, and
very little is known of it, even by experience.’ [7]

Having described this Passive Night of Sense in Chapter viii, he
explains with great insight and discernment how it may be recognized
whether any given aridity is a result of this Night or whether it comes
from sins or imperfections, or from frailty or lukewarmness of spirit,
or even from indisposition or humours’ of the body. The Saint is
particularly effective here, and we may once more compare this chapter
with a similar one in the Ascent (II, xiii)–that in which he fixes the
point where the soul may abandon discursive meditation and enter the
contemplation which belongs to loving and simple faith.

Both these chapters have contributed to the reputation of St. John of
the Cross as a consummate spiritual master. And this not only for the
objective value of his observations, but because, even in spite of
himself, he betrays the sublimity of his own mystical experiences. Once
more, too, we may admire the crystalline transparency of his teaching
and the precision of the phrases in which he clothes it. To judge by
his language alone, one might suppose at times that he is speaking of
mathematical, rather than of spiritual operations.

In Chapter x, the Saint describes the discipline which the soul in this
Dark Night must impose upon itself; this, as might be logically deduced
from the Ascent, consists in allowing the soul to remain in peace and
quietness,’ content with a peaceful and loving attentiveness toward
God.’ [8] Before long it will experience enkindlings of love (Chapter
xi), which will serve to purify its sins and imperfections and draw it
gradually nearer to God; we have here, as it were, so many stages of
the ascent of the Mount on whose summit the soul attains to
transforming union. Chapters xii and xiii detail with great exactness
the benefits that the soul receives from this aridity, while Chapter
xiv briefly expounds the last line of the first stanza and brings to an
end what the Saint desires to say with respect to the first Passive

At only slightly greater length St. John of the Cross describes the
Passive Night of the Spirit, which is at once more afflictive and more
painful than those which have preceded it. This, nevertheless, is the
Dark Night par excellence, of which the Saint speaks in these words:
The night which we have called that of sense may and should be called a
kind of correction and restraint of the desire rather than purgation.
The reason is that all the imperfections and disorders of the sensual
part have their strength and root in the spirit, where all habits, both
good and bad, are brought into subjection, and thus, until these are
purged, the rebellions and depravities of sense cannot be purged
thoroughly.’ [9]

Spiritual persons, we are told, do not enter the second night
immediately after leaving the first; on the contrary, they generally
pass a long time, even years, before doing so, [10] for they still have
many imperfections, both habitual and actual (Chapter ii). After a
brief introduction (Chapter iii), the Saint describes with some
fullness the nature of this spiritual purgation or dark contemplation
referred to in the first stanza of his poem and the varieties of pain
and affliction caused by it, whether in the soul or in its faculties
(Chapters iv-viii). These chapters are brilliant beyond all
description; in them we seem to reach the culminating point of their
author’s mystical experience; any excerpt from them would do them an
injustice. It must suffice to say that St. John of the Cross seldom
again touches those same heights of sublimity.

Chapter ix describes how, although these purgations seem to blind the
spirit, they do so only to enlighten it again with a brighter and
intenser light, which it is preparing itself to receive with greater
abundance. The following chapter makes the comparison between spiritual
purgation and the log of wood which gradually becomes transformed
through being immersed in fire and at last takes on the fire’s own
properties. The force with which the familiar similitude is driven home
impresses indelibly upon the mind the fundamental concept of this most
sublime of all purgations. Marvellous, indeed, are its effects, from
the first enkindlings and burnings of Divine love, which are greater
beyond comparison than those produced by the Night of Sense, the one
being as different from the other as is the body from the soul. For
this (latter) is an enkindling of spiritual love in the soul, which, in
the midst of these dark confines, feels itself to be keenly and sharply
wounded in strong Divine love, and to have a certain realization and
foretaste of God.’ [11] No less wonderful are the effects of the
powerful Divine illumination which from time to time enfolds the soul
in the splendours of glory. When the effects of the light that wounds
and yet illumines are combined with those of the enkindlement that
melts the soul with its heat, the delights experienced are so great as
to be ineffable.

The second line of the first stanza of the poem is expounded in three
admirable chapters (xi-xiii), while one short chapter (xiv) suffices
for the three lines remaining. We then embark upon the second stanza,
which describes the soul’s security in the Dark Night–due, among other
reasons, to its being freed not only from itself, but likewise from its
other enemies, which are the world and the devil.’ [12]

This contemplation is not only dark, but also secret (Chapter xvii),
and in Chapter xviii is compared to the staircase’ of the poem. This
comparison suggests to the Saint an exposition (Chapters xviii, xix) of
the ten steps or degrees of love which comprise St. Bernard’s mystical
ladder. Chapter xxi describes the soul’s disguise,’ from which the book
passes on (Chapters xxii, xxiii) to extol the happy chance’ which led
it to journey in darkness and concealment’ from its enemies, both
without and within.

Chapter xxiv glosses the last line of the second stanza–my house being
now at rest.’ Both the higher and the lower portions of the soul’ are
now tranquillized and prepared for the desired union with the Spouse, a
union which is the subject that the Saint proposed to treat in his
commentary on the five remaining stanzas. As far as we know, this
commentary was never written. We have only the briefest outline of what
was to have been covered in the third, in which, following the same
effective metaphor of night, the Saint describes the excellent
properties of the spiritual night of infused contemplation, through
which the soul journeys with no other guide or support, either outward
or inward, than the Divine love which burned in my heart.’

It is difficult to express adequately the sense of loss that one feels
at the premature truncation of this eloquent treatise. [13] We have
already given our opinion [14] upon the commentaries thought to have
been written on the final stanzas of the Dark Night.’ Did we possess
them, they would explain the birth of the light–dawn’s first
breathings in the heav’ns above’–which breaks through the black
darkness of the Active and the Passive Nights; they would tell us, too,
of the soul’s further progress towards the Sun’s full brightness. It is
true, of course, that some part of this great gap is filled by St. John
of the Cross himself in his other treatises, but it is small
compensation for the incomplete state in which he left this edifice of
such gigantic proportions that he should have given us other and
smaller buildings of a somewhat similar kind. Admirable as are the
Spiritual Canticle and the Living Flame of Love, they are not so
completely knit into one whole as is this great double treatise. They
lose both in flexibility and in substance through the closeness with
which they follow the stanzas of which they are the exposition. In the
Ascent and the Dark Night, on the other hand, we catch only the echoes
of the poem, which are all but lost in the resonance of the
philosopher’s voice and the eloquent tones of the preacher. Nor have
the other treatises the learning and the authority of these. Nowhere
else does the genius of St. John of the Cross for infusing philosophy
into his mystical dissertations find such an outlet as here. Nowhere
else, again, is he quite so appealingly human; for, though he is human
even in his loftiest and sublimest passages, this intermingling of
philosophy with mystical theology makes him seem particularly so. These
treatises are a wonderful illustration of the theological truth that
grace, far from destroying nature, ennobles and dignifies it, and of
the agreement always found between the natural and the
supernatural–between the principles of sound reason and the sublimest
manifestations of Divine grace.

[1] Ascent, Bk. I, chap. i, sect. 2.

[2] Op. cit., sect. 3.

[3] Dark Night, Bk. 1, chap. iii, sect. 3.

[4] Op. cit., Bk. I, chap. i, sect. 1.

[5] Dark Night, Bk. 1, chap. viii, sect. 1.

[6] Op. cit., Bk. I, chap. viii, sect. 2.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Dark Night, Bk. I, chap. x, sect. 4.

[9] Op. cit., Bk. II, chap. iii, sect. 1.

[10] Op. cit., Bk. II, chap. i, sect. 1.

[11] Dark Night, Bk. II, chap. xi, sect. 1.

[12] Dark Night, Bk. II, chap. xvi, sect. 2.

[13] [On this, see Sobrino, pp. 159-66.]

[14] Cf. pp. lviii-lxiii, Ascent of Mount Carmel (Image Books edition).


The autograph of the Dark Night, like that of the Ascent of Mount
Carmel, is unknown to us: the second seems to have disappeared in the
same period as the first. There are extant, however, as many as twelve
early copies of the Dark Night, some of which, though none of them is
as palaeographically accurate as the best copy of the Ascent, are very
reliable; there is no trace in them of conscious adulteration of the
original or of any kind of modification to fit the sense of any passage
into a preconceived theory. We definitely prefer one of these copies to
the others but we nowhere follow it so literally as to incorporate in
our text its evident discrepancies from its original.

MS. 3,446. An early MS. in the clear masculine hand of an Andalusian:
MS. 3,446 in the National Library, Madrid. Like many others, this MS.
was transferred to the library from the Convento de San Hermenegildo at
the time of the religious persecutions in the early nineteenth century;
it had been presented to the Archives of the Reform by the Fathers of
Los Remedios, Seville–a Carmelite house founded by P. Grecian in 1574.
It has no title and a fragment from the Living Flame of Love is bound
up with it.

This MS. has only two omissions of any length; these form part
respectively of Book II, Chapters xix and xxiii, dealing with the
Passive Night of the Spirit. It has many copyist’s errors. At the same
time, its antiquity and origin, and the good faith of which it shows
continual signs, give it, in our view, primacy over the other copies
now to come under consideration. It must be made clear, nevertheless,
that there is no extant copy of the Dark Night as trustworthy and as
skilfully made as the Alcaudete MS. of the Ascent.

MS. of the Carmelite Nuns of Toledo. Written in three hands, all early.
Save for a few slips of the copyist, it agrees with the foregoing; a
few of its errors have been corrected. It bears no title, but has a
long sub-title which is in effect a partial summary of the argument.

MS. of the Carmelite Nuns of Valladolid. This famous convent, which was
one of St. Teresa’s foundations, is very rich in Teresan autographs,
and has also a number of important documents relating to St. John of
the Cross, together with some copies of his works. That here described
is written in a large, clear hand and probably dates from the end of
the sixteenth century. It has a title similar to that of the last-named
copy. With few exceptions it follows the other most important MSS.

MS. Alba de Tormes. What has been said of this in the introduction to
the Ascent (Image Books edition, pp. 6-7) applies also to the Dark
Night. It is complete, save for small omissions on the part of the
amanuensis, the Argument’ at the beginning of the poem, the verses
themselves and a few lines from Book II, Chapter vii.

MS. 6,624. This copy is almost identical with the foregoing. It omits
the Argument’ and the poem itself but not the lines from Book II,
Chapter vii.

MS. 8,795. This contains the Dark Night, Spiritual Canticle, Living
Flame of Love, a number of poems by St. John of the Cross and the
Spiritual Colloquies between Christ and the soul His Bride. It is
written in various hands, all very early and some feminine. A note by
P. Andres de la Encarnacion, on the reverse of the first folio, records
that the copy was presented to the Archives of the Reform by the
Discalced Carmelite nuns of Baeza. This convent was founded in 1589,
two years before the Saint’s death, and the copy may well date from
about this period. On the second folio comes the poem I entered in–I
knew not where.’ On the reverse of the third folio begins a kind of
preface to the Dark Night, opening with the words: Begin the stanzas by
means of which a soul may occupy itself and become fervent in the love
of God. It deals with the Dark Night and is divided into two books. The
first treats of the purgation of sense, and the second of the spiritual
purgation of man. It was written by P. Fr. Juan de la Cruz, Discalced
Carmelite.’ On the next folio, a so-called Preface: To the Reader’
begins: As a beginning and an explanation of these two purgations of
the Dark Night which are to be expounded hereafter, this chapter will
show how narrow is the path that leads to eternal life and how
completely detached and disencumbered must be those that are to enter
thereby.’ This fundamental idea is developed for the space of two
folios. There follows a sonnet on the Dark Night, [15] and immediately
afterwards comes the text of the treatise.

The copy contains many errors, but its only omission is that of the
last chapter. There is no trace in it of any attempt to modify its
original; indeed, the very nature and number of the copyist’s errors
are a testimony to his good faith.

MS. 12,658. A note by P. Andres states that he acquired it in Madrid
but has no more detailed recollection of its provenance. The Dark
Night,’ it adds, begins on folio 43; our holy father is described
simply as ”the second friar of the new Reformation,” [16] which is
clear evidence of its antiquity.’

The Codex contains a number of opuscules, transcribed no doubt with a
devotional aim by the copyist. Its epoch is probably the end of the
sixteenth century; it is certainly earlier than the editions. There is
no serious omission except that of six lines of the Argument.’ The
authors of the other works copied include St. Augustine, B. Juan de
Avila, P. Baltasar Alvarez and P. Tomas de Jesus.

The copies which remain to be described are all mutilated or
abbreviated and can be disposed of briefly:

MS. 13,498. This copy omits less of the Dark Night than of the Ascent
but few pages are without their omissions. In one place a meticulous
pair of scissors has removed the lower half of a folio on which the
Saint deals with spiritual luxury.

MS. of the Carmelite Friars of Toledo. Dates from early in the
seventeenth century and has numerous omissions, especially in the
chapters on the Passive Night of the Spirit. The date is given (in the
same hand as that which copies the title) as 1618. This MS. also
contains an opuscule by Suso and another entitled Brief compendium of
the most eminent Christian perfection of P. Fr. Juan de la Cruz.’

MS. 18,160. The copyist has treated the Dark Night little better than
the Ascent; except from the first ten and the last three chapters, he
omits freely.

MS. 12,411. Entitled by its copyist ‘spiritual Compendium,’ this MS.
contains several short works of devotion, including one by Ruysbroeck.
Of St. John of the Cross’s works it copies the Spiritual Canticle as
well as the Dark Night; the latter is headed: ‘song of one soul alone.’
It also contains a number of poems, some of them by the Saint, and many
passages from St. Teresa. It is in several hands, all of the
seventeenth century. The copy of the Dark Night is most unsatisfactory;
there are omissions and abbreviations everywhere.

M.S. of the Carmelite Nuns of Pamplona. This MS. also omits and
abbreviates continually, especially in the chapters on the Passive
Night of Sense, which are reduced to a mere skeleton.

Editio princeps. This is much more faithful to its original in the Dark
Night than in the Ascent. Both the passages suppressed [17] and the
interpolations [18] are relatively few and unimportant. Modifications
of phraseology are more frequent and alterations are also made with the
aim of correcting hyperbaton. In the first book about thirty lines are
suppressed; in the second, about ninety. All changes which are of any
importance have been shown in the notes.

The present edition. We have given preference, as a general rule, to
MS. 3,446, subjecting it, however, to a rigorous comparison with the
other copies. Mention has already been made in the introduction to the
Ascent (Image Books edition, pp. lxiii-lxvi) of certain apparent
anomalies and a certain lack of uniformity in the Saint’s method of
dividing his commentaries. This is nowhere more noticeable than in the
Dark Night. Instead of dividing his treatise into books, each with its
proper title, the Saint abandons this method and uses titles only
occasionally. As this makes comprehension of his argument the more
difficult, we have adopted the divisions which were introduced by P.
Salablanca and have been copied by successive editors.

M. Baruzi (Bulletin Hispanique, 1922, Vol. xxiv, pp. 18-40) complains
that this division weighs down the spiritual rhythm of the treatise and
interrupts its movement. We do not agree. In any case, we greatly
prefer the gain of clarity, even if the rhythm occasionally halts, to
the other alternative–the constant halting of the understanding. We
have, of course, indicated every place where the title is taken from
the editio princeps and was not the work of the author.

The following abbreviations are adopted in the footnotes:

A = MS. of the Discalced Carmelite Friars of Alba.

B = MS. 6,624 (National Library, Madrid).

Bz. = MS. 8,795 (N.L.M.).

C = MS. 13,498 (N.L.M.).

G = MS. 18,160 (N.L.M.).

H = MS. 3,446 (N.L.M.).

M = MS. of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Toledo.

Mtr. = MS. 12,658.

P = MS. of the Discalced Carmelite Friars of Toledo.

V = MS. of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Valladolid.

E.p. = Editio princeps (1618).

MS. 12,411 and the MS. of the Discalced Carmelite nuns of Pamplona are
cited without abbreviations.

[15] [It contains a series of paradoxical statements, after the style
of those in Ascent, Bk. I, chap. xiii, and is of no great literary
merit. P. Silverio reproduces it in Spanish on p. 302 (note) of his
first volume.]

[16] The first friar’ would be P. Antonio de Jesus, who was senior to
St. John of the Cross in the Carmelite Order, though not in the Reform.

[17] The longest of these are one of ten lines in Bk. I, chap. iv, [in
the original] and those of Bk. II, chaps. vii, viii, xii, xiii, which
vary from eleven to twenty-three lines. Bk. II, chap. xxiii, has also
considerable modifications.

[18] The chief interpolation is in Bk. I, chap. x.


Exposition of the stanzas describing the method followed by the soul
in its journey upon the spiritual road to the attainment of the
perfect union of love with God, to the extent that is possible in
this life. Likewise are described the properties belonging to the
soul that has attained to the said perfection, according as they are
contained in the same stanzas.


IN this book are first set down all the stanzas which are to be
expounded; afterwards, each of the stanzas is expounded separately,
being set down before its exposition; and then each line is expounded
separately and in turn, the line itself also being set down before the
exposition. In the first two stanzas are expounded the effects of the
two spiritual purgations: of the sensual part of man and of the
spiritual part. In the other six are expounded various and wondrous
effects of the spiritual illumination and union of love with God.


1. On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings–oh, happy
I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.

2. In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised–oh,
happy chance!–
In darkness and in concealment, My house being now at rest.

3. In the happy night, In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught, Without light or guide, save that which burned
in my heart.

4. This light guided me More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me– A place
where none appeared.

5. Oh, night that guided me, Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, Lover transformed in the

6. Upon my flowery breast, Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him, And the fanning of the
cedars made a breeze.

7. The breeze blew from the turret As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand he wounded my neck And caused all my senses to
be suspended.

8. I remained, lost in oblivion; My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself, Leaving my cares forgotten among
the lilies.

Begins the exposition of the stanzas which treat of the way and manner
which the soul follows upon the road of the union of love with God.

Before we enter upon the exposition of these stanzas, it is well to
understand here that the soul that utters them is now in the state of
perfection, which is the union of love with God, having already passed
through severe trials and straits, by means of spiritual exercise in
the narrow way of eternal life whereof Our Saviour speaks in the
Gospel, along which way the soul ordinarily passes in order to reach
this high and happy union with God. Since this road (as the Lord
Himself says likewise) is so strait, and since there are so few that
enter by it, [19] the soul considers it a great happiness and good
chance to have passed along it to the said perfection of love, as it
sings in this first stanza, calling this strait road with full
propriety dark night,’ as will be explained hereafter in the lines of
the said stanza. The soul, then, rejoicing at having passed along this
narrow road whence so many blessings have come to it, speaks after this

[19] St. Matthew vii, 14.


Which treats of the Night of Sense.


On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings–oh, happy chance!–
I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.


IN this first stanza the soul relates the way and manner which it
followed in going forth, as to its affection, from itself and from all
things, and in dying to them all and to itself, by means of true
mortification, in order to attain to living the sweet and delectable
life of love with God; and it says that this going forth from itself
and from all things was a dark night,’ by which, as will be explained
hereafter, is here understood purgative contemplation, which causes
passively in the soul the negation of itself and of all things referred
to above.

2. And this going forth it says here that it was able to accomplish in
the strength and ardour which love for its Spouse gave to it for that
purpose in the dark contemplation aforementioned. Herein it extols the
great happiness which it found in journeying to God through this night
with such signal success that none of the three enemies, which are
world, devil and flesh (who are they that ever impede this road), could
hinder it; inasmuch as the aforementioned night of purgative [20]
contemplation lulled to sleep and mortified, in the house of its
sensuality, all the passions and desires with respect to their
mischievous desires and motions. The line, then, says:

On a dark night


Sets down the first line and begins to treat of the imperfections of

INTO this dark night souls begin to enter when God draws them forth
from the state of beginners–which is the state of those that meditate
on the spiritual road–and begins to set them in the state of
progressives–which is that of those who are already contemplatives–to
the end that, after passing through it, they may arrive at the state of
the perfect, which is that of the Divine union of the soul with God.
Wherefore, to the end that we may the better understand and explain
what night is this through which the soul passes, and for what cause
God sets it therein, it will be well here to touch first of all upon
certain characteristics of beginners (which, although we treat them
with all possible brevity, will not fail to be of service likewise to
the beginners themselves), in order that, realizing the weakness of the
state wherein they are, they may take courage, and may desire that God
will bring them into this night, wherein the soul is strengthened and
confirmed in the virtues, and made ready for the inestimable delights
of the love of God. And, although we may tarry here for a time, it will
not be for longer than is necessary, so that we may go on to speak at
once of this dark night.

2. It must be known, then, that the soul, after it has been definitely
converted to the service of God, is, as a rule, spiritually nurtured
and caressed by God, even as is the tender child by its loving mother,
who warms it with the heat of her bosom and nurtures it with sweet milk
and soft and pleasant food, and carries it and caresses it in her arms;
but, as the child grows bigger, the mother gradually ceases caressing
it, and, hiding her tender love, puts bitter aloes upon her sweet
breast, sets down the child from her arms and makes it walk upon its
feet, so that it may lose the habits of a child and betake itself to
more important and substantial occupations. The loving mother is like
the grace of God, for, as soon as the soul is regenerated by its new
warmth and fervour for the service of God, He treats it in the same
way; He makes it to find spiritual milk, sweet and delectable, in all
the things of God, without any labour of its own, and also great
pleasure in spiritual exercises, for here God is giving to it the
breast of His tender love, even as to a tender child.

3. Therefore, such a soul finds its delight in spending long
periods–perchance whole nights–in prayer; penances are its pleasures;
fasts its joys; and its consolations are to make use of the sacraments
and to occupy itself in Divine things. In the which things spiritual
persons (though taking part in them with great efficacy and persistence
and using and treating them with great care) often find themselves,
spiritually speaking, very weak and imperfect. For since they are moved
to these things and to these spiritual exercises by the consolation and
pleasure that they find in them, and since, too, they have not been
prepared for them by the practice of earnest striving in the virtues,
they have many faults and imperfections with respect to these spiritual
actions of theirs; for, after all, any man’s actions correspond to the
habit of perfection attained by him. And, as these persons have not had
the opportunity of acquiring the said habits of strength, they have
necessarily to work like feebler children, feebly. In order that this
may be seen more clearly, and likewise how much these beginners in the
virtues lacks with respect to the works in which they so readily engage
with the pleasure aforementioned, we shall describe it by reference to
the seven capital sins, each in its turn, indicating some of the many
imperfections which they have under each heading; wherein it will be
clearly seen how like to children are these persons in all they do. And
it will also be seen how many blessings the dark night of which we
shall afterwards treat brings with it, since it cleanses the soul and
purifies it from all these imperfections.


Of certain spiritual imperfections which beginners have with respect
to the habit of pride.

AS these beginners feel themselves to be very fervent and diligent in
spiritual things and devout exercises, from this prosperity (although
it is true that holy things of their own nature cause humility) there
often comes to them, through their imperfections, a certain kind of
secret pride, whence they come to have some degree of satisfaction with
their works and with themselves. And hence there comes to them likewise
a certain desire, which is somewhat vain, and at times very vain, to
speak of spiritual things in the presence of others, and sometimes even
to teach such things rather than to learn them. They condemn others in
their heart when they see that they have not the kind of devotion which
they themselves desire; and sometimes they even say this in words,
herein resembling the Pharisee, who boasted of himself, praising God
for his own good works and despising the publican. [21]

2. In these persons the devil often increases the fervour that they
have and the desire to perform these and other works more frequently,
so that their pride and presumption may grow greater. For the devil
knows quite well that all these works and virtues which they perform
are not only valueless to them, but even become vices in them. And such
a degree of evil are some of these persons wont to reach that they
would have none appear good save themselves; and thus, in deed and
word, whenever the opportunity occurs, they condemn them and slander
them, beholding the mote in their brother’s eye and not considering the
beam which is in their own; [22] they strain at another’s gnat and
themselves swallow a camel. [23]

3. Sometimes, too, when their spiritual masters, such as confessors and
superiors, do not approve of their spirit and behavior (for they are
anxious that all they do shall be esteemed and praised), they consider
that they do not understand them, or that, because they do not approve
of this and comply with that, their confessors are themselves not
spiritual. And so they immediately desire and contrive to find some one
else who will fit in with their tastes; for as a rule they desire to
speak of spiritual matters with those who they think will praise and
esteem what they do, and they flee, as they would from death, from
those who disabuse them in order to lead them into a safe
road–sometimes they even harbour ill-will against them. Presuming
thus, [24] they are wont to resolve much and accomplish very little.
Sometimes they are anxious that others shall realize how spiritual and
devout they are, to which end they occasionally give outward evidence
thereof in movements, sighs and other ceremonies; and at times they are
apt to fall into certain ecstasies, in public rather than in secret,
wherein the devil aids them, and they are pleased that this should be
noticed, and are often eager that it should be noticed more. [25]

4. Many such persons desire to be the favourites of their confessors
and to become intimate with them, as a result of which there beset them
continual occasions of envy and disquiet. [26] They are too much
embarrassed to confess their sins nakedly, lest their confessors should
think less of them, so they palliate them and make them appear less
evil, and thus it is to excuse themselves rather than to accuse
themselves that they go to confession. And sometimes they seek another
confessor to tell the wrongs that they have done, so that their own
confessor shall think they have done nothing wrong at all, but only
good; and thus they always take pleasure in telling him what is good,
and sometimes in such terms as make it appear to be greater than it is
rather than less, desiring that he may think them to be good, when it
would be greater humility in them, as we shall say, to depreciate it,
and to desire that neither he nor anyone else should consider them of

5. Some of these beginners, too, make little of their faults, and at
other times become over-sad when they see themselves fall into them,
thinking themselves to have been saints already; and thus they become
angry and impatient with themselves, which is another imperfection.
Often they beseech God, with great yearnings, that He will take from
them their imperfections and faults, but they do this that they may
find themselves at peace, and may not be troubled by them, rather than
for God’s sake; not realizing that, if He should take their
imperfections from them, they would probably become prouder and more
presumptuous still. They dislike praising others and love to be praised
themselves; sometimes they seek out such praise. Herein they are like
the foolish virgins, who, when their lamps could not be lit, sought oil
from others. [27]

6. From these imperfections some souls go on to develop [28] many very
grave ones, which do them great harm. But some have fewer and some
more, and some, only the first motions thereof or little beyond these;
and there are hardly any such beginners who, at the time of these signs
of fervour, [29] fall not into some of these errors. [30] But those who
at this time are going on to perfection proceed very differently and
with quite another temper of spirit; for they progress by means of
humility and are greatly edified, not only thinking naught of their own
affairs, but having very little satisfaction with themselves; they
consider all others as far better, and usually have a holy envy of
them, and an eagerness to serve God as they do. For the greater is
their fervour, and the more numerous are the works that they perform,
and the greater is the pleasure that they take in them, as they
progress in humility, the more do they realize how much God deserves of
them, and how little is all that they do for His sake; and thus, the
more they do, the less are they satisfied. So much would they gladly do
from charity and love for Him, that all they do seems to them naught;
and so greatly are they importuned, occupied and absorbed by this
loving anxiety that they never notice what others do or do not; or if
they do notice it, they always believe, as I say, that all others are
far better than they themselves. Wherefore, holding themselves as of
little worth, they are anxious that others too should thus hold them,
and should despise and depreciate that which they do. And further, if
men should praise and esteem them, they can in no wise believe what
they say; it seems to them strange that anyone should say these good
things of them.

7. Together with great tranquillity and humbleness, these souls have a
deep desire to be taught by anyone who can bring them profit; they are
the complete opposite of those of whom we have spoken above, who would
fain be always teaching, and who, when others seem to be teaching them,
take the words from their mouths as if they knew them already. These
souls, on the other hand, being far from desiring to be the masters of
any, are very ready to travel and set out on another road than that
which they are actually following, if they be so commanded, because
they never think that they are right in anything whatsoever. They
rejoice when others are praised; they grieve only because they serve
not God like them. They have no desire to speak of the things that they
do, because they think so little of them that they are ashamed to speak
of them even to their spiritual masters, since they seem to them to be
things that merit not being spoken of. They are more anxious to speak
of their faults and sins, or that these should be recognized rather
than their virtues; and thus they incline to talk of their souls with
those who account their actions and their spirituality of little value.
This is a characteristic of the spirit which is simple, pure, genuine
and very pleasing to God. For as the wise Spirit of God dwells in these
humble souls, He moves them and inclines them to keep His treasures
secretly within and likewise to cast out from themselves all evil. God
gives this grace to the humble, together with the other virtues, even
as He denies it to the proud.

8. These souls will give their heart’s blood to anyone that serves God,
and will help others to serve Him as much as in them lies. The
imperfections into which they see themselves fall they bear with
humility, meekness of spirit and a loving fear of God, hoping in Him.
But souls who in the beginning journey with this kind of perfection
are, as I understand, and as has been said, a minority, and very few
are those who we can be glad do not fall into the opposite errors. For
this reason, as we shall afterwards say, God leads into the dark night
those whom He desires to purify from all these imperfections so that He
may bring them farther onward.

[21] St. Luke xviii, 11-12.

[22] St. Matthew vii, 3.

[23] St. Matthew xxiii, 24.

[24] [Lit., Presuming.’]

[25] [The original merely has: and are often eager.’]

[26] [Lit., a thousand envies and disquietudes.’]

[27] St. Matthew xxv, 8. [Lit., who, having their lamps dead, sought
oil from without.’]

[28] [Lit., to have.’]

[29] [Lit., these fervours.’]

[30] [Lit., into something of this.’]


Of some imperfections which some of these souls are apt to have,
with respect to the second capital sin, which is avarice, in the
spiritual sense.

MANY of these beginners have also at times great spiritual avarice.
They will be found to be discontented with the spirituality which God
gives them; and they are very disconsolate and querulous because they
find not in spiritual things the consolation that they would desire.
Many can never have enough of listening to counsels and learning
spiritual precepts, and of possessing and reading many books which
treat of this matter, and they spend their time on all these things
rather than on works of mortification and the perfecting of the inward
poverty of spirit which should be theirs. Furthermore, they burden
themselves with images and rosaries which are very curious; now they
put down one, now take up another; now they change about, now change
back again; now they want this kind of thing, now that, preferring one
kind of cross to another, because it is more curious. And others you
will see adorned with agnusdeis [31] and relics and tokens, [32] like
children with trinkets. Here I condemn the attachment of the heart, and
the affection which they have for the nature, multitude and curiosity
of these things, inasmuch as it is quite contrary to poverty of spirit
which considers only the substance of devotion, makes use only of what
suffices for that end and grows weary of this other kind of
multiplicity and curiosity. For true devotion must issue from the
heart, and consist in the truth and substances alone of what is
represented by spiritual things; all the rest is affection and
attachment proceeding from imperfection; and in order that one may pass
to any kind of perfection it is necessary for such desires to be

2. I knew a person who for more than ten years made use of a cross
roughly formed from a branch [33] that had been blessed, fastened with
a pin twisted round it; he had never ceased using it, and he always
carried it about with him until I took it from him; and this was a
person of no small sense and understanding. And I saw another who said
his prayers using beads that were made of bones from the spine of a
fish; his devotion was certainly no less precious on that account in
the sight of God, for it is clear that these things carried no devotion
in their workmanship or value. Those, then, who start from these
beginnings and make good progress attach themselves to no visible
instruments, nor do they burden themselves with such, nor desire to
know more than is necessary in order that they may act well; for they
set their eyes only on being right with God and on pleasing Him, and
therein consists their covetousness. And thus with great generosity
they give away all that they have, and delight to know that they have
it not, for God’s sake and for charity to their neighbour, no matter
whether these be spiritual things or temporal. For, as I say, they set
their eyes only upon the reality of interior perfection, which is to
give pleasure to God and in naught to give pleasure to themselves.

3. But neither from these imperfections nor from those others can the
soul be perfectly purified until God brings it into the passive
purgation of that dark night whereof we shall speak presently. It
befits the soul, however, to contrive to labour, in so far as it can,
on its own account, to the end that it may purge and perfect itself,
and thus may merit being taken by God into that Divine care wherein it
becomes healed of all things that it was unable of itself to cure.
Because, however greatly the soul itself labours, it cannot actively
purify itself so as to be in the least degree prepared for the Divine
union of perfection of love, if God takes not its hand and purges it
not in that dark fire, in the way and manner that we have to describe.

[31] The agnusdei was a wax medal with a representation of the lamb
stamped upon it, often blessed by the Pope; at the time of the Saint
such medals were greatly sought after, as we know from various
references in St. Teresa’s letters.

[32] [The word nomina, translated token,’ and normally meaning list, or
roll,’ refers to a relic on which were written the names of saints. In
modern Spanish it can denote a medal or amulet used superstitiously.]

[33] [No doubt a branch of palm, olive or rosemary, blessed in church
on Palm Sunday, like the English palm crosses of to-day. Palm Sunday’
is in Spanish Domingo de ramos: Branch Sunday.’]


Of other imperfections which these beginners are apt to have with
respect to the third sin, which is luxury.

MANY of these beginners have many other imperfections than those which
I am describing with respect to each of the deadly sins, but these I
set aside, in order to avoid prolixity, touching upon a few of the most
important, which are, as it were, the origin and cause of the rest. And
thus, with respect to this sin of luxury (leaving apart the falling of
spiritual persons into this sin, since my intent is to treat of the
imperfections which have to be purged by the dark night), they have
many imperfections which might be described as spiritual luxury, not
because they are so, but because the imperfections proceed from
spiritual things. For it often comes to pass that, in their very
spiritual exercises, when they are powerless to prevent it, there arise
and assert themselves in the sensual part of the soul impure acts and
motions, and sometimes this happens even when the spirit is deep in
prayer, or engaged in the Sacrament of Penance or in the Eucharist.
These things are not, as I say, in their power; they proceed from one
of three causes.

2. The first cause from which they often proceed is the pleasure which
human nature takes in spiritual things. For when the spirit and the
sense are pleased, every part of a man is moved by that pleasure [34]
to delight according to its proportion and nature. For then the spirit,
which is the higher part, is moved to pleasure [35] and delight in God;
and the sensual nature, which is the lower part, is moved to pleasure
and delight of the senses, because it cannot possess and lay hold upon
aught else, and it therefore lays hold upon that which comes nearest to
itself, which is the impure and sensual. Thus it comes to pass that the
soul is in deep prayer with God according to the spirit, and, on the
other hand, according to sense it is passively conscious, not without
great displeasure, of rebellions and motions and acts of the senses,
which often happens in Communion, for when the soul receives joy and
comfort in this act of love, because this Lord bestows it (since it is
to that end that He gives Himself), the sensual nature takes that which
is its own likewise, as we have said, after its manner. Now as, after
all, these two parts are combined in one individual, they ordinarily
both participate in that which one of them receives, each after its
manner; for, as the philosopher says, everything that is received is in
the recipient after the manner of the same recipient. And thus, in
these beginnings, and even when the soul has made some progress, its
sensual part, being imperfect, oftentimes receives the Spirit of God
with the same imperfection. Now when this sensual part is renewed by
the purgation of the dark night which we shall describe, it no longer
has these weaknesses; for it is no longer this part that receives
aught, but rather it is itself received into the Spirit. And thus it
then has everything after the manner of the Spirit.

3. The second cause whence these rebellions sometimes proceed is the
devil, who, in order to disquiet and disturb the soul, at times when it
is at prayer or is striving to pray, contrives to stir up these motions
of impurity in its nature; and if the soul gives heed to any of these,
they cause it great harm. For through fear of these not only do persons
become lax in prayer–which is the aim of the devil when he begins to
strive with them–but some give up prayer altogether, because they
think that these things attack them more during that exercise than
apart from it, which is true, since the devil attacks them then more
than at other times, so that they may give up spiritual exercises. And
not only so, but he succeeds in portraying to them very vividly things
that are most foul and impure, and at times are very closely related to
certain spiritual things and persons that are of profit to their souls,
in order to terrify them and make them fearful; so that those who are
affected by this dare not even look at anything or meditate upon
anything, because they immediately encounter this temptation. And upon
those who are inclined to melancholy this acts with such effect that
they become greatly to be pitied since they are suffering so sadly; for
this trial reaches such a point in certain persons, when they have this
evil humour, that they believe it to be clear that the devil is ever
present with them and that they have no power to prevent this, although
some of these persons can prevent his attack by dint of great effort
and labour. When these impurities attack such souls through the medium
of melancholy, they are not as a rule freed from them until they have
been cured of that kind of humour, unless the dark night has entered
the soul, and rids them of all impurities, one after another. [36]

4. The third source whence these impure motions are apt to proceed in
order to make war upon the soul is often the fear which such persons
have conceived for these impure representations and motions. Something
that they see or say or think brings them to their mind, and this makes
them afraid, so that they suffer from them through no fault of their

5. There are also certain souls of so tender and frail a nature that,
when there comes to them some spiritual consolation or some grace in
prayer, the spirit of luxury is with them immediately, inebriating and
delighting their sensual nature in such manner that it is as if they
were plunged into the enjoyment and pleasure of this sin; and the
enjoyment remains, together with the consolation, passively, and
sometimes they are able to see that certain impure and unruly acts have
taken place. The reason for this is that, since these natures are, as I
say, frail and tender, their humours are stirred up and their blood is
excited at the least disturbance. And hence come these motions; and the
same thing happens to such souls when they are enkindled with anger or
suffer any disturbance or grief. [37]

6. Sometimes, again, there arises within these spiritual persons,
whether they be speaking or performing spiritual actions, a certain
vigour and bravado, through their having regard to persons who are
present, and before these persons they display a certain kind of vain
gratification. This also arises from luxury of spirit, after the manner
wherein we here understand it, which is accompanied as a rule by
complacency in the will.

7. Some of these persons make friendships of a spiritual kind with
others, which oftentimes arise from luxury and not from spirituality;
this may be known to be the case when the remembrance of that
friendship causes not the remembrance and love of God to grow, but
occasions remorse of conscience. For, when the friendship is purely
spiritual, the love of God grows with it; and the more the soul
remembers it, the more it remembers the love of God, and the greater
the desire it has for God; so that, as the one grows, the other grows
also. For the spirit of God has this property, that it increases good
by adding to it more good, inasmuch as there is likeness and conformity
between them. But, when this love arises from the vice of sensuality
aforementioned, it produces the contrary effects; for the more the one
grows, the more the other decreases, and the remembrance of it
likewise. If that sensual love grows, it will at once be observed that
the soul’s love of God is becoming colder, and that it is forgetting
Him as it remembers that love; there comes to it, too, a certain
remorse of conscience. And, on the other hand, if the love of God grows
in the soul, that other love becomes cold and is forgotten; for, as the
two are contrary to one another, not only does the one not aid the
other, but the one which predominates quenches and confounds the other,
and becomes strengthened in itself, as the philosophers say. Wherefore
Our Saviour said in the Gospel: That which is born of the flesh is
flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’ [38] That is to
say, the love which is born of sensuality ends in sensuality, and that
which is of the spirit ends in the spirit of God and causes it to grow.
This is the difference that exists between these two kinds of love,
whereby we may know them.

8. When the soul enters the dark night, it brings these kinds of love
under control. It strengthens and purifies the one, namely that which
is according to God; and the other it removes and brings to an end; and
in the beginning it causes both to be lost sight of, as we shall say

[34] [Lit., recreation.’]

[35] [Lit., recreation.’]

[36] [Lit., of everything.’]

[37] All writers who comment upon this delicate matter go into lengthy
and learned explanations of it, though in reality there is little that
needs to be added to the Saint’s clear and apt exposition. It will be
remembered that St. Teresa once wrote to her brother Lorenzo, who
suffered in this way: As to those stirrings of sense. . . . I am quite
clear they are of no account, so the best thing is to make no account
of them’ (LL. 168). The most effective means of calming souls tormented
by these favours is to commend them to a discreet and wise director
whose counsel they may safely follow. The Illuminists committed the
grossest errors in dealing with this matter.

[38] St. John iii, 6.


Of the imperfections into which beginners fall with respect to the
sin of wrath.

BY reason of the concupiscence which many beginners have for spiritual
consolations, their experience of these consolations is very commonly
accompanied by many imperfections proceeding from the sin of wrath;
for, when their delight and pleasure in spiritual things come to an
end, they naturally become embittered, and bear that lack of sweetness
which they have to suffer with a bad grace, which affects all that they
do; and they very easily become irritated over the smallest
matter–sometimes, indeed, none can tolerate them. This frequently
happens after they have been very pleasantly recollected in prayer
according to sense; when their pleasure and delight therein come to an
end, their nature is naturally vexed and disappointed, just as is the
child when they take it from the breast of which it was enjoying the
sweetness. There is no sin in this natural vexation, when it is not
permitted to indulge itself, but only imperfection, which must be
purged by the aridity and severity of the dark night.

2. There are other of these spiritual persons, again, who fall into
another kind of spiritual wrath: this happens when they become
irritated at the sins of others, and keep watch on those others with a
sort of uneasy zeal. At times the impulse comes to them to reprove them
angrily, and occasionally they go so far as to indulge it [39] and set
themselves up as masters of virtue. All this is contrary to spiritual

3. There are others who are vexed with themselves when they observe
their own imperfectness, and display an impatience that is not
humility; so impatient are they about this that they would fain be
saints in a day. Many of these persons purpose to accomplish a great
deal and make grand resolutions; yet, as they are not humble and have
no misgivings about themselves, the more resolutions they make, the
greater is their fall and the greater their annoyance, since they have
not the patience to wait for that which God will give them when it
pleases Him; this likewise is contrary to the spiritual meekness
aforementioned, which cannot be wholly remedied save by the purgation
of the dark night. Some souls, on the other hand, are so patient as
regards the progress which they desire that God would gladly see them
less so.

[39] [Lit. they even do it.’]


Of imperfections with respect to spiritual gluttony.

WITH respect to the fourth sin, which is spiritual gluttony, there is
much to be said, for there is scarce one of these beginners who,
however satisfactory his progress, falls not into some of the many
imperfections which come to these beginners with respect to this sin,
on account of the sweetness which they find at first in spiritual
exercises. For many of these, lured by the sweetness and pleasure which
they find in such exercises, strive more after spiritual sweetness than
after spiritual purity and discretion, which is that which God regards
and accepts throughout the spiritual journey. [40] Therefore, besides
the imperfections into which the seeking for sweetness of this kind
makes them fall, the gluttony which they now have makes them
continually go to extremes, so that they pass beyond the limits of
moderation within which the virtues are acquired and wherein they have
their being. For some of these persons, attracted by the pleasure which
they find therein, kill themselves with penances, and others weaken
themselves with fasts, by performing more than their frailty can bear,
without the order or advice of any, but rather endeavouring to avoid
those whom they should obey in these matters; some, indeed, dare to do
these things even though the contrary has been commanded them.

2. These persons are most imperfect and unreasonable; for they set
bodily penance before subjection and obedience, which is penance
according to reason and discretion, and therefore a sacrifice more
acceptable and pleasing to God than any other. But such one-sided
penance is no more than the penance of beasts, to which they are
attracted, exactly like beasts, by the desire and pleasure which they
find therein. Inasmuch as all extremes are vicious, and as in behaving
thus such persons [41] are working their own will, they grow in vice
rather than in virtue; for, to say the least, they are acquiring
spiritual gluttony and pride in this way, through not walking in
obedience. And many of these the devil assails, stirring up this
gluttony in them through the pleasures and desires which he increases
within them, to such an extent that, since they can no longer help
themselves, they either change or vary or add to that which is
commanded them, as any obedience in this respect is so bitter to them.
To such an evil pass have some persons come that, simply because it is
through obedience that they engage in these exercises, they lose the
desire and devotion to perform them, their only desire and pleasure
being to do what they themselves are inclined to do, so that it would
probably be more profitable for them not to engage in these exercises
at all.

3. You will find that many of these persons are very insistent with
their spiritual masters to be granted that which they desire,
extracting it from them almost by force; if they be refused it they
become as peevish as children and go about in great displeasure,
thinking that they are not serving God when they are not allowed to do
that which they would. For they go about clinging to their own will and
pleasure, which they treat as though it came from God; [42] and
immediately their directors [43] take it from them, and try to subject
them to the will of God, they become peevish, grow faint-hearted and
fall away. These persons think that their own satisfaction and pleasure
are the satisfaction and service of God.

4. There are others, again, who, because of this gluttony, know so
little of their own unworthiness and misery and have thrust so far from
them the loving fear and reverence which they owe to the greatness of
God, that they hesitate not to insist continually that their confessors
shall allow them to communicate often. And, what is worse, they
frequently dare to communicate without the leave and consent [44] of
the minister and steward of Christ, merely acting on their own opinion,
and contriving to conceal the truth from him. And for this reason,
because they desire to communicate continually, they make their
confessions carelessly, [45] being more eager to eat than to eat
cleanly and perfectly, although it would be healthier and holier for
them had they the contrary inclination and begged their confessors not
to command them to approach the altar so frequently: between these two
extremes, however, the better way is that of humble resignation. But
the boldness referred to is [46] a thing that does great harm, and men
may fear to be punished for such temerity.

5. These persons, in communicating, strive with every nerve to obtain
some kind of sensible sweetness and pleasure, instead of humbly doing
reverence and giving praise within themselves to God. And in such wise
do they devote themselves to this that, when they have received no
pleasure or sweetness in the senses, they think that they have
accomplished nothing at all. This is to judge God very unworthily; they
have not realized that the least of the benefits which come from this
Most Holy Sacrament is that which concerns the senses; and that the
invisible part of the grace that it bestows is much greater; for, in
order that they may look at it with the eyes of faith, God oftentimes
withholds from them these other consolations and sweetnesses of sense.
And thus they desire to feel and taste God as though He were
comprehensible by them and accessible to them, not only in this, but
likewise in other spiritual practices. All this is very great
imperfection and completely opposed to the nature of God, since it is
Impurity in faith.

6. These persons have the same defect as regards the practice of
prayer, for they think that all the business of prayer consists in
experiencing sensible pleasure and devotion and they strive to obtain
this by great effort, [47] wearying and fatiguing their faculties and
their heads; and when they have not found this pleasure they become
greatly discouraged, thinking that they have accomplished nothing.
Through these efforts they lose true devotion and spirituality, which
consist in perseverance, together with patience and humility and
mistrust of themselves, that they may please God alone. For this
reason, when they have once failed to find pleasure in this or some
other exercise, they have great disinclination and repugnance to return
to it, and at times they abandon it. They are, in fact, as we have
said, like children, who are not influenced by reason, and who act, not
from rational motives, but from inclination. [48] Such persons expend
all their effort in seeking spiritual pleasure and consolation; they
never tire therefore, of reading books; and they begin, now one
meditation, now another, in their pursuit of this pleasure which they
desire to experience in the things of God. But God, very justly, wisely
and lovingly, denies it to them, for otherwise this spiritual gluttony
and inordinate appetite would breed innumerable evils. It is,
therefore, very fitting that they should enter into the dark night,
whereof we shall speak, [49] that they may be purged from this

7. These persons who are thus inclined to such pleasures have another
very great imperfection, which is that they are very weak and remiss in
journeying upon the hard [50] road of the Cross; for the soul that is
given to sweetness naturally has its face set against all self-denial,
which is devoid of sweetness. [51]

8. These persons have many other imperfections which arise hence, of
which in time the Lord heals them by means of temptations, aridities
and other trials, all of which are part of the dark night. All these I
will not treat further here, lest I become too lengthy; I will only say
that spiritual temperance and sobriety lead to another and a very
different temper, which is that of mortification, fear and submission
in all things. It thus becomes clear that the perfection and worth of
things consist not in the multitude and the pleasantness of one’s
actions, but in being able to deny oneself in them; this such persons
must endeavour to compass, in so far as they may, until God is pleased
to purify them indeed, by bringing them [52] into the dark night, to
arrive at which I am hastening on with my account of these

[40] [Lit., spiritual road.’]

[41] [Lit., these persons.’]

[42] [Lit., and treat this as their God.’]

[43] [The Spanish is impersonal: immediately this is taken from them,’

[44] [Lit., and opinion.’]

[45] [Lit., anyhow.’]

[46] [Lit, the other boldnesses are.’]

[47] [Lit., they strive to obtain this, as they say, by the strength of
their arms.’ The phrase is, of course, understood in the Spanish to be
metaphorical, as the words as they say’ clearly indicate.]

[48] [Lit., who are not influenced, neither act by reason, but from

[49] [Lit., which we shall give.’]

[50] [aspero: harsh, rough, rugged.]

[51] [Lit., against all the sweetlessness of self- denial.’]

[52] [Lit., causing them to enter.’]


Of imperfections with respect to spiritual envy and sloth.

WITH respect likewise to the other two vices, which are spiritual envy
and sloth, these beginners fail not to have many imperfections. For,
with respect to envy, many of them are wont to experience movements of
displeasure at the spiritual good of others, which cause them a certain
sensible grief at being outstripped upon this road, so that they would
prefer not to hear others praised; for they become displeased at
others’ virtues and sometimes they cannot refrain from contradicting
what is said in praise of them, depreciating it as far as they can; and
their annoyance thereat grows [53] because the same is not said of
them, for they would fain be preferred in everything. All this is clean
contrary to charity, which, as Saint Paul says, rejoices in goodness.
[54] And, if charity has any envy, it is a holy envy, comprising grief
at not having the virtues of others, yet also joy because others have
them, and delight when others outstrip us in the service of God,
wherein we ourselves are so remiss.

2. With respect also to spiritual sloth, beginners are apt to be irked
by the things that are most spiritual, from which they flee because
these things are incompatible with sensible pleasure. For, as they are
so much accustomed to sweetness in spiritual things, they are wearied
by things in which they find no sweetness. If once they failed to find
in prayer the satisfaction which their taste required (and after all it
is well that God should take it from them to prove them), they would
prefer not to return to it: sometimes they leave it; at other times
they continue it unwillingly. And thus because of this sloth they
abandon the way of perfection (which is the way of the negation of
their will and pleasure for God’s sake) for the pleasure and sweetness
of their own will, which they aim at satisfying in this way rather than
the will of God.

3. And many of these would have God will that which they themselves
will, and are fretful at having to will that which He wills, and find
it repugnant to accommodate their will to that of God. Hence it happens
to them that oftentimes they think that that wherein they find not
their own will and pleasure is not the will of God; and that, on the
other hand, when they themselves find satisfaction, God is satisfied.
Thus they measure God by themselves and not themselves by God, acting
quite contrarily to that which He Himself taught in the Gospel, saying:
That he who should lose his will for His sake, the same should gain it;
and he who should desire to gain it, the same should lose it. [55]

4. These persons likewise find it irksome when they are commanded to do
that wherein they take no pleasure. Because they aim at spiritual
sweetness and consolation, they are too weak to have the fortitude and
bear the trials of perfection. [56] They resemble those who are softly
nurtured and who run fretfully away from everything that is hard, and
take offense at the Cross, wherein consist the delights of the spirit.
The more spiritual a thing is, the more irksome they find it, for, as
they seek to go about spiritual matters with complete freedom and
according to the inclination of their will, it causes them great sorrow
and repugnance to enter upon the narrow way, which, says Christ, is the
way of life. [57]

5. Let it suffice here to have described these imperfections, among the
many to be found in the lives of those that are in this first state of
beginners, so that it may be seen how greatly they need God to set them
in the state of proficients. This He does by bringing them into the
dark night whereof we now speak; wherein He weans them from the breasts
of these sweetnesses and pleasures, gives them pure aridities and
inward darkness, takes from them all these irrelevances and
puerilities, and by very different means causes them to win the
virtues. For, however assiduously the beginner practises the
mortification in himself of all these actions and passions of his, he
can never completely succeed–very far from it–until God shall work it
in him passively by means of the purgation of the said night. Of this I
would fain speak in some way that may be profitable; may God, then, be
pleased to give me His Divine light, because this is very needful in a
night that is so dark and a matter that is so difficult to describe and
to expound.

The line, then, is:

In a dark night.

[53] [Lit., and, as they say, their eye (el ojo) grows’–a colloquial
phrase expressing annoyance.]

[54] 1 Corinthians xiii, 6. The Saint here cites the sense, not the
letter, of the epistle.

[55] St. Matthew xvi, 25.

[56] [Lit., they are very weak for the fortitude and trial of

[57] St. Matthew vii, 14.


Wherein is expounded the first line of the first stanza, and a
beginning is made of the explanation of this dark night.

THIS night, which, as we say, is contemplation, produces in spiritual
persons two kinds of darkness or purgation, corresponding to the two
parts of man’s nature–namely, the sensual and the spiritual. And thus
the one night or purgation will be sensual, wherein the soul is purged
according to sense, which is subdued to the spirit; and the other is a
night or purgation which is spiritual, wherein the soul is purged and
stripped according to the spirit, and subdued and made ready for the
union of love with God. The night of sense is common and comes to many:
these are the beginners; and of this night we shall speak first. The
night of the spirit is the portion of very few, and these are they that
are already practised and proficient, of whom we shall treat hereafter.

2. The first purgation or night is bitter and terrible to sense, as we
shall now show. [58] The second bears no comparison with it, for it is
horrible and awful to the spirit, as we shall show [59] presently.
Since the night of sense is first in order and comes first, we shall
first of all say something about it briefly, since more is written of
it, as of a thing that is more common; and we shall pass on to treat
more fully of the spiritual night, since very little has been said of
this, either in speech [60] or in writing, and very little is known of
it, even by experience.

3. Since, then, the conduct of these beginners upon the way of God is
ignoble, [61] and has much to do with their love of self and their own
inclinations, as has been explained above, God desires to lead them
farther. He seeks to bring them out of that ignoble kind of love to a
higher degree of love for Him, to free them from the ignoble exercises
of sense and meditation (wherewith, as we have said, they go seeking
God so unworthily and in so many ways that are unbefitting), and to
lead them to a kind of spiritual exercise wherein they can commune with
Him more abundantly and are freed more completely from imperfections.
For they have now had practice for some time in the way of virtue and
have persevered in meditation and prayer, whereby, through the
sweetness and pleasure that they have found therein, they have lost
their love of the things of the world and have gained some degree of
spiritual strength in God; this has enabled them to some extent to
refrain from creature desires, so that for God’s sake they are now able
to suffer a light burden and a little aridity without turning back to a
time [62] which they found more pleasant. When they are going about
these spiritual exercises with the greatest delight and pleasure, and
when they believe that the sun of Divine favour is shining most
brightly upon them, God turns all this light of theirs into darkness,
and shuts against them the door and the source of the sweet spiritual
water which they were tasting in God whensoever and for as long as they
desired. (For, as they were weak and tender, there was no door closed
to them, as Saint John says in the Apocalypse, iii, 8). And thus He
leaves them so completely in the dark that they know not whither to go
with their sensible imagination and meditation; for they cannot advance
a step in meditation, as they were wont to do afore time, their inward
senses being submerged in this night, and left with such dryness that
not only do they experience no pleasure and consolation in the
spiritual things and good exercises wherein they were wont to find
their delights and pleasures, but instead, on the contrary, they find
insipidity and bitterness in the said things. For, as I have said, God
now sees that they have grown a little, and are becoming strong enough
to lay aside their swaddling clothes and be taken from the gentle
breast; so He sets them down from His arms and teaches them to walk on
their own feet; which they feel to be very strange, for everything
seems to be going wrong with them.

4. To recollected persons this commonly happens sooner after their
beginnings than to others, inasmuch as they are freer from occasions of
backsliding, and their desires turn more quickly from the things of the
world, which is necessary if they are to begin to enter this blessed
night of sense. Ordinarily no great time passes after their beginnings
before they begin to enter this night of sense; and the great majority
of them do in fact enter it, for they will generally be seen to fall
into these aridities.

5. With regard to this way of purgation of the senses, since it is so
common, we might here adduce a great number of quotations from Divine
Scripture, where many passages relating to it are continually found,
particularly in the Psalms and the Prophets. However, I do not wish to
spend time upon these, for he who knows not how to look for them there
will find the common experience of this purgation to be sufficient.

[58] [Lit., ‘say.’]

[59] [Lit., ‘say.’]

[60] [platica: the word is frequently used in Spanish to denote an
informal sermon or address.]

[61] [Lit., low’; the same word recurs below and is similarly

[62] [Lit., to the better time.’]


Of the signs by which it will be known that the spiritual person is
walking along the way of this night and purgation of sense.

BUT since these aridities might frequently proceed, not from the night
and purgation of the sensual desires aforementioned, but from sins and
imperfections, or from weakness and lukewarmness, or from some bad
humour or indisposition of the body, I shall here set down certain
signs by which it may be known if such aridity proceeds from the
aforementioned purgation, or if it arises from any of the
aforementioned sins. For the making of this distinction I find that
there are three principal signs.

2. The first is whether, when a soul finds no pleasure or consolation
in the things of God, it also fails to find it in any thing created;
for, as God sets the soul in this dark night to the end that He may
quench and purge its sensual desire, He allows it not to find
attraction or sweetness in anything whatsoever. In such a case it may
be considered very probable [63] that this aridity and insipidity
proceed not from recently committed sins or imperfections. For, if this
were so, the soul would feel in its nature some inclination or desire
to taste other things than those of God; since, whenever the desire is
allowed indulgence in any imperfection, it immediately feels inclined
thereto, whether little or much, in proportion to the pleasure and the
love that it has put into it. Since, however, this lack of enjoyment in
things above or below might proceed from some indisposition or
melancholy humour, which oftentimes makes it impossible for the soul to
take pleasure in anything, it becomes necessary to apply the second
sign and condition.

3. The second sign whereby a man may believe himself to be experiencing
the said purgation is that the memory is ordinarily centred upon God,
with painful care and solicitude, thinking that it is not serving God,
but is backsliding, because it finds itself without sweetness in the
things of God. And in such a case it is evident that this lack of
sweetness and this aridity come not from weakness and lukewarmness; for
it is the nature of lukewarmness not to care greatly or to have any
inward solicitude for the things of God. There is thus a great
difference between aridity and lukewarmness, for lukewarmness consists
in great weakness and remissness in the will and in the spirit, without
solicitude as to serving God; whereas purgative aridity is ordinarily
accompanied by solicitude, with care and grief as I say, because the
soul is not serving God. And, although this may sometimes be increased
by melancholy or some other humour (as it frequently is), it fails not
for that reason to produce a purgative effect upon the desire, since
the desire is deprived of all pleasure and has its care centred upon
God alone. For, when mere humour is the cause, it spends itself in
displeasure and ruin of the physical nature, and there are none of
those desires to sense God which belong to purgative aridity. When the
cause is aridity, it is true that the sensual part of the soul has
fallen low, and is weak and feeble in its actions, by reason of the
little pleasure which it finds in them; but the spirit, on the other
hand, is ready and strong.

4. For the cause of this aridity is that God transfers to the spirit
the good things and the strength of the senses, which, since the soul’s
natural strength and senses are incapable of using them, remain barren,
dry and empty. For the sensual part of a man has no capacity for that
which is pure spirit, and thus, when it is the spirit that receives the
pleasure, the flesh is left without savour and is too weak to perform
any action. But the spirit, which all the time is being fed, goes
forward in strength, and with more alertness and solicitude than
before, in its anxiety not to fail God; and if it is not immediately
conscious of spiritual sweetness and delight, but only of aridity and
lack of sweetness, the reason for this is the strangeness of the
exchange; for its palate has been accustomed to those other sensual
pleasures upon which its eyes are still fixed, and, since the spiritual
palate is not made ready or purged for such subtle pleasure, until it
finds itself becoming prepared for it by means of this arid and dark
night, it cannot experience spiritual pleasure and good, but only
aridity and lack of sweetness, since it misses the pleasure which
aforetime it enjoyed so readily.

5. These souls whom God is beginning to lead through these solitary
places of the wilderness are like to the children of Israel, to whom in
the wilderness God began to give food from Heaven, containing within
itself all sweetness, and, as is there said, it turned to the savour
which each one of them desired. But withal the children of Israel felt
the lack of the pleasures and delights of the flesh and the onions
which they had eaten aforetime in Egypt, the more so because their
palate was accustomed to these and took delight in them, rather than in
the delicate sweetness of the angelic manna; and they wept and sighed
for the fleshpots even in the midst of the food of Heaven. [64] To such
depths does the vileness of our desires descend that it makes us to
long for our own wretched food [65] and to be nauseated by the
indescribable [66] blessings of Heaven.

6. But, as I say, when these aridities proceed from the way of the
purgation of sensual desire, although at first the spirit feels no
sweetness, for the reasons that we have just given, it feels that it is
deriving strength and energy to act from the substance which this
inward food gives it, the which food is the beginning of a
contemplation that is dark and arid to the senses; which contemplation
is secret and hidden from the very person that experiences it; and
ordinarily, together with the aridity and emptiness which it causes in
the senses, it gives the soul an inclination and desire to be alone and
in quietness, without being able to think of any particular thing or
having the desire to do so. If those souls to whom this comes to pass
knew how to be quiet at this time, and troubled not about performing
any kind of action, whether inward or outward, neither had any anxiety
about doing anything, then they would delicately experience this inward
refreshment in that ease and freedom from care. So delicate is this
refreshment that ordinarily, if a man have desire or care to experience
it, he experiences it not; for, as I say, it does its work when the
soul is most at ease and freest from care; it is like the air which, if
one would close one’s hand upon it, escapes.

7. In this sense we may understand that which the Spouse said to the
Bride in the Songs, namely: Withdraw thine eyes from me, for they make
me to soar aloft.’ [67] For in such a way does God bring the soul into
this state, and by so different a path does He lead it that, if it
desires to work with its faculties, it hinders the work which God is
doing in it rather than aids it; whereas aforetime it was quite the
contrary. The reason is that, in this state of contemplation, which the
soul enters when it forsakes meditation for the state of the
proficient, it is God Who is now working in the soul; He binds its
interior faculties, and allows it not to cling to the understanding,
nor to have delight in the will, nor to reason with the memory. For
anything that the soul can do of its own accord at this time serves
only, as we have said, to hinder inward peace and the work which God is
accomplishing in the spirit by means of that aridity of sense. And this
peace, being spiritual and delicate, performs a work which is quiet and
delicate, solitary, productive of peace and satisfaction [68] and far
removed from all those earlier pleasures, which were very palpable and
sensual. This is the peace which, says David, God speaks in the soul to
the end that He may make it spiritual. [69] And this leads us to the
third point.

8. The third sign whereby this purgation of sense may be recognized is
that the soul can no longer meditate or reflect in the imaginative
sphere of sense as it was wont, however much it may of itself endeavour
to do so. For God now begins to communicate Himself to it, no longer
through sense, as He did aforetime, by means of reflections which
joined and sundered its knowledge, but by pure spirit, into which
consecutive reflections enter not; but He communicates Himself to it by
an act of simple contemplation, to which neither the exterior nor the
interior senses of the lower part of the soul can attain. From this
time forward, therefore, imagination and fancy can find no support in
any meditation, and can gain no foothold by means thereof.

9. With regard to this third sign, it is to be understood that this
embarrassment and dissatisfaction of the faculties proceed not from
indisposition, for, when this is the case, and the indisposition, which
never lasts for long, [70] comes to an end, the soul is able once
again, by taking some trouble about the matter, to do what it did
before, and the faculties find their wonted support. But in the
purgation of the desire this is not so: when once the soul begins to
enter therein, its inability to reflect with the faculties grows ever
greater. For, although it is true that at first, and with some persons,
the process is not as continuous as this, so that occasionally they
fail to abandon their pleasures and reflections of sense (for perchance
by reason of their weakness it was not fitting to wean them from these
immediately), yet this inability grows within them more and more and
brings the workings of sense to an end, if indeed they are to make
progress, for those who walk not in the way of contemplation act very
differently. For this night of aridities is not usually continuous in
their senses. At times they have these aridities; at others they have
them not. At times they cannot meditate; at others they can. For God
sets them in this night only to prove them and to humble them, and to
reform their desires, so that they go not nurturing in themselves a
sinful gluttony in spiritual things. He sets them not there in order to
lead them in the way of the spirit, which is this contemplation; for
not all those who walk of set purpose in the way of the spirit are
brought by God to contemplation, nor even the half of them–why, He
best knows. And this is why He never completely weans the senses of
such persons from the breasts of meditations and reflections, but only
for short periods and at certain seasons, as we have said.

[63] [Lit., And in this it is known very probably.’]

[64] Numbers xi, 5-6.

[65] [Lit., makes us to desire our miseries.’]

[66] [Lit., incommunicable.’]

[67] Canticles vi, 4 [A.V., vi, 5].

[68] [Lit., ‘satisfactory and pacific.’]

[69] Psalm lxxxiv, 9 [A.V., lxxxv, 8].

[70] [The stress here is evidently on the transience of the distempers
whether they be moral or physical.]


Of the way in which these souls are to conduct themselves in this
dark night.

DURING the time, then, of the aridities of this night of sense (wherein
God effects the change of which we have spoken above, drawing forth the
soul from the life of sense into that of the spirit–that is, from
meditation to contemplation–wherein it no longer has any power to work
or to reason with its faculties concerning the things of God, as has
been said), spiritual persons suffer great trials, by reason not so
much of the aridities which they suffer, as of the fear which they have
of being lost on the road, thinking that all spiritual blessing is over
for them and that God has abandoned them since they find no help or
pleasure in good things. Then they grow weary, and endeavour (as they
have been accustomed to do) to concentrate their faculties with some
degree of pleasure upon some object of meditation, thinking that, when
they are not doing this and yet are conscious of making an effort, they
are doing nothing. This effort they make not without great inward
repugnance and unwillingness on the part of their soul, which was
taking pleasure in being in that quietness and ease, instead of working
with its faculties. So they have abandoned the one pursuit, [71] yet
draw no profit from the other; for, by seeking what is prompted by
their own spirit, [72] they lose the spirit of tranquillity and peace
which they had before. And thus they are like to one who abandons what
he has done in order to do it over again, or to one who leaves a city
only to re-enter it, or to one who is hunting and lets his prey go in
order to hunt it once more. This is useless here, for the soul will
gain nothing further by conducting itself in this way, as has been

2. These souls turn back at such a time if there is none who
understands them; they abandon the road or lose courage; or, at the
least, they are hindered from going farther by the great trouble which
they take in advancing along the road of meditation and reasoning. Thus
they fatigue and overwork their nature, imagining that they are failing
through negligence or sin. But this trouble that they are taking is
quite useless, for God is now leading them by another road, which is
that of contemplation, and is very different from the first; for the
one is of meditation and reasoning, and the other belongs neither to
imagination nor yet to reasoning.

3. It is well for those who find themselves in this condition to take
comfort, to persevere in patience and to be in no wise afflicted. Let
them trust in God, Who abandons not those that seek Him with a simple
and right heart, and will not fail to give them what is needful for the
road, until He bring them into the clear and pure light of love. This
last He will give them by means of that other dark night, that of the
spirit, if they merit His bringing them thereto.

4. The way in which they are to conduct themselves in this night of
sense is to devote themselves not at all to reasoning and meditation,
since this is not the time for it, but to allow the soul to remain in
peace and quietness, although it may seem clear to them that they are
doing nothing and are wasting their time, and although it may appear to
them that it is because of their weakness that they have no desire in
that state to think of anything. The truth is that they will be doing
quite sufficient if they have patience and persevere in prayer without
making any effort. [73] What they must do is merely to leave the soul
free and disencumbered and at rest from all knowledge and thought,
troubling not themselves, in that state, about what they shall think or
meditate upon, but contenting themselves with merely a peaceful and
loving attentiveness toward God, and in being without anxiety, without
the ability and without desired to have experience of Him or to
perceive Him. For all these yearnings disquiet and distract the soul
from the peaceful quiet and sweet ease of contemplation which is here
granted to it.

5. And although further scruples may come to them–that they are
wasting their time, and that it would be well for them to do something
else, because they can neither do nor think anything in prayer–let
them suffer these scruples and remain in peace, as there is no question
save of their being at ease and having freedom of spirit. For if such a
soul should desire to make any effort of its own with its interior
faculties, this means that it will hinder and lose the blessings which,
by means of that peace and ease of the soul, God is instilling into it
and impressing upon it. It is just as if some painter were painting or
dyeing a face; if the sitter were to move because he desired to do
something, he would prevent the painter from accomplishing anything and
would disturb him in what he was doing. And thus, when the soul desires
to remain in inward ease and peace, any operation and affection or
attentions wherein it may then seek to indulge [74] will distract it
and disquiet it and make it conscious of aridity and emptiness of
sense. For the more a soul endeavours to find support in affection and
knowledge, the more will it feel the lack of these, which cannot now be
supplied to it upon that road.

6. Wherefore it behoves such a soul to pay no heed if the operations of
its faculties become lost to it; it is rather to desire that this
should happen quickly. For, by not hindering the operation of infused
contemplation that God is bestowing upon it, it can receive this with
more peaceful abundance, and cause its spirit to be enkindled and to
burn with the love which this dark and secret contemplation brings with
it and sets firmly in the soul. For contemplation is naught else than a
secret, peaceful and loving infusion from God, which, if it be
permitted, enkindles the soul with the spirit of love, according as the
soul declares in the next lines, namely:

Kindled in love with yearnings.

[71] [Lit., spoiling themselves in the one.’]

[72] [Lit., because they seek their spirit.’]

[73] [Lit., without doing anything themselves.’]

[74] [Lit., which it may then wish to have.’]


Wherein are expounded the three lines of the stanza.

THIS enkindling of love is not as a rule felt at the first, because it
has not begun to take hold upon the soul, by reason of the impurity of
human nature, or because the soul has not understood its own state, as
we have said, and has therefore given it no peaceful abiding-place
within itself. Yet sometimes, nevertheless, there soon begins to make
itself felt a certain yearning toward God; and the more this increases,
the more is the soul affectioned and enkindled in love toward God,
without knowing or understanding how and whence this love and affection
come to it, but from time to time seeing this flame and this enkindling
grow so greatly within it that it desires God with yearning of love;
even as David, when he was in this dark night, said of himself in these
words, [75] namely: Because my heart was enkindled (that is to say, in
love of contemplation), my reins also were changed’: that is, my
desires for sensual affections were changed, namely from the way of
sense to the way of the spirit, which is the aridity and cessation from
all these things whereof we are speaking. And I, he says, was dissolved
in nothing and annihilated, and I knew not; for, as we have said,
without knowing the way whereby it goes, the soul finds itself
annihilated with respect to all things above and below which were
accustomed to please it; and it finds itself enamoured, without knowing
how. And because at times the enkindling of love in the spirit grows
greater, the yearnings for God become so great in the soul that the
very bones seem to be dried up by this thirst, and the natural powers
to be fading away, and their warmth and strength to be perishing
through the intensity [76] of the thirst of love, for the soul feels
that this thirst of love is a living thirst. This thirst David had and
felt, when he said: My soul thirsted for the living God.’ [77] Which is
as much as to say: A living thirst was that of my soul. Of this thirst,
since it is living, we may say that it kills. But it is to be noted
that the vehemence of this thirst is not continuous, but occasional
although as a rule the soul is accustomed to feel it to a certain

2. But it must be noted that, as I began to say just now, this love is
not as a rule felt at first, but only the dryness and emptiness are
felt whereof we are speaking. Then in place of this love which
afterwards becomes gradually enkindled, what the soul experiences in
the midst of these aridities and emptinesses of the faculties is an
habitual care and solicitude with respect to God, together with grief
and fear that it is not serving Him. But it is a sacrifice which is not
a little pleasing to God that the soul should go about afflicted and
solicitous for His love. This solicitude and care leads the soul into
that secret contemplation, until, the senses (that is, the sensual
part) having in course of time been in some degree purged of the
natural affections and powers by means of the aridities which it causes
within them, this Divine love begins to be enkindled in the spirit.
Meanwhile, however, like one who has begun a cure, the soul knows only
suffering in this dark and arid purgation of the desire; by this means
it becomes healed of many imperfections, and exercises itself in many
virtues in order to make itself meet for the said love, as we shall now
say with respect to the line following:

Oh, happy chance!

3. When God leads the soul into this night of sense in order to purge
the sense of its lower part and to subdue it, unite it and bring it
into conformity with the spirit, by setting it in darkness and causing
it to cease from meditation (as He afterwards does in order to purify
the spirit to unite it with God, as we shall afterwards say), He brings
it into the night of the spirit, and (although it appears not so to it)
the soul gains so many benefits that it holds it to be a happy chance
to have escaped from the bonds and restrictions of the senses of or its
lower self, by means of this night aforesaid; and utters the present
line, namely: Oh, happy chance! With respect to this, it behoves us
here to note the benefits which the soul finds in this night, and
because of which it considers it a happy chance to have passed through
it; all of which benefits the soul includes in the next line, namely:

I went forth without being observed.

4. This going forth is understood of the subjection to its sensual part
which the soul suffered when it sought God through operations so weak,
so limited and so defective as are those of this lower part; for at
every step it stumbled into numerous imperfections and ignorances, as
we have noted above in writing of the seven capital sins. From all
these it is freed when this night quenches within it all pleasures,
whether from above or from below, and makes all meditation darkness to
it, and grants it other innumerable blessings in the acquirement of the
virtues, as we shall now show. For it will be a matter of great
pleasure and great consolation, to one that journeys on this road, to
see how that which seems to the soul so severe and adverse, and so
contrary to spiritual pleasure, works in it so many blessings. These,
as we say, are gained when the soul goes forth, as regards its
affection and operation, by means of this night, from all created
things, and when it journeys to eternal things, which is great
happiness and good fortune: [78] first, because of the great blessing
which is in the quenching of the desire and affection with respect to
all things; secondly, because they are very few that endure and
persevere in entering by this strait gate and by the narrow way which
leads to life, as says Our Saviour. [79] The strait gate is this night
of sense, and the soul detaches itself from sense and strips itself
thereof that it may enter by this gate, and establishes itself in
faith, which is a stranger to all sense, so that afterwards it may
journey by the narrow way, which is the other night–that of the
spirit–and this the soul afterwards enters in order in journey to God
in pure faith, which is the means whereby the soul is united to God. By
this road, since it is so narrow, dark and terrible (though there is no
comparison between this night of sense and that other, in its darkness
and trials, as we shall say later), they are far fewer that journey,
but its benefits are far greater without comparison than those of this
present night. Of these benefits we shall now begin to say something,
with such brevity as is possible, in order that we may pass to the
other night.

[75] Psalm lxxii, 21 [A.V., lxxiii, 21-2].

[76] [Lit., livingness’: cf. the quotation below.]

[77] Psalm xli, 3 [A.V., xlii, 2].

[78] [Lit., and chance’: the same word as in the verse-line above.]

[79] St. Matthew vii, 14.


Of the benefits which this night causes in the soul.

THIS night and purgation of the desire, a happy one for the soul, works
in it so many blessings and benefits (although to the soul, as we have
said, it rather seems that blessings are being taken away from it)
that, even as Abraham made a great feast when he weaned his son Isaac,
[80] even so is there joy in Heaven because God is now taking this soul
from its swaddling clothes, setting it down from His arms, making it to
walk upon its feet, and likewise taking from it the milk of the breast
and the soft and sweet food proper to children, and making it to eat
bread with crust, and to begin to enjoy the food of robust persons.
This food, in these aridities and this darkness of sense, is now given
to the spirit, which is dry and emptied of all the sweetness of sense.
And this food is the infused contemplation whereof we have spoken.

2. This is the first and principal benefit caused by this arid and dark
night of contemplation: the knowledge of oneself and of one’s misery.
For, besides the fact that all the favours which God grants to the soul
are habitually granted to them enwrapped in this knowledge, these
aridities and this emptiness of the faculties, compared with the
abundance which the soul experienced aforetime and the difficulty which
it finds in good works, make it recognize its own lowliness and misery,
which in the time of its prosperity it was unable to see. Of this there
is a good illustration in the Book of Exodus, where God, wishing to
humble the children of Israel and desiring that they should know
themselves, commanded them to take away and strip off the festal
garments and adornments wherewith they were accustomed to adorn
themselves in the Wilderness, saying: Now from henceforth strip
yourselves of festal ornaments and put on everyday working dress, that
ye may know what treatment ye deserve.’ [81] This is as though He had
said: Inasmuch as the attire that ye wear, being proper to festival and
rejoicing, causes you to feel less humble concerning yourselves than ye
should, put off from you this attire, in order that henceforth, seeing
yourselves clothed with vileness, ye may know that ye merit no more,
and may know who ye are. Wherefore the soul knows the truth that it
knew not at first, concerning its own misery; for, at the time when it
was clad as for a festival and found in God much pleasure, consolation
and support, it was somewhat more satisfied and contented, since it
thought itself to some extent to be serving God. It is true that such
souls may not have this idea explicitly in their minds; but some
suggestion of it at least is implanted in them by the satisfaction
which they find in their pleasant experiences. But, now that the soul
has put on its other and working attire–that of aridity and
abandonment–and now that its first lights have turned into darkness,
it possesses these lights more truly in this virtue of self-knowledge,
which is so excellent and so necessary, considering itself now as
nothing and experiencing no satisfaction in itself; for it sees that it
does nothing of itself neither can do anything. And the smallness of
this self-satisfaction, together with the soul’s affliction at not
serving God, is considered and esteemed by God as greater than all the
consolations which the soul formerly experienced and the works which it
wrought, however great they were, inasmuch as they were the occasion of
many imperfections and ignorances. And from this attire of aridity
proceed, as from their fount and source of self-knowledge, not only the
things which we have described already, but also the benefits which we
shall now describe and many more which will have to be omitted.

3. In the first place, the soul learns to commune with God with more
respect and more courtesy, such as a soul must ever observe in converse
with the Most High. These it knew not in its prosperous times of
comfort and consolation, for that comforting favour which it
experienced made its craving for God somewhat bolder than was fitting,
and discourteous and ill-considered. Even so did it happen to Moses,
when he perceived that God was speaking to him; blinded by that
pleasure and desire, without further consideration, he would have made
bold to go to Him if God had not commanded him to stay and put off his
shoes. By this incident we are shown the respect and discretion in
detachment of desire wherewith a man is to commune with God. When Moses
had obeyed in this matter, he became so discreet and so attentive that
the Scripture says that not only did he not make bold to draw near to
God, but that he dared not even look at Him. For, having taken off the
shoes of his desires and pleasures, he became very conscious of his
wretchedness in the sight of God, as befitted one about to hear the
word of God. Even so likewise the preparation which God granted to Job
in order that he might speak with Him consisted not in those delights
and glories which Job himself reports that he was wont to have in his
God, but in leaving him naked upon a dung-hill, [82] abandoned and even
persecuted by his friends, filled with anguish and bitterness, and the
earth covered with worms. And then the Most High God, He that lifts up
the poor man from the dunghill, was pleased to come down and speak with
him there face to face, revealing to him the depths and heights [83] of
His wisdom, in a way that He had never done in the time of his

4. And here we must note another excellent benefit which there is in
this night and aridity of the desire of sense, since we have had
occasion to speak of it. It is that, in this dark night of the desire
(to the end that the words of the Prophet may be fulfilled, namely: Thy
light shall shine in the darkness’ [84] ), God will enlighten the soul,
giving it knowledge, not only of its lowliness and wretchedness, as we
have said, but likewise of the greatness and excellence of God. For, as
well as quenching the desires and pleasures and attachments of sense,
He cleanses and frees the understanding that it may understand the
truth; for pleasure of sense and desire, even though it be for
spiritual things, darkens and obstructs the spirit, and furthermore
that straitness and aridity of sense enlightens and quickens the
understanding, as says Isaias. [85] Vexation makes us to understand how
the soul that is empty and disencumbered, as is necessary for His
Divine influence, is instructed supernaturally by God in His Divine
wisdom, through this dark and arid night of contemplation, [86] as we
have said; and this instruction God gave not in those first sweetnesses
and joys.

5. This is very well explained by the same prophet Isaias, where he
says: Whom shall God teach His knowledge, and whom shall He make to
understand the hearing?’ To those, He says, that are weaned from the
milk and drawn away from the breasts. [87] Here it is shown that the
first milk of spiritual sweetness is no preparation for this Divine
influence, neither is there preparation in attachment to the breast of
delectable meditations, belonging to the faculties of sense, which gave
the soul pleasure; such preparation consists rather in the lack of the
one and withdrawal from the other. Inasmuch as, in order to listen to
God, the soul needs to stand upright and to be detached, with regard to
affection and sense, even as the Prophet says concerning himself, in
these words: I will stand upon my watch (this is that detachment of
desire) and I will make firm my step (that is, I will not meditate with
sense), in order to contemplate (that is, in order to understand that
which may come to me from God). [88] So we have now arrived at this,
that from this arid night there first of all comes self-knowledge,
whence, as from a foundation, rises this other knowledge of God. For
which cause Saint Augustine said to God: Let me know myself, Lord, and
I shall know Thee.’ [89] For, as the philosophers say, one extreme can
be well known by another.

6. And in order to prove more completely how efficacious is this night
of sense, with its aridity and its desolation, in bringing the soul
that light which, as we say, it receives there from God, we shall quote
that passage of David, wherein he clearly describes the great power
which is in this night for bringing the soul this lofty knowledge of
God. He says, then, thus: In the desert land, waterless, dry and
pathless, I appeared before Thee, that I might see Thy virtue and Thy
glory.’ [90] It is a wondrous thing that David should say here that the
means and the preparation for his knowledge of the glory of God were
not the spiritual delights and the many pleasures which he had
experienced, but the aridities and detachments of his sensual nature,
which is here to be understood by the dry and desert land. No less
wondrous is it that he should describe as the road to his perception
and vision of the virtue of God, not the Divine meditations and
conceptions of which he had often made use, but his being unable to
form any conception of God or to walk by meditation produced by
imaginary consideration, which is here to be understood by the pathless
land. So that the means to a knowledge of God and of oneself is this
dark night with its aridities and voids, although it leads not to a
knowledge of Him of the same plenitude and abundance that comes from
the other night of the spirit, since this is only, as it were, the
beginning of that other.

7. Likewise, from the aridities and voids of this night of the desire,
the soul draws spiritual humility, which is the contrary virtue to the
first capital sin, which, as we said, is spiritual pride. Through this
humility, which is acquired by the said knowledge of self, the soul is
purged from all those imperfections whereinto it fell with respect to
that sin of pride, in the time of its prosperity. For it sees itself so
dry and miserable that the idea never even occurs to it that it is
making better progress than others, or outstripping them, as it
believed itself to be doing before. On the contrary, it recognizes that
others are making better progress than itself.

8. And hence arises the love of its neighbours, for it esteems them,
and judges them not as it was wont to do aforetime, when it saw that
itself had great fervour and others not so. It is aware only of its own
wretchedness, which it keeps before its eyes to such an extent that it
never forgets it, nor takes occasion to set its eyes on anyone else.
This was described wonderfully by David, when he was in this night, in
these words: I was dumb and was humbled and kept silence from good
things and my sorrow was renewed.’ [91] This he says because it seemed
to him that the good that was in his soul had so completely departed
that not only did he neither speak nor find any language concerning it,
but with respect to the good of others he was likewise dumb because of
his grief at the knowledge of his misery.

9. In this condition, again, souls become submissive and obedient upon
the spiritual road, for, when they see their own misery, not only do
they hear what is taught them, but they even desire that anyone soever
may set them on the way and tell them what they ought to do. The
affective presumption which they sometimes had in their prosperity is
taken from them; and finally, there are swept away from them on this
road all the other imperfections which we noted above with respect to
this first sin, which is spiritual pride.

[80] Genesis xxi, 8.

[81] Exodus xxxiii, 5.

[82] [Job ii, 7-8].

[83] [Lit., the deep heights.’]

[84] Isaias lviii, 10.

[85] Isaias xxviii, 19. [The author omits the actual text.]

[86] To translate this passage at all, we must read the Dios como of P.
Silverio (p. 403, 1. 20), which is also found in P. Gerardo and
elsewhere, as como Dios.

[87] Isaias xxviii, 9.

[88] Habacuc ii, 1.

[89] St. Augustine: Soliloq., Cap. ii.

[90] Psalm lxii, 3 [A.V., lxiii, 1-2].

[91] Psalm xxxviii, 3 [A.V., xxxix, 2].


Of other benefits which this night of sense causes in the soul.

WITH respect to the soul’s imperfections of spiritual avarice, because
of which it coveted this and that spiritual thing and found no
satisfaction in this and that exercise by reason of its covetousness
for the desire and pleasure which it found therein, this arid and dark
night has now greatly reformed it. For, as it finds not the pleasure
and sweetness which it was wont to find, but rather finds affliction
and lack of sweetness, it has such moderate recourse to them that it
might possibly now lose, through defective use, what aforetime it lost
through excess; although as a rule God gives to those whom He leads
into this night humility and readiness, albeit with lack of sweetness,
so that what is commanded them they may do for God’s sake alone; and
thus they no longer seek profit in many things because they find no
pleasure in them.

2. With respect to spiritual luxury, it is likewise clearly seen that,
through this aridity and lack of sensible sweetness which the soul
finds in spiritual things, it is freed from those impurities which we
there noted; for we said that, as a rule, they proceeded from the
pleasure which overflowed from spirit into sense.

3. But with regard to the imperfections from which the soul frees
itself in this dark night with respect to the fourth sin, which is
spiritual gluttony, they may be found above, though they have not all
been described there, because they are innumerable; and thus I will not
detail them here, for I would fain make an end of this night in order
to pass to the next, concerning which we shall have to pronounce grave
words and instructions. Let it suffice for the understanding of the
innumerable benefits which, over and above those mentioned, the soul
gains in this night with respect to this sin of spiritual gluttony, to
say that it frees itself from all those imperfections which have there
been described, and from many other and greater evils, and vile
abominations which are not written above, into which fell many of whom
we have had experience, because they had not reformed their desire as
concerning this inordinate love of spiritual sweetness. For in this
arid and dark night wherein He sets the soul, God has restrained its
concupiscence and curbed its desire so that the soul cannot feed upon
any pleasure or sweetness of sense, whether from above or from below;
and this He continues to do after such manner that the soul is
subjected, reformed and repressed with respect to concupiscence and
desire. It loses the strength of its passions and concupiscence and it
becomes sterile, because it no longer consults its likings. Just as,
when none is accustomed to take milk from the breast, the courses of
the milk are dried up, so the desires of the soul are dried up. And
besides these things there follow admirable benefits from this
spiritual sobriety, for, when desire and concupiscence are quenched,
the soul lives in spiritual tranquillity and peace; for, where desire
and concupiscence reign not, there is no disturbance, but peace and
consolation of God.

4. From this there arises another and a second benefit, which is that
the soul habitually has remembrance of God, with fear and dread of
backsliding upon the spiritual road, as has been said. This is a great
benefit, and not one of the least that results from this aridity and
purgation of the desire, for the soul is purified and cleansed of the
imperfections that were clinging to it because of the desires and
affections, which of their own accord deaden and darken the soul.

5. There is another very great benefit for the soul in this night,
which is that it practices several virtues together, as, for example,
patience and longsuffering, which are often called upon in these times
of emptiness and aridity, when the soul endures and perseveres in its
spiritual exercises without consolation and without pleasure. It
practises the charity of God, since it is not now moved by the pleasure
of attraction and sweetness which it finds in its work, but only by
God. It likewise practises here the virtue of fortitude, because, in
these difficulties and insipidities which it finds in its work, it
brings strength out of weakness and thus becomes strong. All the
virtues, in short–the theological and also the cardinal and
moral–both in body and in spirit, are practised by the soul in these
times of aridity.

6. And that in this night the soul obtains these four benefits which we
have here described (namely, delight of peace, habitual remembrance and
thought of God, cleanness and purity of soul and the practice of the
virtues which we have just described), David tells us, having
experienced it himself when he was in this night, in these words: My
soul refused consolations, I had remembrance of God, I found
consolation and was exercised and my spirit failed.’ [92] And he then
says: And I meditated by night with my heart and was exercised, and I
swept and purified my spirit’–that is to say, from all the affections.

7. With respect to the imperfections of the other three spiritual sins
which we have described above, which are wrath, envy and sloth, the
soul is purged hereof likewise in this aridity of the desire and
acquires the virtues opposed to them; for, softened and humbled by
these aridities and hardships and other temptations and trials wherein
God exercises it during this night, it becomes meek with respect to
God, and to itself, and likewise with respect to its neighbour. So that
it is no longer disturbed and angry with itself because of its own
faults, nor with its neighbour because of his, neither is it displeased
with God, nor does it utter unseemly complaints because He does not
quickly make it holy.

8. Then, as to envy, the soul has charity toward others in this respect
also; for, if it has any envy, this is no longer a vice as it was
before, when it was grieved because others were preferred to it and
given greater advantage. Its grief now comes from seeing how great is
its own misery, and its envy (if it has any) is a virtuous envy, since
it desires to imitate others, which is great virtue.

9. Neither are the sloth and the irksomeness which it now experiences
concerning spiritual things vicious as they were before. For in the
past these sins proceeded from the spiritual pleasures which the soul
sometimes experienced and sought after when it found them not. But this
new weariness proceeds not from this insuffficiency of pleasure,
because God has taken from the soul pleasure in all things in this
purgation of the desire.

10. Besides these benefits which have been mentioned, the soul attains
innumerable others by means of this arid contemplation. For often, in
the midst of these times of aridity and hardship, God communicates to
the soul, when it is least expecting it, the purest spiritual sweetness
and love, together with a spiritual knowledge which is sometimes very
delicate, each manifestation of which is of greater benefit and worth
than those which the soul enjoyed aforetime; although in its beginnings
the soul thinks that this is not so, for the spiritual influence now
granted to it is very delicate and cannot be perceived by sense.

11. Finally, inasmuch as the soul is now purged from the affections and
desires of sense, it obtains liberty of spirit, whereby in ever greater
degree it gains the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. Here, too, it is
wondrously delivered from the hands of its three enemies–devil, world
and flesh; for, its pleasure and delight of sense being quenched with
respect to all things, neither the devil nor the world nor sensuality
has any arms or any strength wherewith to make war upon the spirit.

12. These times of aridity, then, cause the soul to journey in all
purity in the love of God, since it is no longer influenced in its
actions by the pleasure and sweetness of the actions themselves, as
perchance it was when it experienced sweetness, but only by a desire to
please God. It becomes neither presumptuous nor self-satisfied, as
perchance it was wont to become in the time of its prosperity, but
fearful and timid with regard to itself, finding in itself no
satisfaction whatsoever; and herein consists that holy fear which
preserves and increases the virtues. This aridity, too, quenches
natural energy and concupiscence, as has also been said. Save for the
pleasure, indeed, which at certain times God Himself infuses into it,
it is a wonder if it finds pleasure and consolation of sense, through
its own diligence, in any spiritual exercise or action, as has already
been said.

13. There grows within souls that experience this arid night concern
for God and yearnings to serve Him, for in proportion as the breasts of
sensuality, wherewith it sustained and nourished the desires that it
pursued, are drying up, there remains nothing in that aridity and
detachment save the yearning to serve God, which is a thing very
pleasing to God. For, as David says, an afflicted spirit is a sacrifice
to God. [94]

14. When the soul, then, knows that, in this arid purgation through
which it has passed, it has derived and attained so many and such
precious benefits as those which have here been described, it tarries
not in crying, as in the stanza of which we are expounding the lines,
Oh, happy chance!–I went forth without being observed.’ That is, I
went forth’ from the bonds and subjection of the desires of sense and
the affections, without being observed’–that is to say, without the
three enemies aforementioned being able to keep me from it. These
enemies, as we have said, bind the soul as with bonds, in its desires
and pleasures, and prevent it from going forth from itself to the
liberty of the love of God; and without these desires and pleasures
they cannot give battle to the soul, as has been said.

15. When, therefore, the four passions of the soul–which are joy,
grief, hope and fear–are calmed through continual mortification; when
the natural desires have been lulled to sleep, in the sensual nature of
the soul, by means of habitual times of aridity; and when the harmony
of the senses and the interior faculties causes a suspension of labour
and a cessation from the work of meditation, as we have said (which is
the dwelling and the household of the lower part of the soul), these
enemies cannot obstruct this spiritual liberty, and the house remains
at rest and quiet, as says the following line:

My house being now at rest.

[92] Psalm lxxvi, 4 [A.V., lxxvii, 3-4].

[93] Psalm lxxvi, 7 [A.V., lxxvii, 6].

[94] Psalm l, 19 [A.V., li, 17.]


Expounds this last line of the first stanza.

WHEN this house of sensuality was now at rest–that is, was
mortified–its passions being quenched and its desires put to rest and
lulled to sleep by means of this blessed night of the purgation of
sense, the soul went forth, to set out upon the road and way of the
spirit, which is that of progressives and proficients, and which, by
another name, is called the way of illumination or of infused
contemplation, wherein God Himself feeds and refreshes the soul,
without meditation, or the soul’s active help. Such, as we have said,
is the night and purgation of sense in the soul. In those who have
afterwards to enter the other and more formidable night of the spirit,
in order to pass to the Divine union of love of God (for not all pass
habitually thereto, but only the smallest number), it is wont to be
accompanied by formidable trials and temptations of sense, which last
for a long time, albeit longer in some than in others. For to some the
angel of Satan presents himself–namely, the spirit of
fornication–that he may buffet their senses with abominable and
violent temptations, and trouble their spirits with vile considerations
and representations which are most visible to the imagination, which
things at times are a greater affliction to them than death.

2. At other times in this night there is added to these things the
spirit of blasphemy, which roams abroad, setting in the path of all the
conceptions and thoughts of the soul intolerable blasphemies. These it
sometimes suggests to the imagination with such violence that the soul
almost utters them, which is a grave torment to it.

3. At other times another abominable spirit, which Isaias calls
Spiritus vertiginis, [95] is allowed to molest them, not in order that
they may fall, but that it may try them. This spirit darkens their
senses in such a way that it fills them with numerous scruples and
perplexities, so confusing that, as they judge, they can never, by any
means, be satisfied concerning them, neither can they find any help for
their judgment in counsel or thought. This is one of the severest goads
and horrors of this night, very closely akin to that which passes in
the night of the spirit.

4. As a rule these storms and trials are sent by God in this night and
purgation of sense to those whom afterwards He purposes to lead into
the other night (though not all reach it), to the end that, when they
have been chastened and buffeted, they may in this way continually
exercise and prepare themselves, and continually accustom their senses
and faculties to the union of wisdom which is to be bestowed upon them
in that other night. For, if the soul be not tempted, exercised and
proved with trials and temptations, it cannot quicken its sense of
Wisdom. For this reason it is said in Ecclesiasticus: He that has not
been tempted, what does he know? And he that has not been proved, what
are the things that he recognizes?’ [96] To this truth Jeremias bears
good witness, saying: Thou didst chastise me, Lord, and I was
instructed.’ [97] And the most proper form of this chastisement, for
one who will enter into Wisdom, is that of the interior trials which we
are here describing, inasmuch as it is these which most effectively
purge sense of all favours and consolations to which it was affected,
with natural weakness, and by which the soul is truly humiliated in
preparation for the exaltation which it is to experience.

5. For how long a time the soul will be held in this fasting and
penance of sense, cannot be said with any certainty; for all do not
experience it after one manner, neither do all encounter the same
temptations. For this is meted out by the will of God, in conformity
with the greater or the smaller degree of imperfection which each soul
has to purge away. In conformity, likewise, with the degree of love of
union to which God is pleased to raise it, He will humble it with
greater or less intensity or in greater or less time. Those who have
the disposition and greater strength to suffer, He purges with greater
intensity and more quickly. But those who are very weak are kept for a
long time in this night, and these He purges very gently and with
slight temptations. Habitually, too, He gives them refreshments of
sense so that they may not fall away, and only after a long time do
they attain to purity of perfection in this life, some of them never
attaining to it at all. Such are neither properly in the night nor
properly out of it; for, although they make no progress, yet, in order
that they may continue in humility and self-knowledge, God exercises
them for certain periods and at certain times [98] in those temptations
and aridities; and at other times and seasons He assists them with
consolations, lest they should grow faint and return to seek the
consolations of the world. Other souls, which are weaker, God Himself
accompanies, now appearing to them, now moving farther away, that He
may exercise them in His love; for without such turnings away they
would not learn to reach God.

6. But the souls which are to pass on to that happy and high estate,
the union of love, are wont as a rule to remain for a long time in
these aridities and temptations, however quickly God may lead them, as
has been seen by experience. It is time, then, to begin to treat of the
second night.

[95] [The ‘spirit of giddiness’ of D.V., and perverse spirit’ of A.V.,
Isaias xix, 14.]

[96] Ecclesiasticus xxxiv, 9-10.

[97] Jeremias xxxi, 18.

[98] [Lit., for certain days.’]

[20] [More exactly: purificative.’]


Of the Dark Night of the Spirit.


Which begins to treat of the dark nights of the spirit and says at
what time it begins.

THE soul which God is about to lead onward is not led by His Majesty
into this night of the spirit as soon as it goes forth from the
aridities and trials of the first purgation and night of sense; rather
it is wont to pass a long time, even years, after leaving the state of
beginners, in exercising itself in that of proficients. In this latter
state it is like to one that has come forth from a rigorous
imprisonment; [99] it goes about the things of God with much greater
freedom and satisfaction of the soul, and with more abundant and inward
delight than it did at the beginning before it entered the said night.
For its imagination and faculties are no longer bound, as they were
before, by meditation and anxiety of spirit, since it now very readily
finds in its spirit the most serene and loving contemplation and
spiritual sweetness without the labour of meditation; although, as the
purgation of the soul is not complete (for the principal part thereof,
which is that of the spirit, is wanting, without which, owing to the
communication that exists between the one part and the other, [100]
since the subject is one only, the purgation of sense, however violent
it may have been, is not yet complete and perfect), it is never without
certain occasional necessities, aridities, darknesses and perils which
are sometimes much more intense than those of the past, for they are as
tokens and heralds of the coming night of the spirit, and are not of as
long duration as will be the night which is to come. For, having passed
through a period, or periods, or days of this night and tempest, the
soul soon returns to its wonted serenity; and after this manner God
purges certain souls which are not to rise to so high a degree of love
as are others, bringing them at times, and for short periods, into this
night of contemplation and purgation of the spirit, causing night to
come upon them and then dawn, and this frequently, so that the words of
David may be fulfilled, that He sends His crystal–that is, His
contemplation–like morsels, [101] although these morsels of dark
contemplation are never as intense as is that terrible night of
contemplation which we are to describe, into which, of set purpose, God
brings the soul that He may lead it to Divine union.

2. This sweetness, then, and this interior pleasure which we are
describing, and which these progressives find and experience in their
spirits so easily and so abundantly, is communicated to them in much
greater abundance than aforetime, overflowing into their senses more
than was usual previously to this purgation of sense; for, inasmuch as
the sense is now purer, it can more easily feel the pleasures of the
spirit after its manner. As, however, this sensual part of the soul is
weak and incapable of experiencing the strong things of the spirit, it
follows that these proficients, by reason of this spiritual
communication which is made to their sensual part endure therein many
frailties and sufferings and weaknesses of the stomach, and in
consequence are fatigued in spirit. For, as the Wise Man says: The
corruptible body presseth down the soul.’ [102] Hence comes it that the
communications that are granted to these souls cannot be very strong or
very intense or very spiritual, as is required for Divine union with
God, by reason of the weakness and corruption of the sensual nature
which has a part in them. Hence arise the raptures and trances and
dislocations of the bones which always happen when the communications
are not purely spiritual–that is, are not given to the spirit alone,
as are those of the perfect who are purified by the second night of the
spirit, and in whom these raptures and torments of the body no longer
exist, since they are enjoying liberty of spirit, and their senses are
now neither clouded nor transported.

3. And in order that the necessity for such souls to enter this night
of the spirit may be understood, we will here note certain
imperfections and perils which belong to these proficients.

[99] [Lit., from a narrow prison.’]

[100] [i.e., between sense and spirit.]

[101] Psalm cxlvii, 17 [D.V. and A.V.].

[102] Wisdom ix, 15.


Describes other imperfections [103] which belong to these

THESE proficients have two kinds of imperfection: the one kind is
habitual; the other actual. The habitual imperfections are the
imperfect habits and affections which have remained all the time in the
spirit, and are like roots, to which the purgation of sense has been
unable to penetrate. The difference between the purgation of these and
that of this other kind is the difference between the root and the
branch, or between the removing of a stain which is fresh and one which
is old and of long standing. For, as we said, the purgation of sense is
only the entrance and beginning of contemplation leading to the
purgation of the spirit, which, as we have likewise said, serves rather
to accommodate sense to spirit than to unite spirit with God. But there
still remain in the spirit the stains of the old man, although the
spirit thinks not that this is so, neither can it perceive them; if
these stains be not removed with the soap and strong lye of the
purgation of this night, the spirit will be unable to come to the
purity of Divine union.

2. These souls have likewise the hebetudo mentis [104] and the natural
roughness which every man contracts through sin, and the distraction
and outward clinging of the spirit, which must be enlightened, refined
and recollected by the afflictions and perils of that night. These
habitual imperfections belong to all those who have not passed beyond
this state of the proficient; they cannot coexist, as we say, with the
perfect state of union through love.

3. To actual imperfections all are not liable in the same way. Some,
whose spiritual good is so superficial and so readily affected by
sense, fall into greater difficulties and dangers, which we described
at the beginning of this treatise. For, as they find so many and such
abundant spiritual communications and apprehensions, both in sense and
in spirit wherein they oftentimes see imaginary and spiritual visions
(for all these things, together with other delectable feelings, come to
many souls in this state, wherein the devil and their own fancy very
commonly practise deceptions on them), and, as the devil is apt to take
such pleasure in impressing upon the soul and suggesting to it the said
apprehensions and feelings, he fascinates and deludes it with great
ease unless it takes the precaution of resigning itself to God, and of
protecting itself strongly, by means of faith, from all these visions
and feelings. For in this state the devil causes many to believe in
vain visions and false prophecies; and strives to make them presume
that God and the saints are speaking with them; and they often trust
their own fancy. And the devil is also accustomed, in this state, to
fill them with presumption and pride, so that they become attracted by
vanity and arrogance, and allow themselves to be seen engaging in
outward acts which appear holy, such as raptures and other
manifestations. Thus they become bold with God, and lose holy fear,
which is the key and the custodian of all the virtues; and in some of
these souls so many are the falsehoods and deceits which tend to
multiply, and so inveterate do they grow, that it is very doubtful if
such souls will return to the pure road of virtue and true
spirituality. Into these miseries they fall because they are beginning
to give themselves over to spiritual feelings and apprehensions with
too great security, when they were beginning to make some progress upon
the way.

4. There is much more that I might say of these imperfections and of
how they are the more incurable because such souls consider them to be
more spiritual than the others, but I will leave this subject. I shall
only add, in order to prove how necessary, for him that would go
farther, is the night of the spirit, which is purgation, that none of
these proficients, however strenuously he may have laboured, is free,
at best, from many of those natural affections and imperfect habits,
purification from which, we said, is necessary if a soul is to pass to
Divine union.

5. And over and above this (as we have said already), inasmuch as the
lower part of the soul still has a share in these spiritual
communications, they cannot be as intense, as pure and as strong as is
needful for the aforesaid union; wherefore, in order to come to this
union, the soul must needs enter into the second night of the spirit,
wherein it must strip sense and spirit perfectly from all these
apprehensions and from all sweetness, and be made to walk in dark and
pure faith, which is the proper and adequate means whereby the soul is
united with God, according as Osee says, in these words: I will betroth
thee–that is, I will unite thee–with Me through faith.’ [105]

[103] [Lit., Continues with other imperfections.’]

[104] [i.e., deadening of the mind.’]

[105] Osee ii, 20.


Annotation for that which follows.

THESE souls, then, have now become proficients, because of the time
which they have spent in feeding the senses with sweet communications,
so that their sensual part, being thus attracted and delighted by
spiritual pleasure, which came to it from the spirit, may be united
with the spirit and made one with it; each part after its own manner
eating of one and the same spiritual food and from one and the same
dish, as one person and with one sole intent, so that thus they may in
a certain way be united and brought into agreement, and, thus united,
may be prepared for the endurance of the stern and severe purgation of
the spirit which awaits them. In this purgation these two parts of the
soul, the spiritual and the sensual, must be completely purged, since
the one is never truly purged without the other, the purgation of sense
becoming effective when that of the spirit has fairly begun. Wherefore
the night which we have called that of sense may and should be called a
kind of correction and restraint of the desire rather than purgation.
The reason is that all the imperfections and disorders of the sensual
part have their strength and root in the spirit, where all habits, both
good and bad, are brought into subjection, and thus, until these are
purged, the rebellions and depravities of sense cannot be purged

2. Wherefore, in this night following, both parts of the soul are
purged together, and it is for this end that it is well to have passed
through the corrections of the first night, and the period of
tranquillity which proceeds from it, in order that, sense being united
with spirit, both may be purged after a certain manner and may then
suffer with greater fortitude. For very great fortitude is needful for
so violent and severe a purgation, since, if the weakness of the lower
part has not first been corrected and fortitude has not been gained
from God through the sweet and delectable communion which the soul has
afterwards enjoyed with Him, its nature will not have the strength or
the disposition to bear it.

3. Therefore, since these proficients are still at a very low stage of
progress, and follow their own nature closely in the intercourse and
dealings which they have with God, because the gold of their spirit is
not yet purified and refined, they still think of God as little
children, and speak of God as little children, and feel and experience
God as little children, even as Saint Paul says, [106] because they
have not reached perfection, which is the union of the soul with God.
In the state of union, however, they will work great things in the
spirit, even as grown men, and their works and faculties will then be
Divine rather than human, as will afterwards be said. To this end God
is pleased to strip them of this old man and clothe them with the new
man, who is created according to God, as the Apostle says, [107] in the
newness of sense. He strips their faculties, affections and feelings,
both spiritual and sensual, both outward and inward, leaving the
understanding dark, the will dry, the memory empty and the affections
in the deepest affliction, bitterness and constraint, taking from the
soul the pleasure and experience of spiritual blessings which it had
aforetime, in order to make of this privation one of the principles
which are requisite in the spirit so that there may be introduced into
it and united with it the spiritual form of the spirit, which is the
union of love. All this the Lord works in the soul by means of a pure
and dark contemplation, as the soul explains in the first stanza. This,
although we originally interpreted it with reference to the first night
of sense, is principally understood by the soul of this second night of
the spirit, since this is the principal part of the purification of the
soul. And thus we shall set it down and expound it here again in this

[106] 1 Corinthians xiii, 11.

[107] [Ephesians iv, 24.]


Sets down the first stanza and the exposition thereof.

On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings–oh, happy chance!–
I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.


INTERPRETING this stanza now with reference to purgation, contemplation
or detachment or poverty of spirit, which here are almost one and the
same thing, we can expound it after this manner and make the soul speak
thus: In poverty, and without protection or support in all the
apprehensions of my soul–that is, in the darkness of my understanding
and the constraint of my will, in affliction and anguish with respect
to memory, remaining in the dark in pure faith, which is dark night for
the said natural faculties, the will alone being touched by grief and
afflictions and yearnings for the love of God–I went forth from
myself–that is, from my low manner of understanding, from my weak mode
of loving and from my poor and limited manner of experiencing God,
without being hindered therein by sensuality or the devil.

2. This was a great happiness and a good chance for me; for, when the
faculties had been perfectly annihilated and calmed, together with the
passions, desires and affections of my soul, wherewith I had
experienced and tasted God after a lowly manner, I went forth from my
own human dealings and operations to the operations and dealings of
God. That is to say, my understanding went forth from itself, turning
from the human and natural to the Divine; for, when it is united with
God by means of this purgation, its understanding no longer comes
through its natural light and vigour, but through the Divine Wisdom
wherewith it has become united. And my will went forth from itself,
becoming Divine; for, being united with Divine love, it no longer loves
with its natural strength after a lowly manner, but with strength and
purity from the Holy Spirit; and thus the will, which is now near to
God, acts not after a human manner, and similarly the memory has become
transformed into eternal apprehensions of glory. And finally, by means
of this night and purgation of the old man, all the energies and
affections of the soul are wholly renewed into a Divine temper and
Divine delight.

There follows the line:

On a dark night.


Sets down the first line and begins to explain how this dark
contemplation is not only night for the soul but is also grief and

THIS dark night is an inflowing of God into the soul, which purges it
from its ignorances and imperfections, habitual natural and spiritual,
and which is called by contemplatives infused contemplation, or
mystical theology. Herein God secretly teaches the soul and instructs
it in perfection of love without its doing anything, or understanding
of what manner is this infused contemplation. Inasmuch as it is the
loving wisdom of God, God produces striking effects in the soul for, by
purging and illumining it, He prepares it for the union of love with
God. Wherefore the same loving wisdom that purges the blessed spirits
and enlightens them is that which here purges the soul and illumines

2. But the question arises: Why is the Divine light (which as we say,
illumines and purges the soul from its ignorances) here called by the
soul a dark night? To this the answer is that for two reasons this
Divine wisdom is not only night and darkness for the soul, but is
likewise affliction and torment. The first is because of the height of
Divine Wisdom, which transcends the talent of the soul, and in this way
is darkness to it; the second, because of its vileness and impurity, in
which respect it is painful and afflictive to it, and is also dark.

3. In order to prove the first point, we must here assume a certain
doctrine of the philosopher, which says that, the clearer and more
manifest are Divine things in themselves the darker and more hidden are
they to the soul naturally; just as, the clearer is the light, the more
it blinds and darkens the pupil of the owl, and, the more directly we
look at the sun, the greater is the darkness which it causes in our
visual faculty, overcoming and overwhelming it through its own
weakness. In the same way, when this Divine light of contemplation
assails the soul which is not yet wholly enlightened, it causes
spiritual darkness in it; for not only does it overcome it, but
likewise it overwhelms it and darkens the act of its natural
intelligence. For this reason Saint Dionysius and other mystical
theologians call this infused contemplation a ray of darkness–that is
to say, for the soul that is not enlightened and purged–for the
natural strength of the intellect is transcended and overwhelmed by its
great supernatural light. Wherefore David likewise said: That near to
God and round about Him are darkness and cloud; [108] not that this is
so in fact, but that it is so to our weak understanding, which is
blinded and darkened by so vast a light, to which it cannot attain.
[109] For this cause the same David then explained himself, saying:
Through the great splendour of His presence passed clouds’ [110] –that
is, between God and our understanding. And it is for this cause that,
when God sends it out from Himself to the soul that is not yet
transformed, this illumining ray of His secret wisdom causes thick
darkness in the understanding.

4. And it is clear that this dark contemplation is in these its
beginnings painful likewise to the soul; for, as this Divine infused
contemplation has many excellences that are extremely good, and the
soul that receives them, not being purged, has many miseries that are
likewise extremely bad, hence it follows that, as two contraries cannot
coexist in one subject–the soul–it must of necessity have pain and
suffering, since it is the subject wherein these two contraries war
against each other, working the one against the other, by reason of the
purgation of the imperfections of the soul which comes to pass through
this contemplation. This we shall prove inductively in the manner

5. In the first place, because the light and wisdom of this
contemplation is most bright and pure, and the soul which it assails is
dark and impure, it follows that the soul suffers great pain when it
receives it in itself, just as, when the eyes are dimmed by humours,
and become impure and weak, the assault made upon them by a bright
light causes them pain. And when the soul suffers the direct assault of
this Divine light, its pain, which results from its impurity, is
immense; because, when this pure light assails the soul, in order to
expel its impurity, the soul feels itself to be so impure and miserable
that it believes God to be against it, and thinks that it has set
itself up against God. This causes it sore grief and pain, because it
now believes that God has cast it away: this was one of the greatest
trials which Job felt when God sent him this experience, and he said:
Why hast Thou set me contrary to Thee, so that I am grievous and
burdensome to myself?’ [111] For, by means of this pure light, the soul
now sees its impurity clearly (although darkly), and knows clearly that
it is unworthy of God or of any creature. And what gives it most pain
is that it thinks that it will never be worthy and that its good things
are all over for it. This is caused by the profound immersion of its
spirit in the knowledge and realization of its evils and miseries; for
this Divine and dark light now reveals them all to the eye, that it may
see clearly how in its own strength it can never have aught else. In
this sense we may understand that passage from David, which says: For
iniquity Thou hast corrected man and hast made his soul to be undone
and consumed: he wastes away as the spider.’ [112]

6. The second way in which the soul suffers pain is by reason of its
weakness, natural, moral and spiritual; for, when this Divine
contemplation assails the soul with a certain force, in order to
strengthen it and subdue it, it suffers such pain in its weakness that
it nearly swoons away. This is especially so at certain times when it
is assailed with somewhat greater force; for sense and spirit, as if
beneath some immense and dark load, are in such great pain and agony
that the soul would find advantage and relief in death. This had been
experienced by the prophet Job, when he said: I desire not that He
should have intercourse with me in great strength, lest He oppress me
with the weight of His greatness.’ [113]

7. Beneath the power of this oppression and weight the soul feels
itself so far from being favoured that it thinks, and correctly so,
that even that wherein it was wont to find some help has vanished with
everything else, and that there is none who has pity upon it. To this
effect Job says likewise: Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, at
least ye my friends, because the hand of the Lord has touched me.’
[114] A thing of great wonder and pity is it that the soul’s weakness
and impurity should now be so great that, though the hand of God is of
itself so light and gentle, the soul should now feel it to be so heavy
and so contrary, [115] though it neither weighs it down nor rests upon
it, but only touches it, and that mercifully, since He does this in
order to grant the soul favours and not to chastise it.

[108] Psalm xcvi, 2 [A.V., xcvii, 2].

[109] [Lit., not attaining.’]

[110] Psalm xvii, 13, [A.V., xviii, 12].

[111] Job vii, 20.

[112] Psalm xxxviii, 12 [A.V., xxxix, 11].

[113] Job xxiii, 6.

[114] Job xix, 21.

[115] [There is a reference here to Job vii, 20: cf. sect. 5, above.]


Of other kinds of pain that the soul suffers in this night.

THE third kind of suffering and pain that the soul endures in this
state results from the fact that two other extremes meet here in one,
namely, the Divine and the human. The Divine is this purgative
contemplation, and the human is the subject–that is, the soul. The
Divine assails the soul in order to renew it and thus to make it
Divine; and, stripping it of the habitual affections and attachments of
the old man, to which it is very closely united, knit together and
conformed, destroys and consumes its spiritual substance, and absorbs
it in deep and profound darkness. As a result of this, the soul feels
itself to be perishing and melting away, in the presence and sight of
its miseries, in a cruel spiritual death, even as if it had been
swallowed by a beast and felt itself being devoured in the darkness of
its belly, suffering such anguish as was endured by Jonas in the belly
of that beast of the sea. [116] For in this sepulchre of dark death it
must needs abide until the spiritual resurrection which it hopes for.

2. A description of this suffering and pain, although in truth it
transcends all description, is given by David, when he says: The
lamentations of death compassed me about; the pains of hell surrounded
me; I cried in my tribulation.’ [117] But what the sorrowful soul feels
most in this condition is its clear perception, as it thinks, that God
has abandoned it, and, in His abhorrence of it, has flung it into
darkness; it is a grave and piteous grief for it to believe that God
has forsaken it. It is this that David also felt so much in a like
case, saying: After the manner wherein the wounded are dead in the
sepulchres,’ being now cast off by Thy hand, so that Thou rememberest
them no more, even so have they set me in the deepest and lowest lake,
in the dark places and in the shadow of death, and Thy fury is
confirmed upon me and all Thy waves Thou hast brought in upon me.’
[118] For indeed, when this purgative contemplation is most severe, the
soul feels very keenly the shadow of death and the lamentations of
death and the pains of hell, which consist in its feeling itself to be
without God, and chastised and cast out, and unworthy of Him; and it
feels that He is wroth with it. All this is felt by the soul in this
condition–yea, and more, for it believes that it is so with it for

3. It feels, too, that all creatures have forsaken it, and that it is
contemned by them, particularly by its friends. Wherefore David
presently continues, saying: ‘ Thou hast put far from me my friends and
acquaintances; they have counted me an abomination.’ [119] To all this
will Jonas testify, as one who likewise experienced it in the belly of
the beast, both bodily and spiritually. Thou hast cast me forth (he
says) into the deep, into the heart of the sea, and the flood hath
compassed me; all its billows and waves have passed over me. And I
said, ”I am cast away out of the sight of Thine eyes, but I shall once
again see Thy holy temple” (which he says, because God purifies the
soul in this state that it may see His temple); the waters compassed
me, even to the soul, the deep hath closed me round about, the ocean
hath covered my head, I went down to the lowest parts of the mountains;
the bars of the earth have shut me up for ever.’ [120] By these bars
are here understood, in this sense, imperfections of the soul, which
have impeded it from enjoying this delectable contemplation.

4. The fourth kind of pain is caused in the soul by another excellence
of this dark contemplation, which is its majesty and greatness, from
which arises in the soul a consciousness of the other extreme which is
in itself–namely, that of the deepest poverty and wretchedness: this
is one of the chiefest pains that it suffers in this purgation. For it
feels within itself a profound emptiness and impoverishment of three
kinds of good, which are ordained for the pleasure of the soul which
are the temporal, the natural and the spiritual; and finds itself set
in the midst of the evils contrary to these, namely, miseries of
imperfection, aridity and emptiness of the apprehensions of the
faculties and abandonment of the spirit in darkness. Inasmuch as God
here purges the soul according to the substance of its sense and
spirit, and according to the interior and exterior faculties, the soul
must needs be in all its parts reduced to a state of emptiness, poverty
and abandonment and must be left dry and empty and in darkness. For the
sensual part is purified in aridity, the faculties are purified in the
emptiness of their perceptions and the spirit is purified in thick

5. All this God brings to pass by means of this dark contemplation;
wherein the soul not only suffers this emptiness and the suspension of
these natural supports and perceptions, which is a most afflictive
suffering (as if a man were suspended or held in the air so that he
could not breathe), but likewise He is purging the soul, annihilating
it, emptying it or consuming in it (even as fire consumes the
mouldiness and the rust of metal) all the affections and imperfect
habits which it has contracted in its whole life. Since these are
deeply rooted in the substance of the soul, it is wont to suffer great
undoings and inward torment, besides the said poverty and emptiness,
natural and spiritual, so that there may here be fulfilled that passage
from Ezechiel which says: Heap together the bones and I will burn them
in the fire; the flesh shall be consumed and the whole composition
shall be burned and the bones shall be destroyed.’ [121] Herein is
understood the pain which is suffered in the emptiness and poverty of
the substance of the soul both in sense and in spirit. And concerning
this he then says: ‘set it also empty upon the coals, that its metal
may become hot and molten, and its uncleanness may be destroyed within
it, and its rust may be consumed.’ [122] Herein is described the grave
suffering which the soul here endures in the purgation of the fire of
this contemplation, for the Prophet says here that, in order for the
rust of the affections which are within the soul to be purified and
destroyed, it is needful that, in a certain manner, the soul itself
should be annihilated and destroyed, since these passions and
imperfections have become natural to it.

6. Wherefore, because the soul is purified in this furnace like gold in
a crucible, as says the Wise Man, [123] it is conscious of this
complete undoing of itself in its very substance, together with the
direst poverty, wherein it is, as it were, nearing its end, as may be
seen by that which David says of himself in this respect, in these
words: ‘save me, Lord (he cries to God), for the waters have come in
even unto my soul; I am made fast in the mire of the deep and there is
no place where I can stand; I am come into the depth of the sea and a
tempest hath overwhelmed me; I have laboured crying, my throat has
become hoarse, mine eyes have failed whilst I hope in my God.’ [124]
Here God greatly humbles the soul in order that He may afterwards
greatly exalt it; and if He ordained not that, when these feelings
arise within the soul, they should speedily be stilled, it would die in
a very short space; but there are only occasional periods when it is
conscious of their greatest intensity. At times, however, they are so
keen that the soul seems to be seeing hell and perdition opened. Of
such are they that in truth go down alive into hell, being purged here
on earth in the same manner as there, since this purgation is that
which would have to be accomplished there. And thus the soul that
passes through this either enters not that place [125] at all, or
tarries there but for a very short time; for one hour of purgation here
is more profitable than are many there.

[116] Jonas ii, 1.


[118] Psalm lxxxvii, 6-8 [A.V., lxxxviii, 5-7].

[119] Psalm lxxxvii, 9 [A.V., lxxxviii, 8].

[120] Jonas ii, 4-7 [A.V., ii, 3-6].

[121] Ezechiel xxiv, 10.

[122] Ezechiel xxiv, 11.

[123] Wisdom iii, 6.

[124] Psalm lxviii, 2-4 [A.V., lxix, 1-3].

[125] [i.e., purgatory.]


Continues the same matter and considers other afflictions end
constraints of the will.

THE afflictions and constraints of the will are now very great
likewise, and of such a kind that they sometimes transpierce the soul
with a sudden remembrance of the evils in the midst of which it finds
itself, and with the uncertainty of finding a remedy for them. And to
this is added the remembrance of times of prosperity now past; for as a
rule souls that enter this night have had many consolations from God,
and have rendered Him many services, and it causes them the greater
grief to see that they are far removed from that happiness and unable
to enter into it. This was also described by Job, who had had
experience of it, in these words: I, who was wont to be wealthy and
rich, am suddenly undone and broken to pieces; He hath taken me by my
neck; He hath broken me and set me up for His mark to wound me; He hath
compassed me round about with His lances; He hath wounded all my loins;
He hath not spared; He hath poured out my bowels on the earth; He hath
broken me with wound upon wound; He hath assailed me as a strong giant;
I have sewed sackcloth upon my skin and have covered my flesh with
ashes; my face is become swollen with weeping and mine eyes are
blinded.’ [126]

2. So many and so grievous are the afflictions of this night, and so
many passages of Scripture are there which could be cited to this
purpose, that time and strength would fail us to write of them, for all
that can be said thereof is certainly less than the truth. From the
passages already quoted some idea may be gained of them. And, that we
may bring the exposition of this line to a close and explain more fully
what is worked in the soul by this night, I shall tell what Jeremias
felt about it, which, since there is so much of it, he describes and
bewails in many words after this manner: I am the man that see my
poverty in the rod of His indignation; He hath threatened me and
brought me into darkness and not into light. So far hath He turned
against me and hath converted His hand upon me all the day! My skin and
my flesh hath He made old; He hath broken my bones; He hath made a
fence around me and compassed me with gall and trial; He hath set me in
dark places, as those that are dead for ever. He hath made a fence
around me and against me, that I may not go out; He hath made my
captivity heavy. Yea, and when I have cried and have entreated, He hath
shut out my prayer. He hath enclosed my paths and ways out with square
stones; He hath thwarted my steps. He hath set ambushes for me; He hath
become to me a lion in a secret place. He hath turned aside my steps
and broken me in pieces, He hath made me desolate; He hath bent His bow
and set me as a mark for His arrow. He hath shot into my reins the
daughters of His quiver. I have become a derision to all the people,
and laughter and scorn for them all the day. He hath filled me with
bitterness and hath made me drunken with wormwood. He hath broken my
teeth by number; He hath fed me with ashes. My soul is cast out from
peace; I have forgotten good things. And I said: ”Mine end is
frustrated and cut short, together with my desire and my hope from the
Lord. Remember my poverty and my excess, the wormwood and the gall. I
shall be mindful with remembrance and my soul shall be undone within me
in pains.”‘ [127]

3. All these complaints Jeremias makes about these pains and trials,
and by means of them he most vividly depicts the sufferings of the soul
in this spiritual night and purgation. Wherefore the soul that God sets
in this tempestuous and horrible night is deserving of great
compassion. For, although it experiences much happiness by reason of
the great blessings that must arise on this account within it, when, as
Job says, God raises up profound blessings in the soul out of darkness,
and brings up to light the shadow of death, [128] so that, as David
says, His light comes to be as was His darkness; [129] yet
notwithstanding, by reason of the dreadful pain which the soul is
suffering, and of the great uncertainty which it has concerning the
remedy for it, since it believes, as this prophet says here, that its
evil will never end, and it thinks, as David says likewise, that God
set it in dark places like those that are dead, [130] and for this
reason brought its spirit within it into anguish and troubled its
heart, [131] it suffers great pain and grief, since there is added to
all this (because of the solitude and abandonment caused in it by this
dark night) the fact that it finds no consolation or support in any
instruction nor in a spiritual master. For, although in many ways its
director may show it good reason for being comforted because of the
blessings which are contained in these afflictions, it cannot believe
him. For it is so greatly absorbed and immersed in the realization of
those evils wherein it sees its own miseries so clearly, that it thinks
that, as its director observes not that which it sees and feels, he is
speaking in this manner because he understands it not; and so, instead
of comfort, it rather receives fresh affliction, since it believes that
its director’s advice contains no remedy for its troubles. And, in
truth, this is so; for, until the Lord shall have completely purged it
after the manner that He wills, no means or remedy is of any service or
profit for the relief of its affliction; the more so because the soul
is as powerless in this case as one who has been imprisoned in a dark
dungeon, and is bound hand and foot, and can neither move nor see, nor
feel any favour whether from above or from below, until the spirit is
humbled, softened and purified, and grows so keen and delicate and pure
that it can become one with the Spirit of God, according to the degree
of union of love which His mercy is pleased to grant it; in proportion
to this the purgation is of greater or less severity and of greater or
less duration.

4. But, if it is to be really effectual, it will last for some years,
however severe it be; since the purgative process allows intervals of
relief wherein, by the dispensation of God, this dark contemplation
ceases to assail the soul in the form and manner of purgation, and
assails it after an illuminative and a loving manner, wherein the soul,
like one that has gone forth from this dungeon and imprisonment, and is
brought into the recreation of spaciousness and liberty, feels and
experiences great sweetness of peace and loving friendship with God,
together with a ready abundance of spiritual communication. This is to
the soul a sign of the health which is being wrought within it by the
said purgation and a foretaste of the abundance for which it hopes.
Occasionally this is so great that the soul believes its trials to be
at last over. For spiritual things in the soul, when they are most
purely spiritual, have this characteristic that, if trials come to it,
the soul believes that it will never escape from them, and that all its
blessings are now over, as has been seen in the passages quoted; and,
if spiritual blessings come, the soul believes in the same way that its
troubles are now over, and that blessings will never fail it. This was
so with David, when he found himself in the midst of them, as he
confesses in these words: I said in my abundance: ”I shall never be
moved.”‘ [132]

5. This happens because the actual possession by the spirit of one of
two contrary things itself makes impossible the actual possession and
realization of the other contrary thing; this is not so, however, in
the sensual part of the soul, because its apprehension is weak. But, as
the spirit is not yet completely purged and cleansed from the
affections that it has contracted from its lower part, while changing
not in so far as it is spirit, it can be moved to further afflictions
in so far as these affections sway it. In this way, as we see, David
was afterwards moved, and experienced many ills and afflictions,
although in the time of his abundance he had thought and said that he
would never be moved. Just so is it with the soul in this condition,
when it sees itself moved by that abundance of spiritual blessings,
and, being unable to see the root of the imperfection and impurity
which still remain within it, thinks that its trials are over.

6. This thought, however, comes to the soul but seldom, for, until
spiritual purification is complete and perfected, the sweet
communication is very rarely so abundant as to conceal from the soul
the root which remains hidden, in such a way that the soul can cease to
feel that there is something that it lacks within itself or that it has
still to do. Thus it cannot completely enjoy that relief, but feels as
if one of its enemies were within it, and although this enemy is, as it
were, hushed and asleep, it fears that he will come to life again and
attack it. [133] And this is what indeed happens, for, when the soul is
most secure and least alert, it is dragged down and immersed again in
another and a worse degree of affliction which is severer and darker
and more grievous than that which is past; and this new affliction will
continue for a further period of time, perhaps longer than the first.
And the soul once more comes to believe that all its blessings are over
for ever. Although it had thought during its first trial that there
were no more afflictions which it could suffer, and yet, after the
trial was over, it enjoyed great blessings, this experience is not
sufficient to take away its belief, during this second degree of trial,
that all is now over for it and that it will never again be happy as in
the past. For, as I say, this belief, of which the soul is so sure, is
caused in it by the actual apprehension of the spirit, which
annihilates within it all that is contrary to it.

7. This is the reason why those who lie in purgatory suffer great
misgivings as to whether they will ever go forth from it and whether
their pains will ever be over. For, although they have the habit of the
three theological virtues–faith, hope and charity–the present
realization which they have of their afflictions and of their
deprivation of God allows them not to enjoy the present blessing and
consolation of these virtues. For, although they are able to realize
that they have a great love for God, this is no consolation to them,
since they cannot think that God loves them or that they are worthy
that He should do so; rather, as they see that they are deprived of
Him, and left in their own miseries, they think that there is that in
themselves which provides a very good reason why they should with
perfect justice be abhorred and cast out by God for ever. [134] And
thus although the soul in this purgation is conscious that it has a
great love for God and would give a thousand lives for Him (which is
the truth, for in these trials such souls love their God very
earnestly), yet this is no relief to it, but rather brings it greater
affliction. For it loves Him so much that it cares about naught beside;
when, therefore, it sees itself to be so wretched that it cannot
believe that God loves it, nor that there is or will ever be reason why
He should do so, but rather that there is reason why it should be
abhorred, not only by Him, but by all creatures for ever, it is grieved
to see in itself reasons for deserving to be cast out by Him for Whom
it has such great love and desire.

[126] Job xvi, 13-17 [A.V., xvi, 12-16].

[127] Lamentations iii, 1-20.

[128] Job xii, 22.

[129] Psalm cxxxviii, 12 [A.V., cxxxix, 12].

[130] [Lit., like to the dead of the world (or of the age).’]

[131] Psalm cxlii, 3 [A.V., cxliii, 3-4].

[132] Psalm xxix, 7 [A.V., xxx, 6].

[133] [Lit., and play his tricks upon it.’]

[134] B. Bz., C, H. Mtr. all have this long passage on the suffering of
the soul in Purgatory. It would be rash, therefore, to deny that St.
John of the Cross is its author, [or to suppose, as P. Gerardo did,
that he deleted it during a revision of his works]. An admirably
constructed synthesis of these questions will be found in B. Belarmino,
De Purgatorio, Bk. II, chaps. iv, v. He asks if souls in Purgatory are
sure of their salvation. This was denied by Luther, and by a number of
Catholic writers, who held that, among the afflictions of these souls,
the greatest is this very uncertainty, some maintain that, though they
have in fact such certainty, they are unaware of it. Belarmino quotes
among other authorities Denis the Carthusian De quattuor novissimis,
Gerson (Lect. I De Vita Spirituali) and John of Rochester (against
Luther’s 32nd article); these writers claim that, as sin which is
venial is only so through the Divine mercy, it may with perfect justice
be rewarded by eternal punishment, and thus souls that have committed
venial sin cannot be confident of their salvation. He also shows,
however, that the common opinion of theologians is that the souls in
Purgatory are sure of their salvation, and considers various degrees of
certainty, adding very truly that, while these souls experience no
fear, they experience hope, since they have not yet the Beatific
vision. Uncertainty as to their salvation, it is said, might arise from
ignorance of the sentence passed upon them by the Judge or from the
deadening of their faculties by the torments which they are suffering.
Belarmino refutes these and other suppositions with great force and
effect. St. John of the Cross seems to be referring to the last named
when he writes of the realization of their afflictions and their
deprivation of God not allowing them to enjoy the blessings of the
theological virtues. It is not surprising if the Saint, not having
examined very closely this question, of which he would have read
treatments in various authors, thought of it principally as an apt
illustration of the purifying and refining effects of passive
purgation; and an apt illustration it certainly is.


Of other pains which afflict the soul in this state.

BUT there is another thing here that afflicts and distresses the soul
greatly, which is that, as this dark night has hindered its faculties
and affections in this way, it is unable to raise its affection or its
mind to God, neither can it pray to Him, thinking, as Jeremias thought
concerning himself, that God has set a cloud before it through which
its prayer cannot pass. [135] For it is this that is meant by that
which is said in the passage referred to, namely: ‘ He hath shut and
enclosed my paths with square stones.’ [136] And if it sometimes prays
it does so with such lack of strength and of sweetness that it thinks
that God neither hears it nor pays heed to it, as this Prophet likewise
declares in the same passage, saying: When I cry and entreat, He hath
shut out my prayer.’ [137] In truth this is no time for the soul to
speak with God; it should rather put its mouth in the dust, as Jeremias
says, so that perchance there may come to it some present hope, [138]
and it may endure its purgation with patience. It is God Who is
passively working here in the soul; wherefore the soul can do nothing.
Hence it can neither pray nor pay attention when it is present at the
Divine offices, [139] much less can it attend to other things and
affairs which are temporal. Not only so, but it has likewise such
distractions and times of such profound forgetfulness of the memory
that frequent periods pass by without its knowing what it has been
doing or thinking, or what it is that it is doing or is going to do,
neither can it pay attention, although it desire to do so, to anything
that occupies it.

2. Inasmuch as not only is the understanding here purged of its light,
and the will of its affections, but the memory is also purged of
meditation and knowledge, it is well that it be likewise annihilated
with respect to all these things, so that that which David says of
himself in this purgation may by fulfilled, namely: ‘ I was annihilated
and I knew not.’ [140] This unknowing refers to these follies and
forgetfulnesses of the memory, which distractions and forgetfulnesses
are caused by the interior recollection wherein this contemplation
absorbs the soul. For, in order that the soul may be divinely prepared
and tempered with its faculties for the Divine union of love, it would
be well for it to be first of all absorbed, with all its faculties, in
this Divine and dark spiritual light of contemplation, and thus to be
withdrawn from all the affections and apprehensions of the creatures,
which condition ordinarily continues in proportion to its intensity.
And thus, the simpler and the purer is this Divine light in its assault
upon the soul, the more does it darken it, void it and annihilate it
according to its particular apprehensions and affections, with regard
both to things above and to things below; and similarly, the less
simple and pure is it in this assault, the less deprivation it causes
it and the less dark is it. Now this is a thing that seems incredible,
to say that, the brighter and purer is supernatural and Divine light,
the more it darkens the soul, and that, the less bright and pure is it,
the less dark it is to the soul. Yet this may readily be understood if
we consider what has been proved above by the dictum of the
philosopher–namely, that the brighter and the more manifest in
themselves are supernatural things the darker are they to our

3. And, to the end that this may be understood the more clearly, we
shall here set down a similitude referring to common and natural light.
We observe that a ray of sunlight which enters through the window is
the less clearly visible according as it is the purer and freer from
specks, and the more of such specks and motes there are in the air, the
brighter is the light to the eye. The reason is that it is not the
light itself that is seen; the light is but the means whereby the other
things that it strikes are seen, and then it is also seen itself,
through its reflection in them; were it not for this, neither it nor
they would have been seen. Thus if the ray of sunlight entered through
the window of one room and passed out through another on the other
side, traversing the room, and if it met nothing on the way, or if
there were no specks in the air for it to strike, the room would have
no more light than before, neither would the ray of light be visible.
In fact, if we consider it carefully, there is more darkness where the
ray is, since it absorbs and obscures any other light, and yet it is
itself invisible, because, as we have said, there are no visible
objects which it can strike.

4. Now this is precisely what this Divine ray of contemplation does in
the soul. Assailing it with its Divine light, it transcends the natural
power of the soul, and herein it darkens it and deprives it of all
natural affections and apprehensions which it apprehended aforetime by
means of natural light; and thus it leaves it not only dark, but
likewise empty, according to its faculties and desires, both spiritual
and natural. And, by thus leaving it empty and in darkness, it purges
and illumines it with Divine spiritual light, although the soul thinks
not that it has this light, but believes itself to be in darkness, even
as we have said of the ray of light, which although it be in the midst
of the room, yet, if it be pure and meet nothing on its path, is not
visible. With regard, however, to this spiritual light by which the
soul is assailed, when it has something to strike–that is, when
something spiritual presents itself to be understood, however small a
speck it be and whether of perfection or imperfection, or whether it be
a judgment of the falsehood or the truth of a thing–it then sees and
understands much more clearly than before it was in these dark places.
And exactly in the same way it discerns the spiritual light which it
has in order that it may readily discern the imperfection which is
presented to it; even as, when the ray of which we have spoken, within
the room, is dark and not itself visible, if one introduce a hand or
any other thing into its path, the hand is then seen and it is realized
that that sunlight is present.

5. Wherefore, since this spiritual light is so simple, pure and
general, not appropriated or restricted to any particular thing that
can be understood, whether natural or Divine (since with respect to all
these apprehensions the faculties of the soul are empty and
annihilated), it follows that with great comprehensiveness and
readiness the soul discerns and penetrates whatsoever thing presents
itself to it, whether it come from above or from below; for which cause
the Apostle said: That the spiritual man searches all things, even the
deep things of God. [141] For by this general and simple wisdom is
understood that which the Holy Spirit says through the Wise Man,
namely: That it reaches wheresoever it wills by reason of its purity;
[142] that is to say, because it is not restricted to any particular
object of the intellect or affection. And this is the characteristic of
the spirit that is purged and annihilated with respect to all
particular affections and objects of the understanding, that in this
state wherein it has pleasure in nothing and understands nothing in
particular, but dwells in its emptiness, darkness and obscurity, it is
fully prepared to embrace everything to the end that those words of
Saint Paul may be fulfilled in it: Nihil habentes, et omnia
possidentes. [143] For such poverty of spirit as this would deserve
such happiness.

[135] Lamentations iii, 44.

[136] [Lamentations iii, 9.]

[137] Lamentations iii, 9.

[138] Lamentations iii, 28.

[139] [Lit., at the Divine things.’]

[140] Psalm lxxii, 22 [A.V., lxxiii, 22].

[141] 1 Corinthians ii, 10. [Lit., penetrates all things.’]

[142] Wisdom vii, 24.

[143] 2 Corinthians vi, 10.


How, although this night brings darkness to the spirit, it does so
in order to illumine it and give it light.

IT now remains to be said that, although this happy night brings
darkness to the spirit, it does so only to give it light in everything;
and that, although it humbles it and makes it miserable, it does so
only to exalt it and to raise it up; and, although it impoverishes it
and empties it of all natural affection and attachment, it does so only
that it may enable it to stretch forward, divinely, and thus to have
fruition and experience of all things, both above and below, yet to
preserve its unrestricted liberty of spirit in them all. For just as
the elements, in order that they may have a part in all natural
entities and compounds, must have no particular colour, odour or taste,
so as to be able to combine with all tastes odours and colours, just so
must the spirit be simple, pure and detached from all kinds of natural
affection, whether actual or habitual, to the end that it may be able
freely to share in the breadth of spirit of the Divine Wisdom, wherein,
through its purity, it has experience of all the sweetness of all
things in a certain pre-eminently excellent way. [144] And without this
purgation it will be wholly unable to feel or experience the
satisfaction of all this abundance of spiritual sweetness. For one
single affection remaining in the spirit, or one particular thing to
which, actually or habitually, it clings, suffices to hinder it from
feeling or experiencing or communicating the delicacy and intimate
sweetness of the spirit of love, which contains within itself all
sweetness to a most eminent degree. [145]

2. For, even as the children of Israel, solely because they retained
one single affection and remembrance–namely, with respect to the
fleshpots and the meals which they had tasted in Egypt [146] –could
not relish the delicate bread of angels, in the desert, which was the
manna, which, as the Divine Scripture says, held sweetness for every
taste and turned to the taste that each one desired; [147] even so the
spirit cannot succeed in enjoying the delights of the spirit of
liberty, according to the desire of the will, if it be still
affectioned to any desire, whether actual or habitual, or to particular
objects of understanding, or to any other apprehension. The reason for
this is that the affections, feelings and apprehensions of the perfect
spirit, being Divine, are of another kind and of a very different order
from those that are natural. They are pre-eminent, so that, in order
both actually and habitually to possess the one, it is needful to expel
and annihilate the other, as with two contrary things, which cannot
exist together in one person. Therefore it is most fitting and
necessary, if the soul is to pass to these great things, that this dark
night of contemplation should first of all annihilate and undo it in
its meannesses, bringing it into darkness, aridity, affliction and
emptiness; for the light which is to be given to it is a Divine light
of the highest kind, which transcends all natural light, and which by
nature can find no place in the understanding.

3. And thus it is fitting that, if the understanding is to be united
with that light and become Divine in the state of perfection, it should
first of all be purged and annihilated as to its natural light, and, by
means of this dark contemplation, be brought actually into darkness.
This darkness should continue for as long as is needful in order to
expel and annihilate the habit which the soul has long since formed in
its manner of understanding, and the Divine light and illumination will
then take its place. And thus, inasmuch as that power of understanding
which it had aforetime is natural, it follows that the darkness which
it here suffers is profound and horrible and most painful, for this
darkness, being felt in the deepest substance of the spirit, seems to
be substantial darkness. Similarly, since the affection of love which
is to be given to it in the Divine union of love is Divine, and
therefore very spiritual, subtle and delicate, and very intimate,
transcending every affection and feeling of the will, and every desire
thereof, it is fitting that, in order that the will may be able to
attain to this Divine affection and most lofty delight, and to feel it
and experience it through the union of love, since it is not, in the
way of nature, perceptible to the will, it be first of all purged and
annihilated in all its affections and feelings, and left in a condition
of aridity and constraint, proportionate to the habit of natural
affections which it had before, with respect both to Divine things and
to human. Thus, being exhausted, withered and thoroughly tried in the
fire of this dark contemplation, and having driven away every kind
[148] of evil spirit (as with the heart of the fish which Tobias set on
the coals [149] ), it may have a simple and pure disposition, and its
palate may be purged and healthy, so that it may feel the rare and
sublime touches of Divine love, wherein it will see itself divinely
transformed, and all the contrarieties, whether actual or habitual,
which it had aforetime, will be expelled, as we are saying.

4. Moreover, in order to attain the said union to which this dark night
is disposing and leading it, the soul must be filled and endowed with a
certain glorious magnificence in its communion with God, which includes
within itself innumerable blessings springing from delights which
exceed all the abundance that the soul can naturally possess. For by
nature the soul is so weak and impure that it cannot receive all this.
As Isaias says: Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it
entered into the heart of man, that which God hath prepared, etc.’
[150] It is meet, then, that the soul be first of all brought into
emptiness and poverty of spirit and purged from all help, consolation
and natural apprehension with respect to all things, both above and
below. In this way, being empty, it is able indeed to be poor in spirit
and freed from the old man, in order to live that new and blessed life
which is attained by means of this night, and which is the state of
union with God.

5. And because the soul is to attain to the possession of a sense, and
of a Divine knowledge, which is very generous and full of sweetness,
with respect to things Divine and human, which fall not within the
common experience and natural knowledge of the soul (because it looks
on them with eyes as different from those of the past as spirit is
different from sense and the Divine from the human), the spirit must be
straitened [151] and inured to hardships as regards its common and
natural experience, and be brought by means of this purgative
contemplation into great anguish and affliction, and the memory must be
borne far from all agreeable and peaceful knowledge, and have an
intimated sense and feeling that it is making a pilgrimage and being a
stranger to all things, so that it seems to it that all things are
strange and of a different kind from that which they were wont to be.
For this night is gradually drawing the spirit away from its ordinary
and common experience of things and bringing it nearer the Divine
sense, which is a stranger and an alien to all human ways. It seems now
to the soul that it is going forth from its very self, with much
affliction. At other times it wonders if it is under a charm or a
spell, and it goes about marvelling at the things that it sees and
hears, which seem to it very strange and rare, though they are the same
that it was accustomed to experience aforetime. The reason of this is
that the soul is now becoming alien and remote from common sense and
knowledge of things, in order that, being annihilated in this respect,
it may be informed with the Divine–which belongs rather to the next
life than to this.

6. The soul suffers all these afflictive purgations of the spirit to
the end that it may be begotten anew in spiritual life by means of this
Divine inflowing, and in these pangs may bring forth the spirit of
salvation, that the saying of Isaias may be fulfilled: In Thy sight, O
Lord, we have conceived, and we have been as in the pangs of labour,
and we have brought forth the spirit of salvation.’ [152] Moreover,
since by means of this contemplative night the soul is prepared for the
attainment of inward peace and tranquillity, which is of such a kind
and so delectable that, as the Scripture says, it passes all
understanding, [153] it behoves the soul to abandon all its former
peace. This was in reality no peace at all, since it was involved in
imperfections; but to the soul aforementioned it appeared to be so,
because it was following its own inclinations, which were for peace. It
seemed, indeed, to be a twofold peace–that is, the soul believed that
it had already acquired the peace of sense and that of spirit, for it
found itself to be full of the spiritual abundance of this peace of
sense and of spirit–as I say, it is still imperfect. First of all,
then, it must be purged of that former peace and disquieted concerning
it and withdrawn from it. [154] Even so was Jeremias when, in the
passage which we quoted from him, he felt and lamented [155] thus, in
order to express the calamities of this night that is past, saying: My
soul is withdrawn and removed from peace.’ [156]

7. This is a painful disturbance, involving many misgivings,
imaginings, and strivings which the soul has within itself, wherein,
with the apprehension and realization of the miseries in which it sees
itself, it fancies that it is lost and that its blessings have gone for
ever. Wherefore the spirit experiences pain and sighing so deep that
they cause it vehement spiritual groans and cries, to which at times it
gives vocal expression; when it has the necessary strength and power it
dissolves into tears, although this relief comes but seldom. David
describes this very aptly, in a Psalm, as one who has had experience of
it, where he says: I was exceedingly afflicted and humbled; I roared
with the groaning of my heart.’ [157] This roaring implies great pain;
for at times, with the sudden and acute remembrance of these miseries
wherein the soul sees itself, pain and affliction rise up and surround
it, and I know not how the affections of the soul could be described
[158] save in the similitude of holy Job, when he was in the same
trials, and uttered these words: Even as the overflowing of the waters,
even so is my roaring.’ [159] For just as at times the waters make such
inundations that they overwhelm and fill everything, so at times this
roaring and this affliction of the soul grow to such an extent that
they overwhelm it and penetrate it completely, filling it with
spiritual pain and anguish in all its deep affections and energies, to
an extent surpassing all possibility of exaggeration.

8. Such is the work wrought in the soul by this night that hides the
hopes of the light of day. With regard to this the prophet Job says
likewise: In the night my mouth is pierced with sorrows and they that
feed upon me sleep not.’ [160] Now here by the mouth is understood the
will, which is transpierced with these pains that tear the soul to
pieces, neither ceasing nor sleeping, for the doubts and misgivings
which transpierce the soul in this way never cease.

9. Deep is this warfare and this striving, for the peace which the soul
hopes for will be very deep; and the spiritual pain is intimate and
delicate, for the love which it will possess will likewise be very
intimate and refined. The more intimate and the more perfect the
finished work is to be and to remain, the more intimate, perfect and
pure must be the labour; the firmer the edifice, the harder the labour.
Wherefore, as Job says, the soul is fading within itself, and its
vitals are being consumed without any hope. [161] Similarly, because in
the state of perfection toward which it journeys by means of this
purgative night the soul will attain to the possession and fruition of
innumerable blessings, of gifts and virtues, both according to the
substance of the soul and likewise according to its faculties, it must
needs see and feel itself withdrawn from them all and deprived of them
all and be empty and poor without them; and it must needs believe
itself to be so far from them that it cannot persuade itself that it
will ever reach them, but rather it must be convinced that all its good
things are over. The words of Jeremias have a similar meaning in that
passage already quoted, where he says: I have forgotten good things.’

10. But let us now see the reason why this light of contemplation,
which is so sweet and blessed to the soul that there is naught more
desirable (for, as has been said above, it is the same wherewith the
soul must be united and wherein it must find all the good things in the
state of perfection that it desires), produces, when it assails the
soul, these beginnings which are so painful and these effects which are
so disagreeable, as we have here said.

1l. This question is easy for us to answer, by explaining, as we have
already done in part, that the cause of this is that, in contemplation
and the Divine inflowing, there is naught that of itself can cause
affliction, but that they rather cause great sweetness and delight, as
we shall say hereafter. The cause is rather the weakness and
imperfection from which the soul then suffers, and the dispositions
which it has in itself and which make it unfit for the reception of
them. Wherefore, when the said Divine light assails the soul, it must
needs cause it to suffer after the manner aforesaid.

[144] [Lit., with a certain eminence of excellence.’]

[145] [Lit., . . . sweetness, with great eminence.’]

[146] Exodus xvi, 3.

[147] Wisdom xvi, 21.

[148] [Lit., from every kind.’ But see Tobias viii, 2. The deprived’ of
e.p. gives the best reading of this phrase, but the general sense is
clear from the Scriptural reference.]

[149] Tobias viii, 2.

[150] Isaias lxiv, 4 [1 Corinthians ii, 9].

[151] [Lit., be made thin.’]

[152] Isaias xxvi, 17-18.

[153] [Philippians iv, 7.]

[154] [We have here split up a parenthesis of about seventy words.]

[155] [Lit., and wept.’]

[156] Lamentations iii, 17.

[157] Psalm xxxvii, 9 [A.V., xxxviii, 8].

[158] [Lit., . . . sees itself, it arises and is surrounded with pain
and affliction the affections of the soul, that I know not how it could
be described.’ A confused, ungrammatical sentence, of which, however,
the general meaning is not doubtful.]

[159] Job iii, 24.

[160] Job xxx, 17.

[161] Job xxx, 16.

[162] Lamentations iii, 17.


Explains this purgation fully by a comparison.

FOR the greater clearness of what has been said, and of what has still
to be said, it is well to observe at this point that this purgative and
loving knowledge or Divine light whereof we here speak acts upon the
soul which it is purging and preparing for perfect union with it in the
same way as fire acts upon a log of wood in order to transform it into
itself; for material fire, acting upon wood, first of all begins to dry
it, by driving out its moisture and causing it to shed the water which
it contains within itself. Then it begins to make it black, dark and
unsightly, and even to give forth a bad odour, and, as it dries it
little by little, it brings out and drives away all the dark and
unsightly accidents which are contrary to the nature of fire. And,
finally, it begins to kindle it externally and give it heat, and at
last transforms it into itself and makes it as beautiful as fire. In
this respect, the wood has neither passivity nor activity of its own,
save for its weight, which is greater, and its substance, which is
denser, than that of fire, for it has in itself the properties and
activities of fire. Thus it is dry and it dries; it is hot and heats;
it is bright and gives brightness; and it is much less heavy than
before. All these properties and effects are caused in it by the fire.

2. In this same way we have to philosophize with respect to this Divine
fire of contemplative love, which, before it unites and transforms the
soul in itself, first purges it of all its contrary accidents. It
drives out its unsightliness, and makes it black and dark, so that it
seems worse than before and more unsightly and abominable than it was
wont to be. For this Divine purgation is removing all the evil and
vicious humours which the soul has never perceived because they have
been so deeply rooted and grounded in it; it has never realized, in
fact, that it has had so much evil within itself. But now that they are
to be driven forth and annihilated, these humours reveal themselves,
and become visible to the soul because it is so brightly illumined by
this dark light of Divine contemplation (although it is no worse than
before, either in itself or in relation to God); and, as it sees in
itself that which it saw not before, it is clear to it that not only is
it unfit to be seen by God, but deserves His abhorrence, and that He
does indeed abhor it. By this comparison we can now understand many
things concerning what we are saying and purpose to say.

3. First, we can understand how the very light and the loving wisdom
which are to be united with the soul and to transform it are the same
that at the beginning purge and prepare it: even as the very fire which
transforms the log of wood into itself, and makes it part of itself, is
that which at the first was preparing it for that same purpose.

4. Secondly, we shall be able to see how these afflictions are not felt
by the soul as coming from the said Wisdom, since, as the Wise Man
says, all good things together come to the soul with her. [163] They
are felt as coming from the weakness and imperfection which belong to
the soul; without such purgation, the soul cannot receive its Divine
light, sweetness and delight, even as the log of wood, when the fire
acts upon it, cannot immediately be transformed until it be made ready;
wherefore the soul is greatly afflicted. This statement is fully
supported by the Preacher, where he describes all that he suffered in
order that he might attain to union with wisdom and to the fruition of
it, saying thus: My soul hath wrestled with her and my bowels were
moved in acquiring her; therefore it shall possess a good possession.’

5. Thirdly, we can learn here incidentally in what manner souls are
afflicted in purgatory. For the fire would have no power over them,
even though they came into contact with it, if they had no
imperfections for which to suffers. These are the material upon which
the fire of purgatory seizes; when that material is consumed there is
naught else that can burn. So here, when the imperfections are
consumed, the affliction of the soul ceases and its fruition remains.

6. The fourth thing that we shall learn here is the manner wherein the
soul, as it becomes purged and purified by means of this fire of love,
becomes ever more enkindled in love, just as the wood grows hotter in
proportion as it becomes the better prepared by the fire. This
enkindling of love, however, is not always felt by the soul, but only
at times when contemplation assails it less vehemently, for then it has
occasion to see, and even to enjoy, the work which is being wrought in
it, and which is then revealed to it. For it seems that the worker
takes his hand from the work, and draws the iron out of the furnace, in
order that something of the work which is being done may be seen; and
then there is occasion for the soul to observe in itself the good which
it saw not while the work was going on. In the same way, when the flame
ceases to attack the wood, it is possible to see how much of it has
been enkindled.

7. Fifthly, we shall also learn from this comparison what has been said
above–namely, how true it is that after each of these periods of
relief the soul suffers once again, more intensely and keenly than
before. For, after that revelation just referred to has been made, and
after the more outward imperfections of the soul have been purified,
the fire of love once again attacks that which has yet to be consumed
and purified more inwardly. The suffering of the soul now becomes more
intimate, subtle and spiritual, in proportion as the fire refines away
the finer, [165] more intimate and more spiritual imperfections, and
those which are most deeply rooted in its inmost parts. And it is here
just as with the wood, upon which the fire, when it begins to penetrate
it more deeply, acts with more force and vehemence [166] in preparing
its most inward part to possess it.

8. Sixthly, we shall likewise learn here the reason why it seems to the
soul that all its good is over, and that it is full of evil, since
naught comes to it at this time but bitterness; it is like the burning
wood, which is touched by no air nor by aught else than by consuming
fire. But, when there occur other periods of relief like the first, the
rejoicing of the soul will be more interior because the purification
has been more interior also.

9. Seventhly, we shall learn that, although the soul has the most ample
joy at these periods (so much so that, as we said, it sometimes thinks
that its trials can never return again, although it is certain that
they will return quickly), it cannot fail to realize, if it is aware
(and at times it is made aware) of a root of imperfection which
remains, that its joy is incomplete, because a new assault seems to be
threatening it; [167] when this is so, the trial returns quickly.
Finally, that which still remains to be purged and enlightened most
inwardly cannot well be concealed from the soul in view of its
experience of its former purification; [168] even as also in the wood
it is the most inward part that remains longest unkindled, [169] and
the difference between it and that which has already been purged is
clearly perceptible; and, when this purification once more assails it
most inwardly, it is no wonder if it seems to the soul once more that
all its good is gone, and that it never expects to experience it again,
for, now that it has been plunged into these most inward sufferings,
all good coming from without is over. [170]

10. Keeping this comparison, then, before our eyes, together with what
has already been said upon the first line of the first stanza
concerning this dark night and its terrible properties, it will be well
to leave these sad experiences of the soul and to begin to speak of the
fruit of its tears and their blessed properties, whereof the soul
begins to sing from this second line:

Kindled in love [171] with yearnings,

[163] Wisdom vii, 11.

[164] Ecclesiasticus li, 28-9 [A.V., li, 19-21].

[165] [Lit., more delicate.’]

[166] [Lit., fury.’]

[167] [The sudden change of metaphor is the author’s. The assault’ is,
of course, the renewed growth of the root.’]

[168] [Lit., . . . from the soul, with regard to that which has already
been purified.’]

[169] [Lit., not enlightened’: the word is the same as that used just

[170] [The word translated over’ is rendered gone’ just above.]

[171] [Lit., in loves’; and so throughout the exposition of this line.]


Begins to explain the second line of the first stanza.
Describes how, as the fruit of these rigorous constraints, the soul
finds itself with the vehement passion of Divine love.

IN this line the soul describes the fire of love which, as we have
said, like the material fire acting upon the wood, begins to take hold
upon the soul in this night of painful contemplation. This enkindling
now described, although in a certain way it resembles that which we
described above as coming to pass in the sensual part of the soul, is
in some ways as different from that other as is the soul from the body,
or the spiritual part from the sensual. For this present kind is an
enkindling of spiritual love in the soul, which, in the midst of these
dark confines, feels itself to be keenly and sharply wounded in strong
Divine love, and to have a certain realization and foretaste of God,
although it understands nothing definitely, for, as we say, the
understanding is in darkness.

2. The spirit feels itself here to be deeply and passionately in love,
for this spiritual enkindling produces the passion of love. And,
inasmuch as this love is infused, it is passive rather than active, and
thus it begets in the soul a strong passion of love. This love has in
it something of union with God, and thus to some degree partakes of its
properties, which are actions of God rather than of the soul, these
being subdued within it passively. What the soul does here is to give
its consent; the warmth and strength and temper and passion of love–or
enkindling, as the soul here calls it–belong [172] only to the love of
God, which enters increasingly into union with it. This love finds in
the soul more occasion and preparation to unite itself with it and to
wound it, according as all the soul’s desires are the more recollected,
[173] and are the more withdrawn from and disabled for the enjoyment of
aught either in Heaven or in earth.

3. This takes place to a great extent, as has already been said, in
this dark purgation, for God has so weaned all the inclinations and
caused them to be so recollected [174] that they cannot find pleasure
in anything they may wish. All this is done by God to the end that,
when He withdraws them and recollects them in Himself, the soul may
have more strength and fitness to receive this strong union of love of
God, which He is now beginning to give it through this purgative way,
wherein the soul must love with great strength and with all its desires
and powers both of spirit and of sense; which could not be if they were
dispersed in the enjoyment of aught else. For this reason David said to
God, to the end that he might receive the strength of the love of this
union with God: I will keep my strength for Thee;’ [175] that is, I
will keep the entire capacity and all the desires and energies of my
faculties, nor will I employ their operation or pleasure in aught else
than Thyself.

4. In this way it can be realized in some measure how great and how
strong may be this enkindling of love in the spirit, wherein God keeps
in recollection all the energies, faculties and desires of the soul,
both of spirit and of sense, so that all this harmony may employ its
energies and virtues in this love, and may thus attain to a true
fulfilment of the first commandment, which sets aside nothing
pertaining to man nor excludes from this love anything that is his, but
says: Thou shalt love thy God with all thy heart and with all thy mind,
with all thy soul and with all thy strength.’ [176]

5. When all the desires and energies of the soul, then, have been
recollected in this enkindling of love, and when the soul itself has
been touched and wounded in them all, and has been inspired with
passion, what shall we understand the movements and digressions of all
these energies and desires to be, if they find themselves enkindled and
wounded with strong love and without the possession and satisfaction
thereof, in darkness and doubt? They will doubtless be suffering
hunger, like the dogs of which David speaks as running about the city
[177] ; finding no satisfaction in this love, they keep howling and
groaning. For the touch of this love and Divine fire dries up the
spirit and enkindles its desires, in order to satisfy its thirst for
this Divine love, so much so that it turns upon itself a thousand times
and desires God in a thousand ways and manners, with the eagerness and
desire of the appetite. This is very well explained by David in a
psalm, where he says: My soul thirsted for Thee: in how many manners
does my soul long for Thee!’ [178] –that is, in desires. And another
version reads: My soul thirsted for Thee, my soul is lost (or perishes)
for Thee.’

6. It is for this reason that the soul says in this line that it was
kindled in love with yearnings.’ [179] For in all the things and
thoughts that it revolves within itself, and in all the affairs and
matters that present themselves to it, it loves in many ways, and also
desires and suffers in the desire in many ways, at all times and in all
places, finding rest in naught, and feeling this yearning in its
enkindled wound, even as the prophet Job declares, saying: As the hart
[180] desireth the shadow, and as the hireling desireth the end of his
work, so I also had vain months and numbered to myself wearisome and
laborious nights. If I lie down to sleep, I shall say: ”When shall I
arise?” And then I shall await the evening and shall be full of sorrows
even until the darkness of night.’ [181] Everything becomes cramping to
this soul: it cannot live [182] within itself; it cannot live either in
Heaven or on earth; and it is filled with griefs until the darkness
comes to which Job here refers, speaking spiritually and in the sense
of our interpretation. What the soul here endures is afflictions and
suffering without the consolation of a certain hope of any light and
spiritual good. Wherefore the yearning and the grief of this soul in
this enkindling of love are greater because it is multiplied in two
ways: first, by the spiritual darkness wherein it finds itself, which
afflicts it with its doubts and misgivings; and then by the love of
God, which enkindles and stimulates it, and, with its loving wound,
causes it a wondrous fear. These two kinds of suffering at such a
season are well described by Isaias, where he says: My soul desired
Thee in the night’ [183] –that is, in misery.

7. This is one kind of suffering which proceeds from this dark night;
but, he goes on to say, with my spirit, in my bowels, until the
morning, I will watch for Thee. And this is the second way of grieving
in desire and yearning which comes from love in the bowels of the
spirit, which are the spiritual affections. But in the midst of these
dark and loving afflictions the soul feels within itself a certain
companionship and strength, which bears it company and so greatly
strengthens it that, if this burden of grievous darkness be taken away,
it often feels itself to be alone, empty and weak. The cause of this is
that, as the strength and efficacy of the soul were derived and
communicated passively from the dark fire of love which assailed it, it
follows that, when that fire ceases to assail it, the darkness and
power and heat of love cease in the soul.

[172] [Lit., cling,’ adhere.’]

[173] [Lit., ‘shut up.’]

[174] [Here, and below, the original has recogidos, the word normally
translated recollected’]

[175] Psalm lviii, 10 [A V., lix, 9].

[176] Deuteronomy vi, 5.

[177] Psalm lviii, 15-16 [A.V., lix, 14-15].

[178] Psalm lxii, 2 [A.V., lxiii, 1].

[179] [Lit., as in the verses, in loves.’]

[180] [For cievro, hart, read siervo, servant, and we have the correct
quotation from Scripture. The change, however, was evidently made by
the Saint knowingly. In P. Gerardo’s edition, the Latin text, with
cervus, precedes the Spanish translation, with ciervo.]

[181] Job vii, 2-4.

[182] [No cabe: Lit., it cannot be contained,’ there is no room for

[183] Isaias xxvi, 9.


Shows how this horrible night is purgatory, and how in it the Divine
wisdom illumines men on earth with the same illumination that purges
and illumines the angels in Heaven.

FROM what has been said we shall be able to see how this dark night of
loving fire, as it purges in the darkness, so also in the darkness
enkindles the soul. We shall likewise be able to see that, even as
spirits are purged in the next life with dark material fire, so in this
life they are purged and cleansed with the dark spiritual fire of love.
The difference is that in the next life they are cleansed with fire,
while here below they are cleansed and illumined with love only. It was
this love that David entreated, when he said: Cor mundum crea in me,
Deus, etc. [184] For cleanness of heart is nothing less than the love
and grace of God. For the clean of heart are called by our Saviour
blessed’; which is as if He had called them enkindled with love’, [185]
since blessedness is given by nothing less than love.

2. And Jeremias well shows how the soul is purged when it is illumined
with this fire of loving wisdom (for God never grants mystical wisdom
without love, since love itself infuses it), where he says: He hath
sent fire into my bones, and hath taught me.’ [186] And David says that
the wisdom of God is silver tried in fire [187] –that is, in purgative
fire of love. For this dark contemplation infuses into the soul love
and wisdom jointly, to each one according to his capacity and need,
enlightening the soul and purging it, in the words of the Wise Man,
from its ignorances, as he said was done to himself.

3. From this we shall also infer that the very wisdom of God which
purges these souls and illumines them purges the angels from their
ignorances, giving them knowledge, enlightening them as to that which
they knew not, and flowing down from God through the first hierarchies
even to the last, and thence to men. [188] All the works, therefore,
which are done by the angels, and all their inspirations, are said in
the Scriptures, with truth and propriety, to be the work of God and of
themselves; for ordinarily these inspirations come through the angels,
and they receive them likewise one from another without any delay–as
quickly as a ray of sunshine is communicated through many windows
arranged in order. For although it is true that the sun’s ray itself
passes through them all, still each one passes it on and infuses it
into the next, in a modified form, according to the nature of the
glass, and with rather more or rather less power and brightness,
according as it is nearer to the sun or farther from it.

4. Hence it follows that, the nearer to God are the higher spirits and
the lower, the more completely are they purged and enlightened with
more general purification; and that the lowest of them will receive
this illumination very much less powerfully and more remotely. Hence it
follows that man, who is the lowest of all those to whom this loving
contemplation flows down continually from God, will, when God desires
to give it him, receive it perforce after his own manner in a very
limited way and with great pain. For, when the light of God illumines
an angel, it enlightens him and enkindles [189] him in love, since,
being pure spirit, he is prepared for that infusion. But, when it
illumines man, who is impure and weak, it illumines him, as has been
said above, according to his nature. It plunges him into darkness and
causes him affliction and distress, as does the sun to the eye that is
weak; [190] it enkindles him with passionate yet afflictive love, until
he be spiritualized and refined by this same fire of love; and it
purifies him until he can receive with sweetness the union of this
loving infusion after the manner of the angels, being now purged, as by
the help of the Lord we shall explain later. But meanwhile he receives
this contemplation and loving knowledge in the constraint and yearning
of love of which we are here speaking.

5. This enkindling and yearning of love are not always perceived by the
soul. For in the beginning, when this spiritual purgation commences,
all this Divine fire is used in drying up and making ready the wood
(which is the soul) rather than in giving it heat. But, as time goes
on, the fire begins to give heat to the soul, and the soul then very
commonly feels this enkindling and heat of love. Further, as the
understanding is being more and more purged by means of this darkness,
it sometimes comes to pass that this mystical and loving theology, as
well as enkindling the will, strikes and illumines the other faculty
also–that of the understanding–with a certain Divine light and
knowledge, so delectably and delicately that it aids the will to
conceive a marvellous fervour, and, without any action of its own,
there burns in it this Divine fire of love, in living flames, so that
it now appears to the soul a living fire by reason of the living
understanding which is given to it. It is of this that David speaks in
a Psalm, saying: My heart grew hot within me, and, as I meditated, a
certain fire was enkindled.’ [191]

6. This enkindling of love, which accompanies the union of these two
faculties, the understanding and the will, which are here united, is
for the soul a thing of great richness and delight; for it is a certain
touch of the Divinity and is already the beginning [192] of the
perfection of the union of love for which it hopes. Now the soul
attains not to this touch of so sublime a sense and love of God, save
when it has passed through many trials and a great part of its
purgation. But for other touches which are much lower than these, and
which are of ordinary occurrence, so much purgation is not needful.

7. From what we have said it may here be inferred how in these
spiritual blessings, which are passively infused by God into the soul,
the will may very well love even though the understanding understand
not; and similarly the understanding may understand and the will love
not. For, since this dark night of contemplation consists of Divine
light and love, just as fire contains light and heat, it is not
unbefitting that, when this loving light is communicated, it should
strike the will at times more effectively by enkindling it with love
and leaving the understanding in darkness instead of striking it with
light; and, at other times, by enlightening it with light, and giving
it understanding, but leaving the will in aridity (as it is also true
that the heat of the fire can be received without the light being seen,
and also the light of it can be seen without the reception of heat);
and this is wrought by the Lord, Who infuses as He wills. [193]

[184] Psalm l, 12 [A.V., li, 10].

[185] [Lit., enamoured.’]

[186] Lamentations i, 13.

[187] Psalm xi, 7 [A.V., xii, 6].

[188] The Schoolmen frequently assert that the lower angels are purged
and illumined by the higher. Cf. St. Thomas, Summa, I, q. 106, a. 1,
ad. 1.

[189] [Lit., and softens.’]

[190] [More literally, is sick.’]

[191] Psalm xxxviii, 4 [A.V., xxxix, 3].

[192] [Lit., the beginnings.’]

[193] The Saint here treats a question often debated by philosophers
and mystics–that of love and knowledge. Cf. also Spiritual Canticle,
Stanza XVII, and Living Flame, Stanza III. Philosophers generally
maintain that it is impossible to love without knowledge, and equally
so to love more of an object than what is known of it. Mystics have,
however, their own solutions of the philosophers’ difficulty and the
speculative Spanish mystics have much to say on the matter. (Cf., for
example, the Medula Mistica, Trat. V, Chap. iv, and the Escuela de
Oracion, Trat. XII, Duda v.)


Of other delectable effects which are wrought in the soul by this
dark night of contemplation.

THIS type of enkindling will explain to us certain of the delectable
effects which this dark night of contemplation works in the soul. For
at certain times, as we have just said, the soul becomes enlightened in
the midst of all this darkness, and the light shines in the darkness;
[194] this mystical intelligence flows down into the understanding and
the will remains in dryness–I mean, without actual union of love, with
a serenity and simplicity which are so delicate and delectable to the
sense of the soul that no name can be given to them. Thus the presence
of God is felt, now after one manner, now after another.

2. Sometimes, too, as has been said, it wounds the will at the same
time, and enkindles love sublimely, tenderly and strongly; for we have
already said that at certain times these two faculties, the
understanding and the will, are united, when, the more they see, the
more perfect and delicate is the purgation of the understanding. But,
before this state is reached, it is more usual for the touch of the
enkindling of love to be felt in the will than for the touch of
intelligence to be felt in the understanding.

3. But one question arises here, which is this: Why, since these two
faculties are being purged together, are the enkindling and the love of
purgative contemplation at first more commonly felt in the will than
the intelligence thereof is felt in the understanding? To this it may
be answered that this passive love does not now directly strike the
will, for the will is free, and this enkindling of love is a passion of
love rather than the free act of the will; for this heat of love
strikes the substance of the soul and thus moves the affections
passively. And so this is called passion of love rather than a free act
of the will, an act of the will being so called only in so far as it is
free. But these passions and affections subdue the will, and therefore
it is said that, if the soul conceives passion with a certain
affection, the will conceives passion; and this is indeed so, for in
this manner the will is taken captive and loses its liberty, according
as the impetus and power of its passion carry it away. And therefore we
can say that this enkindling of love is in the will–that is, it
enkindles the desire of the will; and thus, as we say, this is called
passion of love rather than the free work of the will. And, because the
receptive passion of the understanding can receive intelligence only in
a detached and passive way (and this is impossible without its having
been purged), therefore until this happens the soul feels the touch of
intelligence less frequently than that of the passion of love. For it
is not necessary to this end that the will should be so completely
purged with respect to the passions, since these very passions help it
to feel impassioned love.

4. This enkindling and thirst of love, which in this case belongs to
the spirit, is very different from that other which we described in
writing of the night of sense. For, though the sense has also its part
here, since it fails not to participate in the labour of the spirit,
yet the source and the keenness of the thirst of love is felt in the
superior part of the soul–that is, in the spirit. It feels, and
understands what it feels and its lack of what it desires, in such a
way that all its affliction of sense, although greater without
comparison than in the first night of sense, is as naught to it,
because it recognizes within itself the lack of a great good which can
in no way be measured.

5. But here we must note that although, at the beginning, when this
spiritual night commences, this enkindling of love is not felt, because
this fire of love has not begun to take a hold, God gives the soul, in
place of it, an estimative love of Himself so great that, as we have
said, the greatest sufferings and trials of which it is conscious in
this night are the anguished thoughts that it [195] has lost God and
the fears that He has abandoned it. And thus we may always say that
from the very beginning of this night the soul is touched with
yearnings of love, which is now that of estimation, [196] and now
again, that of enkindling. And it is evident that the greatest
suffering which it feels in these trials is this misgiving; for, if it
could be certified at that time that all is not lost and over, but that
what is happening to it is for the best–as it is–and that God is not
wroth, it would care naught for all these afflictions, but would
rejoice to know that God is making use of them for His good pleasure.
For the love of estimation which it has for God is so great, even
though it may not realize this and may be in darkness, that it would be
glad, not only to suffer in this way, but even to die many times over
in order to give Him satisfaction. But when once the flame has
enkindled the soul, it is wont to conceive, together with the
estimation that it already has for God, such power and energy, and such
yearning for Him, when He communicates to it the heat of love, that,
with great boldness, it disregards everything and ceases to pay respect
to anything, such are the power and the inebriation of love and desire.
It regards not what it does, for it would do strange and unusual things
in whatever way and manner may present themselves, if thereby its soul
might find Him Whom it loves.

6. It was for this reason that Mary Magdalene, though as greatly
concerned for her own appearance as she was aforetime, took no heed of
the multitude of men who were at the feast, whether they were of little
or of great importance; neither did she consider that it was not
seemly, and that it looked ill, to go and weep and shed tears among the
guests provided that, without delaying an hour or waiting for another
time and season, she could reach Him for love of Whom her soul was
already wounded and enkindled. And such is the inebriating power and
the boldness of love, that, though she knew her Beloved to be enclosed
in the sepulchre by the great sealed stone, and surrounded by soldiers
who were guarding Him lest His disciples should steal Him away, [197]
she allowed none of these things to impede her, but went before
daybreak with the ointments to anoint Him.

7. And finally, this inebriating power and yearning of love caused her
to ask one whom she believed to be a gardener and to have stolen Him
away from the sepulchre, to tell her, if he had taken Him, where he had
laid Him, that she might take Him away; [198] considering not that such
a question, according to independent judgment and reason, was foolish;
for it was evident that, if the other had stolen Him, he would not say
so, still less would he allow Him to be taken away. It is a
characteristic of the power and vehemence of love that all things seem
possible to it, and it believes all men to be of the same mind as
itself. For it thinks that there is naught wherein one may be employed,
or which one may seek, save that which it seeks itself and that which
it loves; and it believes that there is naught else to be desired, and
naught wherein it may be employed, save that one thing, which is
pursued by all. For this reason, when the Bride went out to seek her
Beloved, through streets and squares, [199] thinking that all others
were doing the same, she begged them that, if they found Him, they
would speak to Him and say that she was pining for love of Him. [200]
Such was the power of the love of this Mary that she thought that, if
the gardener would tell her where he had hidden Him, she would go and
take Him away, however difficult it might be made for her.

8. Of this manner, then, are the yearnings of love whereof this soul
becomes conscious when it has made some progress in this spiritual
purgation. For it rises up by night (that is, in this purgative
darkness) according to the affections of the will. And with the
yearnings and vehemence of the lioness or the she-bear going to seek
her cubs when they have been taken away from her and she finds them
not, does this wounded soul go forth to seek its God. For, being in
darkness, it feels itself to be without Him and to be dying of love for
Him. And this is that impatient love wherein the soul cannot long
subsist without gaining its desire or dying. Such was Rachel’s desire
for children when she said to Jacob: Give me children, else shall I
die.’ [201]

9. But we have now to see how it is that the soul which feels itself so
miserable and so unworthy of God, here in this purgative darkness, has
nevertheless strength, and is sufficiently bold and daring, to journey
towards union with God. The reason is that, as love continually gives
it strength wherewith it may love indeed, and as the property of love
is to desire to be united, joined and made equal and like to the object
of its love, that it may perfect itself in love’s good things, hence it
comes to pass that, when this soul is not perfected in love, through
not having as yet attained to union, the hunger and thirst that it has
for that which it lacks (which is union) and the strength set by love
in the will which has caused it to become impassioned, make it bold and
daring by reason of the enkindling of its will, although in its
understanding, which is still dark and unenlightened, it feels itself
to be unworthy and knows itself to be miserable.

10. I will not here omit to mention the reason why this Divine light,
which is always light to the soul, illumines it not as soon as it
strikes it, as it does afterwards, but causes it the darkness and the
trials of which we have spoken. Something has already been said
concerning this, but the question must now be answered directly. The
darkness and the other evils of which the soul is conscious when this
Divine light strikes it are not darkness or evils caused by this light,
but pertain to the soul itself, and the light illumines it so that it
may see them. Wherefore it does indeed receive light from this Divine
light; but the soul cannot see at first, by its aid, anything beyond
what is nearest to it, or rather, beyond what is within it–namely, its
darknesses or its miseries, which it now sees through the mercy of God,
and saw not aforetime, because this supernatural light illumined it
not. And this is the reason why at first it is conscious of nothing
beyond darkness and evil; after it has been purged, however, by means
of the knowledge and realization of these, it will have eyes to see, by
the guidance of this light, the blessings of the Divine light; and,
once all these darknesses and imperfections have been driven out from
the soul, it seems that the benefits and the great blessings which the
soul is gaining in this blessed night of contemplation become clearer.

11. From what has been said, it is clear that God grants the soul in
this state the favour of purging it and healing it with this strong lye
of bitter purgation, according to its spiritual and its sensual part,
of all the imperfect habits and affections which it had within itself
with respect to temporal things and to natural, sensual and spiritual
things, its inward faculties being darkened, and voided of all these,
its spiritual and sensual affections being constrained and dried up,
and its natural energies being attenuated and weakened with respect to
all this (a condition which it could never attain of itself, as we
shall shortly say). In this way God makes it to die to all that is not
naturally God, so that, once it is stripped and denuded of its former
skin, He may begin to clothe it anew. And thus its youth is renewed
like the eagle’s and it is clothed with the new man, which, as the
Apostle says, is created according to God. [202] This is naught else
but His illumination of the understanding with supernatural light, so
that it is no more a human understanding but becomes Divine through
union with the Divine. In the same way the will is informed with Divine
love, so that it is a will that is now no less than Divine, nor does it
love otherwise than divinely, for it is made and united in one with the
Divine will and love. So, too, is it with the memory; and likewise the
affections and desires are all changed and converted divinely,
according to God. And thus this soul will now be a soul of heaven,
heavenly, and more Divine than human. All this, as we have been saying,
and because of what we have said, God continues to do and to work in
the soul by means of this night, illumining and enkindling it divinely
with yearnings for God alone and for naught else whatsoever. For which
cause the soul then very justly and reasonably adds the third line to
the song, which says:

. . . oh, happy chance!– I went forth without being observed.

[194] St. John i, 5.

[195] [Lit., the yearning to think of it.’]

[196] [The word translated estimation’ might also be rendered ‘
reverent love.’ The love of estimation,’ which has its seat in the
understanding, is contrasted with the enkindling’ or the love of
desire,’ which has its seat in the will. So elsewhere in this

[197] St. John xx, 1 [St. Matthew xxvii, 62-6].

[198] St. John xx, 15.

[199] [Lit., outskirts,’ ‘suburbs.’]

[200] Canticles v, 8.

[201] Genesis xxx, 1.

[202] Ephesians iv, 4.


Wherein are set down and explained the last three lines of the first

THIS happy chance was the reason for which the soul speaks, in the next
lines, as follows:

I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.

It takes the metaphor from one who, in order the better to accomplish
something, leaves his house by night and in the dark, when those that
are in the house are now at rest, so that none may hinder him. For this
soul had to go forth to perform a deed so heroic and so rare–namely to
become united with its Divine Beloved–and it had to leave its house,
because the Beloved is not found save alone and without, in solitude.
It was for this reason that the Bride desired to find Him alone,
saying: ‘ Who would give Thee to me, my brother, that I might find Thee
alone, without, and that my love might be communicated to Thee.’ [203]
It is needful for the enamoured soul, in order to attain to its desired
end, to do likewise, going forth at night, when all the domestics in
its house are sleeping and at rest–that is, when the low operations,
passions and desires of the soul (who are the people of the household)
are, because it is night, sleeping and at rest. When these are awake,
they invariably hinder the soul from seeking its good, since they are
opposed to its going forth in freedom. These are they of whom Our
Saviour speaks in the Gospel, saying that they are the enemies of man.
[204] And thus it would be meet that their operations and motions
should be put to sleep in this night, to the end that they may not
hinder the soul from attaining the supernatural blessings of the union
of love of God, for, while these are alive and active, this cannot be.
For all their work and their natural motions hinder, rather than aid,
the soul’s reception of the spiritual blessings of the union of love,
inasmuch as all natural ability is impotent with respect to the
supernatural blessings that God, by means of His own infusion, bestows
upon the soul passively, secretly and in silence. And thus it is
needful that all the faculties should receive this infusion, and that,
in order to receive it, they should remain passive, and not interpose
their own base acts and vile inclinations.

2. It was a happy chance for this soul that on this night God should
put to sleep all the domestics in its house–that is, all the
faculties, passions, affections and desires which live in the soul,
both sensually and spiritually. For thus it went forth without being
observed’–that is, without being hindered by these affections, etc.,
for they were put to sleep and mortified in this night, in the darkness
of which they were left, that they might not notice or feel anything
after their own low and natural manner, and might thus be unable to
hinder the soul from going forth from itself and from the house of its
sensuality. And thus only could the soul attain to the spiritual union
of perfect love of God.

3. Oh, how happy a chance is this for the soul which can free itself
from the house of its sensuality! None can understand it, unless, as it
seems to me, it be the soul that has experienced it. For such a soul
will see clearly how wretched was the servitude in which it lay and to
how many miseries it was subject when it was at the mercy of its
faculties and desires, and will know how the life of the spirit is true
liberty and wealth, bringing with it inestimable blessings. Some of
these we shall point out, as we proceed, in the following stanzas,
wherein it will be seen more clearly what good reason the soul has to
sing of the happy chance of its passage from this dreadful night which
has been described above.

[203] Canticles viii, 1.

[204] St. Matthew x, 36.


Sets down the second stanza and its exposition.

In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised–oh, happy
In darkness and concealment, My house being now at rest.

IN this stanza the soul still continues to sing of certain properties
of the darkness of this night, reiterating how great is the happiness
which came to it through them. It speaks of them in replying to a
certain tacit objection, saying that it is not to be supposed that,
because in this night and darkness it has passed through so many
tempests of afflictions, doubts, fears and horrors, as has been said,
it has for that reason run any risk of being lost. On the contrary, it
says, in the darkness of this night it has gained itself. For in the
night it has freed itself and escaped subtly from its enemies, who were
continually hindering its progress. For in the darkness of the night it
changed its garments and disguised itself with three liveries and
colours which we shall describe hereafter; and went forth by a very
secret ladder, which none in the house knew, the which ladder, as we
shall observe likewise in the proper place, is living faith. By this
ladder the soul went forth in such complete hiding and concealment, in
order the better to execute its purpose, that it could not fail to be
in great security; above all since in this purgative night the desires,
affections and passions of the soul are put to sleep, mortified and
quenched, which are they that, when they were awake and alive,
consented not to this.

The first line, then, runs thus: [205]

In darkness and secure.

[205] [Lit., The line, then, continues, and says thus.’ In fact,
however, the author is returning to the first line of the stanza.]


Explains how, though in darkness, the soul walks securely.

THE darkness which the soul here describes relates, as we have said, to
the desires and faculties, sensual, interior and spiritual, for all
these are darkened in this night as to their natural light, so that,
being purged in this respect, they may be illumined with respect to the
supernatural. For the spiritual and the sensual desires are put to
sleep and mortified, so that they can experience [206] nothing, either
Divine or human; the affections of the soul are oppressed and
constrained, so that they can neither move nor find support in
anything; the imagination is bound and can make no useful reflection;
the memory is gone; the understanding is in darkness, unable to
understand anything; and hence the will likewise is arid and
constrained and all the faculties are void and useless; and in addition
to all this a thick and heavy cloud is upon the soul, keeping it in
affliction, and, as it were, far away from God. [207] It is in this
kind of darkness’ that the soul says here it travelled ‘securely.’

2. The reason for this has been clearly expounded; for ordinarily the
soul never strays save through its desires or its tastes or its
reflections or its understanding or its affections; for as a rule it
has too much or too little of these, or they vary or go astray, and
hence the soul becomes inclined to that which behoves it not.
Wherefore, when all these operations and motions are hindered, it is
clear that the soul is secure against being led astray by them; for it
is free, not only from itself, but likewise from its other enemies,
which are the world and the devil. For when the affections and
operations of the soul are quenched, these enemies cannot make war upon
it by any other means or in any other manner.

3. It follows from this that, the greater is the darkness wherein the
soul journeys and the more completely is it voided of its natural
operations, the greater is its security. For, as the Prophet says,
[208] perdition comes to the soul from itself alone–that is, from its
sensual and interior desires and operations; and good, says God, comes
from Me alone. Wherefore, when it is thus hindered from following the
things that lead it into evil, there will then come to it forthwith the
blessings of union with God in its desires and faculties, which in that
union He will make Divine and celestial. Hence, at the time of this
darkness, if the soul considers the matter, it will see very clearly
how little its desire and its faculties are being diverted to things
that are useless and harmful; and how secure it is from vainglory and
pride and presumption, vain and false rejoicing and many other things.
It follows clearly, then, that, by walking in darkness, not only is the
soul not lost, but it has even greatly gained, since it is here gaining
the virtues.

4. But there is a question which at once arises here–namely, since the
things of God are of themselves profitable to the soul and bring it
gain and security, why does God, in this night, darken the desires and
faculties with respect to these good things likewise, in such a way
that the soul can no more taste of them or busy itself with them than
with these other things, and indeed in some ways can do so less? The
answer is that it is well for the soul to perform no operation touching
spiritual things at that time and to have no pleasure in such things,
because its faculties and desires are base, impure and wholly natural;
and thus, although these faculties be given the desire and interest in
things supernatural and Divine, they could not receive them save after
a base and a natural manner, exactly in their own fashion. For, as the
philosopher says, whatsoever is received comes to him that receives it
after the manner of the recipient. Wherefore, since these natural
faculties have neither purity nor strength nor capacity to receive and
taste things that are supernatural after the manner of those things,
which manner is Divine, but can do so only after their own manner,
which is human and base, as we have said, it is meet that its faculties
be in darkness concerning these Divine things likewise. Thus, being
weaned and purged and annihilated in this respect first of all, they
may lose that base and human way of receiving and acting, and thus all
these faculties and desires of the soul may come to be prepared and
tempered in such a way as to be able to receive, feel and taste that
which is Divine and supernatural after a sublime and lofty manner,
which is impossible if the old man die not first of all.

5. Hence it follows that all spiritual things, if they come not from
above and be not communicated by the Father of lights to human desire
and free will (howsoever much a man may exercise his taste and
faculties for God, and howsoever much it may seem to the faculties that
they are experiencing these things), will not be experienced after a
Divine and spiritual manner, but after a human and natural manner, just
as other things are experienced, for spiritual blessings go not from
man to God, but come from God to man. With respect to this (if this
were the proper place for it) we might here explain how there are many
persons whose many tastes and affections and the operations of whose
faculties are fixed upon God or upon spiritual things, and who may
perhaps think that this is supernatural and spiritual, when it is
perhaps no more than the most human and natural desires and actions.
They regard these good things with the same disposition as they have
for other things, by means of a certain natural facility which they
possess for directing their desires and faculties to anything whatever.

6. If perchance we find occasion elsewhere in this book, we shall treat
of this, describing certain signs which indicate when the interior
actions and motions of the soul, with respect to communion with God,
are only natural, when they are spiritual, and when they are both
natural and spiritual. It suffices for us here to know that, in order
that the interior motions and acts of the soul may come to be moved by
God divinely, they must first be darkened and put to sleep and hushed
to rest naturally as touching all their capacity and operation, until
they have no more strength.

7. Therefore, O spiritual soul, when thou seest thy desire obscured,
thy affections arid and constrained, and thy faculties bereft of their
capacity for any interior exercise, be not afflicted by this, but
rather consider it a great happiness, since God is freeing thee from
thyself and taking the matter from thy hands. For with those hands,
howsoever well they may serve thee, thou wouldst never labour so
effectively, so perfectly and so securely (because of their clumsiness
and uncleanness) as now, when God takes thy hand and guides thee in the
darkness, as though thou wert blind, to an end and by a way which thou
knowest not. Nor couldst thou ever hope to travel with the aid of thine
own eyes and feet, howsoever good thou be as a walker.

8. The reason, again, why the soul not only travels securely, when it
travels thus in the darkness, but also achieves even greater gain and
progress, is that usually, when the soul is receiving fresh advantage
and profit, this comes by a way that it least understands–indeed, it
quite commonly believes that it is losing ground. For, as it has never
experienced that new feeling which drives it forth and dazzles it and
makes it depart recklessly from its former way of life, it thinks
itself to be losing ground rather than gaining and progressing, since
it sees that it is losing with respect to that which it knew and
enjoyed, and is going by a way which it knows not and wherein it finds
no enjoyment. It is like the traveller, who, in order to go to new and
unknown lands, takes new roads, unknown and untried, and journeys
unguided by his past experience, but doubtingly and according to what
others say. It is clear that such a man could not reach new countries,
or add to his past experience, if he went not along new and unknown
roads and abandoned those which were known to him. Exactly so, one who
is learning fresh details concerning any office or art always proceeds
in darkness, and receives no guidance from his original knowledge, for
if he left not that behind he would get no farther nor make any
progress; and in the same way, when the soul is making most progress,
it is travelling in darkness, knowing naught. Wherefore, since God, as
we have said, is the Master and Guide of this blind soul, it may well
and truly rejoice, once it has learned to understand this, and say: In
darkness and secure.’

9. There is another reason why the soul has walked securely in this
darkness, and this is because it has been suffering; for the road of
suffering is more secure and even more profitable than that of fruition
and action: first, because in suffering the strength of God is added to
that of man, while in action and fruition the soul is practising its
own weaknesses and imperfections; and second, because in suffering the
soul continues to practise and acquire the virtues and become purer,
wiser and more cautious.

10. But there is another and a more important reason why the soul now
walks in darkness and securely; this emanates from the dark light or
wisdom aforementioned. For in such a way does this dark night of
contemplation absorb and immerse the soul in itself, and so near does
it bring the soul to God, that it protects and delivers it from all
that is not God. For this soul is now, as it were, undergoing a cure,
in order that it may regain its health–its health being God Himself.
His Majesty restricts it to a diet and abstinence from all things, and
takes away its appetite for them all. It is like a sick man, who, if he
is respected by those in his house, is carefully tended so that he may
be cured; the air is not allowed to touch him, nor may he even enjoy
the light, nor must he hear footsteps, nor yet the noise of those in
the house; and he is given food that is very delicate, and even that
only in great moderation–food that is nourishing rather than

11. All these particularities (which are for the security and
safekeeping of the soul) are caused by this dark contemplation, because
it brings the soul nearer to God. For the nearer the soul approaches
Him, the blacker is the darkness which it feels and the deeper is the
obscurity which comes through its weakness; just as, the nearer a man
approaches the sun, the greater are the darkness and the affliction
caused him through the great splendour of the sun and through the
weakness and impurity of his eyes. In the same way, so immense is the
spiritual light of God, and so greatly does it transcend our natural
understanding, that the nearer we approach it, the more it blinds and
darkens us. And this is the reason why, in Psalm xvii, David says that
God made darkness His hiding-place and covering, and His tabernacle
around Him dark water in the clouds of the air. [209] This dark water
in the clouds of the air is dark contemplation and Divine wisdom in
souls, as we are saying. They continue to feel it is a thing which is
near Him, as the tabernacle wherein He dwells, when God brings them
ever nearer to Himself. And thus, that which in God is supreme light
and refulgence is to man blackest darkness, as Saint Paul says,
according as David explains in the same Psalm, saying: Because of the
brightness which is in His presence, passed clouds and cataracts’ [210]
–that is to say, over the natural understanding, the light whereof, as
Isaias says in Chapter V: Obtenebrata est in caligine ejus. [211]

12. Oh, miserable is the fortune of our life, which is lived in such
great peril and wherein it is so difficult to find the truth. For that
which is most clear and true is to us most dark and doubtful;
wherefore, though it is the thing that is most needful for us, we flee
from it. And that which gives the greatest light and satisfaction to
our eyes we embrace and pursue, though it be the worst thing for us,
and make us fall at every step. In what peril and fear does man live,
since the very natural light of his eyes by which he has to guide
himself is the first light that dazzles him and leads him astray on his
road to God! And if he is to know with certainty by what road he
travels, he must perforce keep his eyes closed and walk in darkness,
that he may be secure from the enemies who inhabit his own house–that
is, his senses and faculties.

13. Well hidden, then, and well protected is the soul in these dark
waters, when it is close to God. For, as these waters serve as a
tabernacle and dwelling-place for God Himself, they will serve the soul
in the same way and for a perfect protection and security, though it
remain in darkness, wherein, as we have said, it is hidden and
protected from itself, and from all evils that come from creatures; for
to such the words of David refer in another Psalm, where he says: Thou
shalt hide them in the hiding-place of Thy face from the disturbance of
men; Thou shalt protect them in Thy tabernacle from the contradiction
of tongues.’ [212] Herein we understand all kinds of protection; for to
be hidden in the face of God from the disturbance of men is to be
fortified with this dark contemplation against all the chances which
may come upon the soul from men. And to be protected in His tabernacle
from the contradiction of tongues is for the soul to be engulfed in
these dark waters, which are the tabernacle of David whereof we have
spoken. Wherefore, since the soul has all its desires and affections
weaned and its faculties set in darkness, it is free from all
imperfections which contradict the spirit, whether they come from its
own flesh or from other creatures. Wherefore this soul may well say
that it journeys in darkness and secure.’

14. There is likewise another reason, which is no less effectual than
the last, by which we may understand how the soul journeys securely in
darkness; it is derived from the fortitude by which the soul is at once
inspired in these obscure and afflictive dark waters of God. For after
all, though the waters be dark, they are none the less waters, and
therefore they cannot but refresh and fortify the soul in that which is
most needful for it, although in darkness and with affliction. For the
soul immediately perceives in itself a genuine determination and an
effectual desire to do naught which it understands to be an offence to
God, and to omit to do naught that seems to be for His service. For
that dark love cleaves to the soul, causing it a most watchful care and
an inward solicitude concerning that which it must do, or must not do,
for His sake, in order to please Him. It will consider and ask itself a
thousand times if it has given Him cause to be offended; and all this
it will do with much greater care and solicitude than before, as has
already been said with respect to the yearnings of love. For here all
the desires and energies and faculties of the soul are recollected from
all things else, and its effort and strength are employed in pleasing
its God alone. After this manner the soul goes forth from itself and
from all created things to the sweet and delectable union of love of
God, In darkness and secure.’

By the secret ladder, disguised.

[206] [Lit., taste.’]

[207] Some have considered this description exaggerated, but it must be
borne in mind that all souls are not tested alike and the Saint is
writing of those whom God has willed to raise to such sanctity that
they drain the cup of bitterness to the dregs. We have already seen
(Bk. I, chap. xiv, sect. 5) that all do not experience (this) after one
manner . . . for (it) is meted out by the will of God, in conformity
with the greater or the smaller degree of imperfection which each soul
has to purge away, (and) in conformity, likewise, with the degree of
love of union to which God is pleased to raise it’ (Bk. I, chap xiv,

[208] Osee xiii, 9.

[209] Psalm xvii, 12 [A.V., xviii, 11].

[210] Psalm xvii, 13 [A.V., xviii, 12].

[211] Isaias v, 30.

[212] Psalm xxx, 21 [A.V., xxxi, 20].


Explains how this dark contemplation is secret.

THREE things have to be expounded with reference to three words
contained in this present line. Two (namely, ‘secret’ and ladder’)
belong to the dark night of contemplation of which we are treating; the
third (namely, disguised’) belongs to the soul by reason of the manner
wherein it conducts itself in this night. As to the first, it must be
known that in this line the soul describes this dark contemplation, by
which it goes forth to the union of love, as a secret ladder, because
of the two properties which belong to it–namely, its being secret and
its being a ladder. We shall treat of each separately.

2. First, it describes this dark contemplation as ‘secret,’ since, as
we have indicated above, it is mystical theology, which theologians
call secret wisdom, and which, as Saint Thomas says is communicated and
infused into the soul through love. [213] This happens secretly and in
darkness, so as to be hidden from the work of the understanding and of
other faculties. Wherefore, inasmuch as the faculties aforementioned
attain not to it, but the Holy Spirit infuses and orders it in the
soul, as says the Bride in the Songs, without either its knowledge or
its understanding, it is called secret. And, in truth, not only does
the soul not understand it, but there is none that does so, not even
the devil; inasmuch as the Master Who teaches the soul is within it in
its substance, to which the devil may not attain, neither may natural
sense nor understanding.

3. And it is not for this reason alone that it may be called secret,
but likewise because of the effects which it produces in the soul. For
it is secret not only in the darknesses and afflictions of purgation,
when this wisdom of love purges the soul, and the soul is unable to
speak of it, but equally so afterwards in illumination, when this
wisdom is communicated to it most clearly. Even then it is still so
secret that the soul cannot speak of it and give it a name whereby it
may be called; for, apart from the fact that the soul has no desire to
speak of it, it can find no suitable way or manner or similitude by
which it may be able to describe such lofty understanding and such
delicate spiritual feeling. And thus, even though the soul might have a
great desire to express it and might find many ways in which to
describe it, it would still be secret and remain undescribed. For, as
that inward wisdom is so simple, so general and so spiritual that it
has not entered into the understanding enwrapped or cloaked in any form
or image subject to sense, it follows that sense and imagination (as it
has not entered through them nor has taken their form and colour)
cannot account for it or imagine it, so as to say anything concerning
it, although the soul be clearly aware that it is experiencing and
partaking of that rare and delectable wisdom. It is like one who sees
something never seen before, whereof he has not even seen the like;
although he might understand its nature and have experience of it, he
would be unable to give it a name, or say what it is, however much he
tried to do so, and this in spite of its being a thing which he had
perceived with the senses. How much less, then, could he describe a
thing that has not entered through the senses! For the language of God
has this characteristic that, since it is very intimate and spiritual
in its relations with the soul, it transcends every sense and at once
makes all harmony and capacity of the outward and inward senses to
cease and be dumb.

4. For this we have both authorities and examples in the Divine
Scripture. For the incapacity of man to speak of it and describe it in
words was shown by Jeremias, [214] when, after God had spoken with him,
he knew not what to say, save Ah, ah, ah!’ This interior
incapacity–that is, of the interior sense of the imagination–and also
that of the exterior sense corresponding to it was also demonstrated in
the case of Moses, when he stood before God in the bush; [215] not only
did he say to God that after speaking with Him he knew not neither was
able to speak, but also that not even (as is said in the Acts of the
Apostles) [216] with the interior imagination did he dare to meditate,
for it seemed to him that his imagination was very far away and was too
dumb, not only to express any part of that which he understood
concerning God, but even to have the capacity to receive aught
therefrom. Wherefore, inasmuch as the wisdom of this contemplation is
the language of God to the soul, addressed by pure spirit to pure
spirit, naught that is less than spirit, such as the senses, can
perceive it, and thus to them it is secret, and they know it not,
neither can they say it, [217] nor do they desire to do so, because
they see it not.

5. We may deduce from this the reason why certain persons–good and
fearful souls–who walk along this road and would like to give an
account of their spiritual state to their director, [218] are neither
able to do so nor know how. For the reason we have described, they have
a great repugnance in speaking of it, especially when their
contemplation is of the purer sort, so that the soul itself is hardly
conscious of it. Such a person is only able to say that he is
satisfied, tranquil and contented and that he is conscious of the
presence of God, and that, as it seems to him, all is going well with
him; but he cannot describe the state of his soul, nor can he say
anything about it save in general terms like these. It is a different
matter when the experiences of the soul are of a particular kind, such
as visions, feelings, etc., which, being ordinarily received under some
species wherein sense participates, can be described under that
species, or by some other similitude. But this capacity for being
described is not in the nature of pure contemplation, which is
indescribable, as we have said, for the which reason it is called

6. And not only for that reason is it called secret, and is so, but
likewise because this mystical knowledge has the property of hiding the
soul within itself. For, besides performing its ordinary function, it
sometimes absorbs the soul and engulfs it in its secret abyss, in such
a way that the soul clearly sees that it has been carried far away from
every creature and; has become most remote therefrom; [219] so that it
considers itself as having been placed in a most profound and vast
retreat, to which no human creature can attain, such as an immense
desert, which nowhere has any boundary, a desert the more delectable,
pleasant and lovely for its secrecy, vastness and solitude, wherein,
the more the soul is raised up above all temporal creatures, the more
deeply does it find itself hidden. And so greatly does this abyss of
wisdom raise up and exalt the soul at this time, making it to penetrate
the veins of the science of love, that it not only shows it how base
are all properties of the creatures by comparison with this supreme
knowledge and Divine feeling, but likewise it learns how base and
defective, and, in some measure, how inapt, are all the terms and words
which are used in this life to treat of Divine things, and how
impossible it is, in any natural way or manner, however learnedly and
sublimely they may be spoken of, to be able to know and perceive them
as they are, save by the illumination of this mystical theology. And
thus, when by means of this illumination the soul discerns this truth,
namely, that it cannot reach it, still less explain it, by common or
human language, it rightly calls it secret.

7. This property of secrecy and superiority over natural capacity,
which belongs to this Divine contemplation, belongs to it, not only
because it is supernatural, but also inasmuch as it is a road that
guides and leads the soul to the perfections of union with God; which,
as they are things unknown after a human manner, must be approached,
after a human manner, by unknowing and by Divine ignorance. For,
speaking mystically, as we are speaking here, Divine things and
perfections are known and understood as they are, not when they are
being sought after and practised, but when they have been found and
practised. To this purpose speaks the prophet Baruch concerning this
Divine wisdom: There is none that can know her ways nor that can
imagine her paths.’ [220] Likewise the royal Prophet speaks in this
manner concerning this road of the soul, when he says to God: Thy
lightnings lighted and illumined the round earth; the earth was moved
and trembled. Thy way is in the sea and Thy paths are in many waters;
and Thy footsteps shall not be known.’ [221]

8. All this, speaking spiritually, is to be understood in the sense
wherein we are speaking. For the illumination of the round earth [222]
by the lightnings of God is the enlightenment which is produced by this
Divine contemplation in the faculties of the soul; the moving and
trembling of the earth is the painful purgation which is caused
therein; and to say that the way and the road of God whereby the soul
journeys to Him is in the sea, and His footprints are in many waters
and for this reason shall not be known, is as much as to say that this
road whereby the soul journeys to God is as secret and as hidden from
the sense of the soul as the way of one that walks on the sea, whose
paths and footprints are not known, is hidden from the sense of the
body. The steps and footprints which God is imprinting upon the souls
that He desires to bring near to Himself, and to make great in union
with His Wisdom, have also this property, that they are not known.
Wherefore in the Book of Job mention is made of this matter, in these
words: Hast thou perchance known the paths of the great clouds or the
perfect knowledges?’ [223] By this are understood the ways and roads
whereby God continually exalts souls and perfects them in His Wisdom,
which souls are here understood by the clouds. It follows, then, that
this contemplation which is guiding the soul to God is secret wisdom.

[213] Propter hoc Gregorius (Hom. 14 in Ezech.) constituit vitam
contemplativam in charitate Dei. Cf. Summa Theologica, 2a, 2ae, q. 45,
a. 2.

[214] Jeremias i, 6.

[215] Exodus iv, 10 [cf. iii, 2].

[216] Acts vii, 32.

[217] [Or: and they know not how to say it nor are able to do so.’]

[218] [Lit., to him that rules them.’]

[219] [Lit., that is set most far away and most remote from every

[220] Baruch iii, 31.

[221] Psalm lxxvi, 19-20 [A.V., lxxvii, 18-19].

[222] [Lit., of the roundness of the earth.’]

[223] Job xxxvii, 16.


Explains how this secret wisdom is likewise a ladder.

IT now remains to consider the second point–namely, how this secret
wisdom is likewise a ladder. With respect to this it must be known that
we can call this secret contemplation a ladder for many reasons. In the
first place, because, just as men mount by means of ladders and climb
up to possessions and treasures and things that are in strong places,
even so also, by means of this secret contemplation, without knowing
how, the soul ascends and climbs up to a knowledge and possession of
[224] the good things and treasures of Heaven. This is well expressed
by the royal prophet David, when he says: Blessed is he that hath Thy
favour and help, for such a man hath placed in his heart ascensions
into the vale of tears in the place which he hath appointed; for after
this manner the Lord of the law shall give blessing, and they shall go
from virtue to virtue as from step to step, and the God of gods shall
be seen in Sion.’ [225] This God is the treasure of the strong place of
Sion, which is happiness.

2. We may also call it a ladder because, even as the ladder has those
same steps in order that men may mount, it has them also that they may
descend; even so is it likewise with this secret contemplation, for
those same communications which it causes in the soul raise it up to
God, yet humble it with respect to itself. For communications which are
indeed of God have this property, that they humble the soul and at the
same time exalt it. For, upon this road, to go down is to go up, and to
go up, to go down, for he that humbles himself is exalted and he that
exalts himself is humbled. [226] And besides the fact that the virtue
of humility is greatness, for the exercise of the soul therein, God is
wont to make it mount by this ladder so that it may descend, and to
make it descend so that it may mount, that the words of the Wise Man
may thus be fulfilled, namely: Before the soul is exalted, it is
humbled; and before it is humbled, it is exalted.’ [227]

3. Speaking now in a natural way, the soul that desires to consider it
will be able to see how on this road (we leave apart the spiritual
aspect, of which the soul is not conscious) it has to suffer many ups
and downs, and how the prosperity which it enjoys is followed
immediately by certain storms and trials; so much so, that it appears
to have been given that period of calm in order that it might be
forewarned and strengthened against the poverty which has followed;
just as after misery and torment there come abundance and calm. It
seems to the soul as if, before celebrating that festival, it has first
been made to keep that vigil. This is the ordinary course and
proceeding of the state of contemplation until the soul arrives at the
state of quietness; it never remains in the same state for long
together, but is ascending and descending continually.

4. The reason for this is that, as the state of perfection, which
consists in the perfect love of God and contempt for self, cannot exist
unless it have these two parts, which are the knowledge of God and of
oneself, the soul has of necessity to be practised first in the one and
then in the other, now being given to taste of the one–that is,
exaltation–and now being made to experience the other–that is,
humiliation–until it has acquired perfect habits; and then this
ascending and descending will cease, since the soul will have attained
to God and become united with Him, which comes to pass at the summit of
this ladder, for the ladder rests and leans upon Him. For this ladder
of contemplation, which, as we have said, comes down from God, is
prefigured by that ladder which Jacob saw as he slept, whereon angels
were ascending and descending, from God to man, and from man to God,
Who Himself was leaning upon the end of the ladder. [228] All this,
says Divine Scripture, took place by night, when Jacob slept, in order
to express how secret is this road and ascent to God, and how different
from that of man’s knowledge. This is very evident, since ordinarily
that which is of the greatest profit in it–namely, to be ever losing
oneself and becoming as nothing [229] –is considered the worst thing
possible; and that which is of least worth, which is for a soul to find
consolation and sweetness (wherein it ordinarily loses rather than
gains), is considered best.

5. But, speaking now somewhat more substantially and properly of this
ladder of secret contemplation, we shall observe that the principal
characteristic of contemplation, on account of which it is here called
a ladder, is that it is the science of love. This, as we have said, is
an infused and loving knowledge of God, which enlightens the soul and
at the same time enkindles it with love, until it is raised up step by
step, even unto God its Creator. For it is love alone that unites and
joins the soul with God. To the end that this may be seen more clearly,
we shall here indicate the steps of this Divine ladder one by one,
pointing out briefly the marks and effects of each, so that the soul
may conjecture hereby on which of them it is standing. We shall
therefore distinguish them by their effects, as do Saint Bernard and
Saint Thomas, [230] for to know them in themselves is not possible
after a natural manner, inasmuch as this ladder of love is, as we have
said, so secret that God alone is He that measures and weighs it.

[224] [Lit., rises to scale, know and possess.’]

[225] Psalm lxxxiii, 6 [A.V., lxxxiv, 7].

[226] St. Luke xiv, 11.

[227] Proverbs xviii, 12.

[228] Genesis xxviii, 12.

[229] [Lit., and annihilating oneself.’]

[230] Ut dicit Bernardus, Magna res est amor, sed sunt in eo gradus.
Loquendo ergo aliquantulum magis moraliter quam realiter, decem amoris
gradus distinguere possumus (D. Thom., De dilectione Dei et proximi,
cap. xxvii. Cf. Opusc. LXI of the edition of Venice, 1595).


Begins to explain the ten steps [231] of the mystic ladder of Divine
love, according to Saint Bernard and Saint Thomas. The first five
are here treated.

WE observe, then, that the steps of this ladder of love by which the
soul mounts, one by one, to God, are ten. The first step of love causes
the soul to languish, and this to its advantage. The Bride is speaking
from this step of love when she says: I adjure you, daughters of
Jerusalem, that, if ye find my Beloved, ye tell Him that I am sick with
love.’ [232] This sickness, however, is not unto death, but for the
glory of God, for in this sickness the soul swoons as to sin and as to
all things that are not God, for the sake of God Himself, even as David
testifies, saying: My soul hath swooned away’ [233] –that is, with
respect to all things, for Thy salvation. For just as a sick man first
of all loses his appetite and taste for all food, and his colour
changes, so likewise in this degree of love the soul loses its taste
and desire for all things and changes its colour and the other
accidentals of its past life, like one in love. The soul falls not into
this sickness if excess of heat be not communicated to it from above,
even as is expressed in that verse of David which says: Pluviam
voluntariam segregabis, Deus, haereditati tuae, et infirmata est, [234]
etc. This sickness and swooning to all things, which is the beginning
and the first step on the road to God, we clearly described above, when
we were speaking of the annihilation wherein the soul finds itself when
it begins to climb [235] this ladder of contemplative purgation, when
it can find no pleasure, support, consolation or abiding-place in
anything soever. Wherefore from this step it begins at once to climb to
the second.

2. The second step causes the soul to seek God without ceasing.
Wherefore, when the Bride says that she sought Him by night upon her
bed (when she had swooned away according to the first step of love) and
found Him not, she said: I will arise and will seek Him Whom my soul
loveth.’ [236] This, as we say, the soul does without ceasing as David
counsels it, saying: ‘seek ye ever the face of God, and seek ye Him in
all things, tarrying not until ye find Him;’ [237] like the Bride, who,
having enquired for Him of the watchmen, passed on at once and left
them. Mary Magdalene did not even notice the angels at the sepulchre.
[238] On this step the soul now walks so anxiously that it seeks the
Beloved in all things. In whatsoever it thinks, it thinks at once of
the Beloved. Of whatsoever it speaks, in whatsoever matters present
themselves, it is speaking and communing at once with the Beloved. When
it eats, when it sleeps, when it watches, when it does aught soever,
all its care is about the Beloved, as is said above with respect to the
yearnings of love. And now, as love begins to recover its health and
find new strength in the love of this second step, it begins at once to
mount to the third, by means of a certain degree [239] of new purgation
in the night, as we shall afterwards describe, which produces in the
soul the following effects.

3. The third step of the ladder of love is that which causes the soul
to work and gives it fervour so that it fails not. Concerning this the
royal Prophet says: ‘ Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, for in
His commandments he is eager to labour greatly.’ [240] Wherefore if
fear, being the son of love, causes within him this eagerness to
labour, [241] what will be done by love itself? On this step the soul
considers great works undertaken for the Beloved as small; many things
as few; and the long time for which it serves Him as short, by reason
of the fire of love wherein it is now burning. Even so to Jacob, though
after seven years he had been made to serve seven more, they seemed few
because of the greatness of his love. [242] Now if the love of a mere
creature could accomplish so much in Jacob, what will love of the
Creator be able to do when on this third step it takes possession of
the soul? Here, for the great love which the soul bears to God, it
suffers great pains and afflictions because of the little that it does
for God; and if it were lawful for it to be destroyed a thousand times
for Him it would be comforted. Wherefore it considers itself useless in
all that it does and thinks itself to be living in vain. Another
wondrous effect produced here in the soul is that it considers itself
as being, most certainly, worse than all other souls: first, because
love is continually teaching it how much is due to God; [243] and
second, because, as the works which it here does for God are many and
it knows them all to be faulty and imperfect, they all bring it
confusion and affliction, for it realizes in how lowly a manner it is
working for God, Who is so high. On this third step, the soul is very
far from vainglory or presumption, and from condemning others. These
anxious effects, with many others like them, are produced in the soul
by this third step; wherefore it gains courage and strength from them
in order to mount to the fourth step, which is that that follows.

4. The fourth step of this ladder of love is that whereby there is
caused in the soul an habitual suffering because of the Beloved, yet
without weariness. For, as Saint Augustine says, love makes all things
that are great, grievous and burdensome to be almost naught. From this
step the Bride was speaking when, desiring to attain to the last step,
she said to the Spouse: ‘set me as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal
upon thine arm; for love–that is, the act and work of love–is strong
as death, and emulation and importunity last as long as hell.’ [244]
The spirit here has so much strength that it has subjected the flesh
and takes as little account of it as does the tree of one of its
leaves. In no way does the soul here seek its own consolation or
pleasure, either in God, or in aught else, nor does it desire or seek
to pray to God for favours, for it sees clearly that it has already
received enough of these, and all its anxiety is set upon the manner
wherein it will be able to do something that is pleasing to God and to
render Him some service such as He merits and in return for what it has
received from Him, although it be greatly to its cost. The soul says in
its heart and spirit: Ah, my God and Lord! How many are there that go
to seek in Thee their own consolation and pleasure, and desire Thee to
grant them favours and gifts; but those who long to do Thee pleasure
and to give Thee something at their cost, setting their own interests
last, are very few. The failure, my God, is not in Thy unwillingness to
grant us new favours, but in our neglect to use those that we have
received in Thy service alone, in order to constrain Thee to grant them
to us continually. Exceeding lofty is this step of love; for, as the
soul goes ever after God with love so true, imbued with the spirit of
suffering for His sake, His Majesty oftentimes and quite habitually
grants it joy, and visits it sweetly and delectably in the spirit; for
the boundless love of Christ, the Word, cannot suffer the afflictions
of His lover without succouring him. This He affirmed through Jeremias,
saying: I have remembered thee, pitying thy youth and tenderness, when
thou wentest after Me in the wilderness.’ [245] Speaking spiritually,
this denotes the detachment which the soul now has interiorly from
every creature, so that it rests not and nowhere finds quietness. This
fourth step enkindles the soul and makes it to burn in such desire for
God that it causes it to mount to the fifth, which is that which

5. The fifth step of this ladder of love makes the soul to desire and
long for God impatiently. On this step the vehemence of the lover to
comprehend the Beloved and be united with Him is such that every delay,
however brief, becomes very long, wearisome and oppressive to it, and
it continually believes itself to be finding the Beloved. And when it
sees its desire frustrated (which is at almost every moment), it swoons
away with its yearning, as says the Psalmist, speaking from this step,
in these words: My soul longs and faints for the dwellings of the
Lord.’ [246] On this step the lover must needs see that which he loves,
or die; at this step was Rachel, when, for the great longing that she
had for children, she said to Jacob, her spouse: Give me children, else
shall I die.’ [247] Here men suffer hunger like dogs and go about and
surround the city of God. On this step, which is one of hunger, [248]
the soul is nourished upon love; for, even as is its hunger, so is its
abundance; so that it rises hence to the sixth step, producing the
effects which follow.

[231] [The word translated ‘step’ may also (and often more elegantly)
be rendered degree.’ The same word is kept, however, throughout the
translation of this chapter except where noted below.]

[232] Canticles v, 8.

[233] Psalm cxlii, 7 [A.V., cxliii, 7].

[234] Psalm lxvii, 10 [A.V., lxviii, 9].

[235] [Lit., to enter (upon).’]

[236] Canticles iii, 2.

[237] Psalm civ, 4 [A.V., cv, 4].

[238] St. John xx.

[239] [The word in the Spanish is that elsewhere translated ‘step.’]

[240] Psalm cxi, 1 [A.V., cxii, 1].

[241] [Lit., makes in him this labour of eagerness.’]

[242] Genesis xxix, 20.

[243] [Lit., how much God merits.’]

[244] Canticles viii, 5.

[245] Jeremias ii, 2.

[246] Psalm lxxxiii, 2 [A.V., lxxxiv, 2].

[247] Genesis xxx, 1.

[248] [Lit., On this hungering step.’]


Wherein are treated the other five steps of love.

ON the sixth step the soul runs swiftly to God and touches Him again
and again; and it runs without fainting by reason of its hope. For here
the love that has made it strong makes it to fly swiftly. Of this step
the prophet Isaias speaks thus: ‘ The saints that hope in God shall
renew their strength; they shall take wings as the eagle; they shall
fly and shall not faint,’ [249] as they did at the fifth step. To this
step likewise alludes that verse of the Psalm: ‘ As the hart desires
the waters, my soul desires Thee, O God.’ [250] For the hart, in its
thirst, runs to the waters with great swiftness. The cause of this
swiftness in love which the soul has on this step is that its charity
is greatly enlarged within it, since the soul is here almost wholly
purified, as is said likewise in the Psalm, namely: Sine iniquitate
cucurri. [251] And in another Psalm: I ran the way of Thy commandments
when Thou didst enlarge my heart’; [252] and thus from this sixth step
the soul at once mounts to the seventh, which is that which follows.

2. The seventh step of this ladder makes the soul to become vehement in
its boldness. Here love employs not its judgment in order to hope, nor
does it take counsel so that it may draw back, neither can any shame
restrain it; for the favour which God here grants to the soul causes it
to become vehement in its boldness. Hence follows that which the
Apostle says, namely: That charity believeth all things, hopeth all
things and is capable of all things. [253] Of this step spake Moses,
when he entreated God to pardon the people, and if not, to blot out his
name from the book of life wherein He had written it. [254] Men like
these obtain from God that which they beg of Him with desire. Wherefore
David says: Delight thou in God and He will give thee the petitions of
thy heart.’ [255] On this step the Bride grew bold, and said: Osculetur
me osculo oris sui. [256] To this step it is not lawful for the soul to
aspire boldly, unless it feel the interior favour of the King’s sceptre
extended to it, lest perchance it fall from the other steps which it
has mounted up to this point, and wherein it must ever possess itself
in humility. From this daring and power which God grants to the soul on
this seventh step, so that it may be bold with God in the vehemence of
love, follows the eighth, which is that wherein it takes the Beloved
captive and is united with Him, as follows.

3. The eighth step of love causes the soul to seize Him and hold Him
fast without letting Him go, even as the Bride says, after this manner:
I found Him Whom my heart and soul love; I held Him and I will not let
Him go.’ [257] On this step of union the soul satisfies her desire, but
not continuously. Certain souls climb some way, [258] and then lose
their hold; for, if this state were to continue, it would be glory
itself in this life; and thus the soul remains therein for very short
periods of time. To the prophet Daniel, because he was a man of
desires, was sent a command from God to remain on this step, when it
was said to him: Daniel, stay upon thy step, because thou art a man of
desires.’ [259] After this step follows the ninth, which is that of
souls now perfect, as we shall afterwards say, which is that that

4. The ninth step of love makes the soul to burn with sweetness. This
step is that of the perfect, who now burn sweetly in God. For this
sweet and delectable ardour is caused in them by the Holy Spirit by
reason of the union which they have with God. For this cause Saint
Gregory says, concerning the Apostles, that when the Holy Spirit came
upon them visibly they burned inwardly and sweetly through love. [260]
Of the good things and riches of God which the soul enjoys on this
step, we cannot speak; for if many books were to be written concerning
it the greater part would still remain untold. For this cause, and
because we shall say something of it hereafter, I say no more here than
that after this follows the tenth and last step of this ladder of love,
which belongs not to this life.

5. The tenth and last step of this secret ladder of love causes the
soul to become wholly assimilated to God, by reason of the clear and
immediate [261] vision of God which it then possesses; when, having
ascended in this life to the ninth step, it goes forth from the flesh.
These souls, who are few, enter not into purgatory, since they have
already been wholly purged by love. Of these Saint Matthew says: Beati
mundo corde: quoniam ipsi Deum videbunt. [262] And, as we say, this
vision is the cause of the perfect likeness of the soul to God, for, as
Saint John says, we know that we shall be like Him. [263] Not because
the soul will come to have the capacity of God, for that is impossible;
but because all that it is will become like to God, for which cause it
will be called, and will be, God by participation.

6. This is the secret ladder whereof the soul here speaks, although
upon these higher steps it is no longer very secret to the soul, since
much is revealed to it by love, through the great effects which love
produces in it. But, on this last step of clear vision, which is the
last step of the ladder whereon God leans, as we have said already,
there is naught that is hidden from the soul, by reason of its complete
assimilation. Wherefore Our Saviour says: In that day ye shall ask Me
nothing,’ etc. [264] But, until that day, however high a point the soul
may reach, there remains something hidden from it–namely, all that it
lacks for total assimilation in the Divine Essence. After this manner,
by this mystical theology and secret love, the soul continues to rise
above all things and above itself, and to mount upward to God. For love
is like fire, which ever rises upward with the desire to be absorbed in
the centre of its sphere.

[249] Isaias xl, 31.

[250] Psalm xli, 2 [A.V., xlii, 1].

[251] Psalm lviii, 5 [A.V., lix, 4].

[252] Psalm cxviii, 32 [A.V., cxix, 32].

[253] 1 Corinthians xiii, 7.

[254] Exodus xxxii, 31-2.

[255] Psalm xxxvi, 4 [A.V., xxxvii, 4].

[256] Canticles i, 1.

[257] Canticles iii, 4.

[258] [Lit., attain to setting their foot.’]

[259] Daniel x, 11.

[260] Dum Deum in ignis visione suscipiunt, per amorem suaviter
arserunt (Hom. XXX in Evang.).

[261] [i.e., direct, not mediate.]

[262] St. Matthew v, 8.

[263] St. John iii, 2.

[264] St. John xvi, 23.


Which explains the word disguised,’ and describes the colours of the
disguise of the soul in this night.

Now that we have explained the reasons why the soul called this
contemplation a ‘secret ladder,’ it remains for us to explain likewise
the word disguised,’ and the reason why the soul says also that it went
forth by this ‘secret ladder’ in ‘ disguise.’

2. For the understanding of this it must be known that to disguise
oneself is naught else but to hide and cover oneself beneath another
garb and figure than one’s own–sometimes in order to show forth, under
that garb or figure, the will and purpose which is in the heart to gain
the grace and will of one who is greatly loved; sometimes, again, to
hide oneself from one’s rivals and thus to accomplish one’s object
better. At such times a man assumes the garments and livery which best
represent and indicate the affection of his heart and which best
conceal him from his rivals.

3. The soul, then, touched with the love of Christ the Spouse, and
longing to attain to His grace and gain His goodwill, goes forth here
disguised with that disguise which most vividly represents the
affections of its spirit and which will protect it most securely on its
journey from its adversaries and enemies, which are the devil, the
world and the flesh. Thus the livery which it wears is of three chief
colours–white, green and purple–denoting the three theological
virtues, faith, hope and charity. By these the soul will not only gain
the grace and goodwill of its Beloved, but it will travel in security
and complete protection from its three enemies: for faith is an inward
tunic of a whiteness so pure that it completely dazzles the eyes of the
understanding. [265] And thus, when the soul journeys in its vestment
of faith, the devil can neither see it nor succeed in harming it, since
it is well protected by faith–more so than by all the other
virtues–against the devil, who is at once the strongest and the most
cunning of enemies.

4. It is clear that Saint Peter could find no better protection than
faith to save him from the devil, when he said: Cui resistite fortes in
fide. [266] And in order to gain the grace of the Beloved, and union
with Him, the soul cannot put on a better vest and tunic, [267] to
serve as a foundation and beginning of the other vestments of the
virtues, than this white garment [268] of faith, for without it, as the
Apostle says, it is impossible to please God, and with it, it is
impossible to fail to please Him. For He Himself says through a
prophet: Sponsabo te mihi in fide. [269] Which is as much as to say: If
thou desirest, O soul, to be united and betrothed to Me, thou must come
inwardly clad in faith.

5. This white garment of faith was worn by the soul on its going forth
from this dark night, when, walking in interior constraint and
darkness, as we have said before, it received no aid, in the form of
light, from its understanding, neither from above, since Heaven seemed
to be closed to it and God hidden from it, nor from below, since those
that taught it satisfied it not. It suffered with constancy and
persevered, passing through those trials without fainting or failing
the Beloved, Who in trials and tribulations proves the faith of His
Bride, so that afterwards she may truly repeat this saying of David,
namely: By the words of Thy lips I kept hard ways.’ [270]

6. Next, over this white tunic of faith the soul now puts on the second
colour, which is a green vestment. By this, as we said, is signified
the virtue of hope, wherewith, as in the first case, the soul is
delivered and protected from the second enemy, which is the world. For
this green colour of living hope in God gives the soul such ardour and
courage and aspiration to the things of eternal life that, by
comparison with what it hopes for therein, all things of the world seem
to it to be, as in truth they are, dry and faded and dead and nothing
worth. The soul now divests and strips itself of all these worldly
vestments and garments, setting its heart upon naught that is in the
world and hoping for naught, whether of that which is or of that which
is to be, but living clad only in the hope of eternal life. Wherefore,
when the heart is thus lifted up above the world, not only can the
world neither touch the heart nor lay hold on it, but it cannot even
come within sight of it.

7. And thus, in this green livery and disguise, the soul journeys in
complete security from this second enemy, which is the world. For Saint
Paul speaks of hope as the helmet of salvation [271] –that is, a piece
of armour that protects the whole head, and covers it so that there
remains uncovered only a visor through which it may look. And hope has
this property, that it covers all the senses of the head of the soul,
so that there is naught soever pertaining to the world in which they
can be immersed, nor is there an opening through which any arrow of the
world can wound them. It has a visor, however, which the soul is
permitted to use so that its eyes may look upward, but nowhere else;
for this is the function which hope habitually performs in the soul,
namely, the directing of its eyes upwards to look at God alone, even as
David declared that his eyes were directed, when he said: Oculi mei
semper ad Dominum. [272] He hoped for no good thing elsewhere, save as
he himself says in another Psalm: Even as the eyes of the handmaid are
set upon the hands of her mistress, even so are our eyes set upon our
Lord God, until He have mercy upon us as we hope in Him.’ [273]

8. For this reason, because of this green livery (since the soul is
ever looking to God and sets its eyes on naught else, neither is
pleased with aught save with Him alone), the Beloved has such great
pleasure with the soul that it is true to say that the soul obtains
from Him as much as it hopes for from Him. Wherefore the Spouse in the
Songs tells the Bride that, by looking upon Him with one eye alone, she
has wounded His heart. [274] Without this green livery of hope in God
alone it would be impossible for the soul to go forth to encompass this
loving achievement, for it would have no success, since that which
moves and conquers is the importunity of hope.

9. With this livery of hope the soul journeys in disguise through this
secret and dark night whereof we have spoken; for it is so completely
voided of every possession and support that it fixes its eyes and its
care upon naught but God, putting its mouth in the dust, [275] if so be
there may be hope–to repeat the quotation made above from Jeremias.

10. Over the white and the green vestments, as the crown and perfection
of this disguise and livery, the soul now puts on the third colour,
which is a splendid garment of purple. By this is denoted the third
virtue, which is charity. This not only adds grace to the other two
colours, but causes the soul to rise to so lofty a point that it is
brought near to God, and becomes very beautiful and pleasing to Him, so
that it makes bold to say: Albeit I am black, O daughters of Jerusalem,
I am comely; wherefore the King hath loved me and hath brought me into
His chambers.’ [277] This livery of charity, which is that of love, and
causes greater love in the Beloved, not only protects the soul and
hides it from the third enemy, which is the flesh (for where there is
true love of God there enters neither love of self nor that of the
things of self), but even gives worth to the other virtues, bestowing
on them vigour and strength to protect the soul, and grace and beauty
to please the Beloved with them, for without charity no virtue has
grace before God. This is the purple which is spoken of in the Songs,
[278] upon which God reclines. Clad in this purple livery the soul
journeys when (as has been explained above in the first stanza) it goes
forth from itself in the dark night, and from all things created,
kindled in love with yearnings,’ by this secret ladder of
contemplation, to the perfect union of love of God, its beloved
salvation. [279]

11. This, then, is the disguise which the soul says that it wears in
the night of faith, upon this secret ladder, and these are its three
colours. They constitute a most fit preparation for the union of the
soul with God, according to its three faculties, which are
understanding, memory and will. For faith voids and darkens the
understanding as to all its natural intelligence, and herein prepares
it for union with Divine Wisdom. Hope voids and withdraws the memory
from all creature possessions; for, as Saint Paul says, hope is for
that which is not possessed; [280] and thus it withdraws the memory
from that which it is capable of possessing, and sets it on that for
which it hopes. And for this cause hope in God alone prepares the
memory purely for union with God. Charity, in the same way, voids and
annihilates the affections and desires of the will for whatever is not
God, and sets them upon Him alone; and thus this virtue prepares this
faculty and unites it with God through love. And thus, since the
function of these virtues is the withdrawal of the soul from all that
is less than God, their function is consequently that of joining it
with God.

12. And thus, unless it journeys earnestly, clad in the garments of
these three virtues, it is impossible for the soul to attain to the
perfection of union with God through love. Wherefore, in order that the
soul might attain that which it desired, which was this loving and
delectable union with its Beloved, this disguise and clothing which it
assumed was most necessary and convenient. And likewise to have
succeeded in thus clothing itself and persevering until it should
obtain the end and aspiration which it had so much desired, which was
the union of love, was a great and happy chance, wherefore in this line
the soul also says:

Oh, happy chance!

[265] [Lit., that it dislocates the sight of all understanding.’]

[266] 1 St. Peter v, 9.

[267] [Lit., a better undershirt and tunic.’]

[268] [Lit., this whiteness.’]

[269] Osee, ii, 20.

[270] Psalm xvi, 4 [A.V., xvii, 4].

[271] 1 Thessalonians v, 8.

[272] Psalm xxiv, 15 [A.V., xxv, 15].

[273] Psalm cxxii, 2 [A.V., cxxiii, 2].

[274] Canticles iv, 9.

[275] Lamentations iii, 29.

[276] Ibid. [For the quotation, see Bk. II, chap. viii, sect. 1,

[277] Canticles i, 3. [A.V., i, 4.] [For chambers’ the Spanish has

[278] Canticles iii, 10.

[279] [Or health.’]

[280] Romans viii, 24.


Explains the third [281] line of the second stanza.

IT is very clear that it was a happy chance for this soul to go forth
with such an enterprise as this, for it was its going forth that
delivered it from the devil and from the world and from its own
sensuality, as we have said. Having attained liberty of spirit, so
precious and so greatly desired by all, it went forth from low things
to high; from terrestrial, it became celestial; from human, Divine.
Thus it came to have its conversation in the heavens, as has the soul
in this state of perfection, even as we shall go on to say in what
follows, although with rather more brevity.

2. For the most important part of my task, and the part which chiefly
led me to undertake it, was the explanation of this night to many souls
who pass through it and yet know nothing about it, as was said in the
prologue. Now this explanation and exposition has already been half
completed. Although much less has been said of it than might be said,
we have shown how many are the blessings which the soul bears with it
through the night and how happy is the chance whereby it passes through
it, so that, when a soul is terrified by the horror of so many trials,
it is also encouraged by the certain hope of so many and such precious
blessings of God as it gains therein. And furthermore, for yet another
reason, this was a happy chance for the soul; and this reason is given
in the following line:

In darkness and in concealment.

[281] i.e., in the original Spanish and in our verse rendering of the
poem in The Complete Works of St. John of the Cross, Ed. by E. Allison
Peers, Vol. II (The Newman Press, Westminster, Md.).


Expounds the fourth line [282] and describes the wondrous hiding
place wherein the soul is set during this night. Shows how, although
the devil has an entrance into other places that are very high, he
has none into this.

IN concealment’ is as much as to say in a hiding-place,’ or in hiding’;
and thus, what the soul here says (namely, that it went forth in
darkness and in concealment’) is a more complete explanation of the
great security which it describes itself in the first line of the
stanza as possessing, by means of this dark contemplation upon the road
of the union of the love of God.

2. When the soul, then, says in darkness and in concealment,’ it means
that, inasmuch as it journeyed in darkness after the manner
aforementioned, it went in hiding and in concealment from the devil and
from his wiles and stratagems. The reason why, as it journeys in the
darkness of this contemplation, the soul is free, and is hidden from
the stratagems of the devil, is that the infused contemplation which it
here possesses is infused into it passively and secretly, without the
knowledge of the senses and faculties, whether interior or exterior, of
the sensual part. And hence it follows that, not only does it journey
in hiding, and is free from the impediment which these faculties can
set in its way because of its natural weakness, but likewise from the
devil; who, except through these faculties of the sensual part, cannot
reach or know that which is in the soul, nor that which is taking place
within it. Wherefore, the more spiritual, the more interior and the
more remote from the senses is the communication, the farther does the
devil fall short of understanding it.

3. And thus it is of great importance for the security of the soul that
its inward communication with God should be of such a kind that its
very senses of the lower part will remain in darkness [283] and be
without knowledge of it, and attain not to it: first, so that it may be
possible for the spiritual communication to be more abundant, and that
the weakness of its sensual part may not hinder the liberty of its
spirit; secondly because, as we say, the soul journeys more securely
since the devil cannot penetrate so far. In this way we may understand
that passage where Our Saviour, speaking in a spiritual sense, says:
Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.’ [284] Which is
as though He had said: Let not thy left hand know that which takes
place upon thy right hand, which is the higher and spiritual part of
the soul; that is, let it be of such a kind that the lower portion of
thy soul, which is the sensual part, may not attain to it; let it be a
secret between the spirit and God alone.

4. It is quite true that oftentimes, when these very intimate and
secret spiritual communications are present and take place in the soul,
although the devil cannot get to know of what kind and manner they are,
yet the great repose and silence which some of them cause in the senses
and the faculties of the sensual part make it clear to him that they
are taking place and that the soul is receiving a certain blessing from
them. And then, as he sees that he cannot succeed in thwarting them in
the depth of the soul, he does what he can to disturb and disquiet the
sensual part–that part to which he is able to attain–now by means of
afflictions, now by terrors and fears, with intent to disquiet and
disturb the higher and spiritual part of the soul by this means, with
respect to that blessing which it then receives and enjoys. But often,
when the communication of such contemplation makes its naked assault
upon the soul and exerts its strength upon it, the devil, with all his
diligence, is unable to disturb it; rather the soul receives a new and
a greater advantage and a securer peace. For, when it feels the
disturbing presence of the enemy, then–wondrous thing!–without
knowing how it comes to pass, and without any efforts of its own, it
enters farther into its own interior depths, feeling that it is indeed
being set in a sure refuge, where it perceives itself to be most
completely withdrawn and hidden from the enemy. And thus its peace and
joy, which the devil is attempting to take from it, are increased; and
all the fear that assails it remains without; and it becomes clearly
and exultingly conscious of its secure enjoyment of that quiet peace
and sweetness of the hidden Spouse, which neither the world nor the
devil can give it or take from it. In that state, therefore, it
realizes the truth of the words of the Bride about this, in the Songs,
namely: ‘see how threescore strong men surround the bed of Solomon,
etc., because of the fears of the night.’ [285] It is conscious of this
strength and peace, although it is often equally conscious that its
flesh and bones are being tormented from without.

5. At other times, when the spiritual communication is not made in any
great measure to the spirit, but the senses have a part therein, the
devil more easily succeeds in disturbing the spirit and raising a
tumult within it, by means of the senses, with these terrors. Great are
the torment and the affliction which are then caused in the spirit; at
times they exceed all that can be expressed. For, when there is a naked
contact of spirit with spirit, the horror is intolerable which the evil
spirit causes in the good spirit (I mean, in the soul), when its tumult
reaches it. This is expressed likewise by the Bride in the Songs, when
she says that it has happened thus to her at a time when she wished to
descend to interior recollection in order to have fruition of these
blessings. She says: I went down into the garden of nuts to see the
apples of the valleys, and if the vine had flourished. I knew not; my
soul troubled me because of the chariots’–that is, because of the
chariots and the noise of Aminadab, which is the devil. [286]

6. At other times it comes to pass that the devil is occasionally able
to see certain favours which God is pleased to grant the soul when they
are bestowed upon it by the mediation of a good angel; for of those
favours which come through a good angel God habitually allows the enemy
to have knowledge: partly so that he may do that which he can against
them according to the measure of justice, and that thus he may not be
able to allege with truth that no opportunity is given him for
conquering the soul, as he said concerning Job. [287] This would be the
case if God allowed not a certain equality between the two
warriors–namely, the good angel and the bad–when they strive for the
soul, so that the victory of either may be of the greater worth, and
the soul that is victorious and faithful in temptation may be the more
abundantly rewarded.

7. We must observe, therefore, that it is for this reason that, in
proportion as God is guiding the soul and communing with it, He gives
the devil leave to act with it after this manner. When the soul has
genuine visions by the instrumentality of the good angel (for it is by
this instrumentality that they habitually come, even though Christ
reveal Himself, for He scarcely ever appears [288] in His actual
person), God also gives the wicked angel leave to present to the soul
false visions of this very type in such a way that the soul which is
not cautious may easily be deceived by their outward appearance, as
many souls have been. Of this there is a figure in Exodus, [289] where
it is said that all the genuine signs that Moses wrought were wrought
likewise in appearance by the magicians of Pharaoh. If he brought forth
frogs, they brought them forth likewise; if he turned water into blood,
they did the same.

8. And not only does the evil one imitate God in this type of bodily
vision, but he also imitates and interferes in spiritual communications
which come through the instrumentality of an angel, when he succeeds in
seeing them, as we say (for, as Job said [290] : Omne sublime videt).
These, however, as they are without form and figure (for it is the
nature of spirit to have no such thing), he cannot imitate and
counterfeit like those others which are presented under some species or
figure. And thus, in order to attack the soul, in the same way as that
wherein it is being visited, his fearful spirit presents a similar
vision in order to attack and destroy spiritual things by spiritual.
When this comes to pass just as the good angel is about to communicate
spiritual contemplation to the soul, it is impossible for the soul to
shelter itself in the secrecy and hiding-place of contemplation with
sufficient rapidity not to be observed by the devil; and thus he
appears to it and produces a certain horror and perturbation of spirit
which at times is most distressing to the soul. Sometimes the soul can
speedily free itself from him, so that there is no opportunity for the
aforementioned horror of the evil spirit to make an impression on it;
and it becomes recollected within itself, being favoured, to this end,
by the effectual spiritual grace that the good angel then communicates
to it.

9. At other times the devil prevails and encompasses the soul with a
perturbation and horror which is a greater affliction to it than any
torment in this life could be. For, as this horrible communication
passes direct from spirit to spirit, in something like nakedness and
clearly distinguished from all that is corporeal, it is grievous beyond
what every sense can feel; and this lasts in the spirit for some time,
yet not for long, for otherwise the spirit would be driven forth from
the flesh by the vehement communication of the other spirit. Afterwards
there remains to it the memory thereof, which is sufficient to cause it
great affliction.

10. All that we have here described comes to pass in the soul
passively, without its doing or undoing anything of itself with respect
to it. But in this connection it must be known that, when the good
angel permits the devil to gain this advantage of assailing the soul
with this spiritual horror, he does it to purify the soul and to
prepare it by means of this spiritual vigil for some great spiritual
favour and festival which he desires to grant it, for he never
mortifies save to give life, nor humbles save to exalt, which comes to
pass shortly afterwards. Then, according as was the dark and horrible
purgation which the soul suffered, so is the fruition now granted it of
a wondrous and delectable spiritual contemplation, sometimes so lofty
that there is no language to describe it. But the spirit has been
greatly refined by the preceding horror of the evil spirit, in order
that it may be able to receive this blessing; for these spiritual
visions belong to the next life rather than to this, and when one of
them is seen this is a preparation for the next.

11. This is to be understood with respect to occasions when God visits
the soul by the instrumentality of a good angel, wherein, as has been
said, the soul is not so totally in darkness and in concealment that
the enemy cannot come within reach of it. But, when God Himself visits
it, then the words of this line are indeed fulfilled, and it is in
total darkness and in concealment from the enemy that the soul receives
these spiritual favours of God. The reason for this is that, as His
Majesty dwells substantially in the soul, where neither angel nor devil
can attain to an understanding of that which comes to pass, they cannot
know the intimate and secret communications which take place there
between the soul and God. These communications, since the Lord Himself
works them, are wholly Divine and sovereign, for they are all
substantial touches of Divine union between the soul and God; in one of
which the soul receives a greater blessing than in all the rest, since
this is the loftiest degree [291] of prayer in existence.

12. For these are the touches that the Bride entreated of Him in the
Songs, saying: Osculetur me osculo oris sui. [292] Since this is a
thing which takes place in such close intimacy with God, whereto the
soul desires with such yearnings to attain, it esteems and longs for a
touch of this Divinity more than all the other favours that God grants
it. Wherefore, after many such favours have been granted to the Bride
in the said Songs, of which she has sung therein, she is not satisfied,
but entreats Him for these Divine touches, saying: ‘ Who shall give
Thee to me, my brother, that I might find Thee alone without, sucking
the breasts of my mother, so that I might kiss Thee with the mouth of
my soul, and that thus no man should despise me or make bold to attack
me.’ [293] By this she denotes the communication which God Himself
alone makes to her, as we are saying, far from all the creatures and
without their knowledge, for this is meant by alone and without,
sucking, etc.’–that is, drying up and draining the breasts of the
desires and affections of the sensual part of the soul. This takes
place when the soul, in intimate peace and delight, has fruition of
these blessings, with liberty of spirit, and without the sensual part
being able to hinder it, or the devil to thwart it by means thereof.
And then the devil would not make bold to attack it, for he would not
reach it, neither could he attain to an understanding of these Divine
touches in the substance of the soul in the loving substance of God.

13. To this blessing none attains save through intimate purgation and
detachment and spiritual concealment from all that is creature; it
comes to pass in the darkness, as we have already explained at length
and as we say with respect to this line. The soul is in concealment and
in hiding, in the which hiding-place, as we have now said, it continues
to be strengthened in union with God through love, wherefore it sings
this in the same phrase, saying: In darkness and in concealment.’

14. When it comes to pass that those favours are granted to the soul in
concealment (that is, as we have said, in spirit only), the soul is
wont, during some of them, and without knowing how this comes to pass,
to see itself so far withdrawn and separated according to the higher
and spiritual part, from the sensual and lower portion, that it
recognizes in itself two parts so distinct from each other that it
believes that the one has naught to do with the other, but that the one
is very remote and far withdrawn from the other. And in reality, in a
certain way, this is so; for the operation is now wholly spiritual, and
the soul receives no communication in its sensual part. In this way the
soul gradually becomes wholly spiritual; and in this hiding-place of
unitive contemplation its spiritual desires and passions are to a great
degree removed and purged away. And thus, speaking of its higher part,
the soul then says in this last line:

My house being now at rest. [294]

[282] i.e., in the original Spanish and in our verse rendering of the
poem in The Complete Works of St. John of the Cross, Ed. by E. Allison
Peers, Vol. II (The Newman Press, Westminster, Md.).

[283] [The Spanish also admits of the rendering: remain shut off from
it by darkness.’]

[284] Matthew vi, 3.

[285] Canticles iii, 7-8.

[286] Canticles vi, 10 [A.V., vi, 11-12].

[287] Job i, 1-11.

[288] Such is the unanimous opinion of theologians. Some, with St.
Thomas (Pt. III, q. 57, a. 6), suppose that the appearance which
converted St. Paul near Damascus was that of Our Lord Jesus Christ in

[289] Exodus vii, 11-22; viii, 7.

[290] Job xli, 25.

[291] [Lit., ‘step.’ Cf. Bk. II, chap. xix, first note, above.]

[292] Canticles i, 1.

[293] Canticles viii, 1.

[294] The word translated at rest’ is a past participle: more
literally, ‘stilled.’


Completes the explanation of the second stanza.

THIS is as much as to say: The higher portion of my soul being like the
lower part also, at rest with respect to its desires and faculties, I
went forth to the Divine union of the love of God.

2. Inasmuch as, by means of that war of the dark night, as has been
said, the soul is combated and purged after two manners–namely,
according to its sensual and its spiritual part–with its senses,
faculties and passions, so likewise after two manners–namely,
according to these two parts, the sensual and the spiritual–with all
its faculties and desires, the soul attains to an enjoyment of peace
and rest. For this reason, as has likewise been said, the soul twice
pronounces this line–namely, [295] in this stanza and in the
last–because of these two portions of the soul, the spiritual and the
sensual, which, in order that they may go forth to the Divine union of
love, must needs first be reformed, ordered and tranquillized with
respect to the sensual and to the spiritual, according to the nature of
the state of innocence which was Adam’s. [296] And thus this line
which, in the first stanza, was understood of the repose of the lower
and sensual portion, is, in this second stanza, understood more
particularly of the higher and spiritual part; for which reason it is
repeated. [297]

3. This repose and quiet of this spiritual house the soul comes to
attain, habitually and perfectly (in so far as the condition of this
life allows), by means of the acts of the substantial touches of Divine
union whereof we have just spoken; which, in concealment, and hidden
from the perturbation of the devil, and of its own senses and passions,
the soul has been receiving from the Divinity, wherein it has been
purifying itself, as I say, resting, strengthening and confirming
itself in order to be able to receive the said union once and for all,
which is the Divine betrothal between the soul and the Son of God. As
soon as these two houses of the soul have together become tranquillized
and strengthened, with all their domestics–namely, the faculties and
desires–and have put these domestics to sleep and made them to be
silent with respect to all things, both above and below, this Divine
Wisdom immediately unites itself with the soul by making a new bond of
loving possession, and there is fulfilled that which is written in the
Book of Wisdom, in these words: Dum quietum silentium contineret omnia,
et nox in suo cursu medium iter haberet, omnipotens sermo tuus Domine a
regalibus sedibus. [298] The same thing is described by the Bride in
the Songs, [299] where she says that, after she had passed by those who
stripped her of her mantle by night and wounded her, she found Him Whom
her soul loved.

4. The soul cannot come to this union without great purity, and this
purity is not gained without great detachment from every created thing
and sharp mortification. This is signified by the stripping of the
Bride of her mantle and by her being wounded by night as she sought and
went after the Spouse; for the new mantle which belonged to the
betrothal could not be put on until the old mantle was stripped off.
Wherefore, he that refuses to go forth in the night aforementioned to
seek the Beloved, and to be stripped of his own will and to be
mortified, but seeks Him upon his bed and at his own convenience, as
did the Bride, [300] will not succeed in finding Him. For this soul
says of itself that it found Him by going forth in the dark and with
yearnings of love.

[295] [Lit., twice repeats’–a loosely used phrase.]

[296] H omits this last phrase, which is found in all the other
Codices, and in e.p. The latter adds: notwithstanding that the soul is
not wholly free from the temptations of the lower part.’ The addition
is made so that the teaching of the Saint may not be confused with that
of the Illuminists, who supposed the contemplative in union to be
impeccable, do what he might. The Saint’s meaning is that for the
mystical union of the soul with God such purity and tranquillity of
senses and faculties are needful that his condition resembles that
state of innocence in which Adam was created, but without the attribute
of impeccability, which does not necessarily accompany union, nor can
be attained by any, save by a most special privilege of God. Cf. St.
Teresa’s Interior Castle, VII, ii. St. Teresa will be found
occasionally to explain points of mystical doctrine which St. John of
the Cross takes as being understood.

[297] [Lit., twice repeated.’]

[298] Wisdom xviii, 14.

[299] Canticles v, 7.

[300] Canticles iii, 1.


Wherein is expounded the third stanza.

In the happy night, In secret, when none saw me, Nor I beheld aught,
Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart.


THE soul still continues the metaphor and similitude of temporal night
in describing this its spiritual night, and continues to sing and extol
the good properties which belong to it, and which in passing through
this night it found and used, to the end that it might attain its
desired goal with speed and security. Of these properties it here sets
down three.

2. The first, it says, is that in this happy night of contemplation God
leads the soul by a manner of contemplation so solitary and secret, so
remote and far distant from sense, that naught pertaining to it, nor
any touch of created things, succeeds in approaching the soul in such a
way as to disturb it and detain it on the road of the union of love.

3. The second property whereof it speaks pertains to the spiritual
darkness of this night, wherein all the faculties of the higher part of
the soul are in darkness. The soul sees naught, neither looks at aught
neither stays in aught that is not God, to the end that it may reach
Him, inasmuch as it journeys unimpeded by obstacles of forms and
figures, and of natural apprehensions, which are those that are wont to
hinder the soul from uniting with the eternal Being of God.

4. The third is that, although as it journeys it is supported by no
particular interior light of understanding, nor by any exterior guide,
that it may receive satisfaction therefrom on this lofty road–it is
completely deprived of all this by this thick darkness–yet its love
alone, which burns at this time, and makes its heart to long for the
Beloved, is that which now moves and guides it, and makes it to soar
upward to its God along the road of solitude, without its knowing how
or in what manner.

There follows the line:

In the happy night. [301]

[301] Thus end the majority of the MSS. Cf. pp. lxviii-lxiii, Ascent of
Mount Carmel (Image Books edition), 26-27, on the incomplete state of
this treatise. The MSS. say nothing of this, except that in the Alba de
Tormes MS. we read: Thus far wrote the holy Fray John of the Cross
concerning the purgative way, wherein he treats of the active and the
passive [aspect] of it as is seen in the treatise of the Ascent of the
Mount and in this of the Dark Night, and, as he died, he wrote no more.
And hereafter follows the illuminative way, and then the unitive.’
Elsewhere we have said that the lack of any commentary on the last five
stanzas is not due to the Saint’s death, since he lived for many years
after writing the commentary on the earlier stanzas.


Index of Scripture References















Song of Solomon




























1 Corinthians


2 Corinthians






1 Thessalonians


1 Peter






Wisdom of Solomon






Index of Latin Words and Phrases

* [212]Cor mundum crea in me, Deus
* [213]Dum Deum in ignis visione suscipiunt, per amorem suaviter
* [214]Dum quietum silentium contineret omnia, et nox in suo cursu
medium iter haberet, omnipotens sermo tuus Domine a regalibus
* [215]Omne sublime videt
* [216]Osculetur me osculo oris sui
* [217]Propter hoc Gregorius (Hom. 14 in Ezech.) constituit vitam
contemplativam in charitate Dei.
* [218]Spiritus vertiginis
* [219]Ut dicit Bernardus, Magna res est amor, sed sunt in eo gradus.
Loquendo ergo aliquantulum magis moraliter quam realiter, decem
amoris gradus distinguere possumus
* [220]agnusdei
* [221]agnusdeis
* [222]cervus
* [223]hebetudo mentis