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Treatise on the Love of God
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CHAPTER X.

THAT THE UNION TO WHICH LOVE ASPIRES IS SPIRITUAL.

We must, however, take notice that there are natural unions, as those of similitude, consanguinity, and of cause and effect; and others which not being natural may be termed voluntary; for though they be according to Nature yet they are only made at our will: like that union which takes its origin from benefits—which undoubtedly unite him that receives them to the giver,—that of conversation, society and the like. Now natural union produces love, and the love which it produces inclines us to another and voluntary union, perfecting the natural. Thus the father and son, the mother and daughter, or two brothers, being joined in a natural union by the participation of the same blood, are excited by this union to love, and by love are borne towards a union of will and spirit which may be called voluntary, because although its foundation is natural, yet is its action deliberate. In these loves produced by natural union we need look for no other affinity than the union itself, by which Nature preventing the will, obliges it to approve, to love, and to perfect the union it has already made. But as to voluntary unions, which follow love, love is indeed their effective cause, but they are its final cause, as being the only end and aim of love. So that as love tends to union, even so union very often extends and augments love: for love makes us seek the society of the beloved, and this often nourishes and increases love; love causes a desire of nuptial union, and this union reciprocally preserves and increases love, so that in every sense it is true that love tends to union.

But to what kind of union does it tend? Did you not note, Theotimus, that the sacred spouse expressed her desire of being united to her spouse by the kiss, and that the kiss represents the spiritual union which is caused by the reciprocal communication of souls? It is indeed the man who loves, but he loves by his will, and therefore the end of his love is of the nature of his will: but his will is spiritual, and consequently the union which love aims at is spiritual also, and so much the more because the heart, which is the seat and source of love, would not only not be perfected by union with corporal things, but would be degraded.

It will not hence be inferred that there are not certain passions in man which, as mistleto comes on trees by manner of excrescence and over-growth, sprout up indeed amongst and about love. Nevertheless they are neither love, nor any part of love, but excrescences and superfluities thereof, which are so far from being suited to maintain or perfect love, that on the contrary they greatly harm it, weaken it, and at last, if they be not cut away, utterly ruin it: and here is the reason.

In proportion to the number of operations to which the soul applies herself (whether of the same or of a different kind) she does them less perfectly and vigorously: because being finite, her active virtue is also finite, so that furnishing her activity to divers operations it is necessary that each one of them have less thereof. Thus a man attentive to several things is less attentive to each of them: we cannot quietly consider a person's features with our sight, and at the same time give an exact hearing to the harmony of a grand piece of music, nor at the same instant be attentive to figure and to colour: if we are talking earnestly, we cannot attend to anything else.

I am not ignorant of what is said concerning Caesar nor incredulous about what so many great persons testify of Origen,—that they could apply their attention at the same time to several objects; yet every one confesses that according to the measure they applied it to more objects it became less for each one of them. There is then a difference between seeing, hearing and understanding more, and seeing, hearing, and understanding better, for he that sees better, sees less, and he that sees more, sees not so well: it is rare for those who know much to know well what they know, because the virtue and force of the understanding being scattered upon the knowledge of divers things is less strong and vigorous than when it is restrained to the consideration of one only object. Hence it is that when the soul employs her forces in divers operations of love, the action so divided is less vigorous and perfect. We have three sorts of actions of love, the spiritual, the reasonable, and the sensitive; when love exerts its forces through all these three operations, doubtless it is more extended but less intense, but when through one operation only, it is more intense though less extended. Do we not see that fire, the symbol of love, forced to make its way out by the mouth of the cannon alone, makes a prodigious flash, which would have been much less if it had found vent by two or three passages? Since then love is an act of our will, he that desires to have it, not only noble and generous, but also very vigorous and active, must contain the virtue and force of it within the limits of spiritual operations, for he that would apply it to the operations of the sensible or sensitive part of our soul, would so far forth weaken the intellectual operations, in which essential love consists.

The ancient philosophers have recognized that there are two sorts of ecstasies of which the one raises us above ourselves, the other degrades us below ourselves: as though they would say that man was of a nature between angels and beasts: in his intellectual part sharing the angelical nature, and in his sensitive the nature of beasts; and yet that he could by the acts of his life and by a continual attention to himself, deliver and emancipate himself from this mean condition, and habituating himself much to intellectual actions might bring himself nearer to the nature of angels than of beasts. If however he did much apply himself to sensible actions, he descended from his middle state and approached that of beasts: and because an ecstasy is no other thing than a going out of oneself, whether one go upwards or downwards he is truly in an ecstasy. Those then who, touched with intellectual and divine pleasures, let their hearts be carried away by those feelings, are truly out of themselves, that is, above the condition of their nature, but by a blessed and desirable out-going, by which entering into a more noble and eminent estate, they are as much angels by the operation of their soul as men by the substance of their nature, and are either to be called human angels or angelic men. On the contrary, those who, allured by sensual pleasures give themselves over to the enjoying of them, descend from their middle condition to the lowest of brute beasts, and deserve as much to be called brutal by their operations as men by nature: miserable in thus going out of themselves only to enter into a condition infinitely unworthy of their natural state.

Now according as the ecstasy is greater, either above us or below us, by so much more it hinders the soul from returning to itself, and from doing operations contrary to the ecstasy in which it is. So those angelic men who are ravished in God and heavenly things, lose altogether, as long as their ecstasy lasts, the use and attention of the senses, movement, and all exterior actions, because their soul, in order to apply its power and activity more entirely and attentively to that divine object, retires and withdraws them from all its other faculties, to turn them in that direction. And in like manner brutish men give up all the use of their reason and understanding to bury themselves in sensual pleasure. The first mystically imitate Elias taken up in the fiery chariot amid the angels: the others Nabuchodonosor brutalized and debased to the rank of savage beasts.

Now I say that when the soul practises love by actions which are sensual, and which carry her below herself, it is impossible that thereby the exercise of her superior love, should not be so much the more weakened. So that true and essential love is so far from being aided and preserved by the union to which sensual love tends, that it is impaired, dissipated and ruined by it. Job's oxen ploughed the ground, while the useless asses fed by them, eating the pasture due to the labouring oxen. While the intellectual part of our soul is employed in honest and virtuous love of some worthy object, it comes to pass oftentimes that the senses and faculties of the inferior part tend to the union which they are adapted to, and which is their pasture, though union only belongs to the heart and to the spirit, which also is alone able to produce true and substantial love.

Eliseus having cured Naaman the Syrian was satisfied with having done him a service, and refused his gold, his silver and the goods he offered him, but his faithless servant Giezi, running after him, demanded and took, against his master's pleasure, that which he had refused. Intellectual and cordial love, which certainly either is or should be master in our heart, refuses all sorts of corporal and sensible unions, and is contented with goodwill only, but the powers of the sensitive part, which are or should be the handmaids of the spirit, demand, seek after and take that which reason refused, and without leave make after their abject and servile love, dishonouring, like Giezi, the purity of the intention of their master, the spirit. And in proportion as the soul turns herself to such gross and sensible unions, so far does she divert herself from the delicate, intellectual and cordial union.

You see then plainly, Theotimus, that these unions which tend to animal complacency and passions are so far from producing or preserving love that they greatly hurt it and render it extremely weak.

Basil, rosemary, marigold, hyssop, cloves, chamomile, nutmeg, lemon, and musk, put together and incorporated, yield a truly delightful odour by the mixture of their good perfume; yet not nearly so much as does the water which is distilled from them, in which the sweets of all these ingredients separated from their bodies are mingled in a much more excellent manner, uniting in a most perfect scent, which penetrates the sense of smelling far more strongly than it would do if with it and its water the bodies of the ingredients were found mingled and united. So love may be found in the unions proper to the sensual powers, mixed with the unions of intellectual powers, but never so excellently as when the spirits and souls alone, separated from all corporeal affections but united together, make love pure and spiritual. For the scent of affections thus mingled is not only sweeter and better, but more lively, more active and more essential.

True it is that many having gross, earthly and vile hearts rate the value of love like that of gold pieces, the most massive of which are the best, and most current; for so their idea is that brutish love is more strong, because it is more violent and turbulent, more solid, because more gross and terrene, greater, because more sensible and fierce:—but on the contrary, love is like fire, which is of clearer and fairer flame as its matter is more delicate, which cannot be more quickly extinguished than by beating it down and covering it with earth; for, in like manner, by how much more exalted and spiritual the subject of love is, by so much its actions are more lively, subsistent and permanent: nor is there a more easy way to ruin love than to debase it to vile and earthly unions. "There is this difference," says S. Gregory, "between spiritual and corporal pleasures, that corporal ones beget a desire before we obtain them, and a disgust when we have obtained them; but spiritual ones, on the contrary, are not cared for when we have them not, but are desired when we have them."

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