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Treatise on the Love of God
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CHAPTER XII.

HOW THE SOUL AMIDST THESE INTERIOR ANGUISHES KNOWS NOT THE LOVE SHE BEARS TO GOD: AND OF THE MOST LOVE-FULL DEATH OF THE WILL.

The night before the great S. Peter was to suffer martyrdom, an angel came to the prison and filled it with splendour, awoke S. Peter, made him arise, made him gird himself, and put on his shoes and clothes, freed him from his bonds and shackles, drew him out of prison, and led him through the first and second guard, till he came to the iron gate which gave on the town; this of itself flew open before them, and having passed through one street, the angel left the glorious S. Peter there in full liberty. Behold a great variety of very corporeal actions, and yet S. Peter, who was awake from the beginning, did not apprehend that what was done by the angel was done in deed, but esteemed it a vision of the imagination. He was awake and yet did not think so, he put on his clothes and shoes not knowing that he had done it, he walked and yet thought he walked not, he was delivered and believed it not, and all this because the wonder of his deliverance was so great, and it engaged his heart in such sort, that though he had sense and knowledge enough to do what he did, yet had he not enough to discover that he did it really and in good earnest. He saw indeed the angel, but he did not discern that it was with a true and natural vision, wherefore he took no consolation in his delivery till such time as, coming to himself: Now, said he, I know in very deed that the Lord hath sent his Angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.422422Acts xii. 11.

Now, Theotimus, after the same manner it fares with a soul which is overcharged with interior anguishes; for although she has the power to believe, to trust, and to love her God, and in reality does so, yet she has not the strength to see properly whether she believes, hopes and loves, because her distress so engages her, and makes head against her so desperately, that she can get no time to return into her interior and see what is going on there. And hence she thinks that she has no faith, nor hope, nor charity, but only the shadows and fruitless impressions of those virtues, which she feels in a manner without feeling them, and as if foreign, instead of natural, to her soul. And, if you notice, you will find our souls always in this state when they are strongly occupied by some violent passion, for they perform many actions as though they were in a dream, with so little sense of what they do that they can scarcely believe the things actually happen. Hence the sacred Psalmist expresses the greatness of the consolation of the Israelites on their return from the captivity of Babylon in these words: When the Lord brought back the captivity of Sion, we became like men comforted.423423Ps. cxxv. 1. And as the holy Latin version, following the Septuagint, has it: facti semis "sicut" consolati: that is our wonder at the greatness of the good which came to us was so excessive, that it hindered us from properly feeling the consolation which we received, and it seemed to us that we were not truly comforted, nor had consolation in real truth, but only in a figure and a dream.

Such then are the feelings of the soul which is in the midst of spiritual anguishes. These do exceedingly purify and refine love, for being deprived of all pleasure by which its love might be attached to God, it joins and unites us to God immediately, will to will, heart to heart, without any intervention of satisfaction or desire. Alas! Theotimus, how the poor heart is afflicted when being as it were abandoned by love, she seeks everywhere, and yet seems not to find it. She finds it not in the exterior senses, they not being capable of it; nor in the imagination, which is cruelly tortured by conflicting impressions; nor in the understanding, distracted with a thousand obscurities of strange reasonings and fears; and though at length she finds it in the top and supreme region of the spirit where it resides, yet the soul does not recognize it, and thinks it is not love, because the greatness of the distress and darkness hinders her from perceiving its sweetness. She sees it without seeing it, meets it but does not know it, as though all passed in a dream only, or in a type. In this way Magdalen, having met with her dear Master, received no comfort from him, because she thought that it was not he indeed, but the gardener only.

But what is the soul to do that finds herself in this case? Theotimus, she knows not how to behave herself amidst so much anguish; nor has she any power save to let her will die in the hands of God's will; imitating her sweet Jesus, who being arrived at the height of the pains of the cross which his Father had ordained, and not being able any further to resist the extremity of his torments, did as the hart does, which when it is run out of breath, and oppressed by the hounds, yielding itself up into the huntsman's hands, its eyes filled with tears, utters its last cries. For so this Divine Saviour, near unto his death, and giving up his last breath with a loud voice and abundance of tears—Alas! said he, O Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit:—a word, Theotimus, which was his very last, and the one by which the well-beloved Son gave the sovereign testimony of his love towards his Father. When therefore all fails us, when our troubles have come to their extremity, this word, this disposition, this rendering up of our soul into our Saviour's hands, can never fail us. The Son commended his spirit to his Father in this his last and incomparable anguish, and we, when the convulsions of spiritual pains shall bereave us of all other sort of solace and means of resistance, let us commend our spirit into the hands of this eternal Son who is our true Father, and bowing the head of our acquiescence in his good pleasure, let us make over our whole will unto him.

 


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