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OF TWO DEGREES OF PERFECTION WITH WHICH THIS COMMANDMENT MAY BE KEPT IN THIS MORTAL LIFE.
While the great King Solomon, possessing as yet the Spirit of God, was composing the sacred Canticle of Canticles, he had, according to the permission of those ages, a great variety of ladies and maidens attached to his service in different conditions and qualities. For 1°. There was one, his singularly dear and wholly perfect one, most rare, as a singular dove, with whom the others entered not into comparison, and for this reason she was called by his own name, Sulamitess.447447Spouse of Solomon [Tr.] 2°. There were sixty, who, next to her, had the first rank of honour and estimation, and were called queens. 3°. There were, further, eighty ladies who were not indeed queens, but were in a recognized and honourable relation to him. 4°. There were young maidens without number, kept ready to be put in the place of the foregoing as was required. Now under the figure of what passed in his palace, he described the various perfections of souls who in time to come were to adore, love and serve the great Pacific King Jesus Christ, our Saviour; amongst whom there are some, who being newly freed from their sins, and quite resolved to love God, are yet novices, apprentices, tender and feeble: so that they love indeed the divine sweetness, yet with such mixture of other affections that their sacred love being still as it were in its infancy; they love together with our Saviour, many superfluous, vain and dangerous things. And as a phœnix newly hatched from out its ashes, having as yet but little, tender feathers and its first down, can only essay short flights, in which it should be said rather to leap than to fly; so these tender young souls, newly born from the ashes of their penance, cannot as yet soar on high, or fly in the broad air of sacred love, being held captives by the multitude of bad inclinations and evil habits which the sins of their past life have left them. Still they are living, they are animated with and possessed of love, yea and with true love too, else had they never forsaken sin; yet with a love still feeble and young, which, environed with a number of other loves, cannot produce fruit in such abundance as it would do if it had the full possession of the heart.
Such was the prodigal son, when, quitting the infamous company or the swine, amongst which he had lived, he returned into his father's arms, half-naked, unclean and bemired, and smelling most offensively of the filth which he had contracted in the company of those vile beasts. For what is it to forsake the swine, but to withdraw from sins? And what is it to return all ragged, tattered and unclean, but to have our affections engaged in the habits and inclinations which tend to sin? Yet still was he possessed of the life of the soul which is love; and as a phœnix rising out of its ashes, he found himself newly raised to life. He was dead, said his father, and is come to life again,448448Luke xv. 32. he has revived. And these souls are called young maidens in the Canticles, forasmuch as, having perceived the odour of the name of the beloved who breathes nothing but salvation and mercy, they love him with a true love, but a love, which is as themselves, in its tender youth. For even as young girls love their husbands properly if they have one, yet do not cease to greatly love rings and trifles, or their companions, with whom they amuse themselves extravagantly in playing, dancing and silliness, busying themselves with little birds, little dogs, squirrels and other such playthings;—so these young and novice-souls have truly an affection for the sacred lover, yet admit they with it a number of voluntary distractions and diversions: so that loving him above all things, they yet busy themselves in many things, which they love, not according to him but besides him, out of him, and without him. In truth, though little irregularities in words, in gestures, in apparel, in pastimes and follies, are not, properly speaking, against the will of God; yet are they not according to it, but out of it and without it.
But there are souls who, having already made some progress in the love of God, have also cut off all the love they had to dangerous things, and yet entertain dangerous and superfluous loves: because they love with excess, and with a love too tender and passionate, what God ordains they should love. It stood with God's pleasure that Adam should love Eve tenderly, yet not with such tenderness that, to content her, he should violate the order given him by his divine majesty. He loved not then a superfluous thing, nor a thing in itself dangerous, but he loved it superfluously and with danger. The love of our parents, friends and benefactors, is in itself according to God, yet we may love them with excess; as also our vocations, be they never so spiritual: our exercises also of devotion (which yet we ought so greatly to love) may be loved inordinately, as when we prefer them before obedience, or before a more general good; or when we love them as if they were our last end, while they are only means and furtherances to our final intention, which is the divine love. And these souls, who love nothing but what God would have them to love, and yet exceed in the manner of loving, love indeed the divine goodness above all things, yet not in all things: for the things, which, not only by permission but even by command, they are to love according to God, they love not only according to God, but for other causes and motives, which though indeed not contrary to God, yet are out of him. So that these souls resemble the phœnix, when, having got its first feathers and beginning to grow strong it already soars at large in the air, but has not yet strength enough to remain long on the wing, and often descends to earth to rest there. Such was the poor young man, who having from his tender age observed God's commandments, desired not his neighbour's goods, yet clung to his own over tenderly: so that when our Saviour counselled him to give them to the poor, he became sad and melancholy. He loved nothing but what he might lawfully love, yet he loved it with a superfluous and too attached a love. It is plain, Theotimus, that these souls love too ardently and with superfluity; still, as they love not the superfluities, but only the thing, which may be loved, therefore they are entitled to the favours of the heavenly Solomon, namely, unions, recollections, and the repose of love, whereof we spoke in Books V. and VI.: but they do not enjoy them in quality of spouses, because the superfluity with which they love good things, hinders them from a frequent entry into these divine unions with the spouse; they are engaged in, and distracted by, loving that out of him and without him, which they ought not to love but in him and for him.
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