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Catch us the foxes,
For our vineyard has flourished;
While of roses
We make a nosegay,
And let no one appear on the hill.
THE soul, anxious that this interior delight of love, which is the flowers of the
vineyard, should not be interrupted, either by envious and malicious devils, or the
raging desires of sensuality, or the various comings and goings of the
imagination, or any other consciousness or presence of created things, calls upon
the angels to seize and hinder all these from interrupting its practice of interior
love, in the joy and sweetness of which the soul and the Son of God communicate
and delight in the virtues and graces.
“Catch us the foxes, for our vineyard has flourished.”
2. The vineyard is the plantation in this holy soul of all the virtues which minister
to it the wine of sweet taste. The vineyard of the soul is then flourishing when it is
united in will to the Bridegroom, and delights itself in Him in all the virtues.
Sometimes, as I have just said, the memory and the fancy are assailed by various
forms and imaginings, and diverse motions and desires trouble the sensual part.
The great variety and diversity of these made David say, when he felt the
inconvenience and the trouble of them as he was drinking of the sweet wine of the
spirit, thirsting greatly after God: “For You my soul has thirsted, for You my
flesh, O how many ways.”1
3. Here the soul calls the whole troop of desires and stirrings of sense, foxes,
because of the great resemblance between them at this time. As foxes pretend to be
asleep that they may pounce upon their prey when it comes in their way, so all the
desires and powers of sense in the soul are asleep until the flowers of virtue grow,
flourish, and bloom. Then the desires and powers of sense awake to resist the
Spirit and domineer. “The flesh lusts against the spirit,”2
and as the inclination of
it is towards the sensual desires, it is disgusted as soon as it tastes of the Spirit,
and herein the desires prove extremely troublesome to spiritual sweetness.
“Catch us the foxes.”
4. The evil spirits now molest the soul in two ways. They vehemently excite the
desires, and employ them with other imaginations to assail the peaceful and
flourishing kingdom of the soul. Then—and this is much worse—when they do
not succeed in stirring up the desires, they assail the soul with bodily pains and
noises in order to distract it. And, what is still more serious, they fight with
spiritual horror and dread, and sometimes with fearful torments, which, at this
time, if God permits them, they can most effectually bring about, for inasmuch as
A Spiritual Canticle
the soul is now spiritually detached, so as to perform its spiritual exercises, the
devil being himself a spirit presents himself before it with great ease.
5. At other times the evil spirit assails the soul with other horrors, before it begins
to have the fruition of the sweet flowers, when God is beginning to draw it forth
out of the house of sense that it may enter on the interior exercises in the garden
of the Bridegroom, for he knows well that once entered into this state of
recollection it is there so protected that, notwithstanding all he can do, he cannot
hurt it. Very often, too, when the devil goes forth to meet the soul, the soul
becomes quickly recollected in the secret depths of its interior, where it finds great
sweetness and protection; then those terrors of Satan are so far off that they not
only produce no fear, but are even the occasion of peace and joy. The bride, in the
Canticle, speaks of these terrors, saying, “My soul troubled me for the chariots of
Aminadab is the evil spirit, and his chariots are his assaults upon
the soul, which he makes with great violence, noise, and confusion.
6. The bride also says what the soul says here, namely: “Catch us the little foxes
that destroy the vineyards; for our vineyard has flourished.”2
She does not say,
“Catch me” but “Catch us,” because she is speaking of herself and the Beloved; for
they are one, and enjoy the flourishing of the vineyard together.
7. The reason why the vineyard is said to be flourishing and not bearing fruit is
this: the soul in this life has the fruition of virtues, however perfect they may be,
only in their flower, because the fruit of them is reserved for the life to come.
“While of roses we make a nosegay.”
8. Now, at this time, while the soul is rejoicing in the flourishing of the vineyard,
and delighting itself in the bosom of the Beloved, all its virtues are perfect,
exhibiting themselves to the soul, and sending forth great sweetness and delight.
The soul feels them to be in itself and in God so as to seem to be one vineyard most
flourishing and pleasing belonging to both, wherein they feed and delight. Then
the soul binds all its virtues together, makes acts of love in each of them
separately, and in all together, and then offers them all to the Beloved, with great
tenderness of love and sweetness, and in this the Beloved helps it, for without His
help and favor it cannot make this union and oblation of virtue to the Beloved.
Hence it says, “We make a nosegay”—that is “the Beloved and myself.”
9. This union of the virtues is called a nosegay; for as a nosegay is cone-like in
form, and a cone is strong, containing and embracing many pieces firmly joined
together, so this cone-like nosegay of the virtues which the soul makes for the
Beloved is the uniform perfection of the soul which firmly and solidly contains
and embraces many perfections, great virtues, and rich endowments; for all the
perfections and virtues of the soul unite together to form but one. And while this
perfection is being accomplished, and when accomplished, offered to the Beloved
on the part of the soul, it becomes necessary to catch the foxes that they may not
hinder this mutual interior communication. The soul prays not only that this
nosegay may be carefully made, but also adds, “And let no one appear on the hill.”
10. This divine interior exercise requires solitude and detachment from all things,
whether in the lower part of the soul, which is that of sense, or in the higher,
which is the rational. These two divisions comprise all the faculties and senses of
man, and are here called the hill; because all our natural notions and desires
being in them, as quarry on a hill, the devil lies in wait among these notions and
desires, in order that he may injure the soul.
“And let no one appear on the hill.”
11. That is, let no representation or image of any object whatever, appertaining to
any of these faculties or senses, appear in the presence of the soul and the
Bridegroom: in other words, let the spiritual powers of the soul, memory,
understanding, and will, be divested of all notions, particular inclinations, or
considerations whatsoever; and let all the senses and faculties of the body, interior
as well as exterior, the imagination, the fancy, the sight and hearing, and the
rest, be divested of all occasions of distractions, of all forms, images, and
representations, and of all other natural operations.
12. The soul speaks in this way because it is necessary for the perfect fruition of
this communication of God, that all the senses and powers, both interior and
exterior, should be disencumbered and emptied of their proper objects and
operations; for the more active they are, the greater will be the hindrance which
they will occasion. The soul having attained to a certain interior union of love, the
spiritual faculties of it are no longer active, and still less those of the body; for now
that the union of love is actually wrought in love, the faculties of the soul cease
from their exertions, because now that the goal is reached all employment of
means is at an end. What the soul at this time has to do is to wait lovingly upon
God, and this waiting is love in a continuation of unitive love. Let no one,
therefore, appear on the hill, but the will only waiting on the Beloved in the
offering up of self and of all the virtues in the way described.
FOR the clearer understanding of the following stanza, we must keep in mind
that the absence of the Beloved, from which the soul suffers in the state of
spiritual betrothal, is an exceedingly great affliction, and at times greater than all
other trials whatever. The reason is this: the love of the soul for God is now so
vehement and deep that the pain of His absence is vehement and deep also. This
pain is increased also by the annoyance which comes from intercourse with
creatures, which is very great; for the soul, under the pressure of its quickened
desire of union with God, finds all other conversation most painful and difficult to
endure. It is like a stone in its flight to the place whither it is rapidly tending;
every obstacle it meets with occasions a violent shock. And as the soul has tasted
of the sweetness of the Beloved’s visits, which are more desirable than gold and all
that is beautiful, it therefore dreads even a momentary absence, and addresses
itself as follows to aridities, and to the Spirit of the Bridegroom:—
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