Saint Catherine of Genoa: Spiritual Dialogue
Part III, Chapter X
How the Soul, the heart, and the Spirit of this creature are devoid of form, and employed in an occupation which cannot be known by their means. - That the heart becomes the tabernacle of God, into which he infuses many graces and consolations, which produce admirable fruits. - That few creatures are led by this road. - Of the nudity of the Spirit and of its union with God.
The Lord. What will you do, O Soul, thus naked and despoiled? What will you do, O heart and mind, which are both so empty? How is it with you in this state, before unknown to you?
Soul. I know not where I am; I have lost will, understanding, memory, love, and all enjoyment; I can give no reason for myself, and am lost, and can neither place myself nor seek or find any other thing.
The heart and the mind of this creature being deprived of all the ways by means of which heaven seemed to make an entrance, now exclaim: We are absorbed in an operation too subtle and secret to be made known by us, but in that occupation a loving and ethereal spirit is hidden and restrained which fills the whole man so entirely, that Soul, heart, mind, and body, every bone and nerve and vein, are overflowing with it, so that all are absorbed with such a secret and concentrated force, that every sigh struggling from the heart is felt interiorly as a vehement flame. But the body, unable to endure the action of so powerful a flame, grieves, yet finds no words to express its grief; the mouth is filled with burning sighs and amorous conceits, which rise from the heart, and seem ready to break forth in words powerful enough to break a heart of stone. But they find no utterance; the true and loving colloquy is going on within, and its sweetness cannot be conceived. The heart is made the tabernacle of God, into which, by himself and also by others, many graces are infused, which bear in secret wondrous fruits. This creature has a heaven within herself.
If such as she (and they are rare in this world) were understood, they would be adored upon earth; but God hides them from themselves and from all others until the hour of death, at which time the true and false are made known. Oh, how few creatures are conducted by this road of secret and penetrating love, which keeps both Soul and body in such subjection that it leaves no imperfection in them, for pure love can comport with none, however slight; and it perseveres in its sweet action in the Soul until it purifies her entirely, so that she can reach her proper end without passing through purgatory.
O Soul, O mind, bound and imprisoned in that divine flame! who could comprehend that beauty, that wisdom, that amorous care wrought in you by divine love and for love - those colloquies so sweet, so loving, and so gracious - and not feel his heart melt within him, though it were harder than a stone.
O love! thou art called love until all that love is perfected which God has infused into the heart of man, in which he rests inebriated and immersed until he knows no longer what love is; for then it becomes Spirit and unites with the Spirit of man, so that he becomes spiritual. And the Spirit, being invisible and inscrutable to all the powers of the Soul, man is conquered and subdued, and knows no longer where he is, where he should be, nor whither he should go. But by reason of this secret and intimate union with God, there remains in the Soul a sweet impression, so firm and assured a satisfaction, that no torture, however cruel, could overpower it, and a zeal so ardent that a man, had he a thousand lives, would risk them all for that hidden consciousness which is so strong that hell itself could not destroy it. O Spirit, naked and invisible, none is able to lay hold of thee, by reason of thy nakedness! Thy habitation is in heaven, albeit with thy body thou yet remainest on the earth. Thou knowest not thyself, nor art thou known by others in this world. All thy lovers and thy kindred who are in heaven are known to thee only by virtue of an interior instinct implanted within thee by the Spirit of God.
O that I could find words fitting to describe that gracious friendship and that vanished union. Vanished, I say, because so far as man is concerned he has lost completely all expressions, that is, of love, union, annihilation, transformation, sweetness, softness, goodness; has lost, in short, all forms of speech by means of which the absolute union of two separate things could be expressed and comprehended, where nothing remains but one pure Spirit, active, and simple, and incomprehensible.