The Secret Word
Here in time we celebrate because the eternal birth that God the Father bears unceasingly in eternity is born now, in time and human nature. According to St. Augustine, this birth is always happening. But what does it profit me if it does not happen in me?
A wise man said: When all things lay in the midst of silence, then there descended into me from on high, from the royal throne, a secret word. This sermon concerns that word.
First we will consider the phrase: In the midst of silence, there was spoken in me a secret word.
But, sir, where is the silence and where is the word spoken?
It is in the purest, noblest part of the soul, in her ground and very essence. That is the silent center where no creature or image has ever penetrated. There the soul has no activity or understanding, and thus no image of herself or any creature. Here alone is rest and habitation for this birth, where God the Father can speak his Word, for it is intrinstically receptive of nothing save the divine essence. Here God enters the soul with his all, not merely with a part.
Creatures cannot enter the soul, nor can the soul know anything about a creature the image of which she has not willingly absorbed. An image is a thing that the soul creates with her powers, by means of which she approaches creatures. But an image received in this way must enter from without through the senses. Consequently there is nothing so unknown to the soul as herself. As one philosopher says, the soul can neither create nor absorb an image of herself.
Now you must know that the interior of the soul is free from both means and images; that is why God can unite with her freely without form or appearance. Surely, any power we might attribute to a master, God possesses without measure. The wiser and more powerful the master, the more immediately and simply his work is effected. Man requires many instruments for his external works, and much preparation is needed before he can bring them forth as he has imagined them. More exalted are the angels, who need fewer means and images for their works. The highest Seraph has but a single image. He seizes as a unity all that his inferiors regard as manifold. But God needs no image and has no image: God works in the soul without image, likeness or means. This no creature can do.
--How does God the Father give birth to his Son in the soul: like creatures, in image and likeness?
No, by my faith! It occurs just as he gives him birth in eternity, and not otherwise.
Well, but how does he give him birth there?
See. God the Father has perfect insight into himself, profound and thorough knowledge of himself through himself, not by means of any image. Thus God the Father gives birth to his Son in the very oneness of the divine nature. In the same way, God the Father gives birth to his Son in the ground and essence of the soul, and thus he unites himself with her. Were any image present there would not be real union, and in real union lies our beatitude.
Now you might say: But there is nothing innate in the soul but images. This is not true! If it were, then the soul could never be happy, for no creature can provide us with perfect happiness. Union with God is the highest happiness and final goal; it is his will and nature to be the alpha and omega of all. Therefore you must dwell in the ground of your soul, where God will join you to his essence without the medium of any image.
The second point to consider is what you should do to bring this birth to pass in yourself. Is it better to take action by imagining and thinking about God, or should you keep still and wait so that God can speak and act in you? At the same time, note that only the good and perfect, who have so absorbed the essence of virtue that it emanates from them naturally, are fit to receive this act of God. Above all there must live in them the worthy life and lofty teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Such know that the highest attainment in this life is to remain still and let God act and speak in us. When the soul withdraws her powers from bodily forms and functions, then this Word is spoken. The more completely you can withdraw your faculties and forget the things and images you have taken in, the more susceptible you are to this act. If only you could be suddenly unaware of things, and even of your very existence, as was St. Paul when he said: Whether in the body or out of the body I know not; God knoweth! His spirit had so entirely absorbed the faculties that it had forgotten the body. Memory no longer functioned, nor understanding, nor the senses; vital heat and energy were suspended so that the body was sustained during the three days that he neither ate or drank.
God works without instruments or images. The freer you are from images, the more receptive you are to his interior operation. God scorns to work among images.
Now you might say: What does God do without images in the ground and essence? That I do not know; my soul-powers can receive only in images. Since all images enter from without, this knowledge is concealed from my soul, and that is best for her. Not knowing makes her wonder and eager to pursue what she is certain is there, but the nature of which is a mystery to her. Once a person knows the reason for something, he tires of it and looks for something new. The soul is constant only to this knowledge shrouded in mystery, which keeps her seeking.
Concerning this, the wise man said: In the middle of the night, when all things were in quiet silence, there was spoken to me a hidden word. What does he mean by a word that was hidden? The nature of a word is to reveal what is hidden. It shone before me, intending to reveal knowledge of God. Hence it is called a word. But what is was remained hidden from me. Because it is hidden, one must always pursue it; we are meant to yearn and sigh for it.
When St. Paul returned after having been caught up into the third heaven where God was made known to him and where he beheld all things, he had forgotten nothing, but it was so deep down in his ground that his intellect could not reach it; it was veiled from him. Therefore, he was obliged to search for it inside himself. It is not outside; it is wholly within. Convinced of this, he declared: I am sure that neither death nor any affliction can separate me from what I find within me.
St. Augustine says: I am conscious of something within me that plays before my soul and is as a light dancing in front of it; were this brought to steadiness and perfection in me it would surely be eternal life! It hides yet it shows. It comes, but after the manner of a thief, with intent to steal all things from the soul. Revealing a glimpse of itself, it decoys the soul towards its mystery so as to rob the soul of itself. As the prophet says: Lord, take from them their spirit and give them instead thy spirit.
Now perhaps you will say: But, Sir, you wish to change the natural course of the soul! It is her nature to take in things through the senses by means of images. Would you upset this arrangement?
No, but how do know what nobility God has bestowed on human nature, what perfections are yet uncatalogued and even undiscovered? Those who have written of the souls nobility have gone no further than their natural intelligence could carry them; they never entered her ground, so that much remained unknown to them.
Mark now the fruit and use of this mysterious Word and that darkness into which it comes. Not only is the Son born in the darkness of the heavenly Father; you too are born there of the heavenly Father, and to you also he gives power. Observe its great use. No truth learned through the intellect by any master, now or ever, can be interpreted at all according to this knowledge, this ground. There is more in this unknowing knowledge than in any ordinary understanding, for this unknowing lures you away from all understood things and from yourself. This is what Christ meant when he said: Whoever does not deny himself and leave father and mother and is not estranged from all these, is not worthy of me. That is as though to say: whoever does not abandon creaturely externals can neither be conceived or born in this divine birth.
I believeno, I am certainthat the person established in this cannot be separated from God. I hold that he cannot lapse into mortal sin. I hold that he cannot willingly commit, or even consent to, a venial sin, whether in himself or another. He is so strongly drawn and habituated to this way, that he could never turn to any other.
May the God who has been born again as man assist us in this birth, continually helping us, weak mortals, to be born again in him as God. Amen.