Quote of the day, 21 March: St. John of the Cross

Pouring out a thousand graces,
he passed these groves in haste;
and having looked at them,
with his image alone,
clothed them in beauty.

The Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 5
Commentary

In this stanza the creatures answer the soul. Their answer, as St. Augustine also declares in that same place, is the testimony they in themselves give the soul of God’s grandeur and excellence. It is for this testimony that she asked in her reflections. The substance of this stanza is: God created all things with remarkable ease and brevity, and in them he left some trace of who he is, not only in giving all things being from nothing, but even by endowing them with innumerable graces and qualities, making them beautiful in a wonderful order and unfailing dependence on one another. All of this he did through his own Wisdom, the Word, his only begotten Son by whom he created them. […]

St. Paul says: the Son of God is the splendor of his glory and the image of his substance [Heb. 1:3]. It should be known that only with this figure, his Son, did God look at all things, that is, he communicated to them their natural being and many natural graces and gifts, and made them complete and perfect, as is said in Genesis: God looked at all things that he made, and they were very good [Gn. 1:31]. To look and behold that they were very good was to make them very good in the Word, his Son.

Not only by looking at them did he communicate natural being and graces, as we said, but also, with this image of his Son alone, he clothed them in beauty by imparting to them supernatural being. This he did when he took on our human nature and elevated it in the beauty of God, and consequently all creatures, since in human nature he was united with them all. Accordingly, the Son of God proclaimed: Si ego exaltatus a terra fuero omnia traham ad me ipsum (If I be lifted up from the earth, I will elevate all things to myself) [Jn. 12:32]. And in this elevation of all things through the Incarnation of his Son and through the glory of his resurrection according to the flesh not only did the Father beautify creatures partially, but, we can say, he clothed them entirely in beauty and dignity.

St. John of the Cross

The Spiritual Canticle, st. 5, nos. 1, 4

John of the Cross, St. 1991, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Revised Edition, translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K and Rodriguez, O with revisions and introductions by Kavanaugh, K, ICS Publications, Washington DC.

Featured image: Noli me tangere is an oil on canvas painting by Lambert Sustris (b. 1515 – d. 1568), a Flemish painter who was active primarily in Venice. The Italian Renaissance gardens and styling seem so anachronistic for a biblical scene, but they situate this artwork in the Venetian early modern period, similar to Sustris’ contemporary, Paolo Veronese. Scholars estimate that this painting was executed between 1548 and 1560. This work is currently in the collections of the Palais des Beaux Arts in Lille, France.

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