the breathing of the air,
the song of the sweet nightingale,
the grove and its living beauty
in the serene night,
with a flame that is consuming and painless.
The Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 39
This breathing of the air is an ability that the soul states God will give her there in the communication of the Holy Spirit. By his divine breath-like spiration, the Holy Spirit elevates the soul sublimely and informs her and makes her capable of breathing in God the same spiration of love that the Father breathes in the Son and the Son in the Father.
This spiration of love is the Holy Spirit himself, who in the Father and the Son breathes out to her in this transformation in order to unite her to himself. There would not be a true and total transformation if the soul were not transformed in the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity in an open and manifest degree.
No knowledge or power can describe how this happens, unless by explaining how the Son of God attained and merited such a high state for us, the power to be children of God, as St. John says (Jn. 1:12).
Thus the Son asked of the Father in St. John’s Gospel: Father, I desire that where I am those you have given me may also be with me, that they may see the glory you have given me (Jn. 17:24), that is, that they may perform in us by participation the same work that I do by nature; that is, breathe the Holy Spirit.
And he adds:
I do not ask, Father, only for those present, but for those also who will believe in me through their doctrine; that all of them may be one as you, Father, in me and I in you, that thus they be one in us. The glory which you have given me I have given them that they may be one as we are one, I in them and you in me; that they may be perfect in one; that the world may know that you have sent me and loved them as you have loved me (Jn. 17:20-23).
The Father loves them by communicating to them the same love he communicates to the Son, though not naturally as to the Son but, as we said, through unity and transformation of love. It should not be thought that the Son desires here to ask the Father that the saints be one with him essentially and naturally as the Son is with the Father, but that they may be so through the union of love, just as the Father and the Son are one in unity of love.
Accordingly, souls possess the same goods by participation that the Son possesses by nature. As a result, they are truly gods by participation, equals and companions of God.
Saint John of the Cross
The Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 39, nos. 3,5–6
All scripture references are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America as accessed from the Bible Gateway website.
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: The Holy Trinity in Glory was executed in pen and brown ink by Italian artist Simone Cantarini (1612–1648). The work is undated. A gift from Cephas G. Thompson in 1887 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, this little drawing, whose dimensions are only 5 1/4 x 7 15/16in. (13.3 x 20.2cm), is not on display in the museum. Image credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art (Public Domain).