Resolving a doubt about why in the law of grace it is not permitted to question God through supernatural means as it was in the old law. Proof from St. Paul.The Ascent of Mount Carmel
Book II, Chapter 22 (Excerpts)
In the last chapter, we affirmed that it was not God’s will that souls desire supernatural communication of distinct knowledge from visions and locutions, and so on. On the other hand, in the testimonies from Scripture, we saw that this kind of communication with God was lawful and made use of in the old law.
Why, then, in the new law of grace is it different than it was previously?
In answer to this, the chief reason in the old law that the inquiries made of God were licit, and the prophets and priests appropriately desired visions and revelations from him, was that at that time faith was not yet perfectly grounded, nor was the Gospel law established.
In this era of grace, now that the faith is established through Christ and the Gospel law made manifest, there is no reason for inquiring of him in this way or expecting him to answer as before.
In giving us His Son, His only Word (for He possesses no other), He spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word – and He has no more to say #StJohnoftheCrossTweet
This is the meaning of that passage where St. Paul tries to persuade the Hebrews to turn from communion with God through the old ways of the Mosaic law and instead fix their eyes on Christ: Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds (Heb. 1:1-2).
The Apostle indicates that God has become as it were mute, with no more to say, because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All, who is his Son.
Those who now desire to question God or receive some vision or revelation are guilty not only of foolish behavior but also of offending him by not fixing their eyes entirely on Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty.
God could answer as follows:
If I have already told you all things in my Word, my Son, and if I have no other word, what answer or revelation can I now make that would surpass this?
Fasten your eyes on him alone because in him I have spoken and revealed all and in him, you will discover even more than you ask for and desire. You are making an appeal for locutions and revelations that are incomplete, but if you turn your eyes to him you will find them complete.
For he is my entire locution and response, vision and revelation, which I have already spoken, answered, manifested, and revealed to you by giving him to you as a brother, companion, master, ransom, and reward.
One should not, then, inquire of God in this manner, nor is it necessary for God to speak any more. Since he has finished revealing the faith through Christ, there is no more faith to reveal, nor will there ever be.
Anyone wanting to get something in a supernatural way, as we stated, would as it were be accusing God of not having given us in his Son all that is required. Although in having these desires one presupposes the faith and believes in it, still, that curiosity displays a lack of faith. Hence there is no reason to hope for doctrine or anything else through supernatural means.
Since it is true that one must ever adhere to Christ’s teaching, and that everything unconformed to it is nothing and worthy of disbelief, anyone who desires to commune with God after the manner of old law is walking in vain.
We see even more how true this is when we recall that it was not lawful at that time for just anyone to question God; nor did God give an answer to just anyone, but only to the priests and prophets from whom the multitude were to learn the law and doctrine. Those eager to know something from God did not ask themselves but through a prophet or priest (e.g. Ex. 4:14-15).
As often as he reveals something to individuals, he confers on them a kind of inclination to manifest this to the appropriate person. Until people do this they usually go without complete satisfaction, for they have not received this knowledge from another human, like themselves.
Until consulting another, one will usually experience only tepidity and weakness in the truth, no matter how much may have been heard from God. This is so true that even after St. Paul had been preaching the Gospel, which he heard not from humans but from God (Gal. 1:12) for a long time, he could not resist going and conferring about it with St. Peter and the apostles: in order to make sure that he was not running, or had not run, in vain (Gal. 2:2). He did not feel secure until he had received assurance from other people.
This, then, seems remarkable, O Paul! Could not he who revealed the Gospel to you also give security from any error you might make in preaching its truth?
This text clearly teaches that there is no assurance in God’s revelations save through the means we are describing. Even though individuals have certitude that the revelation is of divine origin—as St. Paul had of his Gospel, since he had already begun to preach it—they can still err in regard to the object of the revelation or its circumstances.
Even though God reveals one factor, he does not always manifest the other. Often he will reveal something without telling how to accomplish it. He usually does not effect or reveal to people what can be arrived at through human effort or counsel, even though he may frequently and affably commune with them. St. Paul understood this clearly since, as we are saying, he went to confer about the Gospel in spite of his knowledge that it was divinely revealed.
People should not imagine that just because God and the saints converse amiably with them on many subjects, they will be told their particular faults, for they can come to the knowledge of these through other means. Hence there is no motive for assurance, for we read in the Acts of the Apostles what happened to St. Peter.
Though he was a prince of the Church and received immediate instruction from God, he was mistaken about a certain ceremony practiced among the Gentiles.
And God was so silent that St. Paul reproved Peter: But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Gal. 2:14). God did not himself inform St. Peter of this fault, because that simulation was rationally discernible.
God could answer: “Fasten your eyes on Him alone because in Him I have spoken and revealed all and in Him you will discover even more than you ask for and desire” #StJohnoftheCrossTweet
I deduce in concluding this part that whatever is received through supernatural means (in whatever manner) should immediately be told clearly, integrally, and simply to one’s spiritual master.
It ought to be noted in this regard that, even though we have greatly stressed rejection of these communications and the duty of confessors to forbid souls from making them a topic of conversation, spiritual fathers should not show severity, displeasure, or scorn in dealing with these souls. With such an attitude they would make them cower and shrink from a manifestation of these experiences, would close the door to these souls, and cause them many difficulties.
Since God is leading them by this means, there is no reason to oppose it or become frightened or scandalized over it.
The spiritual father should instead proceed with much kindness and calm. He should give these souls encouragement and the opportunity to speak about their experiences, and, if necessary, oblige them to do so, for at times everything is needful on account of the hardship some find in discussing these matters.
Spiritual directors should guide them in the way of faith by giving them good instructions on how to turn their eyes from all these things and on their obligation to denude their appetite and spirit of these communications in order to advance.
They should explain how one act done in charity is more precious in God’s sight than all the visions and communications possible—since these imply neither merit nor demerit—and how it is that many individuals who have not received these experiences are incomparably more advanced than others who have received many.
Saint John of the Cross
The Ascent of Mount Carmel
Book II, Chapter 22 (Excerpts)
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: Photographer Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. captures this image of a stained glass window by Van Linge in Queen’s College, Oxford. The unspeakable Name of God—the Tetragrammaton—is revealed between the apostles, Saints Peter and Paul (Some rights reserved).