O lamps of fire!
in whose splendors
the deep caverns of feeling,
once obscure and blind,
now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely,
both warmth and light to their Beloved.
To understand what these splendors of the lamps are and how the soul is resplendent in them, it should be known that they are the loving knowledge that the lamps of God’s attributes give forth from themselves to the soul. United with them in its faculties, the soul is also resplendent like them, transformed in loving splendors.
By what was said and what we shall now say it will be more plainly understood how excellent the splendors of these lamps are, for by another name they are called “overshadowings.”
To understand this expression, it should be known that an overshadowing is the equivalent of casting a shadow; and casting a shadow is similar to protecting, favoring, and granting graces. For when a person is covered by a shadow, it is a sign that someone else is nearby to protect and favor.
As a result, the Angel Gabriel called the conception of the Son of God, that favor granted to the Virgin Mary, an overshadowing of the Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you [Lk. 1:35].
For a clear understanding of the nature of this casting of the shadow of God or these overshadowings of great splendor, which is all the same, it should be observed that everything has and makes a shadow according to its size and its properties. If an object is opaque and dark, it makes a dark shadow; if it is transparent and delicate its shadow is transparent and delicate.
Thus the shadow of a dark object amounts to another darkness in the measure of the darkness of the object, and the shadow of something bright amounts to something else that is bright according to the brightness of the object.
Since the virtues and attributes of God are enkindled and resplendent lamps, they cannot but touch the soul by their shadows, since, as we said, they are so close to it. These shadows must also be enkindled and resplendent in the measure of the splendor of the lamps that make them, and thus they will be splendors.
As a result, the shadow that the lamp of God’s beauty casts over the soul will be another beauty according to the measure and property of God’s beauty; and the shadow that fortitude casts over it will amount to another fortitude commensurate with God’s; and, the shadow of God’s wisdom on it will be another wisdom corresponding to God’s wisdom; and, so on with the other lamps.
To express it better: We have the very wisdom and the very beauty and the very fortitude of God in shadow because the soul here cannot comprehend God perfectly. Since the shadow is so formed by God’s size and properties that it is God himself in shadow, the soul knows well the excellence of God.
What, then, will be the shadows of the grandeur of his virtues and attributes that the Holy Spirit casts on the soul?
What, then, will be the shadows of the grandeur of his virtues and attributes that the Holy Spirit casts on the soul? For he is so close to it that his shadows not only touch but unite it with these grandeurs in their shadows and splendors so that it understands and enjoys God according to his property and measure in each of the shadows.
For it understands and enjoys the divine power in the shadow of omnipotence; and, it understands and enjoys the divine wisdom in the shadow of divine wisdom; and, it understands and enjoys the infinite goodness in the shadow of infinite goodness that surrounds it, and so on.
Finally, it enjoys God’s glory in the shadow of his glory. All this occurs in the clear and enkindled shadows of those clear and enkindled lamps. And, these lamps are within the one lamp of the undivided and simple being of God, which is actually resplendent in all these ways.
Saint John of the Cross
The Living Flame of Love, st. 3, nos. 9, 12–15
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.