(Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon)
(1648 - 1717)

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"The gold seems rather to blacken than brighten when first put into the furnace."

While the soul still feels the full power of the divine action upon it, its imperfections appear to be destroyed; but as the work of purification goes on, the virtues sink deep into the soul, disappearing from the surface and leaving the natural defects in conspicuous prominence.

The effects of winter on plants seem to me to present a lively and accurate image of this operation of God. As the season of cold and storms approaches, the trees gradually lose their leaves, their vivid green is soon changed into a funereal brown, and they fall and die. The trees now look stripped and desolate; the loss of their summer garments brings to light all the irregularities and defects in their surfaces which had previously been hidden from view. Not that they have contracted any new deformity; not at all; everything was there before, but hidden by their abundant foliage. Thus a person in the time of purification appears stripped of virtues.  But as the tree, in preserving its sap, retains that which is the productive cause of leaves, so the soul is not deprived of the essence of virtue, nor of any solid advantage; but only of a certain external facility in the display of its possessions. The one thus despoiled and naked appears in his or her own eyes and in those of others with all the defects of nature which were previously concealed by the foliage of palpable grace. During the whole of winter, the trees appear dead.  But they are not so in reality.  On the contrary, they are submitting to a process which preserves and strengthens them. For what is the effect of winter? It contracts a tree's exterior, so that the sap is not wasted on externals, and it concentrates the tree's strength in the roots, so that new roots are pushed out and the old ones strengthened and nourished and forced deeper into the soil. We may say, then, that however dead the tree may appear from the outside…it was never more alive in its essence, and it is even during winter that the source and principle of its life is more firmly established. During the other seasons it employs the whole force of its sap in adorning and beautifying itself at the expense of its roots.

Just so in the economy of grace. God takes away that which is superficial in virtue, that He may strengthen the source of the virtues. These are still practised by the soul, though in an exceedingly hidden way, and in humility, pure love, absolute abandonment, contempt of self and the others, the soul makes solid progress. It is thus that the operation of God seems to sully the soul exteriorly; in point of fact it implies no new defects in the soul, but only an uncovering of the old ones, so that by being openly exposed they may be better healed.


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In their many different idioms the classical spiritual writers have attempted to throw light on the eternal question of union with God. 
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