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Faith/Spirituality Forum: re: spiritual marriage?

by Catherine Frakas 05 Feb 2001

re: spiritual marriage? QUESTION from Aurora on February 14, 2003 Hi. (Actually I meant this Spiritual Marriage.)
Prayer of Spiritual Marriage (also known as union with God) The previous forms of contemplative prayer come and go, but the prayer of spiritual marriage is pretty much a permanent state. At onset both body and soul typically feel as though they are being flooded with a non-physical light.
Is this information right? Thank You
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on February 16, 2003 Dear Aurora:
Oh, okay. You are talking about the mystical union. St Tersa of Avila describes this in her book Interior Castle.
Mystical union is a gift from God give only to some people. Although most of us will never reach this level of contemplation, we can all experience the lower levels of contemplation. An article well worth reading that summaries these issues is found in the Catholic Encyclopedia at: on Contemplation
Below is an excerpt from that article:

Higher Contemplation There are four degrees or stages of mystical union. They are here taken just as St. Teresa has described them with the greatest clearness in her Life and principally in her Interior Castle:

incomplete mystical union, or the prayer of quiet (from the Latin quies, quiet; which expresses the impression experienced in this state);

the full, or semi-ecstatic, union, which St. Teresa sometimes calls the prayer of union (in her Life she also makes use of the term entire union, entera unie³n, ch. xvii);

ecstatic union, or ecstasy; and

transforming or deifying union, or spiritual marriage (properly) of the soul with God.

The first three are states of the same grace, viz. the weak, medium, and the energetic. It will be seen that the transforming union differs from these specifically and not merely in intensity.
Mystical union
The preceding ideas may be more precisely stated by indicated the easily discernible lines of demarcation. Mystical union will be called:

spiritual quiet when the Divine action is still too weak to prevent distractions: in a word, when the imagination still retains a certain liberty;

full union when its strength is so great that the soul is fully occupied with the Divine object, whilst, on the other hand, the senses continue to act (under these conditions, by makeing a greater or less effort, one can cease from prayer);

ecstasy when communications with the external world are severed or nearly so (in this event one can no longer make voluntary movement nor energy from the state at will).

Between these well-defined types there are imperceptible transitions as between the colours blue, green, and yellow. Mystics use many other appellations: silence, supernatural sleep, spiritual inebriation, etc. These are not real degrees, but rather ways of being in the four preceding degrees. St. Teresa sometimes designates the weak prayer of quiet as supernatural recollection.
Transforming union
As regards transforming union, or spiritual marriage, it is here sufficient to say that it consists in the habitual consciousness of a mysterious grace which all shall possess in heaven: the anticipation of the Divine nature. The soul is conscious of the Divine assistance in its superior supernatural operations, those of the intellect and the will. Spiritual marriage differs from spiritual espousals inasmuch as the first of these states is permanent and the second only transitory.
The different states of mystical union possess twelve characters. The first two are the most important; the first because it denotes the basis of this grace, the other because it represents its physiognomy.
>b>First character: The presence felt
(a) The real difference between mystical union and the recollection of ordinary prayer is that, in the former, God is not satisfied with helping us to think of Him and reminding us of that presence.
(b) However, in the lower degrees (spiritual quiet) God does this in a rather obscure way. The more elevated the order of the union the clearer the manifestation. The obscurity just mentioned is a source of interior suffering to beginners. During the period of spiritual quiet they instinctively believe in the preceding doctrine, but afterwards, because of their preconceived ideas, they begin to reason and relapse into hesitation and the fear of going astray. The remedy lies in providing them with a learned director or a book that treats these matters clearly. By experimental knowledge it is understood that which comes from the object itself and makes it known not only as possible but as existing, and in such and such conditions. This is the case with mystical union: God is therein perceived as well as conceived. Hence, in mystical union, we have experimental knowledge of God and of His presence, but it does not at all follow that this knowledge is of the same nature as the Beatific Vision. The angels, the souls of the departed, and devils know one another experimentally but in an inferior way to that in which God will be manifested to us in heaven. Theologians express this principle by saying that it is a knowledge by impressed or intelligible species.
Second character: Interior possession
(a) In states inferior to ecstasy one cannot say that he sees God, unless indeed in exceptional cases. Nor is one instinctively led to use the word see.
(b) On the contrary, what constitutes the common basis of all the degrees of mystical union is that the spiritual impression by which God manifests His presence makes that presence felt in the way of an interior something with which the soul is penetrated; it is a sensation of absorption, of fusion, of immersion.
(c) For the sake of greater clearness the sensation one experiences may be designated as interior touch. This very clear expression of spiritual sensation is used by Scaramelli (Directoire mystique, Tr. iii, no. 26) and had already been resorted to by Father de la Reguera (Praxis theologiae mysticae, vol. I, no. 735). The following comparison will aid us in forming an exact idea of the physiognomy of mystical union. We may say that it is in a precisely similar way that we feel the presence of our body when we remain perfectly immobile and close our eyes. If we know that our body is present, it is not because we see it or have been told of the fact. It is the result of a special sensation (coenaesthesis), an interior impression, very simple and yet impossible to analyse. Thus it is that in mystical union we feel God within us and in a very simple way. The soul absorbed in mystical union that is not too elevated may be said to resemble a man placed near one of his friends in an impenetrably dark place and in utter silence He neither sees nor hears his friend whose hand he holds within his own, but through means of touch, he feels his presence. He thus remains thinking of his friend and loving him, although amid distractions.
The foregoing statements concerning the first two characters always appear unquestionably true to those who have received mystical grace but, on the contrary, they are often a source of amazement to the profane. For those who will admit them, at least provisionally the difficulties of mystical union are overcome and what is to follow will not be very mysterious.
The ten characters remaining are the consequences or concomitants of the first two.
Third character
Mystical union cannot be produced at will. It is this character that was useful above in defining all mystical states. It may also be added that these states cannot be augmented nor their manner of being changed. By remaining immobile and being content with interior acts of the will one cannot cause these graces to cease. It will be seen farther on that the only means to this end lies in resuming bodily activity.
Fourth character
The knowledge of God in mystical union is obscure and confused; hence the expression to enter into Divine obscurity or into Divine darkness. In ecstasy one has intellectual visions of the Divinity, and the loftier these become, the more they surpass our understanding. Then is reached blinding contemplation, a mixture of light and darkness. The great darkness is the name given tot he contemplation of such Divine attributes are never shared by any creature, for instance, infinity, eternity, immutability, etc.
Fifth character
Like all else that borders on the Divine nature this mode of communication is only half comprehensible and it is called mystical because it indicates a mystery. This character and the preceding one are a source of anxiety to beginners, as they imagine that no state is Divine and certain unless they understand it perfectly and without anyone's help.
Sixth character
In mystical union the contemplation of God is produced neither by reasoning nor by the consideration of creatures nor still by interior images of the sensible order. We have seen that it has an altogether different cause. In the natural state our thinking is always accompanied by images, and it is the same in ordinary prayer, because supernatural operations of an ordinary character resemble those of nature. But in mystical contemplation a change takes place. St. John of the Cross is constantly reverting to this point. It has been said that the acts of the imagination are not the cause of the contemplation; however, they may at least accompany it. Most frequently it is in distractions that the imagination manifests itself, and St. Teresa declared that for this evil she found no remedy (Life, ch. xvii). We shall designate as constitutive acts of mystical union those which necessarily belong to this state, such as thinking of God, relishing Him and loving Him; and by way of distinction we shall denote as additional acts such acts, other than distractions, as are not proper to mystical union, that is to say, are neither its cause nor its consequences. This term indicates that an addition, whether voluntary or not, is made to Divine action. Thus, to recite a Hail Mary during spiritual quiet or to give oneself up to a consideration of death would be to perform additional acts, because they are not essential to the existence of spiritual quiet. These definitions will prove useful later on. But even now they will permit us to explain certain abbreviations of language, often indulged in by mystics, of which many erroneous interpretations have been made, misunderstanding having resulted from what was left unexpressed. Thus it has been said: Often in supernatural prayer there are no more acts; or One must not fear therein to suppress all acts; whereas what should have been said was this: There are no more additional acts. Taken literally, these abridged phrases do not differ from those of the Quietists. St. Teresa was suddenly enlightened in her way of perfection by reading in a book this phrase, though it is inaccurate: In spiritual quiet one can think of nothing (Life, ch. xxiii). But others would not have discerned the true value of the expression. In like manner it was said: The will only is united; by which was meant that the mind adds no further reasoning and that thenceforth it makes itself forgotten or else that it retains the liberty of producing additional acts; then it seems as if it were not united. But in future these expressions that require long explanations will be avoided.
Seventh character
There are continual fluctuations. Mystical union does not retain the same degree of intensity for five minutes, buts its average intensity may be the same for a notable length of time.
Eighth character
Mystical union demands much less labour than meditation, and the more elevated the state the less the effort required, in ecstasy there being none whatever. St. Teresa compares the soul that progresses in these states to a gardener who takes less and less trouble to water his garden (Life, ch. xi). In the prayer of quiet the labour does not consist in procuring the prayer itself; God alone can give that, but first in combating distractions; second, in occasionally producing additional acts; third, if the quiet be weak, in suppressing the ennui caused by incomplete absorption which very often one is disinclined to perfect by something else.
Ninth character
Mystical union is accompanied by sentiments of love, tranquillity, and pleasure. In spiritual quiet these sentiments are not always very ardent although sometimes the reverse is the case and there is spiritual jubilation and inebriation.
Tenth character
Mystical union is accompanied, and often in a very visible manner, by an impulse towards the different virtues. This fact (which St. Teresa constantly repeats) is the more sensible in proportion as the prayer is more elevated. In private, far from leading to pride these graces always produce humility.
Eleventh character
Mystical union acts upon the body. This fact is evident in ecstasy (q.v.) and enters into its definition. First, in this state the senses have little or no action; second, the members of the body are usually motionless; third, respiration almost ceases; fourth, vital heat seems to disappear, especially from the extremities. In a word, all is as if the soul loses in vital force and motor activity all that it gains on the side of Divine union. The law of continuity shows us that these phenomena must occur, although in a lesser degree, in those states that are inferior to ecstasy. At what moment do they begin? Often during spiritual quiet, and this seems to be the case mainly with persons of weak temperament. Since this spiritual quiet is somewhat opposed to bodily movements the latter must react reciprocally in order to diminish this quiet. Experience confirms this conjecture. If one begins to walk read, or look to right and left, one feels the Divine action diminishing; therefore to resume bodily activity is a practical means of ending the mystical union.
Twelfth character
Mystical union to some extent hinders the production of some interior acts which, in ordinary prayer, could be produced at will. This is what is known as the suspension of the powers of the soul. In ecstasy this fact is most evident and is also experienced in actual quiet, one of those states inferior to ecstasy, being one of the phenomena that have most occupied mystics and been the cause of the greatest anxiety to beginners. Those acts which have been termed additional, and which would likewise be voluntary, are what are hampered by this suspension, hence it is usually an obstacle to vocal prayers and pious reflections.
To sum up: as a general rule, the mystical state has a tendency to exclude all that is foreign to it and especially whatever proceeds from our own assiduity, our own effort. Sometimes, however, God makes exceptions. Concerning suspension there are three rules of conduct identical with those already given for the prayer of simplicity (see above). If a director suspects that a person has attained unto the prayer of quiet he can most frequently decide the case by questioning him on the twelve characters just enumerated.

God Bless.
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