The Living Flame of Love is the final chapter in John’s vision of love. It describes the end of a journey that began in longings of love that became an experience of purification for the person seeking union. The person in his or her journey then passed through a period of illumination regarding the God of love and his or her own need of love. Then the person reached the early stage of union in spiritual betrothal. The Living Flame of Love picks up from the final stage of union in the love of spiritual marriage and describes, in great beauty, several aspects of this final stage in the union of love. All these ideas are part of John’s wonderful vision of love.
I think Fr. Gabriel catches the wonder of this book when he writes: “The Living Flame of Love is a book of fire. Written all at a stretch in a fortnight, under the influence of an intense love, it reveals the Saint’s ardent soul better than the other works.” (St. John of the Cross: Doctor of Divine Love and Contemplation, 1954, 81).
I have been studying St. John’s major works and been inspired by his synthesis of his material. I was at the same time interested to read in Fr Crysogono how John worked on small sections independently before uniting them into a major work.
“His major works, then, were a gradual development. They were preceded by small fragments which developed into chapters. It should be remarked, however, that these first writings already have a definite character about them. When the author gave shape to the greatest of his works–the Ascent of Mount Carmel–they were to pass into it textually, without emendation or redrafting. It can be seen that his system was already mature.” (The Life of St. John of the Cross, pp.222-223).
This gives us insight into John’s daily reflection, his constant thinking about his directees, and his ongoing maturing of his thought.
I am currently studying once again the Living Flame of Love and came across this comment by E. Allison Peers in his wonderful commentary on the Living Flame. I thought I would like to share it with you.
“Yet it must be agreed that in the Living Flame of Love–the shortest of his four great treatises–St. John of the Cross takes us still farther into the mysteries of which he is so rare an exponent and presents us with a work, less tenderly appealing, no doubt, than the Spiritual Canticle, but written with greater eloquence and ardour, impetuosity and lyrical fervor, telling of a love more completely refined and of a soul nearer than ever to God.”
Let’s remember that the Living Flame is not developmental like John’s other works but rather describes four facets of spiritual matrimony. John says that the four stanzas of the Living Flame “treat of a love within this very state of transformation that has a deeper quality and is more perfect.” E. Allison Peers reminds us just how well John did this.