God does not speak to us as we speak to one another. He speaks as God, and consequently we should be wary of our preconceived ideas as to how the communication ought to be carried off. Moreover, he does not speak in one way only. Nor should we assume that his speaking is always unmistakable.
The indwelling Lord leads us into all truth (John 14:26; 16:13) in diverse ways and degrees. St. John of the Cross discusses these ways and degrees under the caption of what he calls supernatural locutions. It seems to me that this expression, “supernatural locution,” is equivalent to what we mean in saying that the Holy Spirit speaks to us. John’s “locution” is a type of “apprehension,” a knowing. It is a type that is “produced in the souls of spiritual persons without the use of the bodily senses as means. ” These are not sensory or imaginary visions. They are “produced,” that is, received from God. One does not originate the locution. God speaks and enlightens. Man receives.
The saint reduces the many ways in which God speaks to three types. There are, in order of ascending value (and using the saint’s terminology), successive, formal, and substantial locutions. I will speak of them in my own language as well as John’s.
One: Assisting enlightenment (successive locutions)
This first type of divine speaking always occurs when one is “recollected and attentively absorbed” in some thought process. The enlightenment always concerns the subject on which one is meditating. During this time the person is united with the truth and with the Holy Spirit who is in every truth, says John, and yet he is thinking, reasoning in the usual, human manner. The Spirit aids him in forming his concepts and judgments. There is so great a clarity and ease in this activity that it seems another is teaching him, as indeed is the case. In this communion with the indwelling Spirit about a particular matter, the person goes on to “form interiorly and successively other truths.” The saint supposes that this enlightenment occurs during prayer, that is, while one is “recollected” and “communing” with the divine Spirit.” It seems, therefore, that this type of speaking does not usually occur in dialogue sessions but in the midst of prayerful communion.
The recipient of this assisting enlightenment “is unable to believe” that it originates with himself, but he has the awareness that it derives from another. Yet the knowledge received (it cannot be attained by personal industry) is so delicate that the natural intellect by its own activity “easily disturbs and undoes it.” This point is important. Even when God does speak in this manner, he does not exclude our human activities with all their limitations, preconceptions, biases, errors. Even when he enlightens, he permits us to be what we as a matter of fact are: fallen – redeemed, yes, but still wounded and deficient.
We may conclude that this assisting enlightenment is not merely human reason proceeding under its own steam and deriving from the Holy Spirit only in the sense that anything true and good derives from him. The divine enlightenment is something over and above the gift of native intelligence, even though in the successive locution it works closely with that intelligence.
Two: Independent-ideational speaking (formal locutions)
Whereas the assisting enlightenment occurs only when one is prayerfully meditative, this divine speaking can happen at any time. In the first the locution accompanies human activity,while in the second it is uttered independently of what the recipient is doing: “They are received as though one person were speaking to another.” One may receive this locution while he is working, conversing, playing, or praying. “Sometimes these words are very explicit and at other times not. They are like ideas spoken to the spirit. At times only one word is spoken, and then again more than one.” Although the recipient is clearly aware that this locution comes from another and thus has no reasonable doubt about the otherness of origin, he can only too easily be deceived as to who this other is. It may be God, or it may be the devil, and the discernment is not always easy. Of this I shall speak later.
Three: Dynamic-effective speaking (substantial locution)
It is now well known that the Hebrew idea of “word,” dabar, was not a mere intellectual representation of reality but a dynamic power. Just as the rain and snow come down from the heavens and produce food, so God’s word comes down and achieves its effects (Isaiah 55:10-11). The divine word acts; it does things. It is like fire and a hammer that sunders rocks (Jeremiah 23:29). It is active, alive; it judges, divides and cuts like a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). Yahweh’s word alone caused all creation to be (Genesis 1 and 2). Jesus’s words are spirit and life (John 6:63).
This dynamic-effective speaking (substantial locution) is not merely an assisting enlightenment (the first manner) or an ideational speaking (the second manner). It is a powerful producing-in-the-soul of what it says. “For example,” notes the saint, “if our Lord should say formally to the soul: ‘Be good,’ it would immediately be substantially good; or if He should say: ‘Love Me,’ it would at once have and experience within itself the substance of the love of God; or if He should say to a soul in great fear: ‘Do not fear,’ it would without delay feel ample fortitude and tranquility.”
These dynamic-effective communications are the most excellent for several reasons. One is that deceit is impossible, since the devil cannot produce this goodness within us. Another is that these locutions impart “incomparable blessings” of life and goodness to the person who receives them. There is consequently nothing to fear or to reject. The recipient need do nothing about them, “because God never grants them for that purpose, but He bestows them in order to accomplish Himself what they express.”