The phrase vale of tears is widely used but I never knew whence it derived. I set out on an etymological quest this morning. Here are my findings:
Beatus vir, cuius est auxilium abs te! ascensiones in corde suo disposuit in valle lacrymarum, in loco, quem posuit. Cum beati-tudo nihil aliud sit, quam summi boni fruitio; et summum bonum sit supra nos: nullus potest effici beatus, nisi supra semetipsum ascendat, non ascensu corporali, sed cordiali. Sed supra nos levari non possumus nisi per virtutem superiorem nos elevantem.

Blessed is the man whose help is from thee; in his heart he hath disposed to ascend by steps in the vale of tears, in the place which he hath set. Since happiness is nothing else than the enjoyment of the Supreme Good and the Supreme Good is above us, no one can enjoy happiness unless he rise above himself, not, indeed by a bodily ascent, but by an ascent of the heart. But we cannot rise above ourselves unless a superior power raise us.

Bonaventure, The Soul’s Journey Into God. (Itinerarium mentis in Deum)

We journey through a vale of tears,
By many a cloud o’ercast;
And worldly cares and worldly fears,
Go with us to the last.

Bernard Barton (1784-1849)

Beyond this vale of tears
There is a life above,
Unmeasured by the flight of years;
And all that life is love.

James Montgomery, from The Issues of Life and Death

Down the broad Vale of Tears afar
    The spectral camp is fled;
Faith shineth as a morning star,
    Our ghastly fears are dead.

from THE BELEAGUERED CITY by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Von Hartmann, in like manner, rejecting as mythical the foundation of the Christian Faith and its hope of the hereafter, takes its historical and only important content to be the doctrine that "this earthly vale of tears has in itself no value whatever, but that, on the contrary, the earthly life is composed of tribulation and daily torment."

VON HARTMANN, The Philosophy of the Unconscious, tr. COUPLAND (London, 1893)

quoted in "Pessimism", The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911.

Finally, paydirt: The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2001, says that vale of tears may derive from Baca, an allegorical valley mentioned in the Bible, via the Vulgate.

7 In valle lacrimarum in loco quem posuit

7 in the vale of tears, in the place which be hath set.

Psalm 84

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