St John Of The Cross

Toward A Model of Spiritual Direction Based on the Writings of SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS AND CARL R. ROGERS:


BY KEVIN G. CULLIGAN copywright 1979

The purpose of this site is to present the material in Fr. Kevin's thesis that applies most directly to the works of St. John of the Cross. For this reason we have omitted Parts II and III. Also, we have attempted to be as faithful as possible to the pagination and layout of the orginal text while taking into consideration some of the necessary modifications for the web.


Chapter I. LIFE

pp 20-30 below, pp 30-40, 40-50, 50-60, 60-70, 70-80, 80-90, 90-100


pp 100-110,110-120, 120-130, 130-138


138-150, 150-160, 160-170, 170-180, 180-190, 190-200, 200-210, 210-220,

220-230, 230-240, 240-250, 250-260, 260-270, 270-280, 280-290, 290-300, 300-310, 310-320,

320-330, 330-340, 340-356



BIBLIOGRAPHY {Note: we have included only the part on St. John of the Cross}





John of the Cross was a man of wide accomplishment. As a mystic, his treatises on man's relationship with God place him among such writers as Augustine of Hippo, Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, Robert Bellarmine, and Alphonsus Ligouri as a proclaimed Doctor of the Universal Church. As a poet, he has inspired one modern scholar to state that "No other poet in any country seemed to me to have reached such heights of lyrical expression."l As a valued associate of Saint Teresa of Avila in the sixteenth century reform of the Carmelite Order, he participated in the foundations of new convents for women and performed numerous administrative duties in the reform of the friars. As a priest, he was devoted to the sacramental ministry of his Church and to the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.


1Gerald Brenan, St. John of the Cross: His Life and Poetry, poetry trans. Lynda Nicholson (Cambridge, England: University Press, 1973), p. xi.


This dissertation is concerned primarily with his priestly work and focuses specifically upon his ministry of spiritual direction. The underlying thesis of this biographical sketch is that spiritual direction was Saint John's principal priestly ministry,l the ministry for which he was well suited by personality and education, to which he devoted the greater part of his time and energy, and which directly occasioned his treatises on the spiritual life. This biographical summary will, therefore, include only those phases of Saint John's full and varied life which permit us to see his development as a spiritual director and the manner in which he exercised this ministry.

The principal source material for the life and writings of Saint John of the Cross in this dissertation is found in the seventh edition of Vida y Obras de San Juan de la Cruz published in Madrid in 1973, by the Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos.2 This volume contains the biography of Saint John written in 1945 by Crisógono de Jesús, O.C.D., a thoroughly documented history of the saint which relies heavily upon primary manuscript sources and eyewitness


1Gabriel, The Spiritual Director, p. 11.

2Crisógono de Jesús, Matías del Niño Jesús, and Lucinio Ruano, Vida y Obras de San Juan de la Cruz, 7th ed. (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1973). Subsequent references to this volume in this dissertation will be noted simply as Vida y Obras.


testimony.1 Crisógono's original work has been edited for inclusion in Vida y Obras and supplemented with additional notes by Matías del Niño Jesús , O.C.D. All dates and historical information in the following pages are taken from Crisógono's biography unless otherwise noted.

Vida y Obras also contains a critical edition of the saint's writings presented with notes and appendices by Lucinio Ruano, O.C.D. No autograph copy of any of Saint John's four major treatises has come down to us although we do possess the original of some of his letters and other minor works. Ruano's critical edition in the present publication represents a reliable text based on the best available manuscripts.2


1Crisógono's biography is translated into English by Kathleen Pond under the title, The Life of St. John of the Cross. It was published in 1958 in England by Longmans, Green and Co. Ltd., and in the United States by Harper and Brothers. Subsequent references to this translation will be indicated simply by Life.

2See the various publications of Eulogio Pacho, O.C.D., for a discussion of the critical problems in the writings of Saint John, especially San Juan de la Cruz y Sus Escritos (Madrid: Ediciones Cristiandad, 1969); "San Juan de la Cruz: Vida y Escritos," Ephemerides Carmeliticae, 19 (1968):71-87; "Los Textos Sanjuanistas y Los Resultados de la Critica," El Monte Carmelo, 77 (1969):369-386. Bibliographical material concerning the life and work of Saint John of the Cross may also be found in Vida y Obras, pp. 985-1011; Pier Paolo Ottonello, Bibliografia di S. Juan de la Cruz (Rome: Edizioni del Teresianum, 1967); and Pontificium Institutum Spiritualitatis O.C.D., Bibliographia Internationalis Spiritualitatis, published annualIy since 1969 (Rome: Edizioni del Teresianum, 1969-).


The English translation of Saint John's writings used in this dissertation is, unless otherwise indicated, taken from The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D., and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D., with introductions by Kieran Kavanaugh, published in 1964 at Garden City, New York, by Doubleday and Company, Inc.1 References to Saint John's major treatises will also follow the method of citation used by Kavanaugh and Rodriguez. In this method, the following letters are used when referring to St. John's major works: A=The Ascent of Mount Carmel; N= The Dark Night; C=The Spiritual Canticle; F=The Living Flame of Love. When citing these works, the identifying letter is given first, followed by the number of the book, chapter or stanza, and paragraph, all in arabic numerals (e.g., AI,3,4 stands for The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book One, chapter three, paragraph four).2 References to St. John's poetry, letters, and minor works will be made without abbreviation.

Birth and Early Life

Juan de Yepes, the third and last child of Gonzalo de


1St. John of the Cross, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, with Introductions by Kieran Kavanaugh (Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday & Co., 1964). References to this book in this dissertation will henceforth be given simply as Collected Works.

2 Ibid., p. 37.


Yepes and Catalina Alvarez, was born in Spain in 15421 in the village of Fontiveros, a small farming community of 5,000 inhabitants located 24 miles northwest of Avila in the Province of Castile. Although Europe at that time was generally in turmoil caused by the break-up of the Holy Roman Empire, the Protestant Revolution, and the Counter Reformation--the upheaval of an old order breaking apart and a new one struggling to be born,--Spain was at the height of it's Golden Age. Under the reign of the enigmatic Philip II, Spain's political, military, religious, and cultural influence extended throughout Europe and the New World.2

Juan would eventually feel the effects of this larger world of Spain and Europe upon his own life. However, in 1542, the Yepes family of Fontiveros faced the more immediate realities of poverty and starvation. Juan's father, Gonzalo de Yepes, belonged to a noble Toledo family with a prosperous silk business. Gonzalo left a promising career in the family business to marry Catalina Alvarez, a "poor


lWe know for certain the year of John's birth, but not the exact date. Most probably it was June 24, the Feast of John the Baptist, after whom John was named. Vida y Obras, #19, p. 23.

2A comprehensive picture of Spain and Europe during the sixteenth century can be found in William Thomas Walsh, Philip II (New York; Sheed and Ward, 1937), and J. H. Elliott, Imperial Spain: 1469-1716 (New York: New American Library; Mentor Book, 1966).


but beautiful"1 weaving girl, originally from Toledo, whom he met in Fontiveros on one of his business trips.

Disowned by his family for marrying beneath his position, Gonzalo was forced to learn weaving from Catalina in order to make a living. Into these poor circumstances, Gonzalo and Catalina brought three sons: Francisco, in 1530; Luis, sometime between 1531 and 1541; and Juan, in 1542.

Besides poverty, there was also famine. The locust plague which struck Europe in these years was keenly felt in Spain. Philip II acknowledged officially that "there is such a shortage of bread throughout the whole of these our realms, that it is almost universal and in many parts of them for some years past people have been suffering hunger and want."2 The situation was particularly desperate in a farming community such as Fontiveros.

The effects of this poverty and hunger were fatal to the Yepes family. Shortly after Juan's birth, his father Gonzalo died, worn out by the struggle to provide for his little family. Luis, Juan's brother, then died of malnutrition. Catalina Alvarez attempted unsuccessfully to gain assistance from her deceased husband's wealthy relatives.


1Vida y Obras., p. 22.

2 Archivo de Simancas: Divers. de Castilla, leg. 1, fol. 41. Quoted in Vida y Obras, # 24, p. 24. English translation in Life, p. 3.


She was now left alone to save herself and her two remaining sons from starvation.

Unable to survive in Fontiveros, Catalina moved with her two sons in 1548 to Arévalo. another Castilian town twenty miles away, in search of a livelihood. However, the four years in Arévalo increased rather than solved the family's financial difficulties. Francisco, now in his late teens, married Ana Izquierdo who became a fourth person in the Yepes home. Although Ana took her place in the family silk weaving trade, the burdens of the enlarged family were so great that Catalina was forced once again to move her family in search of the bare necessities of life. In 1551, they left Arévalo for Medina del Campo, some 24 miles to the north.

A city of nearly 30,000 inhabitants, Medina del Campo was in those days an important Spanish trading center which attracted merchants from all parts of Europe. Here Catalina hoped to find better economic opportunities for the family silk products. More importantly, Medina's many charitable institutions offered the possibility of relief in the raising of her nine-year-old son Juan. The experience of Fontiveros and Arévalo taught her that she could not do so alone.

Soon after the family's arrival in Medina, Juan was


placed in the Colegio de la Doctrina, a residential institution in which orphans and children of the poor were fed and clothed, taught to read and write, instructed in the fundamentals of their religion, and apprenticed in a trade which would secure their later livelihood. Due either to lack of skill or interest, Juan was judged unsuited for one of the usual trades such as carpentry or painting. Religious work suited him better and, accordingly, he was eventually placed as sacristan in the Augustinian convent of the Magdalena. Here he performed numerous functions such as serving at the altar, cleaning the Church, running errands for the nuns, and begging alms in the street. Later, during adolescence, Juan was placed in the Hospital de la Concepción, a hospital subsisting on alms devoted to caring for victims of the plague. Here, in return for room and board, he acted as male nurse with hospital patients and collected alms in the street for the hospital.

The hospital provided one important benefit for Juan --the opportunity to continue his education. The newly established Jesuit College was located only 200 yards from the hospital. Don Alonso Alverez de Toledo, the hospital administrator, permitted Juan to attend the college provided this would not interfere with his work in the hospital.

Juan probably began his studies in the Jesuit school


in 1559 when he was 17 years old. For the next four years he divided his days into work at the plague hospital, attendance at classes in the college, and private study. Opened in 1551, the Jesuit college at Medina provided a classical education for its 40 students. Along with immersion in the humanities which would provide a foundation for his later literary accomplishments, Juan was also exposed in his Latin rhetoric classes to two sources which possibly influenced his later career as a spiritual director: the decrees of the Council of Trent and the Letters of Saint Jerome. By the year 1560 the Council of Trent had already published its decrees on Original sin, Justification, the Interpretation of Sacred Scripture, the Symbol of Faith, and the Sacraments (including the Sacrament of Penance).l The students of the Medina college were required to translate these decrees as part of their Latin exercises. This early exposure to the Tridentine teachings probably influenced his own use of Scripture, his adherence to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, his ideas about justification and the Sacrament of Penance which would later be expressed in his writings and spiritual direction. And in


1Henricus Denzinger and Adolfus Schönmetzer, eds., Enchiridion Symbolorum Definitionum et Declarationum de Rebus Fidei et Morum, 32nd ed. (Barcelona: Herder, 1963), pp. 363-404.


the Letters of Saint Jerome, Juan de Yepes met not only a master of Latin style, but also one of the Church's greatest spiritual directors writing to his disciples.1

What significance do the first 21 years of Juan's life have for his later apostolate of spiritual direction? Reviewing the events of these years, one is struck first of all by the extreme deprivation and hardship which the Yepes family suffered. Juan experienced the early loss through the death of both his father and his brother, continual hunger from lack of sufficient food, uncertainty about bare survival, partial separation from his family as a semi-orphan reliant upon the charity of others, and the hardship of working from earliest childhood to contribute to his own support.

But there were also positive factors which balanced this loss and deprivation. Despite its pressing poverty, the Yepes home provided an atmosphere of love that inspired personal security during trying circumstances. Beyond the family, concerned adults in Medina like the nuns at the Magdalena and the administrator of the hospital, Don Alvarez, showed a personal interest in his development through adolescence. And he received the best religious and humanistic education available to him in the doctrine school and the


lEugene P. Burke, "St. Jerome as a Spiritual Director," in A Monument to St. Jerome, ed. Francis X. Murphy, with a Foreward by Cardinal Tisserant (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1952), pp. 145-69.

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