St John Of The Cross


God, to that degree is the person's union with God lessened and his human fulfillment diminished. If one seeks union only with the natural objects of his human faculties to the exclusion of God, one dissipates his human energies on false gods, fails to achieve the ultimate fulfillment of his natural capacities, and dies spiritually.1

When united with God through love, the human person transcends his own natural abilities. In themselves, the natural human faculties are incapable of achieving union with God, although they have the capacity of receiving this union from God. As the human person responds to God drawing him to union with Himself, God fills the person's faculties with His knowledge and love that transcends their own natural abilities. As one seeks God above all else, this transcendence of one's natural operations normally follows, although one must continually struggle against the tendencies of the human faculties, appetites, and emotions to seek only their natural objects. John refers to this struggle as the person's battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil--the enemies of the soul. However, as one continues to seek union with God, God enables him to overcome these obstacles and to achieve divine union in which the natural human operations take on a divine mode of action. In the state of divine union, all the person's natural operations, sensory and spiritual, are dedi-


lA3,19,8-11; N2,13,11; C17,1; Fl,13.


cated to God and the person's spiritual faculties are filled with divine wisdom and love, allowing him to know and love God as He knows and loves Himself, and to know and love all creatures as God knows and loves them. Thus, as one grows increasingly in union with God through love, the natural human faculties transcend their natural operations and assume a divine mode of functioning.1

To attain union with God through love involves for the human person a transformation of his entire personality in all its faculties and operations. In this state of union, which John calls a spiritual marriage, the person literally becomes God by participation. In The Spiritual Canticle, John writes:

So great is this union that even though they differ in substance, in glory and appearance the soul seems to be God and God seems to be the soul.2

In The Living Flame of Love, John explains further the meaning of this divine union for the human person:

Since every living being lives by its operation, as the philosophers say, and the soul's operations are in God through its union with Him, it lives the life of God. Thus it changed its death to life, its animal life to spiritual life...

Accordingly, the intellect of this soul is God's intellect; its will is God's will; its memory is the memory of God; and its delight is God's delight;


lAl,14,2; A2,1,1; 4,2-8; 10,2; 26,8; A3,2,7-16; 13,4; N1, Explanation, 2; N2,4,1-2; 9,1-9; 13,11; 14,1-3; 16,2; 21,3; 22,1; C28,3-5; 38,3; F2,34. Ruiz Salvador, Introduccion a San Juan de la Cruz, pp. 335-40.



and although the substance of the soul is not the substance of God, since it cannot undergo a substantial conversion into Him, it has become God through participation in God, being united to and absorbed in Him, as it is in this state. Such a union is wrought in this perfect state of the spiritual life, yet not as perfectly in the next life. Consequently the soul is dead to all that it was in itself, which was death to it, and alive to what God is in Himself.1

To become transformed in God through love is to become, in effect, the "new person" of the New Testament. The person lives the life of God, performs the work of God, and becomes the perfection of God. This transformation of the person in God is also the beginning of the beatific vision which is attained in its fullness only after death. This is the final consummation of the spiritual marriage begun in this life; consequently, the person in the state of divine union longs for natural death that he might finally see God and be completely transformed in His beauty, freedom, and glory and know forever the sublime mysteries of God and man.2

Thus, John's dynamic view of the human being is that of a person in process of becoming transformed in God through love. Each person is moved by an inner drive to seek this divine union. As the union is realized the person's natural


1F2, 34.

2Al,4,6; 5,7; 15,2; A2,26,3-5; A3,2,7-16; N2,13,11;14,3; C9,7; 11:10; 12,7-9; 20 & 21, 12; chaps. 22-40; F, Prologue,2; Fl, 1,6,14,17,27; F2,1,32-36; F3, 28,78; F4,14-16. Ruiz Salvador, Introduccion a San Juan de !a Cruz, pp. 401-5, 481-66; Dicken, Crucible of Love, pp. 354-62.


faculties of sense and spirit transcend their normal functioning and assume a divine mode of operation. When this union is complete, the entire personality is transformed in God, becoming God by participation.

John's anthropology is admittedly complex. However, whether describing the human personality structurally according to categories of scholastic philosophy or dynamically according to insights derived from his own religious experience, John attempts to demonstrate that the human person can be adequately understood--ontologically, spiritually, psychologically--only when viewed in relationship to God.

The Relationiship of God and the Human Person

We have seen in the preceding sections that in John's theology and anthropology God creates persons to be in relationship with Himself and endows them with spiritual faculties that make this relationship possible. As persons grow in their relationship with God, they discover human fulfillment and move toward their true goal in life, transformation in God.

A person's relationship with God is the most important one in his life. In John's view, this relationship is meant to be dynamically interpersonal, each person contributing actively to its growth. The human person contributes to this relationship by consciously directing all his powers of sense and spirit toward God as the Center of his life, by becoming


present to God through prayer, and by preparing himself for union with God through faith, hope, and love. God, in turn, contributes to the growth of the relationship by communicating Himself to the person through creation which reveals His divine attributes, through Revelation in which He speaks to persons through Sacred Scripture and the traditions of the Church, and through contemplation in which He communicates His own Spirit directly to the spirit of the human person.

John likens this interpersonal relationship of God and the human person to a journey which leads one from an attachment to one's self to a total attachment to God. This relationship is a dark journey because it is essentially a journey in faith, "the proper and adequate means of union with God."l Through faith, a person both disposes himself for God and receives God's Self-communication.

John views the person's relationship with God or the journey from self to God as involving two major purifications which correspond to the two major parts of the human person.2 The first is called the dark night of sense, the second the dark night of spirit. Each of these nights involves the collaboration of God and the person in bringing about the purification that readies the person for divine union. Accordingly, each night has for the person both active and


1A2,8,1. See also A, Prologue, 1; A1,2,1; 3,6; A2,1,2; 6,1; 9,1; 24,9; 26,11; 29,5; A3,2,3; C1,11; F3,48&51.

2See above, pp. 110-18. N, Prologue; NI,8,1-2.


passive elements, the active being what the person does to dispose himself for union with God, the passive being what God does in the person to bring about the divine union.1

In the first night, the dark night of sense, the person actively prepares his sensory self for union with God through mortification of the sensory appetites and meditation upon and imitation of the life of Jesus. In turn, the passive night of sense is God's purifying the person from inordinate attachment to the sensory pleasures found in religious exercises, a purification He accomplishes by communicating Himself to the person in contemplation which is experienced by the person independent of the activity of his sensory faculties.

In the second night, the night of spirit, the person actively purifies his spiritual faculties--intellect, memory, and will--by continuously striving to live in faith, hope,and love, the theological virtues which prepare these faculties for union with God. In turn, the passive night of spirit is God's continuing purification of the person through contemplation of all inordinate attachment to self in order that the person may be free of any obstacle impeding union with God in perfect love.

The journey of faith is lifelong, progressing through stages and ending in the person's final transformation in God


1A1,13,1; A3,13,2-4.


after death. Following Christian tradition, John indicates three major stages in the journey which are determined according to the development of one's prayer life. The first stage is that of beginners in prayer who characteristically practice meditation. This stage is also called the purgative way because of the emphasis placed upon mortification for beginners in prayer. The second stage is that of proficients (or those progressing in prayer) which is characterized by contemplative prayer. This stage is also called the illuminative way because of the enlightened understanding of God and self that comes through infused contemplation. Finally, there is the stage of the perfect or the unitive way in which God and the human person are perfectly united and the prayer life is one of intense mutual love. While John's imagery is often that of a person going out of self to union with God, this journey may also be visualized as an interior journey, leading one inward to union with God present within the depths of one's being.1

With this conception of God, the human person, and their relationship in mind, John views the role of the spiritual director as that of helping persons grow in their relationship with God and of providing guidance for the journey in faith that leads from attachment to self to transformation in God


lA2,16,15; Nl,Explanation,1-2; Nl,1,1; 11,4; 14,1; N2, 9,9; 14,1-3; 16,14; C,Theme,1-2; FI,9-17.


through love. We shall see in detail what this involves for the spiritual director as we analyze each book of St. John's spiritual classic, The Ascent of Mount Carmel and The Dark Night.


pp 138-150

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