St John Of The Cross


Another guide is Sacred Scripture which, in effect is but a written expression of God's guidance, for the Holy Spirit speaks through Scripture. The importance of Sacred Scripture as a guide for the spiritual life may be seen in the following passage in which John states that his discussion of the dark night relies more upon Scripture as interpreted by the Church than upon his own limited knowledge and experience.

And there are other guides. The poem, The Dark Night, which is the basis of the entire Ascent-Dark Night treatise, proclaims that the dark night of faith is itself a guide to divine union:


1Prologue, 2. For an example of John's belief that the Holy Spirit speaks through Sacred Scripture, see A2,16,8-9.


One dark night,
Fired with love's urgent longings
--Ah, the sheer grace!--
I went out unseen,
My house being now all stilled;
In darkness, and secure,
By the secret ladder, disguised,
--Ah, the sheer grace!--
In darkness and concealment,
My house being now all stilled;
On that glad night,
In secret, for no one saw me,
Nor did I look at anything,
With no other light or guide (guía)
Than the one that burned in my heart.
This guided me (guiaba)
More surely than the light of noon
To where He waited for me
--Him I knew so well--
In a place where no one else appeared.
0 guiding night! (Oh noche que guiaste)
0 night more lovely than the dawn!
0 night that has united
The Lover with His beloved,
Transforming the beloved in her Lover.1

The Prologue also implies that one is capable of self-guidance through spiritual reading, for John wrote the Ascent-Dark Night as a handbook for persons desiring divine union:


1Stanzas, 1-5.

2Prologue, 7.


Finally, the term confessor (confesor) suggests that spiritual direction is a ministny that is related to the sacrament of Penance and that a spiritual director is a priest, for the term confessor implies one who administers the sacrament of Penance.1


The introductory sections of The Ascent of Mount Carmel reveal that God is the one who principally leads persons seeking Christian perfection to divine union, the goal of the spiritual life. God ordinarily leads persons to divine union by purifying them in the dark night of contemplation. The role of the spiritual director is to help persons to abandon themselves to God's guidance in their lives, especially when He places them in the dark night.

The spiritual director best equipped to provide this assistance to persons is one who possesses personal experience and knowledge of the spiritual life. The director should know the stages through which one passes on the road to union with God and the psychological phenomena associated with these stages. He should understand the place of prayer, of religious exercises, and of spiritual consolation in the spiritual life. To supplement this knowledge of the spiritual life, the director should know the principles of morality,


lsee "confesar" in Covarrubias, Tesoro de la Lengua Castellana o Española, p. 348.


personality, and psychopathology. Although human sciences are inadequate to explain the phenomena of the spiritual life,1 they help one to determine the origins of that phenomena.

The spiritual director is both a teacher and a helper. The director teaches beginners and proficients in the spiritual life the significance of the dark night of purification and how they are to pass through it to divine union. The director helps persons to persevere in the spiritual life by providing them with understanding, consolation, and encouragement when God places them in the dark night.

The names used to describe the spiritual director are spiritual father, guide, and confessor. These terms suggest that the ministry of spiritual direction expresses a tradition of spiritual paternity in the Church and is related to the sacrament of Penance, although personal spiritual direction is only one means (along with the guidance of God, Sacred Scripture, faith, and self-direction through spiritual reading) of leading a person to divine union.

The Ascent of Mount Carmel: Book One

The Ascent of Mount Carmel describes the journey to God through the active nights of sense and spirit. During these nights a person prepares both the sensory and spiritual parts of his being for transforming union with God through


lPrologue, 1.



Book One of the Ascent concentrates on the active night of sense or the mortification of the sensory appetites. To journey to God, one must willingly enter the dark night of sense by consciously directing the appetites of the sense faculties--the faculties of hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and touching--to God. This requires the denial of all inordinate attachments of the will to the objects of the sense faculties and to the pleasures which they produce. Because of the privation this denial causes in the sensory appetites, John uses the metaphor of "night" to describe this aspect of the spiritual journey when one departs from the "house" of one's own mortal body--"the house of all appetites"--to journey to God.2

The active night of sense described in Book One of the Ascent is roughly equivalent to via purgativa or the stage of beginners in the spiritual life.3 Traditionally, the emphasis


1see doctrinal section above, pp. 110-18, for explanation of the spiritual and sensory parts of the human person.

2Al,l,l-3,6; A1,15,1-2.

3A1,1,3; 13,1; C22,3. Although the active night of sense discussed in Book One corresponds roughly to the stage of beginners in the spiritual journey, it is not limited to this stage. The mortification of inordinate appetites--the subject matter of Book One--is indeed a special concern for beginners; however, this mortification is necessary throughout the entire spiritual journey and is never perfectly achieved until one reaches union with God. Book One is thus more a discussion of the mortification of appetites than a treatment of beginners (which John takes up specificially in Book One of The Dark Night). See above, pp. 138-40, and Collected Works, p. 50.


in this stage is upon the acquisition of virtue. For John, acquiring virtue and mortifying the sensory appetites are interchangeable concepts. Perfect virtue is achieved through the absolute mortification of the sensory appetites; and without this mortification, union with God through love is impossible, no matter what degree of virtue a person possesses.1

John insists on the total mortification of all inordinate appetites for two reasons. The first is based on the philosophical principle that two contraries cannot coexist in the same subject. Since the love of God and attachment to creatures are contraries, they cannot exist in the same will. A person is incapable of transforming union with God through love to the degree that he is inordinately attached to created objects or sensory pleasures. Only when one is free of inordinate attachments to creatures is he fully disposed for the pure reception of God's Uncreated Spirit.2

The second reason for John's insistence upon the mortification of inordinate appetites is the psychological damage (daños) these cause in a person. Inordinate desire for temporal possessions and pleasures weary, torment, darken, defile, and weaken the soul. For John, disordered appetites are the root of psychological disorder, for these leave a person "unhappy...with...himself,...cold toward his neighbors, . . .


lAl,8,3-4; 9,4; l0,l-4; 11,4-5; 12,5; A3,5,1; C22,3.



sluggish and slothful in the things of God" (desgraciada para consigo mesma, . . . seca para los prójimos . . . pesada y perezosa para las cosas de Dios).1

Because disordered appetites deprive a person of the fullness of God's Spirit and cause such psychological harm, John maintains that the chief concern (el principal cuidado) of spiritual masters with their disciples in the active night of sense is "the immediate mortification of every appetite. The directors should make them remain empty of what they desire so as to liberate them from so much misery" (es mortificar luego a sus discípulos de cualquiera apetito, haciendoles quedar en vacío de lo que apetecían, por librarles de tanta miseria).2 This is the only explicit reference to spiritual direction in the first book of the Ascent. However, its proper understanding implies several other points made in Book One.

To implement this directive properly, directors must understand the place of appetites in John's anthropology. As we noted in the doctrinal section,3 appetite refers generally to the affective dimension of the human person and specifically to the natural psychological drive which unites both spiritual and sensory faculties with their proper objects.


lAl,6,5-Al,12,6. Quotation found in A1,10,4.


3see pages 119-21 above.


The mortification of appetites implies neither the destruction of the sense faculties nor the removal or avoidance of their objects, but a denial of the desire for the objects of the sense faculties. John writes:

Furthermore, the mortification of appetite applies not to the natural appetites which unite the sense faculties with their objects, but to the voluntary appetites or the appetite of the rational will which governs a person's entire affective life. John makes this distinction clear in Book One when he states:




Thus, mortification pertains primarily to the appetite of the rational will, especially the inordinate appetite. The proper object of the will as a spiritual faculty is not created things but the will of God.

The human will is properly ordered when it seeks union with the will of God; and it is disordered when it desires the objects of the sense faculties. The inordinate attachment of the human will to objects other than God is the basis of sin and imperfection, the main impediments to divine union. For this reason, it is precisely the inordinate appetites or desires of the will which are to be mortified,3 for these impede



2AI , 11, 6.

3Al,l,l; 6,1; 9,1-4; 12,5. See also A3,5,1 and Nl, Explanation, 2.


the union of the human will with the divine. John explains:

The reason is that in the state of divine union a man's will (el alma según la voluntad) is so completely transformed in God's will (en la voluntad de Dios) that it excludes anything contrary to God's will, and in all and through all is motivated by the will of God.

Here we have the reason for stating that the two wills become one. And this one will is God's will which becomes also the soul's. If a man should desire an imperfection unwanted by God, this one will of God would be destroyed because of the desire for what God does not will.

If anyone is to reach perfect union with God through his will and love, he must obviously be freed from every appetite however slight. That is, he must not give the consent of his will knowingly to an imperfection (ha de carecer primero de todo apetito de voluntad por mínimo que sea, esto es, que advertidamente y conocidamente no consienta con la voluntad en imperfección), and he must have the power and freedom to be able, upon advertence, to refuse his consent.1

John adds that mortification of the appetite means denial of habitual voluntary imperfections (hábitos de voluntarias imperfecciones). Inadvertently and without consent of the will, a person may often spontaneously seek pleasure in creatures without serious detriment to spiritual progress, provided this desire does not arise from a habitual attachment of the will to the objects of the senses. John provides some examples of these habitual voluntary imperfections:

. . . the common habit of loquacity; a small attachment one never really desires to conquer, for example, to a person, to clothing, to a book or a cell, or the way food is prepared, and to other trifling conversations and little satisfactions in tasting, knowing, and hearing things, etc.2




pp 160-170

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