St John Of The Cross


These habitual imperfections delay a person's ascent to union with God because they deprive the human will of the freedom necessary for divine transformation.1

Thus, when John counsels directors to mortify every appetite of their disciples, he means the mortification of habitual, inordinate attachments of the will to created objects. These attachments beget sin and imperfection which impede the person's total transformation in God and psychologically damage the soul. The director must help the beginner to center the whole affective dimension of his life upon God. To do this, the person must break old habits of inordinate voluntary attachment to creatures and deny the will's consent to all present and future desires not in conformity with the will of God. In biblical terms, the active night of sense is a process of relinquishing attachments to all created idols in order to live totally for the Uncreated God.2

Mortification of the appetite, then, is not an arbitrary ascetical exercise in the spiritual life, but an essential process by which the person turns his will from inordinate attachments to creatures and centers his entire affectivity upon God in whom all appetites cease (en el cual todo apetito cesa).3 To assist the person in this total conversion of his affective



2A1,5,6,8 cf. also A1,11,6-8.

3Al,5,6-8; 10,1-4.


life, the director needs considerable awareness and skill in dealing with certain psychological phenomena caused by disordered appetites.

According to John, disordered affectivity psychologically damages a person.1 To assist the person in his ascent to union with God, the director must do more than point out the theological and philosophical necessity of mortifying the appetites. He must also be prepared to cope with the psychological effects caused by disordered appetites. The first of these is resistance to surrendering one's entire life to God. This resistance can be seen, for example, in a rationalized inordinate attachment to some person or thing under the guise of some good.2 Accordingly, the director assists the directee to identify his resistances and rationalizations and to free himself from them in order to be filled with God's Uncreated Spirit.3

In addition to resistance, other psychological phenomena arise from disordered appetites. Inordinate attachments of the will to created objects weary (cansan), torment, (atormentan), darken (escurecen), defile (ensucian), and weaken


1 John uses the words dañar and daño when speaking of this "damage" to souls caused by unmortified appetites. See, for example, A1,3,4; 6,1; 10,1; 11,4; 12,1-3, and titles to chapters six and twelve.




(enflaquecen) the soul.1 Sooner or later, the person feels these bitter effects (antes o después bien se sienten sus malos dejos).2 Phenomenologically, these effects appear in a wide variety of distressed feelings. For example, inordinate appetites weary a soul because they can never be satisfied. This causes a person to feel restless (inguietos), discontent (nunca se contentan), fatigued (fatiga), burdened (apretado), oppressed (agravado), disturbed (herida y movida y turbada), and upset (alborotan).3 Disordered attachments to creatures torment a soul because they enslave the will and limit its freedom. This causes a person to feel afflicted (afligido), wounded and hurt (hieren y lastiman y asen y dejan dolor), anguished (le dad de tormento y angustia), and weighed down by cares and desires (cargados; con la carga de vuestros; cuidados y apetitos).4 Disordered affectivity darkens the soul because it reduces the clarity of the intellect, causing the person to experience weakness of the will and dullness of the memory (se entorpece también según la voluntad, y según la memoria se enrudece).5 Disordered appetites defile a soul because they diminish the person as an image of God,


lAl,6,5; 12,5.






causing one to experience disorder in the intellect, memory, and will (desorden del alma en sus apetitos).l Inordinate at tachments of the will to objects other than God weaken a soul because they deprive it of the energy necessary for virtuous living, leaving a person too lethargic and sad (pesada y triste) to practice virtue.2

All of these distressful feelings do not appear together in each person with equal intensity. Although disordered appetites cause these five major forms of damage (daños) to the soul simultaneously, these disorders are not all present in the same degree. Accordingly, the distress experienced by the person usually depends upon the specific form of disordered appetite which predominates in the person and the degree to which this disorder is present.3

In some cases, the person will not feel the damage caused in his soul by disordered affectivity. John writes:

This lack of feeling is itself a form of psychological denial resulting from disordered affectivity.


lAl,9,1 & 5-7.


3Al,7,2; 12,1-4.



Thus, to help a person mortify every appetite, the director must be prepared to recognize in the person such psychological phenomena as resistance, rationalization, distressed feelings, and denial1 which are caused by habitual inordinate attachments of the will to objects other than God. Recognition of this phenomena will enable the director to assess the nature and extent of spiritual disorder in the person and to help him heal his damaged emotional life through the centering of his affectivity solely upon God.

The director may also assist persons, especially beginners, in the "immediate mortification" of every appetite by suggesting ways (manera y modo) to center one's entire affectivity upon God. In chapter thirteen of Book One, for example,.John recommends several ways (dar algunos avisos) to enter the active night of sense in order to conquer one's disordered appetites.2

John's first counsel is to imitate Jesus Christ. He writes:


lFor a discussion of psychological resistance, rationalization, denial, and distressed feelings, see Norman Cameron, Personality Development and Psychopathology: A Dynamic Approach (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1963), pp. 239-242-43,752; James C. Coleman, Abnormal Psycholoqy and Modern Life, 2nd. ed. (Chicago: Scott, Foresman & Co., 1956), pp. 76-100,551,572-3; Rogers, "Therapy, Personality, and Interpersonal Relationships," pp. 195-205,226-30; Raymond J McCall, The Varieties of Abnormality: A Phenomenological Analysis (Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas, 1975), pp. 37-38.



To imitate Jesus Christ summarizes John's entire teaching on the mortification of appetites. The object of his teaching is to center all the natural appetites of the sense faculties upon God by habitually directing the appetite of the will to God alone.2 In practice, a person accomplishes this focusing of the entire appetitive dimension of his life upon God through a continual desire (un ordinario apetito) to imitate Christ. And the principal element one imitates in Christ's life is His obedience to the Father's will. Jesus thus becomes the Model of the union of the human will with the divine. From the example of Christ one derives the practical criteria for ordering all the sensible appetites to God. John explains:



2Al,5,6,8; 9,2; 10,1-4. See above, pp. 154-159.


desire this pleasure or the hearing of these, things (ni lo quiera gustar ni las guiera oir).

When you have an opportunity for the gratification of looking upon objects (le diere gusto mira cosas) that will not help you come any closer to God, do not desire this gratification or sight (ni quiera el gusto ni mirar las tales cosas).

And if in speaking (si en el hablar) there is a similar opportunity, act in the same way.

And so with all the senses (en todos los sentidos) insofar as you can duly avoid this pleasure. If you cannot escape the experience of this satisfaction it will be sufficient to have no desire for it (basta que no quiera gustar de ello).

By this method (desta manera) you should endeavor, then, to leave the senses as though in darkness, mortified and empty of pleasure (dejar luego mortificados y vacíos de aquel gusto a los sentidos, como a escuras). With such vigilance, you will gain a great deal in a short time.1

Thus, mortification of the appetites is not primarily concerned with extinguishing the sense faculties and their pleasures, but with extinguishing the desire of the will to use these faculties and their pleasures in ways not ordained to the glory and service of God. By imitating Jesus' obedience to the will of his Father, a person turns his own will away from habitual inordinate attachments to creatures and creates instead a habitual desire for transforming union with the divine will.

John suggests three other exercises for entering the active night of sense. Each concentrates upon reforming the desires of the will which is the principal activity of this night. For example, to achieve tranquility and harmony in one's




emotional life, John recommends the following:

To overcome pride and concupiscence, the sources of disordered appetites, John recommends in another exercise that one endeavor (procurar) to speak, act, and think contemptuosly or oneself (en su desprecio) and to desire (desear) that others do likewise.2

In a third exercise geared to overcoming the imperfections of the sensory part of the soul, John recommends the following:

In recommending these exercises of the will, John directs the person to withdraw his desires from everything that is not God in order to seek God alone. When performed with sincerity,


lAl,l3,6. Kavanaugh and Rodriguez omit the phrase for Christ" (por Cristo) in their translation. Cf. Vida y Obras, p. 480.




order and discretion (si de corazón las obra . . . obrando ordenada y discretamente),l these practices both dispose the person to receive the fullness (todo) of God and heal the soul of its psychological disorders.2 The strong tone of self-denial which runs through these recommended exercises, as well as through all of Book One, emphasizes the absolute determination the beginner must have to change the direction of his entire life, to turn from seeking himself to seeking God. John continually insists, however, that the motive for this self-denial is love. The soul journeys through the dark night of sense "fired with love's urgent longings" (con ansias en amores inflamada).3 He renounces inordinate sensory satisfaction out of love for Jesus Christ (por amor de Jesucristo).4 Indeed, a habitual love for God and intense, intermittent exveriences of this love enable one to continue through the night of sense. Love gives the courage to live in darkness and to endure the purification of sensuality.5

This sustaining love comes primarily from prayer, an exercise of the spiritual part of the soul in which love grows




3Poem, stanza 1; Al,1,4-6; 14,1-3.




through acts of the intellect, memory, and will. This love, in turn, provides strength for the denial of inordinate appetites in the sensitive part of the soul. John does not treat of prayer directly in Book One or its place in the immediate mortification of every appetite,1 but by implication we see its importance. Consequently, helping persons, especially beginners, to pray is an important function of the spiritual director, for through prayer love grows, strengthening them for the ascetical demands of the night of sense.

Although John stresses in Book One the personal efforts one must make to redirect one's life to God by mortifying disordered appetites, he is careful to insist that the centering of one's affective life upon God is finally achieved only with God's help.2 John thus upholds a principle already stated in the Prologue of the Ascent: God is the principal agent of the person's sanctification and his primary spiritual director. The human director plays only an instrumental role in the sanctification process. In the beginning stages of the spiritual life, the human director fulfills this role by helping a person to enter the active night of sense in which through mortification of disordered affectivity one becomes open to God's purifying action.


lFor the role of prayer in the beginning state of the spiritual life, see C22,3.

2Al,l,5; 6,4; 13,1.

pp 170-180

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