St John Of The Cross


pletely to spiritual persons through His Son, John considers any desire for private revelations or visions to be both unnecessary and an insult to God's providence. Addressing spiritual persons on this point, John writes in the name of the Heavenly Father:

Human nature and divine revelation are thus God's ordinary channels through which He communicates His divine guidance to persons. Living in harmony with human nature and divine revelation, one finds his way to union with God in faith. John thus insists that reason and the Gospel are the surest means for discerning God's will, safer even than special supernatural revelations. Refuting those who seek this special knowledge, John writes:




With God as each person's primary guide to divine union, it is theoretically possible for one to progress in the spiritual life relying upon God alone and unaided by other persons. In the laws of human nature and in God's revelation in the Sacred Scriptures and in Christ, one finds sufficient guidance for the spiritual journey. In addition, spiritual books such as those which Saint John himself wrote help one direct self to God through faith.2 In Book Two of The Ascent, for example, John describes the signs which a person can recognize in himself (algunas señales que ha de ver en sí el espiritual) that the time has come to leave discursive meditation behind and pass on to contemplative prayer.3 In fact, one might be better off to make the journey to divine


1A2,21,4. See also A2,22,13-15; 27,6.

2A2,7,13; 26,1.



union alone, in dark faith, rather than risk being led by a blind guide.1

But self-direction can be dangerous. Without the aid of another person, one might be misled by interpreting God's revelations too literally;2 or, worse, one's faith might be weakened rather than strengthened.3 For these reasons, John considers the assistance of a human spiritual director to be a practical necessity for the journey to divine union. Drawing upon the examples from both the Old and New Testaments to illustrate his point, John maintains that persons ordinarily receive God's guidance only with the help of other persons.4 Spiritual direction is thus an important, almost indispensable part of the spiritual life.

By spiritual direction, John understands a person-to-person relationship in which a master and his disciple "come together to know the truth and practice it" (el discípulo y el maestro, que se juntan a saber y a hacer la verdad).5 The value of this relationship resides in the humanity of the master. John recommends seeking God's guidance in an inter-personal relationship rather than alone because, in the New


lA2,4,1-4; 18,2; 30,5.






Dispensation, God speaks not only through Christ the man, but also through His ministers who are also men (de Cristo hombre . . . y de sus ministros hombres).1 And one of the specific contributions of the human director is enabling a person to live according to human nature, especially human reason and judgment (razón y juicio humano).2

The subject matter of this master-disciple relationship is the experience3 of the disciple, especially his intellectual experience. This includes ideas and concepts (noticias y inteligencias) which come to the intellect either naturally (i.e., "everything the intellect can understand by way of the bodily senses or through reflection") or supernaturally (i.e., "everything imparted to the intellect in a way transcending




3The word "experience" here is used to refer to any activity or subjective state of the person, regardless of its nature or origin. The term thus includes such psychological activities as understanding (entender) in the intellect, movements of the will (gustar), fantasies (fabricar) of the memory and imagination, as well as feeling (sentimientos), ideas (inteligencias), loving awareness (advertencia amorosa), opinion (parecer), desire (voluntad), etc., (see A2,4,4; 8,5; 15,5). Kavanaugh and Rodriquez frequently use forms of the English verb "to experience" to translate various psychological activities expressed in Spanish by various forms of such verbs as gustar (A2,4,4) hallar (A2,15,2), recibir el gusto . . del espíritu (A2,17,5), pasar (A2,22,17), sentir (A2, 26,4) and acaecer (A2,30,2). It is in this sense of a general term referring to various kinds of psychological states and activity that the term "experience" is used in this dissertation. See doctrinal section above, pp. 123-24.


its natural ability and capacity").l Among the different kinds of supernatural knowledge, John includes such extraordinary intellectual phenomena2 as supernatural apprehensions (aprehensiones) through the exterior and interior bodily senses (A2, chaps. 11 and 16-22) and supernatural spiritual apprehensions such as visions (A2, chap. 24), revelations (A2, chaps. 25-27), locutions (A2, chaps. 28-31), and spiritual feelings (A2, chap. 32). John advises that the directee manifest all supernatural or extraordinary intellectual experiences to the director, not because these are essential to the spiritual journey,3 but for the sake of confirmation, instruction, and humility.4

There are other experiences which, although not specifically intellectual in nature, ought to be shared with the



2A more contemporary terminology for describing the two major kinds of intellectual knowledge would be ordinary and extraordinary mental phenomena. The terms natural and ordinary may be considered synonyms when referring to knowledge which is derived from the active use of sense, reflection, judgment, and reasoning; whereas the terms supernatural or extraordinary may be used to refer to knowledge that is any way derived passively or without the active use of these normal cognitive processes. In this dissertation, the terms ordinary and extraordinary will be used synonymously with natural and supernatural when applied to psychological phenomena. Cf. A2,4,2; 21,1; 27,6. For a discussion of the meanings of the word sobrenatural in St. John, see Crisógono de Jesús Sacrementado, San Juan de la Cruz, Su Obra Cientifica y Obra Literaria, 1:238-43.




spiritual director. For example, the directee can recognize within himself (ver en sí) dryness (sequedad) or inability to meditate, a disinclination (niguna gana) to employ the senses or imagination in prayer, and a desire only to remain in loving attentiveness to God (el alma gusta de estarse a solas con atención amorosa a Dios sin particular consideración).l Such non-cognitive experiences of dryness, distaste, and desire are psychological signs indicating that one is passing from discursive meditation to contemplative prayer. These phenomena should also be part of the master-disciple dialogue so that the director can provide suitable guidance concerning them.2

Although the experience of the directee is the subject matter of the master-disciple relationship, the goal of the relationship is the person's growth in faith. As seen in Book Two, the function of the director is to help the person let go of all attachment to intellectual experiences in order to approach God in the dark unknowing of faith and to guide him in prayer through discursive meditation to contemplation by which faith increases.3 on numerous occasions in Book Two, John reveals that the goal of a spiritual director is to bring a person to faith which is the only road to union with



2A2, chaps. 12-15.

3A2,24,4&8; 29,6.


God.1 Indeed, the master-disciple relationship is best understood as a faith process for both the master and disciple, the master assuming responsibility for guiding the disciple in the growth of faith.2

Both director and directee must realize that, as far as knowledge and intellectual processes are concerned, the goal of spiritual direction is growth in faith, the "proximate means for divine union with God."3 To attain divine union, one "must journey to it more by believing than by understanding (más creyendo que entendiendo),"4 for God infinitely transcends the limits of human knowledge and only faith adequately conveys an understanding of the Divine Essence.5

One's journey to God must be guided by faith rather than the light of human understanding regardless of whether this understanding comes from natural or supernatural causes. On this point, John writes:


lFor example, see A2, chap. 4; 7,13; 18,2; 19,11, 22, 19; and 23,l&4.

2A2,16,14; 20,3; 22,12.

3A2, chaps. 8 & 9.


5A2,3,1; 9,1. Cf C12, 3-6.


Because spiritual direction is a faith process, it is a journey in unknowing for both master and disciple. This does not mean,. however, that reason and judgment (razón y juicio humano)2 have no place in spiritual direction. John insists that faith and not human understanding is the means by which the human intellect attains union with God.3 Attachment to one's own conception of God is therefore an impediment to union with Him. One must be prepared to let go of his own concepts of God in order to be filled with the general, loving knowledge of God that comes with growth in faith. But, in detaching oneself from human conceptions of God, reason and judgment play an






important role.

John is especially concerned about a person's attachment to knowledge of God arising from extraordinary causes. God ordinarily does not give a person private revelations about matters which can be resolved through human reason and the principles of the Gospel. John writes:

Whenever a person does receive knowledge of divine origin, John considers it reasonable2 to reject this knowledge in favor of walking according to faith, for the effect which God wishes to achieve in the soul through imparting special knowledge is accomplished passively in the soul without the soul's desiring it. Furthermore, one is always safer when guided by faith than by supernatural knowledge, for one may be misled by special revelations but never errs by walking in the darkness of faith.3

Taking reason and the Gospel as the principal guiding lights in spiritual direction also obviates the dangers involved in discerning the source and validity of such extraordinary


1A2,21,4. See also, A2,21,1; 22,13-15.

2John's concern to guide persons according to reason can be seen in A2,28,1 where he states that he gives his instruction in order that persons might advance prudently (prudentemente) in the midst of various supernatural revelations.

3A2,11,3-12; 16,10-14; 26,18; 32,4.


phenomena as visions, private revelations, and spiritual feelings. John of the Cross recognizes the special charism of discernment of spirit mentioned by Saint Paul (ICor. 12:10), the possession by spiritual persons of special knowledge about people and events.1 Nonetheless, he counsels against wasting time in spiritual direction attempting to discover whether knowledge received through extraordinary means is good or bad, whether it is from God, oneself, or the devil.2 It is unnecessary to determine the cause of this knowledge because, whatever its source, it can never be an adequate means for union with God. This lies only in the darkness of faith.3

In those cases where discernment of extraordinary phenomena is necessary, one should accept only that knowledge which conforms to reason and the Gospel4 and which produces in a person good fruits like quiet, illumination, delight, purity, love, humility, and a stronger inclination toward God.5 But the guiding principle regarding all particular knowledge derived from extraordinary sources is that this knowledge be rejected in favor of living according to faith and reason.This principle applies even to persons endowed with the gift



2A2,16,13-14; 17,7; 18,7; 21,7; 29,11-12.

3A2,19,10-11; 24,8-9.


5A2,24,6; 29,11; 30,3-5.

pp 190-200

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