St John Of The Cross


ability to direct his own life in response to God's guidance independent of the help of another person.1 To fulfill his role, the director must therefore not only appreciate a person's human nature, his powers of reason and judgement, and his individual capacities,2 but also that the person may indeed be more advanced in the spiritual life than himself,3 and that in some cases one is better off alone on the spiritual journey than being misled by incompetent guides4 or by those who might tear down rather than build one up.5 The awareness of the person's own radical ability to be led by God independent of the instrumentality of a human guide relieves the spiritual director of the expectation that he alone can lead a person to union with God and enables him to fulfill his true role more effectively.

And what is the spiritual director's role in the spiritual life of another person? How does he best fulfill his task as an instrument of divine guidance? According to Book Two of the Ascent, the director's role consists in helping a person to give up the attachments of his intellect to his own particu-


1A2, 7,13.

2A2,17,4-5; 20,3; 21,2; 24,6.





lar understanding of God1 and to progress in personal prayer2 in order to be disposed to God's guidance to loving union with Himself through faith and contemplation.3 The spiritual director participates in the person's own faith-process, walking in faith with him toward the goal of the spiritual journey.4 The director is aided in understanding his role by the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. Addressing his reader in the name of the Heavenly Father, John writes:

This model of Christ especially as brother, companion, and master (hermano, compañero, y maestro) helps the spiritual director conceptualize his own role in the faith-process of another.

To fulfill his role, the spiritual director most possess special knowledge, experience, and skills. He must have, first of all, an adequate theory of knowledge which includes the possibility of active knowing through the operation of the natural cognitive processes and passive knowing through con-


lA2,18,7; 23,1-5; 26,18; 27,6; 29,12; 32,4.

2A2, chaps. 12-15.

3A2,9,1-5; 10,4; 18,1-4; 22,19; 23,4; 26,11&18; 28,1.

4A2,4,1-7; 20,3&6; 26,11&18.



templation.1 Through understanding the distinction made by the scholastic philosophers between the active and passive or "possible" intellect,2 the director can harmonize the acquisition of particular knowledge through the active use of the natural cognitive processes with the reception of a general, indistinct knowledge infused by God into the soul through faith. The director can thus understand that despite the human intellect's inability to adequately conceive of God through the normal operations of the sense and spiritual faculties, God can directly bestow upon a person an obscure, loving, knowledge of Himself upon the passive intellect in contemplation.3 Furthermore, an adequate theory of knowledge enables the director to understand that the path of faith or unknowing which leads to contemplation does not exempt a person from employing natural reason and practical judgment as means for growth in faith.4 Thus equipped with an adequate theory of knowledge, the spiritual director will be able to make the clarifications and distinctions necessary to lead a person through the problems arising from attachment to particular knowledge of God to the darkness of faith.5


lA2,l0,l-4; l4,6-14.


3A2,11,6; 15,2; 16,10-11; 23,1; 29,7.

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



Along with an adequate theory of knowledge, the spiritual director must also possess adequate theories of both human and spiritual development and the interrelationship of these two developmental modes. John notes that God lifts a person from the "low state" of natural, human life to the "high state of divine union" with "order, gently, and according to the mode of the soul."1 God leads man to union with Himself in a step-by-step fashion by

Although John states these principles in the context of a developing knowledge of God, their application need not be limited to the intellectual order alone. They apply to the growth of the entire person toward union with God. God does not ordinarily place a person in the higher realms of spirituality without first making considerable use of the life of sense, nor does he bring one to profound interiority without first employing exterior means as aids to this growth. Thus to understand fully the ways in which God leads a person to divine union, the spiritual director must know the theories of





both human and spiritual development, for the latter grows out of the former and God rarely dispenses with these principles of development when leading persons to divine union.1

The spiritual director must also understand the place of prayer in the spiritual life, for guiding persons in prayer is one of his essential functions. Prayer is indispensable for growth in faith. Through prayer one cultivates and sustains love for God in his heart and is instructed by God and made more spiritual.2 The director must know how to assist persons through the various stages of prayer. Not only must he understand the dynamics and phenomenology of meditation and contemplation, but he must also be able to recognize


lA2,17,4. John's epigenetic view of spiritual development (i.e., that spiritual growth proceeds from the lowest to the highest, from the most exterior to the most interior, passing through successive stages that build one upon another) implies that the laws of spiritual growth do not function independently of the laws of human development, but rather in harmony with these laws. In fact, another way of putting the principle "grace builds on nature" is to say that spiritual growth and development presumes human growth and development, For this reason, the research of psychologists like Erikson with his theory of the epigenetic stages of human development and Maslow with his theory of the hierarchy of human needs is valuable in understanding spiritual growth in relation to the development of the total person. Accordingly, spiritual directors ought to be familiar with the psychology of human development as a basis for understanding spiritual growth. See, for example, Erik H. Erikson, Childhood and Society, 2nd. ed., rev. and enl. (New York: Norton and Co., 1963), pp. 187-274; Abraham H. Maslow, Motivation and Personality, 2nd ed, (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), pp. 19-104; W. W. Meissner, "Prolegomena to a Psychology of Grace," Journal of Religion and Health 3 (April 1964):209-40.

2A2,1,2; 12,5; 17,3-5; 29,1&6.


the signs which indicate a person's transition from one stage to another.1

To guide a person to deeper faith, the director should also understand the extraordinary phenomena (e.g., visions, revelations, locutions, etc.) which may occur in a person's life of prayer and how to lead the person when these appear.2 Above all, a director must not be too credulous about these phenomena, for they may as easily arise from the devil or the person himself as from God.3 For example, a person who reports that God is speaking to him may indeed be the source of his own locution and is merely talking to himself.4 When these phenomena do occur in one's prayer, the director encourages the person to relate the phenomena to him during the time of direction, not for the purpose of making them the principal concern of their relationship, but for the purpose of humility, clarification, and receiving counsel from the director who teaches him detachment from these phenomena in order to continue in the darkness of faith.5

The director must also have enough knowledge of psychopathology to recognize it when it appears in his directee. He


1A2, chaps. 12-15.

2A2,19,11; 28,1.

3A2,18,lff; 29,11.


5A2,19,11-14; 22,16-19; 26,18.


must be able to distinguish, for example, between the behavior signs associated with the passage from meditation to contem plation and "melancholia or some other kind of humor in the heart or brain capable of producing a certain stupefaction and suspension of the sense faculties" melancolía o de alguno otro jugo de humor puesto en el cerebro o en el coraz6n, que suelen causar en el sentido cierto empapamiento y suspension)."l He must appreciate how hysterical suggestibility may be present in a person who reports extraordinary phenomena associated with prayer.2 And the director must be able to distinguish the desire for suffering which arises in a person genuinely touched by God from a masochistic desire to indulge in penance which results from spiritual gluttony.3 In practice, the discernment of psychopathology in the spiritual life may be very difficult,



2A2,24,7; 26,17; 29,10-11; 31,2. In each of these passages John attributes the extraordinary phenomena to the suggestion of the devil. Without entering into the theology of the devil, I believe that psychological research with hysterical personalities enables us to say that much of what John attributed to the suggestion of the devil may in fact be attributable to the suggestibility of the hysterical personality is his propensity to identify in himself psychological states which he hears described by others or reads in a book. With the great concern in Saint John's day over extraordinary phenomena in the spiritual life, it is likely that hysterical personalities would identify these phenomena taking place within themselves, believing with great conviction themselves to be the recipients of supernatural favors even though the good fruits associated with genuine phenomena were lacking in their behavior. See R. J. McCall, Varieties of Abnormality, pp. 73-108, 248-53.

3A2,26,7; N1,6,1-2.


but the director must be alert to its possibility in the person he guides.

The spiritual director should also know the Bible thoroughly and how to interpret it. John's frequent use of Sacred Scripturel to illustrate and confirm his teaching on the spiritual life evidences his conviction that the Holy Spirit guides persons through the biblical revelations.2 Familiarity with the Bible must also be accompanied by the ability to interpret its various levels of meaning. John cautions particularly against an overly literal interpretation of Scripture, for literalism may not always correspond to the spiritual meaning intended by God. Attachment to the literal meaning of the Bible alone can create serious difficulties in the spiritual life and lead one away from walking in dark faith.3

Along with knowledge and learning, the spiritual director must also possess personal experience in the spiritual life and be a spiritual person himself. If he is not a person of spirit, he may be merely a blind guide leading others astray by unconsciously communicating to them attitudes which are contrary to faith.4 without considerable knowledge and spirit


1The index of biblical references in Saint John's writings lists well over 1200 citations, including those found in both redactions of the Spiritual Canticle and Living Flame. See Vida y Obras, pp. 1012-1018.

2A,Prologue,2; C,Prologue,1&4; F,Prologue,l.

3A2,19,1-10; 20,6.



(saber y espíritu), the spiritual director will be unable to explain to the directee the total detachment required in the spiritual faculties for growth in faith, hope, and love which are the means of union with God.1 The director must be a spiritual person in order to judge the things of the spirit correctly and not be bound to a literal interpretation of Scripture.2

Being spiritual not only enables the director to judge the things of God more accurately, but it also helps him to understand the spirit of the directee with deeper insight.3 This spiritual insight is especially important with persons who report extraordinary phenomena in their lives, for the devil can cause interior experiences which produce false humility and fervor of the will (sometimes accompanied by tears) that is rooted in a self-love which is extremely hard to recognize. The more spiritual the director, the more able he will be in helping a person to give up attachments to these experiences and to walk in faith with his will fixed on God and His law.4

Although directors must be spiritual men, they need not necessarily be charismatic persons endowed with special graces







such as prophecy or discernment of spirits. The spirituality which gives one the ability to judge the things of God and to understand persons and events and to know the wisdom of the saints which is prudence comes from one's being perfect or nearly close to it.1 It is the experience of striving for Christian perfection rather than the possession of extraordinary gifts from God that gradually endows the director with insight into the ways of God and the complexities of human persons and enables him to help his directees achieve deeper faith.

In addition to his own personal experience in the spiritual life, the director should also have experience in guiding others in spirituality. We can see from the example of Saint John's own ministry that actual experience in directing others endows the spiritual director with innumerable insights that make him confident in leading others in the life of faith.2

Finally, the interpersonal relationship involved in spiritual direction requires that the director appreciate the role of his own humanity in the direction process and possess the necessary skills for establishing and maintaining a helping relationship. Emphasizing the humanity of the director, John writes:

We must be guided humanly and visibly in all by the law of Christ the man (Cristo hombre) and that of His Church and of His ministers. This is the method



2A2,21,7; 22,16; 26,17; 29,4; 31,2.

pp 210-220

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