St John Of The Cross


God prefers that persons come to Him with the aid of other men rather than alone.2 The director's own humanity enables him to guide another to God according to the law of Christ and human reason.3 And this guidance is rooted primarily in the relationship between the director and directee, for God is present in this relationship clarifying and confirming divine truths in both their hearts.4

The human relationship in spiritual direction provides the directee the opportunity to discuss all his experience, particularly that of a supernatural character, with the director. In so doing, the directee gains confirmation, instruction, and humility regarding his experience.5 However, in stressing that "whatever is received through supernatural means (in whatever manner) should immediately be told clearly, integrally, and simply to one's spiritual director,"6 John


lA2,22,7. See also A2,22,9.




5A2,22,16-18; 30,5.



recognizes that a person often f inds this hard to do. The difficulty may be that one considers such a revelation to be unnecessary or unimportant or embarrassing; or that one fears the reaction of the director; or for other reasons.1 Consequently, John instructs directors to assist persons in relating their experience to them. They should avoid being fearful of or scandalized by what the person experiences in order not to react scornfully, severely, or unpleasantly to what he says. They should be careful not to frighten the directee into silence. Rather, directors should be peaceful and kind to their directees, giving them "encouragement and the opportunity of speaking about their experiences, and, if necessary, oblige them to do so, for at times everything is needful on account of the hardship some find in discussing these matters."2 In order that the directee gain all the benefits that come from relating his experiences to another, the director must be skillful enough to help the directee to overcome his difficulties and to speak of his experiences. Once this is done, the directee usually becomes increasingly able to talk about his inner life with ease.3

Spiritual direction thus requires of the director the ability to be in a human relationship with the directee and



2A2,22,19; 26,18.



sufficient skills to facilitate the directee's communication of his spiritual experiences. But spiritual direction is also a human relationship with a definite goal--the directee's growth in faith toward union with God. The director participates in the faith development of the directee. The goal of faith influences every aspect of their relationship. This can be seen in cases involving persons with special knowledge "of the truth of things in themselves and of the deeds and events of men" arising from the gifts of prophecy and discernment of spirits.1 In order to grow in faith, such persons may at times be required to follow the instructions of the spiritual director rather than their own inspirations. Concerning these cases, John says:

The director, therefore, needs skills beyond those of facilitating communication within the directee: he must also bring the skills of teaching, judging, and guiding to the interper-





sonal relationship with the directee.1

As a teacher (maestro espiritual)2 the spiritual director must explain the necessity of faith rather than particular knowledge as the intellect's proximate means of union with God.3 He must show the directee how to be detached from particular knowledge of God, especially that arising from supernatural causes, in order to walk in the freedom and darkness of faith.4 John illustrates this teaching function when writing about persons who possess supernatural knowledge:


lA2,30,5. The director is thus not merely a passive listener but rather an active participant in his relationship with the directee. Although the experience of the directee is the subject matter of the director-directee dialogue, the directee's feelings and beliefs are not the sole criteria for his behavior. The direction process does help to clarify these feelings and beliefs, but in the interest of helping the directee walk in greater faith, the director may offer advice contrary to these feelings and beliefs, especially when they involve attachment to particular knowledge or extraordinary phenomena.


2A2,18, 1&2; 19,11; 22,16; 26,11&18.

3A2, chaps. 8&9.

4A2,19,11-14; 22,17; 23,4.


advanced than others who have had many.1 The spiritual director must also be a teacher of prayer. John exemplifies this as he teaches his readers (dar a entender)2 the nature of meditation and how it is performed;3 how to recognize in oneself the signs indicating readiness to pass from discursive meditation to contemplation;4 and the manner in which one should pray when contemplation begins.5

As a judge (juez espiritual), the spiritual director is placed by God over the person with the power to bind and loose, to approve and disapprove.6 This power implies an ordained priest who works with a person in the setting of sacramental Penance. But it also connotes the director's evaluation of the directee's growth in self-knowledge and the correction of faults.7 In addition to judging the person's overt behavior, the director also evaluates the person's total experience to determine the simultaneous presence of the three signs indicating readiness for contemplative prayer.8




3A2,12,3-6; 14,2.





8A2,13,1-14,8; 15,1.


As a guide, the director's main concern is always to lead a person (encaminar al alma) "in purity of faith through all its natural and supernatural apprehensions, in freedom from every deception and obstacle, to the divine union with God."2 The director often provides this guidance through advice and direction (gobierno y consejo humano) .3 In cases of extraordinary phenomcna, for example, the director imparts "advice, light, and instruction on the prudent behavior required for advancement in the midst of these exterior and interior apprehensions" (aviso, luz y documentos para saberse haber prudentemente en todos los casos del alma, exteriores e interiores, para pasar adelante).4 He trains persons to avoid prudently supernatural occurrences in favor of cultivating purity of spirit in dark faith .(y así, es lo más acertado y seguro hacer que las almas huyan con prudencia de las tales cosas sobrenaturales, acostumbrándolas . . . a la pureza de espíritu en fe oscura, que es el medio, de la unión).5 He commands and instructs persons not to become attached to spiritual knowledge derived from the extraordinary gifts of prophecy and discernment of spirits (el alma... no . . .


1A2,13,1-14,8; 15,1


3A2,22,11&13; 30,5-6.


5A2,19,14. See also A2,19,11.


ha de dejar de creer y dar el consentimiento de la razón a lo que dijere y mandare su maestro espiritual--aunque sea muy contrario a aquello que siente).l He orders persons to give up discursive methods of meditation when they erroneously believe God is directly speaking to them in times of prayer (de donde vienen a dar en grandes desatinos si no tienen en esto mucho freno, y el que gobierna estas almas no las impone en las negación de estas maneras de discursos).2 If necessary, he orders persons (si fuere menester, poniéndoles precepto)3 to manifest to him their supernatural experiences for the sake of clarification and confirmation, instruction and humility. In these instances, John imparts an active and directive role to the spiritual master, not for the purpose of arbitrarily imposing his spiritual authority on a person, but rather for using that authority to guide the person away from attachment to particular forms of knowledge toward greater freedom of spirit.4

Guidance is the term that best capture's Saint John's understanding of spiritual direction as expressed in Book Two of The Ascent of Mount Carmel. Although the word guía (guide) is not used for spiritual director in Book Two as







in the Prologue,l the idea of guidance is definitely expressed in John's image of the spiritual life as a journey.2 The goal of this spiritual journey is union with God and to arrive at this goal one must take the right road (camino).3 For John, the road to God is the imitation of Jesus Christ4 and the practice of the theological. virtues of faith, hope, and love5 or, simply, faith.6 Because the road is faith, it is a dark road for the intellect7 and filled with obstacles arising from self-love, the deceits of the devil,8 and attachments to particular forms of knowledge.9

To journey safely along this dark and difficult road, one needs guidance. Saint John's idea of the spiritual director is one who guides a person on the road of faith leading to union with God. Writing as a spiritual director, John understood his own role in this way:



2See Sketch of Mount Carmel; Theme; Poem; A,Prologue,l; A2,1,1-3; A2,7,1-5.

3A2,8,2; 16,15.

4A2,7,4&9; 29,9.


6A2,8,2-3; 9,1; A2,11,4.

7A2,1,2; 3,6; 4,7; 6,1; 16,5; 29,5.


9A2,4,6; 9,5; 26,18; 27,7; 29,5.


The discreet reader must always keep in mind my intention and goal in this book: to guide the soul in purity of faith through all its natural and supernatural apprehensions, in freedom from every deception and obstacle, to the divine union with God (. . . intento y fin que en este libro ...ques es encaminar al alma...a la divina unión con Dios).1

In Book One of the Ascent, John guided persons through the dark night of sense (encamínamos al alma en la Noche del sentido).2 Here, in Book Two, he guides persons through the dark night of spirit by describing for them the different kinds of knowledge possible in the human intellect, the obstacles to divine union presented by these forms of knowledge, and the behavior necessary to overcome these obstacles and to continue on the road of pure faith leading directly to God.3 other directors have the same responsibility. They must know how to guide persons along the road of faith (encaminenlas en la fe), helping them to avoid harmful attachments to extraordinary phenomena.4 A director is simply a blind guide when he fails to guide another in humility and nakedness of spirit along the road of faith.5 John expresses the precise function of the spiritual




3A2,7,1; 9,5; 10,1&4; 23,4; 26,1.

4A2,22,19. See also A2,16,14; 22,17.



director in the above passages by the verb encaminar1 which means to lead one along a road or to show another the way.2 It is equivalent to the idea of guidance as expressed by the words guía and guiar,3 but in Saint John's usage it is more specific in the sense of guiding persons along the road (camino) leading to God. We thus have the image of a spiritual director as a guide who leads another person in the journey to God along the road of faith. The word guidance expresses the essential function of the spiritual director and implies the many other qualities we have noted as necessary in carrying out this function. His knowledge, experience, ability to form a helping relationship, and his roles as teacher and judge are all ordained to making the spiritual director and a good guide on the road to faith.

It is safe to say that no one can travel to God along the road of faith without guidance. In the Ascent, John views the spiritual director as only one of many sources of guidance, the others being God Himself, faith, reason, the Gospels, and spiritual literature.4 But the unique value of


lA2,10,4; 11,1; 16,14; 22,17&19; 23,4; 26,1; 28,1.

2For the word "encaminar," Covarrubias gives "poner a alguien en camino; encaminar un negocio, gialle por donde ha de ir para que suceda bien." Tesoro de la Lengua Castellana o Española, p. 512. See also modern Spanish dictionaries under encaminar, e.g., the Fucilla Spanish series (Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett Publications, 1966), p. 140.

3A2,1,2; 3,6; 4,1-3; 18,4; 19,3&11; 22,7.

4A2,4,1-8; 7,4-5; 19,3; 21,4-5; 22,5-7; 24-4; 28,1. See

pp 220-230

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