St John Of The Cross


With both the memory and will free of attachments to objects other than God, they are, along with the intellect, disposed to receive God's own knowledge and love which unites the person to Himself.

At first glance, John's idea of annihilating the spiritual faculties of objects other than God seems to destroy these faculties. In fact, this emptying of the faculties sets the stage for their divinization or transformation.2 The goal of the spiritual journey is union with God, a union that takes place in man's spiritual faculties of intellect, memory, and will. In this state of divine union, God

This is the state of Christian perfection4 in which man most



2A3,2,1-3&7-12&16. Cf. 2,4,2.


4A3,20,2&4; 28,7; 35,5&7.


fittingly extols God.1 In this state, the person is under the complete direction of the Holy Spirit2 who guides him in the use of his faculties.

This state of divine union in which the spiritual faculties are transformed into the operations of God is not man's achievement, but God's gift. God transforms the souls of those who dispose themselves to receive this supernatural manner of acting. And man prepares himself for this divine action in his soul by freeing his intellect, will, and memory from attachments to their natural objects, thus clearing the way for God to infuse his love and knowledge into these faculties. Having explained in Book Two the detachment of the intellect from all natural and supernatural forms of knowledge through faith, John now devotes Book Three to the preparation of the memory and will for union with God in hope and love.4





4A3,2,2&13-15; 16,2.


Many of John's ideas about spiritual direction found in earlier pages of The Ascent of Mount Carmel appear again in Book Three. God is the soul's principal director. Only He brings the prepared and disposed person to divine union in a way that transcends the soul's own activity and power.1 John attributes much of this divine action to the Holy Spirit who lives in the contemplative's body and soul as in a temple2 and who teaches and guides the person to divine union, not only interiorly3 but also exteriorly through Sacred Scripture4 and the Church.5 And when a person has arrived at union with God, he is habitually illumined and moved by the Holy Spirit.6

Jesus's role in this divine guidance is that of one whose life in this world provided a living image (viva imagen) for men to imitate.7 Jesus counseled persons to follow Him in self-denial and renunciation of possessions.8 He taught them how and where to pray.9 Moreover, He continues to come


lA3,2,2&13; 13,3-5.

2A3,23,4; 40,1.

3A3,2,8-12&16; 24,6.




7A3,35,5; 36,3.

8A3,7,2; 23,2.

9A3,36,3; 38,2; 39,2; 44,2&4.


spiritually into the lives of those who learn to pray contemplatively, without the natural activity of their intellect, memory, and will, to fill them with His peace and to remove all their misgivings, suspicions, disturbances, and darknesses.1

John makes only two explicit references to spiritual directors in Book Three, using the terminology of spiritual father (padre espiritual) on one occasion2 and spiritual masters (maestros espirituales) on the other.3 In these pages we see him acting more as a spiritual director himself, instructing his readers on the proper conduct of their memory and will to dispose themselves for union with God in hope and charity.4 This book clearly reveals that John's understanding of his own role in spiritual direction was that of a guide, leading others along the road to divine union.5

We shall see later in Book III that John through implicit references adds to our earlier observations on the knowledge required of a spiritual director, his experience, his skill





4A3,1,1; 2,1-2; 14,2; 16,1.

5see, for example, A3,2,3; 13,9; 17,2; 33,1; 37,1. See also the chapter headings for chapters 2, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27, 30, 34, 37, 39, 40, 42, and 44 which show John's intention to provide his readers with methods for directing (enderezar, encaminar, gobernar) their memory and will to God.


in handling personal relationships, and his ability to judge, teach, and guide persons toward union with God. But the essential value of the book from the perspective of spiritual direction is observing John's own approach to guiding the souls for whom he wrote. Assuming them to be advanced in prayer beyond the stage of beginners, he considers them capable of receiving his instructions and following them. Except in cases involving the remembrance of extraordinary phenomena,1 he considers them capable of self-direction without great dependence upon the spiritual director. Reminding them that union with God is ultimately God's doing, he gives them methods to follow that will dispose them to receive this divine grace. John assures them that if they truly seek to live in conformity with.God's will, He will grant their request.2

John devotes chapters two through fifteen of Book Three to the purification of the memory by the theological virtue of hope. His intention is "to explain the way the memory should conduct itself in order to advance to union."3 He says that memories4 are of three kinds: natural or those "that can





4Literally, "las aprehensiones de la memoria." See, for example, A3,l,2; 4, Title; 5,1&3; 6,1; 7,Title; 9,1; l0, Title; 14,l. "St. John of the Cross speaks in several places of aprehensiones of the will, as well as of the memory. These apprehensions are, one might say, those things of which the will


be formed from the objects of the five corporal senses (hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch), and everything like this sensory knowledge that the memory can evoke or fashion (fabricar y formar)";l supernatural or those arising from supernatural phenomena such as visions, revelations, locutions, sentiments;2 and spiritual or those coming from spiritual (i.e., non-corporeal) forms, ideas, or images impressed on the soul and their effects.3 Memories are the source of many personnel problems (daños) such as false judgements, unjust hatreds, vain loves, delusions, presumption, vanity, immorality, and spiritual deprivation impeding union with.God in hope.4 As one becomes free of his memories, he accordingly gains many benefits. Relieved of the problems caused by memories, he enjoys peace and tranquility. He is secure against the temptations of the devil, free of concern about the origin of the extraordinary occurrences in his life, and disposed through recollection to be moved and taught by the Holy Spirit.5

As John views memories to be the source of evils, dis-


or the other spiritual faculties are able to lay hold, although the role of the faculties when they do so is an entirely passive one. This is equally true whether the apprehension is received by way of the natural faculties or whether it is directly infused by God into the faculty concerned." Dicken, The Crucible of Love, p. 364.




4Chaps. 3-5 and 8-12.

5Chaps. 6 and 13.


tractions, trifles, vices, and, indeed, all the soul's disturbances,l so forgetting is the door to "human and divine wisdom and virtues (sabiduría humana y divina. y virtudes)."2 For this reason, John provides his readers with a "general method for the use of the spiritual person that he may be united with God according to this faculty (en una razón el modo que universalmente ha de usar para unirse con Dios segun este sentido)."3 He writes:

The following must be kept in mind: Our aim is union with God in the memory; the object of hope is something unpossessed; the less other objects are possessed, the more capacity and ability there is to hope for this one object, and consequently the more hope; the greater the possessions, the less capacity and ability for hope, and consequently so much less of hope; accordingly, in the measure that a person dispossesses his memory of forms and objects. which are not God (formas y cosas memorables gue no son Dios), he will fix it upon God and preserve it empty, in the hope that God will fill it. That which a person must do in order to live in perfect and pure hope in God is this: As often as distinct ideas, forms, and images occur to him, he should immediately, without resting in them, turn to God with loving affection (con afecto amoroso,) in emptiness of everything rememberable (en vacío de todo aquello memorable). He should not think or look upon these things for a longer time than is sufficient for the understanding and fulfillment of his obligations, if they refer to this. And then he should consider these ideas without becoming attached or seeking gratification in them, lest they leave their effects in the soul (y esto sin poner en ellas afecto ni gusto, porque no dejen efecto de sí en alma). Thus a man is not required to cease recalling and


lA3,3,5; 4,1; 5,1.




thinking about what he must do and know, for, since he is not attached to the possession of these thoughts, he will not be harmed (como no haya afecciones de propiedad, n(copy illegible) le harán daño).1

In giving this advice, John reassures his reader that, in themselves, images, whether they be external representations of God and His saints in pictures and statues or interior images and visions of God present in the memory, do not prevent divine union. They may even help it a person allows himself to soar (volar) in love from the image to God. John's concern is to explain the difference between these images and God and to caution against an excessive veneration of religious pictures and statues or attachment to images of God in the memory that impedes the person's union with the living and incomprehensible God.2

John's first explicit reference to spiritual directors comes in chapter eight where he discusses memories of supernatural phenomena.

To avoid in his judgments this evil of deception [arising from reflection upon superantural knowledge], the spiritual person should be unwilling to judge the nature of his experiences, or the kind of visions, knowledge, or feeling he has; he should be undesirous of knowing this or attributing importance to it except for the sake of informing his spiritual director (padre espiritual) and of thereby receiving instructions on how to void the memory of these apprehensions (para que le enseñe a vaciar la memoria de aquellas aprehensiones). Whatever they are in themselves, they are in themselves, they are not as great a help toward




pp 240-250


The director's responsibility here is to teach his directee how to forget supernatural apprehensions (enseñe a vaciar la memoria de aquellas aprehensiones). Because the memory is the repository of apprehensions first received in the intellect,2 the director's approach here is the same as described in Book Two of the Ascent on the manner of guiding the intellect in the presence of extraordinary phenomena: explain that the intellect and memory must be free of particular knowledge to be disposed to receive the divine loving knowledge which God gives in contemplation and exhort the person to acts of charity.3

Rejecting memories of supernatural phenomena also produces "a freedom from care about the discernment of the good ones from the evil, and about how one ought to behave with the different kinds." This, in turn, would absolve one from

the drudgery and waste of time with spiritual directors which would result from desiring the director to discern the good apprehensions from the evil ones and to ascertain the kind of apprehension received (el trabajo y tiempo que había de qastar en los maestros espirituales quiriendo que se las averigüen


1A3 3,5.

2Al,9,6; A2,16,2; A3,1,1.

3A2,22,16-19; A3,2,1-5.


pp 240-250


si son buenas o malas o si deste género o del otro).1

This time and energy can then be used more profitably to turn one's will toward God and desire "spiritual and sensory naked ness and poverty" (i.e., the lack of "all the consoling support of apprehensions, both interior and exterior").2

John's position here about discernment of the causes of supernatural phenomena follows closely his argument on the same subject in Book Two. If those phenomena are from God, their good effect will be produced in the person passively, without his adverting to it. If these phenomena are self-induced or from the devil, one protects himself from going astray by ignoring them. Free of attachment to any particular idea or memory, whatever its source, the person's spirit is thus best disposed for union of his faculties with the Spirit of the Incomprehensible God.3

The language is strong here. Discussing the origins of one's extraordinary phenomena is "drudgery" (trabajo), a waste of "time and energy" (tiempo y caudal).4 It is not ordinarily the content of the director-directee dialogue. It may even be a form of collusion in which both resist the purpose of their




3A2,chaps. 16&17; A3,13,2-5.


pp 240-250

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