St John Of The Cross


When this condition exists, the person is in conflict, his emotions at war with his soul (estas cuatro pasiones . . . el alma . . . la combaten).2 From this conflict arise spiritual imperfection and psychological disorder.3

John's treatise on the purification of the will is, in reality, a discourse on the emotions.4 Originally, he intended to treat all four emotions, but managed to cover only joy.5 However, because the emotions are so "brother-like" in nature and activity (están tan aunadas y tan hermanadas entre sí estas cuatro pasiones del alma) , John's treatment of joy virtually includes the other emotions of hope, sorrow, and fear.6 In the same manner that joy must be directed to God rather than to objects, so must each of the other emotions be centered on Him in order that the will may love God with all its strength and be disposed for divine union in charity.





4See, for example, John's references to the various emotions in A3,18,5; 19,4; 20,4; 22,2; 26,5; 27,2; 29,4.

51n fact, John did not even complete his discussion of joy. Book Three ends abruptly in the middle of Chapter forty- five where he is dealing with joy in spiritual goods of a provocative nature.



John defines joy as "a satisfaction of the will with esteem for an object it considers fitting."l He is speaking primarily of active, as distinguished from passive, joy which occurs "when a person understands distinctly and clearly the object of its joy, and which means that one has the power either to rejoice or not."2 There are six categories of "objects or goods"3 in which the will can actively and voluntarily rejoice: temporal (e.g., wealth, status, position, familyr etc.), natural (e.g., endowments in both body and soul such as physical grace and beauty, intelligence, discretion, etc.), sensory (all objects pertaining to the exterior and interior sense faculties), moral (virtue, works of mercy, observance of God's law, urbanity, good manners, etc.), supernatural (gifts of God which exceed the natural faculties and powers, such as the charismatic qifts described by Saint Paul in I Cor. 12:4-11), and spiritual (goods which help persons grow in their relationship with God, such as religious statues and paintings, places of prayer, ceremonies,




3A3,17,2. Literally, "cosas o bienes." As the will in general seeks the good, any particular thing in which it rejoices can be called a "good." Kavanaugh and Rodriguez often translate "cosas" (literally, "things") as "objects,." giving the word a nuance that helps to relate John's explanation of human behavior to object-relations theory in modern psychology. See Frank Lake, Clinical Theology: A Theoloqical and Psychiatric Basis to Clinical Pastoral Care (London: Darton Longman & Todd, 1966), pp. 553-923.


devotions, sermons, etc.).l Joy--and each of the other emotions as well--is always experienced in relationship to objects, whether God or objects other than God. A person's emotional state is thus determined by his relationship to objects.

Following the pattern he established in discussing the memory, John elaborates the harm (daños) which comes to a person when he voluntarily rejoices in goods other than God2 and the benefits (provechos) he acquires from not rejoicing in these goods.3 Spiritually the harm may be as slight as spiritual lukewarmness or as serious as total abandonment of God. Psychologically, the harm may range from anxiety to despair and suicide.4 The benefits which result from not rejoicing in the various kinds of objects include freedom to live for God alone, growth in virtue, tranquility of soul, a refined pleasure in sensory goods, and other moral, temporal, and spiritual blessings.5


lA3,17,2 and chaps. 18, 21, 24, 27, 30 and 33.

2Chapters 19,22,25,28,31,41. John's method of treating spiritual goods departs somewhat from that which he followed with the other objects of the will (see chaps. 33 to 45). However, he still points out the problems that arise from rejoicing in spiritual objects and provides methods for avoiding these problems.

3Chapters 20, 23, 26, 29, and 32.


5A3,23,1-6; 26,5-8; 29,2-5; 32,1-4.


In his discussion of all the many objects in which the will can actively rejoice, John presupposes one fundamental principle (conviene presuponer un fundamento)

Applying this principle to the various objects, John provides practical steps which a person may follow in directing his will to God. For example, when considering the benefits which result from withdrawing joy in temporal goods, he instructs his reader:

At the first movement of Joy toward things, the spiritual person (el espiritual) ought to repress it (reprimirle) with remembrance of the principle we are here following: There is nothing worthy of a man's joy save the service of God and the procurement of His honor and glory in all things. His use of things should be directed to this and turned away from vanity, and exclude concern for his own satisfaction and consolation.2


lA3,17,2. See also A3, 20,3; 21,1; 22,6; 27,4; 30,5; 44,2.

2A3,20,3. See also the practical suggestions for conscious turning of joy from objects to God in A3,21,2; 22,6; 24,4&7; 26,7; 28,6; 37,2. Although Kavanaugh and Rodriguez literally render reprimirle in the above passage as repression, the activity recommended would be called "suppression"in today's psychological terminology due to the conscious control of emotion. Repression today generally connotes an unconscious exclusion of unacceptable feelings and impulses from awareness. See Coleman, Abnormal Psychology, p. 92;


Although John makes no explicit references to spiritual directors in his chapters on the will, he does recognize the supernatural gift of discernment of spirits (discreción de espíritus), one of the special graces enumerated by St. Paul in I Corinthians that exceeds the recipient's natural faculties and powers and is exercised primarily for the temporal or spiritual profit of others. In a spiritual director, this charismatic power may serve to increase the knowledge and love of God in himself and in his directees; but the director's personal attachment to and vain rejoicing in this gift may also cause deception of himself and his directees, errors of perception and judgment, misuse of the gift, and a loss of faith and charity in himself and his directee. Should a director possess this gift, John would counsel his using it only after seeking light from God, and for the sake of his directee's growth in faith.1 As in Book Two, where John would consider the director's earnest seeking of perfection to be more important than possessing the gift of discernment of spirits,2 so in Book Three, he would hold that faith and charity are more important for the director than this charismatic power. 3


Cameron, Personality Development and Psychopathology, p. 238.

lA3,30,1-5; 31,2-9.

2A2,26,11-14. See p. 209 above.

3A3,30,4-5; 31,8-9.


John's discussion of the will also suggests that a spiritual director's intellectual preparation for his ministry ought to include a theory of personality which integrates the spiritual and psychological aspects of life. Such a theory enables the director to envisage clearly the goal of his work, to interpret accurately the phenomena he observes in his directees, and to confidently guide them along the road of Christian perfection.

The theory guiding John's ministry rested upon the two-fold assumption that God is man's Ultimate End and that man's goal in life is to return to his original innocence in which his body conforms to his spirit, and his spirit to God.1 In this theory, God is not a distant and future goal, but an immediate and present Object to be sought in all human activity. Nor is He an abstract philosophical or theological ideal, but a Living Person toward Whom one should continually direct the strength of his being--his faculties, operations, desires, and emotions--by conscious acts of the will.2 Rather than fostering a disembodied spirituality, this conscious centering of psychological energies upon God leads one--supernaturally, naturally, spiritually, temporally, and bodily--to completion as a total human being. The spirit is not only freed for God


lA3,17,2; 19,9; 23,4; 26,5-6; 33,1; 45,1. See also pp. 126-27 in the doctrinal section above.

2A3,16,1-2; 20,3-4; 21,2; 22,6; 24,4&7; 26,7; 27,5; 28,6; A3, 37,2; 44,3.


and the practice of evangelical perfection, but all of one's human potential is also gradually realized.1

This fulfillment of human capacities may be seen in the natural benefits (provechos) which come to a person who directs his will to the service of God rather than seeking satisfaction in temporal, natural, sensory, or moral goods.He lives in interior peace, tranquility, and freedom of spirit. He responds with heightened awareness and sensitivity to the world around him, deriving intense joy from every creature. He performs good works with diligence, precision, prudence, perseverance, and in a manner as pleasing to other people as to God. He loves more people more truly, freely, and generously.2 In effect, John's description of the personal benefits (provechos) that follow from directing the strength of one's soul to God represent his theory of a fully functioning or self-actualizing person, one who finds joy in his service of God and delight in the effective use of his natural gifts.3

By contrast, as one withdraws the strength of his soul


lA3,16,6; 17,2; 20,2&4; 23,4-5; 24,6; 26, chapter title & 1&5-7; 28,7; 32,1-3; 35,5&7; 40,1.

2A3,20,1-3; 23,1&3&6; 26,5-7; 29,2-5.

3For a psychological theory of a fully functioning person, see Rogers, On Becoming a Person, pp. 183-96, and "Therapy, Personality, and Interpersonal Relationships," pp. 234-35. For a psychological study of self-actualizing people, see Maslow, Motivation and Personality, pp. 149-202.


from God and directs it to creatures, seeking joy in them rather than in Him, one increasingly diminishes his humanity. This direction not only leads eventually to abandoning God and to sins of avarice, pride, lust, envy and contempt for others, but to psychological and emotional dysfunction as well.1 Centering the will only upon created objects disturbs one's inner tranquility and creates emotional conflict within the soul. From this conflict arises other disordered behavior such as anxiety over temporal possessions, leading in more serious cases to despair and suicide; seductiveness and manipulation in interpersonal relationships; antisocial behavior such as sexual promiscuity, rape, and murder; drunkenness and addiction; competitiveness and egotism.2 John's chapters on the various ways in which inordinate seeking of satisfaction in objects other than God injure (dañar) a person amount to a brief treatise in abnormal psychology, an etiology and classification of the mental and emotional disorders that are caused by an attached and possessed heart.3

The pivotal relationship in John's personality theory that accounts for all human behavior is thus man's conscious relationship to God. To the extent that one consciously directs the desires and emotions of his will toward God as to his Su-


lA3,16,6; 19,7-11; 22,2; 25,1-4; 28,2-3.

2A3,16,4; 19,7-10; 22,2-3; 25,2-6; 28,3-5.



preme Good, to that extent is he psychologically and spiritually fulfilled; to the extent that he invests the energies of his soul in objects or goods other than God, to that extent is he psychologically and spiritually dysfunctional.1 Recognizing that virtues often coexist with imperfections and that a man's work is seldom so motivated by God alone as to exclude all self-seeking,2 John posits four successive degrees according to which one transfers his emotional dependency from God to creatures (cuanto la voluntad está menos fuerte en Dios y más pendiente de criaturas). The more one depends upon creatures to satisfy his emotional needs, the more spiritual and psychological harm he incurs; the more one seeks his emotional satisfaction in God, the more spiritual and psychological benefits he enjoys.3

Linking both man's psychological and spiritual welfare to his conscious relationship with God rests ultimately on John's assumption that man is a sensory-spiritual or body-soul unity ontologically dependent upon God.4 Man cannot, in this assumption, find completion as a total human person apart from God, nor can he separate his psychological welfare from his spiritual. And because man is a body-soul unity his spiritual


1A3,16,2-4; 19,1; 20,3.

2A3,22,2; 28,8.

3A3,16,2-4; 19,1-11; 22,1; 25,1.

4See doctrinal section above, pp. 106-7,110-11.


relationship with God is revealed in his emotions, making his joys, hopes, fears, and sorrows an important part of the subject matter of spiritual direction. In observing closely the emotional life of his directee, a director gains revealing insights into the person's relationship with God.1

Upon this theory of personality, John based his ministry of spiritual direction. In guiding the will of his directees, this theory determined his goal and the methods he chose to achieve this goal. This theory also explains the significance he attached to the emotions of his directees. Similarly, a comprehensive theory of personality which integrates the psychological and spiritual aspects of human life will help a director be clear about the goals, methods, and subject matter of his relationship with the directee. In helping relationships, one's theory guides one's practice, a principle as applicable to spiritual direction as to other helping relationships.2

We can see John's theory at work as he guides the will to union with God. He understood his role to be that of a teacher of the will.3 His goal was to instruct his directees


lA3,l6,5-6; 19,4; 22,2; 26,5; 27,2; 28,3; 29,4; 35,5.

2For an example of the way personality theory guides practice in psychotherapy, see Ford and Urban's Systems of Psychotherapy.

3A3,16,1-3; 17,2; 33,1; 34,1-2. See also titles to chapters 18,21,24,30,34,37,39,42.

pp 260-270

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