St John Of The Cross


on how to direct the strength of their will--their desires and emotions--away from inordinate attachments to objects and toward God, for in this way "the soul preserves its strength for God, and comes to love Him with all its might."l To achieve this goal, he taught his readers methods for turning their will from created objects and centering it upon God. To overcome attachment to physical beauty and intellectual superiority, for example, John counsels considering the mutability of created gifts and the immutability of God. He writes:

In recommending these methods, John was well aware that not all goods are the same and that there is just cause for rejoicing in some rather than others, as, for example, one rejoices in the benefits of a virtuous life or in the honor given


lA3,16,2. See also A3,27,5; 28,6; 44,3.

2A3,21,2. See also A3,20,3-4; 22,6; 24,4&7; 26,7; 28,6; 37,2.


to God through one's special gifts. But throughout all the goods and objects under consideration, John proposes one cause for rejoicing in them--the honor and glory of God.1

John was particularly concerned about spiritual goods, those which are "an aid and motivating force in turning the soul to divine things and to converse with God, as well as a help in God's communications to the soul."2 Spiritual goods include religious statues and paintings, rosaries, churches and oratories, religious pilgrimages, festivals, and ceremonies.3 In themselves, these sensory objects and practices have potential spiritual benefit, for they have the power to move persons to devotion and prayer. An artistic crucifix, for instance, can move one to seek "the living image of Christ crucified" within oneself.4 Yet precisely because of their sensory nature, spiritual goods can be obstacles to authentic spirituality. One can rejoice more in the artistic craftsmanship of a devotional object than in the invisible object it represents. Pilgrimages can become more recreation than devotion. Religious festivals can lead people to celebrate themselves rather than God.5 In such instances, spiritual


lA3,17,2; 24,4-7; 26,3-7; 27,2-5; 30,3-5.


3A3,chaps. 35-44.

4A3,35,5; 36,3.

5A3,35,2; 36,3; 38,2-3.


goods are as harmful to spiritual growth as attachment to merely temporary, natural, or sensory objects, for the strength of the will is set more on the objects and activities than on the spiritual reality represented or celebrated. And the attachment is more subtle, because it is directed to a "holy object."1 Thus, even with spiritual objects, John is careful to guide his directee beyond them to true devotion, which is a centering of the will upon God and invisible realities, rejoicing only in these.2

In guiding the will, John paid close attention to prayer. He reminded persons of God present within themselves. He stressed recollecting one's entire self--sense and spirit--in His presence and directing one's mind and will to Him. More than anything else, prayer centers the strength of the soul directly upon God. Prayer goes hand in hand with mortification of the will, for one denies his inordinate desires for satisfaction in created objects only to direct this psychological energy to God in prayer.3

John's concern was not primarily with vocal prayers and the sensible satisfaction that comes from external devotions (although he recognized the value of these for beginners4),


lA3,35,8; 38,1.

2A3,35,2-6; 36,1-4; 37,1-2; 38,1-2&4-5.

3A3,39,2; 40,1-2; 41,1; 42,4.



but with guiding persons to interior recollection (encaminando el espiritu al recogimiento interior).1 By interior recollection he meant entering into oneself as into a temple where God is present and centering one's mind and heart upon Him, forgetting everything else. This interior communion with God is prayer "in spirit and truth" (Jn.4:20-24), prayer that depends not upon devotional places, images, or ceremonies, but upon the persevering effort to live in nakedness and poverty of spirit with one's desires and emotions free from inordinate attachments to objects and consciously centered upon God. By this interior recollection, one becomes a "living temple" and discovers true interior peace and spiritual joy.2 To help persons achieve this interior recollection, John continually counseled them to use holy objects, devotional places, forms of prayer, and religious ceremonies in a way that raised their minds and hearts to God.3

From John's example both in theory and practice, we see that the spiritual director guides the will toward divine union by teaching persons to overcome attachments to inappropriate objects and to seek their emotional satisfaction in God and by directing their prayer and devotion toward interior


1A3,40, Title.

2A3,38,5; 39,1-3; 40,1-2; 41,1-2; 42,1-2; 44,4,

3A3,39,2-3; 40,1; 41,1-2; 42, Title & 1-3; 43,1-3; 44, 1-4.


recollection of their entire being in the Divine Presence.

In guiding the will, the spiritual director must also remember that God is the person's primary Director who bestows spiritual favors on particular individuals "when, and how, and where He wills without being bound to place or time, or to the free will of the recipient"l and he must continually be aware of the individuality and stage of spiritual development of the person he is directing.2 John's chapters on the will also suggest the importance of the director's own spiritual life. We noted earlier when discussing the memory that the director's spirituality enhances his ability to guide others to divine union.3 The same principle applies when guiding the will. The more a director consciously centers his life upon God, the better he is prepared to help others direct their psychological energies to Him. On the other hand, if the director is attached to money, position, or status, he will not have the clarity of reason and sharpness of judgment (razón...juicio) required for guiding others to divine union.4 Or a director's inordinate attachment to his own intelligence, or abilities, or good works (or to the beauty and intelligence of his directees) can



2A3,24,4; 25,7; 36,5; 39,,1&3.

3See above, pp. 245-46.

4A3,19,3-4&6; 20,2.See also A2,19,11; 22,7-15. See


create within himself a superior attitude which he may directly or indirectly communicate to his less gifted or talented directees.1 Again, a director's judgment and reason can be so deadened by his attachment to sensory gratification that he is "unperceptive of the things of God" and "knows not how either to take counsel or to give it (ni sepa tomar buen consejo ni darle)."2

The importance of the director's spiritual life is further implied in John's belief in the principle; as the master, so the disciple. In Book Two of the Ascent he applied this axiom directly to spiritual direction.3 In Book Three he applies it to preaching, holding that the ability to arouse others to the service and praise of God comes more from a preacher's interior spirit than from his eloquence.4 To the extent that preaching and spiritual direction are both spiritual ministries, the same conclusion might be drawn regarding the spiritual director.5 Spiritual direction is a spiritual ministry in addition to being a helping relationship such as counseling or psychotherapy. A director may employ


above, p. 183.

lA3,22,21 28,3.

2A3,25,2-6; 26,4.



5John classified preaching as a "provocative good," a cate-


counseling techniques similar to those of a psychological counselor, but these will be effective in helping the directee advance toward divine union only when they are combined with the director's own detachment from objects other than God. We have already seen that helping techniques and interpersonal skills are necessary in spiritual direction.1

However, because it is a spiritual ministry with the goal of leading persons to union with God, successful spiritual direction is more a function of the director's spiritual life--his faith, hope, and love--than his counseling skills. As a teacher within a spiritual ministry, it is the "living spirit" of the director that enkindles fire. When this spirit is lacking in the director, he, like the preacher, will be unable to motivate his disciple to seek union with God, no matter how well developed his counseling technique.2

In addition to his own continuing growth in the spiritual life, the director must also have experience in guiding others in the purification of the will through charity. On the basis of this experience, he will be able to provide pru-


gory within spiritual goods. He intended to speak of another category of spiritual goods called "directive goods," but he discontinued his text before taking up that subject. Although he states nothing of this, it is probable that he would have discussed the ministry of spiritual direction under "directive goods. See A3,35,1.

1See above, pp. 209-12.



dent counsel to his directees in the use of devotional objects.1

Finally, a word about the directee as viewed in John's section on the will. In the Prologue of The Ascent of Mount Carmel, John addressed his book to some of his fellow Carmelite friars and nuns whom God had placed on the road to union.2 However, these chapters in Book Three reveal that he addressed his doctrine on the purification of the will not only to Carmelites, but to anyone seriously interested in becoming a spiritual person. A spiritual person (el espiritual)3 is one who has passed beyond the stage of beginners in prayer, 4 whose sensory nature is ordered to his spirit, and whose entire life is directed to attaining union with God through faith, hope and love. Such persons might be married laity.5 But whatever their state in life, John expects that anyone who desires to be truly spiritual will have to undergo the same purification of the will in readiness for union with God in love.6




3A3,19,3; 20,1&3-4; 21,2; 24,4&7; 26,4; 38,1; 39,1&3; 40,1; 41,1; 42,2.



6A3,39,3; 42,2.


John assumes that these spiritual persons have experience in the spiritual life and are capable of self-direction.1 He also knows they have their own problems. They can be so attached to either sensory objects or their own moral perfection that they resist taking counsel from another, even when they recognize its value.2 They can also be deluded in their use of devotional objects and practices, allowing their attachment to these to impede their spiritual progress.3 Though committed to spiritual growth and possibly far advanced along the road to perfection, these persons can still benefit from spiritual directors who will call them forth from all self-seeking to center the entire strength of their will upon God.4


Writing in Book Three for persons advanced beyond the beginning stages of the spiritual life, John teaches his reader how to purify the memory through hope and the will through charity in order to be disposed to receive the divine gift of transforming union with God. Rather than explicitly discussing the role of the spiritual director in this book, John


lSee above, pp. 234,244-45.

2A3,25,6; 28,9.

3A3,38,1; 40,1; 41,1;

4A3,16,2; 20,1-4; 27,5; 28,6; 44,3.


actually directs his readers in the purification of the memory and will, allowing them a firsthand experience of his style of guidance.

While thus guiding his readers, John also continues and adds to his theory of spiritual direction as found in earlier sections of The Ascent of Mount Carmel. God is the person's primary Guide to divine union. As His instrument, the spiritual director, referred to in Book Three as a spiritual father and master, attempts to prepare his directees to receive God's transforming action by teaching them how to give up attachments of the memory to particular knowledge and images and of the will to inordinate satisfaction in objects other than God. He guides their prayer and devotion toward increasing interior recollection or centering the spiritual faculties upon God present within their souls. The subject matter of the spiritual direction dialogue is the experience of the directee, particularly his emotional life and extraordinary religious phenomena.

To prepare intellectually for his role, the spiritual director should have the following: a theology that acknowledges both God's transcendence and His transforming action in the lives of His people; an anthropology which views man as capable of passively receiving God's healing action into his life; a theory of personality that integrates the psychological and spiritual dimensions of life, allowing the director to formulate the goals, methods, and subject matter of his

pp 270-280

Return To Index