St John Of The Cross


work; and an understanding of the etiological factors in both the memory and will causing psychological dysfunction, as well as the role of prayer in healing these factors.

If he is to dispose others for the action of God in their lives, the director himself must have experience in the spiritual life. By purifying his own memory and will, he is better prepared to judge the progress of his directees, understand their extraordinary experiences, and motivate them to continual spiritual growth. The director's efforts to grow in faith, hope, and love are of greater value to his ministry than the charismatic gift of discernment of spirits. And with accumulated experience in the direction of different persons, his skill as a spiritual guide increases.

In carrying out his ministry, the spiritual director must always be conscious of the individuality of his directee, both his unique personality and his stage of spiritual development. He must provide an interpersonal atmosphere in which the directee can speak openly about his experiences. And the director must observe closely the emotional life of the directee, for one's emotions are indicative of one's spiritual progress. As a guide of the memory and will of his directee, he must both teach methods for freeing these faculties for union with God and guide these faculties to that union in prayer.

The directees for whom John wrote Book Three are not


only religious committed by vow to the road of Christian perfection, but all who are genuinely interested in attaining true Christian spirituality, that is, who are seeking transforming union with God in love. John recognized that these persons may be well-advanced in the spiritual life and capable of further growth without excessive dependence upon the spiritual director. Nonetheless, John's own writing illustrates the benefits they receive from a spiritual director who can guide them in the purification of their memories and will and in their growth in interior recollection.

The Dark Night: Book One

The Dark Night is the concluding portion of John's explanation of the journey to union with God through love. Although The Dark Night is often read as a separate treatise in its own right, it actually concludes the exposition of the spiritual life begun in The Ascent of Mount Carmel. In the second chapter of Book One of the Ascent, John proposed three reasons for calling the journey to God a dark night: the mortification of the appetites, the journey in faith, and God's communication to the human spirit. Having explained in The Ascent of Mount Carmel how the mortification of the appetites and the life of faith cause darkness in one's life, John now explains in The Dark Nigtht, the second half of the literary diptych, why God's communication of Himself is a night for


the person.1

The Dark Night describes God's communication of Himself in contemplation. John states that "contemplation is nothing else than a secret and peaceful and loving inflow of God, which, if not hampered, fires the soul in the spirit of love."2 More exactly, God communicates His own knowledge and love of Himself directly to the intellect and will of the person in a general and indistinct fashion. This contemplation is darkness for the soul, not only because the knowledge of God is given directly to the person without the active operation of his cognitive faculties, but also because it painfully purges the person of his self-love and prepares him for a loving union with God. Contemplation allows one gradually to see himself as he actually is in contrast to the grandeur and glory of God. As this knowledge of one's true self in comparison to God increases, one is gradually freed from love of self to concentrate the entire affective power of one's being upon God. Contemplation enables a person to depart from "love of self and of all things through a method of true mortification, which causes it to die to itself and to all these things and to begin the sweet and delightful life of love with God."3


lAl,2,1-5. For a discussion of the Ascent-Dark Night as one treatise, see above pp. 138-40.


3N1, Explanation, 1. See also Nl,9,6; 12,2-6; N2,3,3; 6,5; 12,2; 13,1-2; 16,14; 17,2-5; 18,2-4.


John divides The Dark Night into two books in accord with God's communication of Himself to the two major parts of the human person. John explains:

This night, which as we say is contemplation, causes two kinds of darkness or purgation in spiritual persons according to the two parts of the soul, the sensory and the spiritual.

Hence the one night or purgation will be sensory, by which the senses are purged and accommodated to the spirit; and the other night or purgation will be spiritual, by which the spirit is purged and denuded as well as accommodated and prepared for union with God through love.1

John thus refers to Book One dealing with the purgation of sense as the Dark Night of Sense and to Book Two treating the purgation of spirit as the Dark Night of Spirit. And because both books explain how God communicates Himself to sense and spirit independent of the activity of the person's faculties, these two books are commonly referred to as the passive night of sense and the passive night of spirit respectively.2

Throughout The Ascent of Mount Carmel,3 John reminds his reader that the active night of sense (the mortification of appetites dealt with in Book One) and the active night of spirit (the journey in faith, hope, and love treated of in Books Two and Three) are not the nights that cause the soul's



2N1, Title; N2, Title. See also the titles given to these books in Vida y Obras, pp. 620-90.

3Al,l,l-3; 13,1; A2,2,3; A3,2,14-15.


union with God. These nights represent merely activities which a person can do on his own to dispose himself for divine union. God alone brings one to union with Himself and this He ordinarily does only after leading the person through the contemplative dark nights of sense and spirit wherein He communicates Himself directly to the person disposed to receive Him. The two books contained in The Dark Night complement all that is said in the three books of The Ascent of Mount Carmel. In the Ascent we see how one disposes himself--sense and spirit--for divine union and in the Night we see how God effects this union.

To understand both the nature and necessity of the first night, the passive night of sense, we must recognize the real-conditions of beginners in the spiritual life. For John, a beginner in the spiritual life is not any Christian, but one who has undergone a sincere conversion and definitely committed himself to live completely for God, praying fervently and doing religious works. Although the conversion to God is genuine, the person nonetheless continues to be subtly motivated by love of self and desire for personal gratification. In his search for delight and satisfaction in his religious exercises, he is actually serving self rather than God. Pleasure continues to be the predominant motive for the beginner's behavior just as it was before his conversion, al-


though now he seeks this pleasure in prayer and religious practices.1

John illustrates how beginners search for pleasure in prayer and religious practices by analyzing their behavior in light of the seven capital vices (los siete vicios capitales) --pride, avarice, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. He describes these vices, not in their rawest manifestation in human nature, but as they are found in beginners to point out the imperfections caused by the search for sensory gratification. He therefore quaiifies his use of these vices by the word spiritual, as when he speaks of'spiritual avarice, spiritual gluttony, and spiritual envy and sloth. By this qualification, he simply means to demonstrate how these basic human vices are manifest even in the behavior of those who have seriously begun to live a spiritual life.2

Each of the capital vices may be seen in beginners.


lNl,1,3. See also Nl,3,2; 4,2&5; 5,1; 6,1-3&5-6; 7,2-5. In stating that beginners are strongly moved by the desire for sensory gratification in their spiritual exercises, John's theory of motivation parallels that of Freud who held that all human behavior is motivated by the pleasure principle or the desire for sensual gratification. For John, most beginners are really looking for sensory delight in their prayer and spiritual exercises. As we shall see, the purpose of the dark night of sense is to purify beginners of their desire for sensory gratification and (in Freud's terminology) move them beyond the pleasure principle. See Nandor Fodor and Frank Gaynor, eds., Freud: Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, with a Preface by Theodor Reik (Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett Publications, A Premier Book, 1963), p. 120.



Pride can make one desire to appear as the world's holiest person, leaving a pharisaical disdain for those he regards as less holy.1 An avaricious beginner is one who is never content with the spirit God gives him, but is continually seeking increased consolation and spirituality by inordinate attachment to spiritual talks, religious books, and devotional objects, but with little regard for true interior devotion or poverty of spirit.2 Lust may at times cause sexual fantasies, feelings and desires in the midst of one's spiritual exercises or in one's spiritual relationships.3 Anger often erupts in some beginners when they lose gratification in their religious practices or in others who are zealous to reform the unholy or in still others who are impatient with their own spiritual progress.4 Spiritual gluttony appears in those who indiscreetly seek pleasure in religious practices, sometimes even to the point of delighting in unreasonable bodily penances.5 Envy causes some to "feel sad about the spiritual good of others and experience sensible grief in noting that their neighbor is ahead of them on 'the road to perfection, and


1NI,chap. 2.

2Nl,chap. 3.

3Nl,chap. 4.

4Nl,chap. 5.

5Nl,chap. 6.


they will not want to hear others praised."1 And spiritual sloth is seen in those who become bored with their spiritual exercises when they no longer produce sensible delight and satisfaction.2

Having demonstrated by means of the seven capital vices the imperfections caused in beginners by their desire for sensible gratification in prayer and spiritual exercises, John contends that the beginner is unable on his own to eliminate these imperfections or eradicate their cause. God alone can heal beginners of these disorders. In speaking of the vice of spiritual avarice, John writes:

Until a soul is placed by God in the passive purgation of that dark night [of sense], which we shall soon explain, it cannot purify itself completely from these imperfections nor from the others. But a person should insofar as possible strive to do his part in purifying and perfecting himself and thereby merit God's divine cure; in this cure God will heal him of what through his own efforts he was unable to remedy (por que merezca que Dios la ponga en aquella divina cura, donde sana el alma de todo lo que ella no alcanzaba a remediarse). No matter how much an individual does through his own efforts, he cannot actively purify himself enough to be disposed in the least degree for the divine union of the perfection of love. God must take over and purge him in that fire that is dark for him, as we shall explain.1


lNl, chap. 7


3Nl,3,3, Cf. also Nl,7,5. John does not explain why a person cannot cure all of his imperfections on his own; only that he cannot. As a hypothesis formed from contemporary psychology, it may be conjectured that one cannot heal all one's own imperfections because their roots are in the unconscious


To cure a beginner of his inordinate desire for sensory gratification, God leads him into the dark night of sense. After the person has persevered for a short while in his prayer and attempts to reform his appetites, God commences to communicate to him the purifying knowledge of contemplation. The healing of the senses begins when a beginner suddenly finds that he is no longer able to derive satisfaction or consolation from the things of God nor from creatures; that he is distressed by the thought that he is not serving God, but turning back because of his distaste for spiritual things; and that he is unable to meditate.1

The cause of these phenomena is dryness (sequedad) which makes persons "not only fall to receive satisfaction and pleasure from their spiritual exercises and works, as they formerly did, but also find these exercises distasteful and bitter."2 It is precisely this dryness that cures the beginner of his desire for sensory gratification and heals his many


and are therefore unavailable to one's own scrutiny. In support of this hypothesis, we may point to John's contention that there are habits of imperfection which have been contracted throughout life and are deeply rooted in the substance of the soul (habitos imperfectos que ha contraido toda la vida... muy arraigados en la sustancia. del alma). See N2,6,5. In the divine light ot contemplation these unconscious roots of human imperfection become conscious and available to cure. See also N2,10,2.

1NI: chaps. 8&9. See Gabriel a BB. Dionysio et Redemptor "The Three Signs," pp. 97-129.



imperfections.1 John explains: "Since God puts a soul in this dark night in order to dry up and purge its sensory appetite, He does not allow it to find sweetness or delight in anything (como pone Dios al alma en esta oscura noche a fin de enjugarle y purgarle el apetito sensitivo, en niguna cosa le deja engolosinarse ni hallar sabor)."2 And when this dryness is the result of God's communication of Himself to the person (rather than of moral laxity or psychological dysfunction), the person will "in the midst of the dryness and emptiness of his faculties, harbor a habitual care and solicitude for God accompanied by grief or fear about not serving Him (cuidado y solicitud de Dios con pena y recelo de que no le sirve)."3 The person now continues in the spiritual life, not for,the gratification he derives from it, but for the glory of God. His motivation is turning from self-love to love of God.

Along with this dryness, the person discovers he can no longer practice discursive meditation. In prayer his powers of fantasy and imagination cease and he is incapable of analyzing and synthesizing ideas. He is unable to employ his intellect, will, and memory on the things of God. Along with the dryness and emptiness of the senses, he is left with "an


lNl,5,1; 6,8; 7,5; 12,2; 13,2-3; N2,6,4.


3Nl,ll,2. See also Nl,9,3-7.

pp 280-290

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