St John Of The Cross


inclination to remain alone and in quietude... unable to dwell upon any particular thought, . . . [and no] desire to do so."l This condition is the source of considerable suffering, making him fear he has gone astray or that God has abandoned him.2 In reality, God, Who is Pure Spirit and Who transcends human imagination and thought, is comunicating Himself directly to the human spirit. John writes:

Thus, when God brings a beginner into the dark night of sense, He turns the person's entire spiritual world upside down. Following his conversion, the beginner found much delight in religious practices; in the dark night of sense, he finds them distasteful. Then he could meditate; now he cannot. Yet in this upheaval, in which God commences to communicate Himself directly to the person, the beginner is purged of imperfections he could not correct himself and is prepared to advance further along the spiritual path to union with God.


1NI,9,6. See also Nl,8,3; 9,7.


3NI,9,8. See also N1,9,4-7; 10,6.


The dark night of sense contains many blessings for the beginner. First, the dryness and inability to meditate produces a new knowledge of self. In the "days of his prosperity," the security and satisfaction derived from his spiritual exercises protected the beginner from the truth about himself. In the dark night he recognizes his helplessness and the real motives for his behavior. John writes:

Now that the soul is clothed in these other garments of labor, dryness, and desolation, and that its former lights have been darkened, it possesses more authentic lights in this most excellent and necessary virtue of self-knowledge. It considers itself to be nothing and finds no satisfaction in self because it is aware that of itself it neither does nor can do anything.1

This self-knowledge begets a second blessing--knowledge of God's grandeur and majesty. Deprived of spiritual sweetness and incapable of discursive meditation, the intellect is free to receive a purer knowledge of the Incomprehensible God.2

We conclude that self-knowledge flows first from this dry night, and that from this knowledge as from its source (como de fundamento) proceeds the other knowledge of God. Hence St. Augustine said to God: Let me know myself Lord, and I will know you, (Soliloq., lib. 2, c.1--PL 32,885). For as the philosophers say, one extreme is clearly known by the other.3

The dark night of sense also reforms the imperfections caused in the beginner by the seven capital vices. Pride is






replaced by humility, avarice by detachment, lust by purity, gluttony by sobriety, anger by meekness, envy by fraternal love, and sloth by zeal.1 In addition, the person in this night

...exercises all the virtues together. In the patience and forbearance practiced in these voids and aridities (en estos vacíos y sequedades), and through perseverance in its spiritual exercises without consolation or satisfaction, the soul practices the love of God, since it is no longer motivated by the attractive and savory gratification it finds in its work, but only by God. It also practices the virtue of fortitude, because it draws strength from weakness in the difficulties and aversions experienced in its work, and thus becomes strong. Finally, in these aridities (en estas sequedades) the soul. practices corporally and spiritually all the virtues, theological as well as cardinal and moral.2

There are, in fact, countless spiritual blessings to be discovered in the night of dryness and inability to meditate. One grows in reverence, solicitude, and longing for God. From time to time he experiences in God "spiritual sweetness, a very pure love, and a spiritual knowledge which is sometimes most delicate."3 His faith is deepened and he remembers God continually. He is more open to hear God and to be directed by others to Him. His love for his neighbor increases. His desires and emotions are quieted. He is liberated from the hands of his enemies--the world, flesh, and devil.






In greater liberty of spirit he acquires the fruits of the Holy Spirit.1 Because of the numerous blessings associated with the dark night of sense, John calls it a "sheer grace" (dichosa ventura) to experience it:

Most beginners who are generous in prayer and the mortification of the inordinate appetites enter the dark night. The length of time and the severity of trials they undergo depend upon such factors as God's will for each person, the amount of imperfection to be purged, and his capacity for suffering. When one emerges from the night of sense he enters the second stage of the spiritual journey, called the way of proficients or the illuminative way or the way of infused contemplation. John rightly calls one who has


lNl,11,1-4; 12,3-5&8-9; 13,3-4&10-13.

2Nl,11,3. The phrase which Kavanaugh and Rodriguez translate as "sheer grace" is Oh dichosa ventura! and is found in the poem of which The Dark Night is a commentary. Peers translates the phrase, "Oh, happy chance!" in Complete Works of Saint John of the Cross, 1:382-83. Roy Campbell translates the phrase, "0 venture of delight!" in Poems of St. John of the Cross, with a Preface by M.D. D'Arcy (New York: Pantheon Books, 1951), pp. 10-11. The use of the word "grace" in the above translation is thus partly poetic, partly theological.


progressed to this second stage a "spiritual personn (el espiritual),l for he now lives more according to spirit than to sense.2 Another more severe night awaits those who will continue to perfect union with God, but that night of spirit comes much later, and to very few.

As we can see in Book One of The Dark Night, guiding beginners in the first steps of the spiritual journey and later through the dark night of sense requires considerable skill of the spiritual director. Despite their conversion and determination to depart from self to journey to God, beginners still remain in a "feeble state" spiritually (la flaqueza del estado que llevan) due to their desires for self-gratification. While encouraging their good will and generosity, the director must also recognize and deal effectively with the imperfections of beginners arising from their love of self and lack of insight into their own motivation.3

The seven capital vices illustrate the many demands which beginners make upon the director's skill. The desire of some to appear holy may cause them to be hostile, dishonest, and manipulative with their director or to terminate direction. John describes the behavior of these beginners in detail when discussing the imperfections of pride in beginners.


lFor example, see A3,1,1; 16,1.

2Nl,8,4; 14,1-6.

3Nl,Explanation and chap. 1.


Other beginners, prompted by spiritual avarice, may become overly dependent upon a director, turning to him continually for counsel, advice, or instruction.2

Beginners are frequently bothered by movements of lust. These sexual phantasies and feelings often occur during fervent moments of prayer and devotion and may involve the spiritual





director. Because these sexual thoughts and desires are so frightening that the beginner may want to stop his spiritual journey altogether, the director must gently reassure him and urge him to continue. The director must also assess to what degree these sexual phenomena are normal reactions or the result of "melancholia (melancolía)" or a "bad humor (mal humor)"l and directly treat these conditions if that be indicated.2

Spiritual gluttony shows up in various ways in beginners. Some find pleasure in severe fasts and bodily penances. So strong is this desire for masochistic pleasure that they strongly resist their director's efforts to impose reasonable limits upon their activities. John describes these in the following way:

Some are very insistent that their spiritual director (maestros espirituales) allow them to do what they themselves want to do, and finally almost force the permission from him. And if they do not get what they want, they become sad and go about like testy children (se entritecen como niños y andan de mala gana). They are under the impression that they do not serve God when they are not allowed to do what they want. Since they take gratification and their


lNl,4,3. "Melancolía" and "humor" come from the medical vocabulary of John's day. Melancolía (literally, black bile) could be used in either of two ways: generally to refer to all emotional and mental illness or specifically to depression. Humor was used to mean character or temperament. By speaking of the possibility of melancolia. following one's conversion, John implies that one does not necessarily have to be free of mental or emotional illness before beginning the spiritual journey to God.



own will as their support and their god, they become sad, weak, and discouraged (se entristecen y afloxan y faltan) when their director takes these from them and desires that they do God's will. They think that gratifying and satisfying themselves is serving and satisfying God.1

Other beginners, motivated by the delight they find in religious exercises, oppose their director's counsel regarding reception of the sacraments.

The director encounters a variety of emotional responses in beginners. Some become unbearably angry (la ira) over the loss of satisfaction in their spiritual exercises or the frustration of their unrealistic expectations to achieve sanctity.3 others experience sadness and grief when they perceive other persons to be ahead of them on the spiritual journey (suelen tener movimientos de pesarles del bien espiritual de los otros, dandoles alquna pena sensible que les lleven






ventaja en este camino).1 Still others react with boredom (tedio), sadness (tristeza), annoyance (fastidiar), and passive resistance (mala gana) when they lose sensible satisfaction in their spiritual practices and experience the trials of the spiritual life.2

Thus, the spiritual director must prepare himself for the hostility and phantasies, psychological dysfunction, masochism, resistance, and various emotional reactions he will meet in beginners. Recognizing that the desire of beginners for gratification in their spiritual exercises causes these phenomena, the director must help them perform these activities with reason and discretion3 and lead them beyond their attachment to externals to true interior devotion.4 However,.the spiritual director must also appreciate that he cannot cure beginners of their self-love, for this happens only when God leads them into the dark night of sense. But the director can prepare beginners for this night by guiding them in meditative prayer and mortification of their inordinate appetites. Through these practices, the director fosters their love of God and disposes them for the healing trials of





4Nl,3,1; 6,5-6.


the dark night.1

When the dryness and inability to meditate caused by the night of sense appear in a beginner, the director's first task is to determine if these phenomena truly result from God's communication to the person. He must discern whether the aridities he observes in the beginner arise from divine contemplation or whether they are due to "sin and imperfection, or weakness and lukewarmness, or some bad humor or bodily indisposition."1 To make this judgement, the director applies Saint John's three criteria for determining whether a person is walking in the night of the senses.

The first sign is loss of satisfaction and consolation in both God and creatures (no halla gusto ni consuelo en las cosas de Dios, tampoco le halla en alguna de las cosas criadas). To be a sign of contemplation, the "distaste" must be found in both God and creatures; dryness that is felt only in the things of God may come from sin or imperfection, indicating that the sensory appetites still seek inordinate pleasure in creatures. The loss of pleasure in God and creatures could also come, not from divine contemplation, but from "some indisposition or melancholic humor (de alguna indisposición o humor melancólico), which frequently prevents one from being satis-




pp 290-300

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