St John Of The Cross


fied with anything."1 Therefore, a second sign is necessary.

The second sign: a person remembers God with painful solicitude and care, thinking that he is not serving Him. John.describes this sign in these words:

John carefully distinguishes between purgative dryness (la sequedad purgativa) and melancholia (melancolía). In purgative dryness, God communicates Himself to man's spirit at the same time He withdraws from his senses. Consequently, when the senses are left empty by this purgative dryness, "the spirit through this nourishment grows stronger and more alert, and becomes more solicitious than before about not failing God."3 On the other hand, when one's aridities are the result only of melancholia, "everything ends in disgust and does harm to one's nature, and there are none of these desires to serve God which accompany the purgative dryness (porgue cuando es puro humor sólo se va en disgusto y estrago del natural, sin estos






deseos de servir a Dios que tiene la sequedad purgativa)." The presence of these desires to serve God during the time of aridity is a convincing sign that the dryness is neither lukewarmness (tibieza) nor melancholia.1

In discussing the second sign, John points out that melancholia (whatever be its natural cause) may be present together with purgative dryness, and may indeed further the effect of this dryness, depriving the person of every satisfaction and leaving it concerned only about God (Y ésta, aunque algunas veces sea aydada de la melancolía u otro humor [como muchas veces lo es], no por eso.deja de hacer su efecto purgative del apetito, pues de todo gusto está privado y sólo su cuidado trae en Dios). On the other hand, melancholia by itself is not a sign that God is leading a person through the dark night of sense. For a director to treat a person who is simply depressed because of any of a number of natural causes as though he were experiencing the purgative dryness of contemplation would simply run the risk of doing harm to the person's nature (estrago del natural).2 John thus provides a third sign which clearly shows again the difference between purgative dryness and any bad humor (algún mal humor).

The third sign for the discernment of this purgation of the sense is the powerlessness, in spite of one's efforts, to meditate and make use of the imagination, the interior sense, as was one's previous custom (no poder ya meditar ni discurrir en el sentido de la





imaginación como solía).1

If the inability to meditate is based only upon some natural emotional or mental dysfunction (algún mal humor), one is easily able to resume the practice when the dysfunction ceases. However, when the inability to meditate results from the purgative dryness of divine contemplation, this inability remains with the person, independent of his emotional or mental condition.2

Loss of satisfaction in God and creatures, solicitude for God, and inability to meditate are thus three signs which, when they occur simultaneously in a beginner, enable a director to conclude with confidence that his directee is in the purgative night of'the senses. At this point, his role in guiding his directee in prayer becomes most delicate and crucial.

In contemplation, God communicates Himself directly to a person's spirit without the mediation of human faculties.This communication ordinarily produces a painful dryness and emptiness in the senses, together with a desire to be alone and quiet, with no desire to meditate. (La qual contemplación, que es oculta y secreta para el mismso que la tiene, ordinariamente, junto con la sequedad y vacío gue hace al sentido, da al alma inclinación y gana de estarse a solas y enquietud, sir poder pensar en cosa particular ni tener gana de pensarla). In the be-





ginning of contemplation, one does not usually feel the presence of God in one's spirit, but is acutely aware of the sensory dryness and the longing for solitude. From this awareness, one incorrectly concludes that he is failing God and God is departing from him. To recapture sensory satisfaction in God and to prove he is not being idle or lax, a person will redouble his efforts to meditate, forcing the imagination and discursive powers into action during prayer, efforts that only interfere with God's work and bring increasing unrest to the soul.1

The crucial place of the director at this point can be seen in John's description of beginners in the early stages of contemplation.

The director assists these persons, first of all, by recognizing their state of prayer and understanding them (los entienda), in the distress they feel (sentir)3 in this state.






Beyond that, the director must be prepared: to comfort them in their trials (conviéneles que se consuelen), encouraging them to persevere patiently in the spiritual journey and to trust that God will not abandon them;l to help them develop an attitude or "style" (El estilo que han de tener en esta del sentido) in which they trust their attraction to solitude and "allow their soul to remain in rest and quietude, even though it may seem very obvious to them that they are doing nothing and wasting time, and even though they think this disinclination to think about anything is due to their laxity;"2 and to teach them how to pray contemplatively. On this last point John writes:

Through patience and perseverance in prayer, [these persons] will be doing a great deal without activity on their part. All that is required of them here is freedom of soul, that they liberate themselves from the impediment and fatigue of ideas and thoughts and care not about thinking and meditating. They must be content simply with a loving and peaceful attentiveness to God, and live without the concern, without the effort, and without the desire to taste or feel Him (contentándose solo con una advertencia amorosa y soseganda en Dios, y estar sin cuidado y sin eficacia, y sin gana de gustarle o de o de sentirle). All these desires disquiet the soul and distract it from the peaceful quiet and sweet idleness of the contemplation which is being communicated to it.3

Finally, the spiritual director must be ready to reassure these persons when they scruple about wasting time in their






prayer or think they should be making better use of their time (más escrúpulos se vengan de que pierde tiempo y que sería bueno hacer otra cosa), reminding them that "If a person should desire to do something himself with his interior faculties, he would hinder and lose the goods which God engraves upon his soul through that peace and idleness."l By thus delicately guiding the prayer of a person in the dark night of sense, the director helps him to place

no obstacle to the operation of the infused contemplation which God is bestowing, that he may receive it with more peaceful plentitude and make room in his spirit for the enkindling and burning of the love that this dark and secret contemplation bears and communicates to his soul.2

John notes that the majority (todos los más) who begin the spiritual life with generosity and fidelity to prayerful recollection and mortification of their inordinate appetites come into the night of sense where they are deprived of sensory gratification in their religious practices and are unable to meditate.3 Yet very few--not even half (ni aun a la mitad) --go beyond this stage into a life of infused contemplation,4 and fewer still arrive at a habitual life of union with God in love.5






5Nl,8,1; 11,4; 14,1&4-5.


A spiritual director will usually be able to determine those not destined by God for these spiritual heights by the intermittent nature of their aridities. On this point, John observes:

John comments further upon those persons who never reach the perfection of the spiritual life entirely in this life, saying

The spiritual director will also be able to recognize those destined for the high state of union with God, not only





by their continuing inability to meditate,1 but also by the severity of the trials and sensual temptations2 they suffer in the dark night of sense which continue for some time. These include vivid and disturbing sexual imagery, obsessional thoughts of blasphemy, and periods of scrupulosity in which the judgment is unable to profit from counsel (que nunca pueden satisfacerse con nada ni arrimar el juicio a consejo ni concepto). These purifying trials prepare the person's senses and faculties for union with Divine Wisdom which will occur later in the dark night of spirit.3



2N1,14,1. Literally tentaciones sensitivas which Kavanaugh and Rodriguez translate "sensory temptations" (Collected Works, p. 328) and Peers renders as "temptations of sense" (Complete Works, 1:395). The context suggests sexual temptations, thus making the notion of "sensual temptations" a more appropriate English expression.

3N1,14,1-4. The trials described in chapter 14, which John attributes to the spirit of fornication, the spirit of blasphemy and the "spiritus vertiginis" spoken of by the Prophet Isaias (Is.19:14), appear quite neurotic in origin and could be easily classified under obsessional thinking in a modern classification of neurotic disordjers (see R. J.McCall, Varieties of Abnormality, pp. 111-14). The emergence of the neurotic behavior in these persons when they are in the dark night of sense can be attributed to a stress reaction--the person's neurotic reation to the stress he experiences when he is unable to meditate or to find consolation in God and creatures. According to one theory, this stress causes the unconscious neurotic weaknesses of the person to appear in order to be healed by the dark night. (Noel Mailloux, "Sanctity and the Problem of Neurosis," Pastoral Psychology 10 (1959):37-43.) In fact, the emergence of these neurotic behaviors appears to be part of the healing process of the dark night of sense, for John states that if a person is not purified through trials of this magnitude, his sensory part (su sentido) "will not be


In guiding souls who experience lack of consolation and inability to meditate, the director must carefully discern their individual differences and adapt his direction accordingly. With those whose prayer indicates that they are not destined for the higher stages of contemplation he will not insist that they remain inactive in prayer when they clearly are able to draw fruit from meditation. And with those whose inability to meditate and severe trials suggest that God has destined them for the state of perfect union he will reassure them of God's work in their soul and encourage them to live patiently in the darkness.

Book One of The Dark Night both continues and adds new information to the theory of spiritual direction which we found in The Ascent of Mount Carmel. We see, for example, that John still considers God the primary spiritual Director who leads (llevar) persons forward in the spiritual life;1 now he adds that God guides these persons by communicating Himself to them in contemplation. As a result of this communication, one begins to grow up spiritually, replacing imperfections with virtue, loving God and others more than


strengthened in preparation for wisdom." Thus, we see again that psychological dysfunction, rather than being a sign that a person is not called to the highest stages of contemplation, may indeed be part of the purifying process by which God pre pares a person for those heights. See above, pp. 290-91.

lNl,1,1; 7,5; 8,3; 9,9; 11,3; 13,3; 14,6.



Since God guides persons primarily through His gift of contemplation, the human spiritual director best fulfills his role as God's instrument by disposing the person to receive God's communication. Disposing beginners for contemplation involves guiding them in the mortification of inordinate appetites and emotions, leading them with discretion to interior devotion, and directing them in praver and meditation.2 John describes a well-guided beginner in these words:

They, therefore, who are well-guided from the outset (bien encaminados desde estos principios) do not become attached to visible instruments [of devotion], nor burden themselves with them. They do not care to know any more than what is necessary to accomplish good works, because their eyes are fixed only upon God, upon being His friend and pleasing Him; this is what they long for (en esto tienen su codicia). They very generously give all they have. Their pleasure (su gusto) is to know how to live for love of God or neighbor without these spiritual or temporal things. As I said, their eyes are fastened on the substance of interior perfection, on pleasing God and not themselves.3

Once God leads a well-disposed person into the dark night of contemplation, the spiritual director continues to support this divine action by providing understanding to the person during the trials he suffers in this night. As God


lNl, Explanation, 1; 8,1; 10,2&4&6; 11,2; 12,1-2&4; 13, 10.

2N1, Explanation, 2; 3,1-2; 4,7-8; 6:1-2&6; 7,5; 8,3-4; 12,4-5.


pp 290-300

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