St John Of The Cross


way of behaving (ennaturalizada en estas pasiones e imperfecciones).1 Moreover, they create a false peace or security, allowing the person the illusion that he knows and serves God adequately, whereas he is still strongly attached to his own natural apprehensions and affections.2 Although slight in comparison to the person's sins and imperfections before his conversion, these natural attachments deprive the person of the freedom to be completely united with Divine Wisdom.3

As a person sees his imperfections in the divinely infused light of contemplation, he gradually gives up his inordinate attachments to particular knowledge and objects, thus becoming increasingly free for union with God. In this way the spiritual faculties of intellect, memory, and will are disposed to be transformed into a divine manner of knowing and loving. In addition, the person experiences transformation in relation to created being. No longer "particularized by any distinct object or affection (no se




3N2,9,1-2; 13,10-11. As seen in Book Two of The Dark Night, John's notion of "imperfection" is that of an unconscious, lifelong habit deeply rooted in the soul which provides emotional security, but deprives one of the realization of his full cognitive potential. In this sense, an "imperfection" is more than a "peccadillo" that one can remove from his life at will; it is rather more like'what modern psychology calls a neurotic fixation. Imperfections of this kind, in John's opinion, are only completely overcome with God's help (N2,13,11).


particulariza a ningún particular inteligible ni afección)," he is free to embrace "all things with great preparedness (lo abraza todo con grande disposición)."l Commenting on this openness to created being resulting from infused contemplation, John writes:

Despite its benefits, infused contemplation produces "affliction and torment (pena y tormento)." This pain arises, not from the divine light itself, but rather from the "weakness and imperfection of the person who receives it (de la flaqueza e imperfección que tiene el alma).3 John explains:



2N2,9,1. The freedom to experience all things which results from contemplation is analogous to the openness to experience which results from successful psychotherapy, an analogy that suggests once again the value of further research into the relationship between contemplation and psychotherapy. Regarding openness to experience as a result of psychotherapy, see Carl R. Rogers, On Becoming a Person, pp. 115-18, 173-74, 187-88, 353-54.

3N2,5, Title; 10,4.


Contemplation is painful because it reveals to a person his weakness and impurity in contrast to the purity and strength of God. The awareness (sentir) of this contrast is one of the major afflictions in the night of the spirit,2 causing one to feel (sentir) unworthy of God and of human friendship.3

Contemplation also causes a person to feel disoriented as he lets go of the inordinate attachments that for years provided his emotional security, John vividly describes this process:


lN2,13,10. See also N2,5,7; 9,10-11; 10,4; 16,11.


3N2,5,5; 6,3; 7,7. See also the entirety of chapters 5 & 6.


Contemplation causes spiritual warfare, turning the person's soul into a battlefield where the Divine Light gradually overcomes the resistance of human darkness.2 This interior conflict usually lasts for years--alternating between periods of profound peace and intense inner struggle, often disturbing such areas of one's life as prayer and concentration upon normal duties--until the person finally releases the last of his inordinate attachments and becomes fully united with the Divine Light.3

Perhaps the most profound suffering in the dark night is the death to self caused by the divine illumination. The sufferings of this night are "sad experiences (cosas tristes)"4 associated with "a cruel spiritual death (muerte de espíritu



2N2,5,4; 9,9.

3N2,7,4; 8,1-2.



cruel)."1 God's self-communication not only brings an end (se acabó) to a person's natural way of acting,2 but also leaves him in mourning over his loss. John describes the person's losses and grief in this way.

The darkness the soul mentions here relates to the sensory, the interior, and the spiritual appetites and faculties, because this night darkens their natural light so that through the purgation of this light they may be illumined supernaturally. It puts the sensory and spiritual appetites to sleep, deadens them (amortiguados) and deprives them of the ability to find pleasure (gustar) in anything. It binds the imagination and impedes it from doing any good discursive work. It makes the memory cease, the intellect become dark and unable to understand anything, and hence it causes the will also to become arid and constrained, and all the faculties empty and useless. And over all this hangs a dense and burdensome cloud which afflicts the soul and keeps it withdrawn from God (sobre todo esto, una espesa y pesada nube sobre el alma, que la tiene angustiada y ajenada de Dios).3

The death to one's natural way of life caused by contemplation is thus more than a figure of speech; it is a true separation and loss involving all the psychological pain and grief associated with physical death. God's self-communica-




3N2,16,1. See also the following references in which the sufferings of the dark night are expressed in the language of death and mourning: N2,5,5-6 (acabar . . . morir); 6,1 (sepulcro de oscura muerte); 6,2 (doliente el alma . . . sombra de muerte y gemidos de muerte y dolores de infierno siente el alma a lo vivo); 7,1 (dolor); 7,3(llantos . .. la somra de muerte . . . dolor); 9,7 (dolor y gemido . . . lagrimas); 9,9 (acabo), 10,10 (lagrimas); 13,5 (morir); 13,8 (muriendo de amor). Cf. A2,7,6.


tion to the person causes a real spiritual death and resurrection; and as one is reborn in the spirit he suffers fully the loss of his former life.1

A person in the dark night of spirit is neither able to describe his suffering nor be consoled or comforted by others. He feels that no one truly understands his grief and he cannot believe the reassurances of his spiritual director that God is working great blessings in his life through his sufferings.2 Nevertheless, the person's virtues remain firm:

Comparing the condition of those who experience purgative contemplation to that of the souls in purgatory, John writes:


1N2,6,1; 9,6; 13,11.

2N2,6,2; 7,3; 9,9; 21,5.



God's Self-communication is thus for the soul both a theological and psychological experience. objectively and theologically, the person grows steadily in the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love which are the proximate means of union with God.2 Subjectively and psychologically, this growth is experienced as emotional highs and lows, successive periods of inner consolation and desolation, usually lasting for years, until the person is purified of his inordinate attachments and arrives finally at the abiding peace found in perfect union with God.3 Explaining the psycho-theological character of this ascent to union with God, John writes:




3N2,7,3-6; 8,2; 9,3.


Using examples drawn from nature and Sacred Scripture, John illustrates the process by which the light of God's Self- communication purges a person of its imperfections in preparation for divine union. In nature we observe that before fire transforms a piece of wood into its own flame, it first dries it, then darkens it, and finally kindles it. Similarly, the loving knowledge of God causes a person to feel dryness, then darkness, and finally the abiding warmth of God's life.2

This purgative and transforming process can also be seen in figures of the Old Testament--most notably in Jeremiah and Job--whom God first purifies before bestowing His blessings





upon them.1 In these Old Testament persons, John sees the prototypes of the experiences caused by God in all persons in the dark night of spirit. Through the divine light of God's Self-communication, these persons are purified in the cognitive domain by the knowledge they receive of themselves and of God. By means of this divinely infused knowledge, and with considerable psychological pain, they give up their deeply rooted attachment to self and become united to Divine Wisdom.

We have seen how God's Self-communication purifies and unites the human intellect with Divine Wisdom; we shall now see how the same infused loving knowledge of God transforms the human will into the Divine Will. As stated earlier, a person not only gains a deeper insight into his own misery through the light of contemplation, but also grows in an awareness of.the goodness of God. As this awareness increases, the person becomes kindled with love for God (con ansias, en amores inflamada)2 at the same time that he is being emptied of love of self.

According to John, this love of God is enkindled deep within the human spirit and gives rise to the emotion of love


lN2,5,5-7;6,1-3; 7,1-3; 8,1-2; 9,6-9. For an enlightening study of John's use of the Book of Job, see Lawrence Sullivan, "The Moralia of Pope St. Gregory the Great and Its Influence on St. John of the Cross," pp. 453-88.

2N2,10,10. Chapters 11-13 explain the nature of this love.


(pasión de amor).l Although God is the object of this love, the person experiences (sentir) the emotion in a fully human way. The emotion grows gradually, with intermittent periods of great intensity. It is filled with desire and anxiety (deseo y ansia de parte del amor en las entrañas del espíritu). The person longs desperately for God, yet fears he shall never possess Him due to his own imperfections. He worries that God may even reject him.2 This emotion of love is thus very painful and "wounds" the soul.3 At the same time, this love causes the person to be bold and daring in doing anything that will bring him to union with God. Mary Magdalene exemplifies such love in her desire to serve Christ and to find Him when He had been taken away.3

Once this love bursts forth in the spirit, it continues to grow in a predictable, observable fashion. Following a schema erroneously attributed to Saints Bernard and Thomas, John describes the ten steps on "the mystical ladder of divine love (la escala mística de amor divino),"5 beginning with the soul's first painful longings for God and ending with the soul's complete assimilation to God in the beatific vision. On each ascending step of this ladder, the divine love affects


lN2,11,2; 13,3.




5N2,19, Title.

pp 330-340

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