St John Of The Cross


through contemplation, the spiritual director's role in the night of spirit is perforce an auxiliary one. In fact, as the person's union with God grows more perfect, he derives motivation and guidance more from the contemplative love in his heart than from an "exterior guide (guía exterior)."l Nonetheless, a good director can greatly facilitate this growth in his directee by helping him to prepare for and cooperate with God's purifying and unifying action in his life.

First, the director helps his directee to dispose himself continually to receive God's Self-communication. Through the years when the person is in the state of proficients, the director guides his practice of contemplative prayer, teaching him how to be present to God in the solitude and depths of his own soul, and fosters his growth in faith, hope, and love, encouraging him to let go of conscious, inordinate attachments.2 As we saw in The Ascent of Mount Carmel, a person prepares himself throughout the entire spiritual journey to receive God's action by walking in faith, hope, and love through prayer and mortification; the director's task is to help the person stay on this "pure road of virtue and authentic spirituality (camino puro de la_virtud y verdadero espíritu)."3

A director's second contribution to his directee's


1N2, Poem, third stanza N2,25,4.

2N2,1,1-3; N2,17,6; N2, chap. 21; N2,23,3-4&11-14.



spiritual growth begins when God places the directee in the night of the spirit. At this point, the director's role becomes primarily supportive: he sustains his directee as God purifies him of the remaining imperfections which prevent his perfect union with God. This purification also may last a number of years, depending on the depth of the person's imperfections and the degree of divine union to which God wishes to raise the soul.1 Accordingly, the director's supportive role may also last for years until his directee's union with God is achieved.

A director sustains a person during the dark night by teaching him the nature, necessity, and benefits of purgative contemplation. He explains that through its effects on human cognition and affectivity, "mystical theology" purifies the entire person; that without this infusion of loving knowledge, a person cannot achieve perfect union with God; that the interior suffering caused by this inflow of divine light and love into the soul is the source of many theological and psychological benefits (tantos y tan aventajados bienes de Dios). In understanding (entender) the nature, necessity, and benefits of purgative contemplation, the person finds courage (se animen) to endure the trials of the night of spirit.2

In addition to instruction, the director also sustains


lN2,7,4; 8,2; 9,3.



his directee with deep compassion (gránde compasión) during his purgative suffering. Because the interior trials of the dark night are the principal means of purifying a person's imperfections, the director does not attempt to protect his directee from these trials nor minimize them in any way; rather he remains present to him with compassion throughout the duration of his trials. One advances to union with God through suffering, "a surer and even more advantageous road than that of joy and action (el camino de padecer es más seguro y aun provechoso_que el de gozar y hacer)."1 Yet without the understanding support of a director, one might easily turn back from this frightening road.2

To fulfill his helping role, the director must have a thorough knowledge of the spiritual life, including not only the phenomena associated with its three major developmental stages but also the purifying and unifying effects of "mystical theology," the infused loving knowledge of God.3 Furthermore, because purgative contemplation profoundly affects a person's psychological life, the director must also have an adequate grasp of personality development and psychopathology as a basis for differentiating spiritual growth from psychological disorder. Purgative contemplation often




3N2,5,1; 12,5; 17,2&6; 20,6.


causes temporary disorientation in normal behavior as one relinquishes old habits of imperfection or symptoms of grief and depression as one dies to self;1 but this purification also normally produces a strengthening of the human spirit which is manifested by fortitude (fortaleza) in the love and service of God.2 When this fortitude is lacking, a director must evaluate whether the emotional distress he observes in his directee is an effect of spiritual purgation or a symptom of pyschological dysfunction.3

The spiritual director's understanding of the spiritual life ought thus to encompass the intimate interrelationship between psychological and spiritual phenomena. For example, his belief that imperfection or neurotic fixation is basically a spiritual problem, rooted in a faulty relationship with God, should not lead him to disregard other possible etiological factors; nor should his awareness of the psychotherapeutic benefits of contemplation cause him to overlook the help which psychotherapy can provide in some cases to those who undertake the road to perfection. With an integrated understanding of the psychospiritual phenomena associated with


lN2,8,1; 8,6-9; 16,1.

2N2,3,2; 5,6; 7,7; 11,3&7; 13,9; 16,9&14; 23,4. See also N1,9,3-6.

3Assagioli notes the importance of this differential "diagnosis" for determining "treatment" plans. See his chapter "Self-Realization and Psychological Disturbances," in Psychosynthesis (New York: The Viking Press, 1965), pp. 35-59.


the spiritual journey, the spiritual director will be prepared to support his directee more knowledgeably during the trials of the night of spirit.1

To fulfill his helping role, the spiritual director must also possess the ability to convey to his directee a sensitive understanding of his--the directee's- experiences (sentimientos) as God guides him to divine union through contemplation. A person "receives this contemplation and loving knowledge in distress and longings of love."2 God's Self- communication immerses "the mind in the knowledge and feeling (la profunda inmersión que tiene de la mente en el conocimiento y el sentimiento) of one's own miseries and evils."3


1Theoretically, a distinction might be made between spiritual direction and psychotherapy based on John's two major divisions of the human person, namely sense (el sentido) and spirit (el espíritu). On this basis, psychotherapy would pertain to the life of sense and function in cooperation with the practice of meditative prayer and the active and passive nights of sense which bring a person's sense life into harmony with his spirit: spiritual direction, on the other hand, would pertain more to the life of spirit and function in cooperation with contemplative prayer and the active and passive nights of spirit which order one's entire life to God.In practice, these two helping modes overlap principally because of the dynamic unity that is the human person. Thus, spiritual directors must deal with the imperfections of beginners in matters that pertain to sense; and "much of contemporary psychotherapy, knowingly or unknowingly, is dealing with those processes and qualities that at one time were called "spiritual" (see Orlo Strunk, Jr., "New Faces of Spiritual Pride," Pastoral Psychology 25 (Winter 1976 :103). Theoretically and practically, it would benefit both psychotherapists and spiritual directors to define as clearly as possible the similarities and differences between these two helping modes.




By means of this painful knowledge and feeling (conocimiento y sentimiento), God frees the person of attachment to self and prepares him for the blessings of divine union.1 In this bitter experience, one feels (sentir) the undoing (el alma se siente estar deschaciendo y derritiendo) of the false inner security rooted in imperfection;2 the death taking place within (sombre de muerte y gemidos de muerte y dolores de infierno siente el alma muy a lo vivo);3 and the anxieties of love (sintiendo esta ansia in la inflamada. herida).4

However, beneficial these feelings (sentimientos) may be for preparing one for divine union, their pain is beyond description and they leave one inconsolable.5 John vividly describes the distress one feels during this night of purification:

One ought to have deep compassion (grande compasión) for the soul God puts in this tempestuous and frightful night. It may be true that the soul is fortunate because of what is being accomplished within it, for the great blessings will proceed from this night. . . . Nevertheless the soul is deserving of great pity (gran dolor y lástima) because of the immense tribulation it suffers and its extreme uncertainty about a remedy. It believes, as Jeremiah says (Lam.3:18), that its evils will never end. And it feels as David that God has placed it in darkness like the dead of old, and that its






5N2,6,2; 9,7; 15,1.


spirit as a result is in anguish within it and its heart troubled (Ps.142:3-4).

Added to this, because of the solitude and desolation this night causes, is the fact that a person in this state finds neither consolation nor support in any doctrine or spiritual director (no hallar consuelo ni arrimo en ninguna doctrina ni en maestro espiritual). Aithough his spiritual director may point out many reasons for being comforted on account of the blessings contained in these afflictions, he cannot believe this (no lo puede creer). Because he is engulfed and immersed in that sentiment (sentimiento) of evils by which he so clearly sees his own miseries, he believes his directors say these things because they do not understand him and do not see what he sees and feels (parécele que, como ellos no ven_lo_que ella ve y siente, no la entendiendo dicen aquello). instead of consolation he experiences greater sorrow thinking that the director's doctrine is no remedy for his evil. Indeed, it is not a remedy, for until the Lord finishes purging Him in the way He desires, no remedy is a help to him in his sorrow.1

In this passage, we note that in times of purification a person feels so desolate that he is unable to be consoled by his director; indeed, his director's attempt to reassure him with doctrinal explanations concerning the process and benefits of purgative contemplation may only increase the person's feeling of helplessness. At such times, the director helps his directee best by being present to him with pity and compassion and by attempting to understand the directee's sufferings as he sees and feels them (lo que ella ve y siente).

Besides conveying sensitive understanding of the interior trials caused by contemplation, the director must also communicate to the directee an appreciation of the more delicate


1N2,7,3. See also N2,9,9; 21,5.


experiences of God in the depths of the soul (sentimientos espirituales). In contemplation, God infuses His loving wisdom directly into the soul without the active use of the human faculties, a communication "of Pure Spirit to the spirit alone."l This ineffable experience occurs without images or concepts; hence, no images or concepts adequately describe it. Because of its ineffability, the person not only feels "unwilling to give expression to this wisdom (ninguna gana le dé al alma de decirla), but he finds no adequate means or similitude to signify so sublime an understanding and so delicate a spiritual feeling (inteligencia tan subida y sentimiento espiritual tan delicado."2

Although in Book Two of The Ascent of Mount Carmel, John strongly encourages persons to give an account of their religious experiences to their directors, he also recognizes the difficulty this presents for persons receiving infused contemplation.

We understand, then, why some persons who tread this road (este camino) and desire to give an account of this experience to their director (a quien las rige) --for they are good and God-fearing--are unable to describe it. They feel great repugnance in speaking about it, especially when the contemplation is so simple that they are hardly aware of it (que la misma alma apenas la siente). All they can manage to say is that they are satisfied, quiet, and content, and aware of God, and that in their opinion all goes well (satisfecha y quieta y contenta, o decir que sienten a Dios y que les va bien,





Appreciating the inner experiences of these persons, the director will not demand detailed descriptions of what is essentially indescribable.

A director, then, effectively assists God's work in a directee by conveying to him a sensitive understanding of his contemplative experiences, both purgative and illuminative.2 Moreover, the director's ability to communicate this



2In the person-centered approach to psychotherapy, one essential element in the psychotherapeutic relationship which fosters personal growth in clients is the therapist's ability to experience "an empathic understanding of the client's internal frame of reference." By internal frame of reference is meant "all of the realm of experience which is available to the awareness of the individual at a given moment. It includes the full range of sensations, perceptions, meanings, and memories, which are available to consciousness." It is "the subjective world of the individual." For a therapist to experience empathically a client's internal frame of reference is "to perceive the internal frame of reference of another with accuracy, and with the emotional components and meanings which pertain thereto, as if one were the other person, but without ever losing the 'as if' condition. Thus it means to sense the hurt or the pleasure of another as he senses it, and to perceive the causes thereof as he perceives them, but with- out ever losing the recognition that it is as if I were hurt or pleased, etc." These concepts express accurately what is meant here by a director's ability to convey to the directee sensitive understanding of his contemplative experiences. In times of purgative or illuminative contemplation, when explanations, reassurances, or probing inquiries seem ineffective, the director's ability to convey a sensitive (or empathic) understanding of his directee's contemplative experiences (or his subjective world) enables the directee himself to explore further and discover the meaning of his own experiences. As mounting research evidence "points strongly to the conclusion that a high degree of empathy in a relationship is possibly the most potent and certainly one


understanding better equips him to help persons in their contemplative experiences even more than his actually experiencing these same phenomena himself. Because contemplative phenomena result from God's free Self-communication rather than human effort, a director cannot be expected to have received these phenomena, no matter how faithful he is to the practices of the spiritual life. Yet, even without these experiences, a director may nonetheless advance God's work in his directee by his sensitive understanding of the directee's contemplative experiences and by not retarding the divine action through inappropriate reassurances or unreasonable demands for detailed accounts of ineffable mystical experiences.1

The above discussion calls our attention to the subject matter of spiritual direction as revealed in Book Two of The Dark Night, a topic we can view in two ways. Subjectively, the subject matter of spiritual direction is the directee's


of the most potent factors in bringing about change and learning," so also may it be the most crucial element in the spiritual direction relationship, especially during the directee's experiences of purgative and illuminative contemplation. Certainly, the ability to communicate this sensitive understanding is the precise quality that enables a director to be "a confident companion to the person in his/her inner world." See Rogers, "Therapy, Personality, and Interpersonal Relationships," pp. 210-15; "Empathic: An Unappreciated Way of Being," The Counseling Psychologist, 5 (1977):2-5.

lFor a discussion of experiences required of the spiritual director, see William A. Barry, "The Prior Experience of Spiritual Directors," Spiritual Life, 23 (Summer 1977): 84-89.


psychological experience (sentimientos), especially the emotional 'ups and downs" resulting from infused contemplation.These experiences manifest the unique way God guides a particular individual to divine union. Objectively, the subject matter is the person's growth in virtue (virtudes), especially the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. The virtues reflect one's union with God. When that union is perfect, the virtues are perfect, the dark night is over, human perfection is achieved, and the person is transformed into a divine mode of acting. In their dialogues, the director and directee normally pay more attention to the subjective experiences (sentimientos)--both sufferings and delights--of the directee in the dark night, for the directee is more conscious of these than his virtues; however, they must also occasionally assess the directee's object growth in virtue (virtudes), for this indicates the effect of these subjective experiences in the person's life.1

It should be noted here that the direction process also demands as much faith from the director as from the directee. Although the director may know the general stages of development in the spiritual life, he cannot know in advance God's particular plan for or unique manner of guiding his directee until God Himself reveals this in the experience of the


1N2,7,7; 9,9; 10,2; 16,3&9; 10,6;-18,1-4; 21,3-12. See also pp. 325-27 above.


directee.1 Furthermore, the meaning of one's experience is often not discovered until after God's purpose has been accomplished in a person; for, in divine contemplation, "the divine things and perfections are not known as they are in themselves while they are being sought and acquired, but when they are already found and acquired."2 Thus, the direction process, which seeks to discover God's unique manner of guiding a person to divine union, is a journey in dark faith for both the director and directee.

John does not treat extensively of discernment in Book Two of The Dark Night; but he does provide a rule of thumb for determining whether one's contenplative experiences are supernatural and spiritual (the result of divinely infused contemplation) or only natural and human (the result of human activity alone). The question is an important one, for many persons have a natural inclination toward God and spiritual things and a natural facility (facilidad natural) for employing their appetites and faculties in them, resulting in satisfying contemplative phenomena. However, one may discern contemplative experiences to be infused by God only when there is within the person a corresponding purification of inordinate attachments in the human faculties and appetites;


lN2,7,3; 8,2; 9,3.

2N2,17,8. See entire chapter 17 for a discussion of the "secrecy of this dark contemplation."


for God's wisdom and love are not able to be infused into a person attached to his own self and his own natural manner of acting. Thus, contemplative experiences which exist together with inordinate attachments to merely human ways of knowing and loving may be judged as coming from a natural or humanly acquired contemplation rather than from divinely infused contemplation.1

The terminology of Book Two speaks of spiritual direction in terms of guidance. God, the person's main teacher and guide (maestro y guía), leads (guiar) him along the dark road (camino) to divine union, teaching (ensena) and instructing (instruye) him through the infused love and knowledge of contemplation.2 The human director is spoken of as a spiritual master (maestro espiritual).3 one who teaches (enseñar)4 and directs (regir)5 others. Thus, spiritual direction is viewed as fundamentally a guidance process in which a person is taught how to walk along the road leading to union with God.

Finally, John regards a directee in the dark night of spirit as a person well advanced on the road to divine union



2N2,4,1; 16,7-8&12; 17,7-8; 19,3; chap. 25.





whose intense longing for God sustains him in every spiritual trial.1 Such persons are "good and God-fearing," open to receive spiritual guidance for their journey, and cooperative with.their directors.2 At the same time, they are not overly dependent upon a director: they can interpret their own experience and assess their own growth; continue their journey when they derive no satisfaction from their directors; and refuse counsel advising moderation of their desire to grow.3 In fact, they are capable of progressing without a director, relying on the internal guidance God gives them through infused contemplation.4 Furthermore, the individuality of the directee is emphasized in Book Two. God accommodates his Self-communication both to the "mode (modo)" of human nature and to the "capacity and necessity (capacidad y necesidad)" of each person.5 God communicates His loving wisdom according to the depth and degree of imperfection which must be purged and to the degree of divine union to which He destines the person.6 Thus, each directee in the dark night of spirit experiences God's divine guidance in his own unique way.


lN2,1,1; chaps. 19 and 20.

2N2,16,8; 17,5.

3N2,18,5; 20,2; 21,5; 22,2.



6N2,2,3; 6,5; 7,3; 8,2; 9,3; 10,7.



Book Two of The Dark Night describes the final, painful purification of the human spirit (el espíritu) which prepares a person for union with God in love. By communicating his own loving wisdom to the person, God uproots the soul's deep-seated imperfections and inordinate attachments, thus freeing the intellect, memory, and will for perfect union with the Divine Spirit in faith, hope, and love. This inflow of God into the soul (which is called infused contemplation) causes profound interior suffering for a person; yet this dark contemplation is the secure, secret, gradual road to union with God. Considered from either a psychological or a theological view point, union with God through love is the perfection of the human personality.

Although God is the primary Director who guides persons to divine union through infused contemplation, the human spiritual director helps persons respond to the divine guidance by encouraging their growth in prayer and detachment, teaching them the nature of infused contemplation, and sustaining them with sensitive understanding during periods of intense contemplative experience. To provide this help, the director must possess an integrated understanding of both spirituality (especially "mystical theology") and psychology (especially theories of personality development, psychopathology, and psychotherapy) and the ability to communicate to


directees a sensitive understanding of their contemplative experiences, both purgative and unitive.

During the final stage of the spiritual journey (which is called the passive night of spirit), the subject matter of the spiritual direction relationship is the directee's experience, especially his contemplative experiences and his growth in virtue. To fulfill his role during this period, the director must walk in faith with the directee, both together discovering the unique way God is guiding the directee. When discernment of the nature of contemplative experiences is called for, this judgment is based on the directee's degree of detachment from self and natural ways of knowing and loving.

According to the terminology used in Book Two, spiritual direction is a guidance process in which God, by means of infused contemplation and assisted at times by a human director, leads generous, experienced, and advanced persons along their own unique roads to the degree of divine union He chooses for them.

pp 356-377

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