St John Of The Cross


The monastery of Los Mártires, named for the Christians killed by the Moors in Granada, was situated at the foot of the Alhambra, the masterpiece of Moslem architecture in Spain, and possessed a splendid view of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada to the east. John resided here for six years as superior of a community that grew from about 15 to 30 religious during his tenure of office.

In addition to his duties as prior of Los Mártires, John was for a year-and-a-half--from October, 1585, to April, 1587--vicar-provincial of the Discalced Carmelites in Andalusia. The eight monasteries of friars and five convents of nuns for which he was responsible were scattered over an area of 30,000 square miles, from Caravaca in the east to Sevilla in the west, from La Peñuela in the north to Málaga in the south. To visit each community at least once a year as his office required meant almost continual travel, either by foot or by donkey, frequently under a blazing sun, over dusty, red roads which were often rugged and winding, and spending nights in boisterous roadside inns. But these journeys also had their compensations, for they often provided whole days of silence passing through the beautiful Andalusian countryside, giving John the opportunity for prayerful and poetic meditation on God's wonders of nature.

The ten years in Andalusia were for John an "endurance of darkness." Like Jonah, he considered himself "vomited... upon this alien port." Separated from his native


Castile and those he loved most in life, he felt "abandoned and alone"1 among the Andalusians whose lively temperaments were so foreign to his own gentle nature. His mother and Teresa of Avila both died in Castile during this period and distance made it impossible for John to be with either of them in her last hours. Increasingly, he longed to seek God in solitude and prayer and instead found growing administrative responsibilities. "The Lord gives us so much to do these days," he wrote in 1586, "that we can hardly keep up with it all."2

The Andalusian exile ended in June, 1588, with the Chapter of Madrid which elected Nicholas Doria the new vicar-general of the Discalced friars. John of the Cross was made Doria's first definitor and a member of the governing consulta. This required that John reside with Doria in the old Roman City of Segovia, now the headquarters of the Reform. Although he was once again in his native Castile, his heavy administrative burdens continued, for in addition to his role on the consulta, he served as prior of the Segovia monastery until June of 1591.

Throughout these busy years, John maintained his ministry of spiritual direction with a variety of persons,


1 Letter to Madre Catalina de Jesús, from Baeza, July 6, 1581, Collected Works, p. 685.

2Letter to Madre Ana de San Alberto, from Sevilla, June, 1586, Collected Works, p. 686.


beginning with his own Carmelite brothers. As prior, rector, definitor, and vicar-provincial, he never limited his role as religious superior to administration, but took as his primary concern the spiritual growth of his fellow religious. Father Crisógono relates an example of this concern during the period he was prior in Granada:

... In the evenings he sent for his subjects, one each night, and questioned them as to their spirit, the way they were following in prayer, the progress they were making in it, the temptations that beset them, the virtues they were practising. He then gave them counsels for the interior life, according to the particular disposition of each one.1

He paid special attention to the emotional life of his religious and when he found one of them sad and disheartened ("triste y desconsolado"), he would go for a walk with him in the garden or in the country, attempting to replace the friar's low spirits with contentment and consolation ("contento y consolado").2

The intellectual content of John's direction of his Carmelite brothers may be seen in a letter he wrote from Segovia in 1589 to one of the friars who sought his advice. The letter reveals the practical applications for the spiritual life which John drew from his understanding of God and human psychology.


lLife, p. 195.

2Vida y Obras, no. 102, p. 226.


May the peace of Jesus Christ, my son, be always in your soul. I received Your Reverence's letter in which you told me of the great desires Our Lord gives you to occupy your will in Him alone by loving Him above all things, and in which you asked for some counsels to help you do this . . . .

. . . In order to be united with Him, the will emptied of and detached from all disordered appetite and satisfaction in every particular thing in which it can rejoice, whether earthly or heavenly, temporal or spiritual, so that purged and cleansed of all inordinate satisfactions, joys, and appetites it might be wholly occupied in loving God with its affections. For if in any way the will can comprehend God and be united with Him, it is through love, and not through any gratification of the appetite....The will's operation is quite distinct from the will's feeling: by its operation, which is love, the will is united with God and terminates in Him, and not by the feeling and gratification of its appetite which remains in the soul and goes no further. The feelings only serve as stimulants to love, if the will desires to pass beyond them, and they serve for no more. Thus the delightful feelings do not of themselves lead the soul to God, but rather cause it to become attached to them. But the operation of the will, which is the love of God, concentrates the affection, joy, pleasure, satisfaction, and love of the soul only upon God, leaving aside all things and loving Him above them all....Since God is incomprehensible and inaccessible, the will, if it is to center its activity of love upon Him, must not set it upon that which it can touch and apprehend with the appetite, but on that which is incomprehensible and inaccessible to the appetite. Loving in this way, a soul loves truly and certainly according to the demands of faith, also in emptiness and darkness concerning its feelings, above all the sentiments it may experience in understanding its concepts, so that it believes and loves above everthing it can understand . . . .

It is very important and fitting for Your Reverence, if you desire to possess profound peace in your soul and attain perfection, that you surrender your whole will to God that it may thus be united with Him and that you do not let it be occupied with the vile and base things of earth.


John resumed his spiritual direction of the Carmelite nuns soon after his arrival in Andalusia when he became regular confessor to the community at Beas de Segura, located seven miles from El Calvario. Each Saturday morning for six months, he made the two hour trip on foot over the mountain that separated El Calvario from Beas and remained at the convent until Monday, hearing the confessions of the nuns, conferring with those who wished to see him privately, administering the sacraments, and discussing Sacred Scripture and other spiritual books with the community. This ministry was reduced to once a month following his transfer to Granada, although he maintained contact with the community through his letters. On November 18, 1586, he wrote the following to the nuns at Beas from Málaga:

Jesus be in your souls, my daughters.

Do you think that, since you see me so silent, I have lost sight of you and have ceased considering how with great ease you can become saints and walk in the joy of your beloved Bridegroom with great delight and sure protection? I am coming to Beas, and you will see how I have not forgotten. And we shall see the riches gained in pure love and in the paths of eternal life and the beautiful steps you are making in Christ, whose brides are His delight and crown...


1Letter to a Discalced Carmelite friar, from Segovia, April 14, 1589, Collected Works, pp. 692-95.


Serve God, my beloved daughters in Christ, following in His footsteps of mortification, in utter patience, in total silence, and with every desire to suffer, becoming executioners of your own satisfactions, mortifying yourselves, if perhaps something remains that must die and something still impedes the inner resurrection of the Spirit Who dwells within your souls. Amen.

In both Granada and Segovia, where the Carmelites had a convent in each city, John was again regular weekly confessor to the nuns. Because of the proximity of each convent to his own monastery, he participated actively in the life of the community, joining in their discussions and recreation, helping them with major decisions, and making himself available to serve his sisters whenever they needed him. As vicar-provincial, he visited each convent in Andalusia regularly, knew personally each nun in his jurisdiction, and continued to guide several of them by letter after his return to Castile.2

John regarded his office as confessor and director of the Discalced Carmelite nuns, not a routine duty to be performed perfunctorily, but as a service of love. He fully entered the hearts of these women, sharing both their prob-


1Letter to the Discalced Carmelite nuns of Beas, from Málaga, November 18, 1586, Collected Works, pp. 687-88.

2See letters to Leonor de San Gabriel, María de Jesús, and Magdalena del Éspiritu Santo, nos. 14-17 & 20, in Collected Works, pp. 696-701.


lems and aspirations, and creating bonds of deep personal affection. This may be seen in a letter to Madre Ana de Jesús Jimena who was distressed that his imminent departure from.Segovia would mean the end of his spiritual direction.

. . . Leaving or staying, wherever or however things may come to pass, I will neither forget nor neglect you, as you say, because truly I desire your good forever.

Now, until God gives us this good in heaven, pass the time in the virtues of mortification and patience, desiring to resemble somewhat in suffering this great God of ours, humbled and crucified. This life is not good if it is not an imitation of His life. May His majesty preserve you and augment His love in you as in His holy beloved. Amen.

From Madrid, July 6, 1591
Fray Juan de la Cruzi1
John directed numerous Carmelite nuns during these years, but none more illustrious than Ann of Jesus Lobera. A woman of extraordinary beauty, intelligence, and insight, Domingo Báñez, the great theologian of Salamanca and advisor to Teresa of Avila, regarded her as equal to Teresa in sanctity and superior in ability.2 Teresa, too, thought highly of her talents and valued her contribution to the growth of the Reform. After serving as prioress in the Spanish Carmels in Beas, Granada, and Madrid, she introduced the Reform to France and Flanders. She died in Brussels on March 4, 1621, at the age of 75.


lLetter to Madre Ana de Jesús [Jimena], from Madrid, July 6, 1591, Collected Works, pp. 702-3.

2Bruno, St. John of the Cross, p. 187. For details on the life of Ann of Jesus, see Silverio de Santa Teresa, His-


Three years younger than John, Ann was born of aristocratic parents in Medina del Campo in 1545. Although they grew up in the same city, it is unlikely due to the different social positions of their families that they knew each other before they entered Teresa's Reform. As Carmelites, they met briefly for the first time in 1570 at Mancera, but it was only after John arrived eight years later in Andalusia that their remarkable relationship began.

Ann was prioress in Beas de Segura when John became confessor to that community in 1579. When he left El Calvario to open the college at Baeza, she assisted him by gaining the support of her influential friends for his project. Together they founded the Discalced convent in Granada in 1582. For the next four years, Ann was prioress of this community and John was its regular confessor. In 1586, Ann returned to Castile as prioress of the new convent in Madrid. John returned to Castile two years later and there he came to Ann's support at the Chapter of Madrid in 1591 when he opposed Doria's efforts to separate the nuns from the Order.

John was Ann's confessor, spiritual director, advisor, and intimate friend for 13 years. Not only did they col-


toria del Carmen Descalzo España, Portugal, y America, vol. 8 (Burgos: El Monte Carmelo, 1937), pp. 485-517; Winifred Nevin, Heirs of Saint Teresa of Avila (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Company, 1959). Ildefonso Moriones, Ana de Jesus y La Herencia Teresiana (Rome: Edizioni del Teresianum, 1968).


laborate closely in advancing Teresa's Reform, but they were also united in a bond of love founded on prayer and longing for God. So closely did they share the graces that God worked in each of their lives that, 25 years after John's death in the process of his beatification, Ann declined to give full testimony regarding his interior life because she feared this would reveal too much of her own.1 They possessed a mutual respect for the mystical heights they attained. In 1584, when they were together in Granada, Ann recognized John's intense union with God reflected in his poem, The Spiritual Canticle, and requested that he write a commentary upon its stanzas. In addressing Ann in the prologue of the treatise, John reveals his estimation of her spiritual attainments.

. . . . I will briefly deal with the more extraordinary [effects of prayer], which take place in those who with God's help have passed beyond the state of beginners. I do this for two reasons: first, because there are many writings for beginners; second, because I am addressing Your Reverence, at your request. And our Lord has favored you and led you beyond the state of beginners into the depths of His divine love.

I hope that, although some scholastic theology is used here in reference to the soul's interior converse with God, it will not prove vain to speak in such a manner to the pure of spirit. Even though Your Reverence lacks training in scholastic theology by which the divine truths are understood, you are not wanting in mystical theology which is known through love and by which one not only knows but at the same time experiences.2


lBruno, St. John of the Cross, p. 197.

2C, Prologue, 3.


Outside the Carmelite family, John rendered spiritual service to a variety of religious persons. At Baeza, members of the university faculty came to him for spiritual direction and discussion of religious issues. In Granada, he was regular confessor to two groups of beatae, pious women devoted to education of noble girls. In Segovia, the diocesan clergy consulted him regularly about the spiritual life. John's priesthood was entirely devoted to spirituality and he attained an expertise in this area which was both theoretical and practical. He was thus a valuable resource for persons committed to the life of the spirit, but whose active involvement in other ministries prevented them from achieving John's depth of spiritual understanding.

John was also confessor and director for numerous lay persons. For example, Diego Navarro, a silversmith from Ubeda, traveled regularly to El Cavario to receive his guidance. John also directed Doña Ana de Peñalosa, a wealthy widow and benefactress of the Carmelites, together with her family and household in both Granada and Segovia. His fellow friars in Segovia once commented when he met with Doña Ana and her niece that "Now St. Jerome, St. Paula, and St. Eustochium are together speaking of God."1 The quality of his relationship with these persons and the character of his direction is reflected in a letter he wrote to another of


1Life, p. 261.

pp 70-80

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