St John Of The Cross


his directees, Doña Juana de Pedraza, a 25-year-old woman he directed in Granada. Upset by his departure from Granada and in a state of desolation, she had written to John in Segovia asking his help. He replied:

Jesus be in your soul and thanks to Him that He has enabled me not to forget the poor, as you say, or be idle, as you say. For it greatly vexes me to think you believe what you say; this would be very bad after so many kindnesses on your part when I least deserved them. That's all I need now is to forget you! Look, how could this be so in the case of one who is in my soul as you are?

Since you walk in these darknesses and voids of spiritual poverty, you think that everyone and everything is failing you. It is no wonder that in this it also seems that God is failing you. But nothing is failing you, neither do you have to discuss anything, nor is there anything to discuss, nor do you know this, nor will you find it, because all of these doubts are without basis. He who desires nothing else than God walks not in darkness, however, poor and dark he is in his own sight . . . .

You were never better off than now, because you were never so humble nor so submissive, nor considered yourself and all worldly things to be so small, nor did you know that you were so evil, nor did you serve God so purely and so disinterestedly as now, nor do you follow after the imperfections of your own will and interests as perhaps you were accustomed to do . . . . It is a great favor from God when he darkens [the faculties of the soul] and impoverishes the soul in such a way that it cannot err with them. And if one does not err in this, what need is there in order to be right other than to walk along the level road of the law of God and of the Church and live only in dark and true faith and certain hope and complete charity, expecting all our blessings in heaven, living here below like pilgrims, the poor, the exiled, orphans, the thirsty, without a road and without anything, hoping for everything in heaven?

. . . Desire no other path than this and adjust your soul to it (for it is a good one) and receive communion as usual. Go to confession when you have something definite; you don't have to discuss these things with anyone. Should you have some problem write to me about it. Write soon, and more frequently, for


you can do so in care of Doña Ana when you are unable to do so through the nuns. I have been somewhat ill. Now I am well, but Fray Juan Evangelista is sick. Commend him and me also to God, my daughter in the Lord.

From Segovia, October 12,
1589 Fray Juan de la Cruz1

In both Andalusia and Segovia, John was called upon, as he had been during his years in Avila, to perform exorcisms and to discern the spirit of religious persons. In the case of one Carmelite nun who claimed extraordinary spiritual experiences, the General of the Discalced, Nicholas Doria, ordered the woman to write a detailed account of her prayer and its effects. Doria then submitted the account to John asking him to evaluate her spirit. Examining the affective tone (modo afectivo) of her report, John found five defects: great attachment to possessions, little fear of being inwardly mistaken, a desire that others esteem her experiences, a lack of true humility which genuine favors from God cause in a soul, and affectation and exaggeration in her style and language. He concluded on the basis of these five points "that hers is not a good spirit." John closed his evaluation with the following advice:

I would advise that they [her spiritual directors and other spiritual persons] should not command or allow her to write anything about this, and that her confessor should not show willingness to hear of it, other than to hold it in little esteem and contradict it. Let them try her in the practice of sheer virtue, especially in self-contempt, humility, and obedience; and by the


lLetter to Doña Juana de Pedraza, from Segovia, October 12, 1589, Collected Works, pp, 699-700.


sound of the metal when tapped, the quality of soul caused by so many favors will show itself. And the trials must be good ones, for there is no devil that will not suffer something for his honor.1

An important aspect of John's ministry at this time was his spiritual writing. He began all his major prose works while in Andalusia and all were directly related to his spiritual direction. Between 1579 and 1585, he composed at the request of his Carmelite brothers and sisters The Ascent of Mount Carmel and The Dark Night, a literary diptych which expounds the path leading to the summit of Christian perfection.2 In the Prologue to The Ascent of Mount Carmel, John writes:

My main intention is not to address everyone, but only some of the persons of our holy Order of the Primitive Observance of Mount Carmel, both friars and nuns, whom God favors by putting them on the path leading up to this mount, since they are the ones who asked me to write this work. Because they are already detached to a great extent from the temporal things of this world, they will more easily grasp this doctrine on the nakedness of spirit.3

In addition to this extensive treatise on the spiritual life, he wrote other shorter works arising from his spiritual direction of fellow Carmelites.4 These include: The Precau-


lCollected Works, pp. 654, 683-84; Vida y Obras, pp.381- 382.

2For a discussion of the Ascent of Mount Carmel and The Dark Night as one major work, see Juan de Jesús María, "El Díptico Subida-Noche," in Sanjuanistica," pp. 27-83. See also Vida y Obras, pp. 447-54, and Collected Works pp. 54-56.

3A, Prologue, 9.

4Collected Works, pp. 653-82; Vida y Obras, pp. 417-34.


tions which explain how one in religious life overcomes the world, the flesh, and the devil; Counsels to a Religious on How to Reach Perfection, a short document stressing resignation, mortification, the practice of virtue and bodily and spiritual solitude; and over 150 brief maxims originally written on small pieces of paper for individual Carmelites and later gathered into separate collections entitled Sayings of Light and Love, Maxims on Love, Degrees of Perfection, and Other Counsels. The following two quotations exemplify John's spiritual maxims:

The Father spoke one Word, which was His Son, and this Word He always speaks in eternal silence and in silence it must be heard by the soul.1

Take God for your spouse and friend and walk with Him continually, and you will not sin and will learn to love, and the things you must do will work out prosperously for you.2

In Granada, John composed two other major works for persons under his direction. At the request of Mother Ann of Jesus Lobera, he wrote The Spiritual Canticle, a lengthy prose commentary on the poem he began in prison in Toledo. This commentary discusses the nature of contemplative prayer and the stages of spiritual growth, culminating in a description of the spiritual espousal and spiritual marriage, the highest stages of loving union between the soul and Jesus Christ in this life.


1Maxims on Love, no, 21, in Collected Works, p. 675.

2Sayings of Light and Love, no. 65, in Collected Works, p. 672.


At the request of Doña Ana de Peñalosa, he wrote The Living Flame of Love, a description of the more intense moments of love between God and the soul in the mystical marriage. This treatise is particularly valuable for spiritual direction because of a long, parenthetical passage indicating the obstacles which ignorant and inexperienced directors create for persons who desire union with God.

Although John continued until his death to polish and revise both The Spiritual Canticle and The Living Flame of Love, he undertook no further prose writing after he left Andalusia in 1588.1 Throughout the remainder of his life, however, he wrote personal letters of direction to numerous persons, Carmelites and laity alike, that reveal first hand the practical guidance he gave to individual souls.2

To evaluate John's prose writings, they must be viewed separately from his poetry.3 Through poetry, John attempted to express his own experience of God, as he reveals in the


1Father Crisogono claims that during the last year of his life, John was at work on a treatise entitled The Miracles of the Images of Guadalcázar which, along with other writings and letters, has been lost or, more probably, destroyed. Vida y Obras, pp. 252-3; Life, pp. 224-25. For a discussion of the lost or doubtful works of St. John, see Pacho, San Juan y Sus Escritos, pp. 422-28.

2Collected Works, Letters nos. 10-33, pp. 690-706; Vida y Obras, cartas 11-33, pp. 372-385.

3For an examination of St. John's poetry and an evaluation of his prose, see Brenan, St. John of the Cross: His Life and Poetry, pp. 101-141.


Prologue of The Spiritual Canticle:

Who can describe the understanding [God] gives to loving souls in whom He dwells? And who can express the experience He imparts to them? Who, finally, can explain the desires He gives them? Certainly, no one can! Not even they who receive these communications. As a result, these persons let something of their experiences overflow in figures and similes, and from the abundance of their spirit pour out secrets and mysteries rather than rational explanations.1

That John took an artist's care in his choice of poetic "figures and similes" may be seen from his response to a question of Magdalena del Espíritu Santo, a Carmelite nun in the Beas community who copied much of his poetry. She asked John if God had given him the words in his verses which were filled with such freshness, beauty, and meaning, to which he replied: Daughter,... sometimes they come to me from God and at other times I sought them."2 John sought and achieved in his poetry a lyrical intensity expressive of his inner mystical life that earned for him a preeminent place in the history of Spanish literature.

His prose writings, on the other hand, have a different end in view. Although each of his major prose works is a commentary on a poem, its purpose is didactic rather than artistic. These commentaries aim to teach how one attains


1C, Prologue, 1.

2 Life, pp. 137-38. See also "Relación de la Vida del S. Juan de la Cruz, por La M. Magadalena del Espíritu Santo," in Silverio de Santa Teresa, Biblioteca Mistica Carmelitana, 20 vols. (Burgos: El Monte Carmelo, 1915-1935), 10:325. Subsequent references to this series in this dissertation will be noted by BMC, followed by volume and page numbers.


union with God; to describe the various stages of the spiritual life and the psychological phenomena associated with each stage; to explain prayer and its effects; to resolve difficulties encountered by persons in their quest for God; to provide confessors and spiritual directors with methods for assisting spiritual persons.1 These didactic writings do not possess the literary quality of his poetry, nor did John intend to achieve this as he relates in his prayerful prologue to the Sayings of Light and Love, a passage which itself illustrates his often cumbersome and awkward prose style:

Lord, You love discretion. You love light, You love love, these three You love above the other operations of the soul. Hence these will be sayings of discretion for the wayfarer, of light for the way, and of love in the wayfaring. May there be nothing of worldly rhetoric in them nor the long-winded and dry eloquence of weak and artificial human wisdom, which never pleases You. Let us speak to the heart words bathed in sweetness and love, which do indeed please You, removing obstacles and stumbling blocks from the paths of many souls who unknowingly trip and unconsciously walk in the path of error--poor souls who think they are right in what concerns the following of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and becoming like Him, imitating His life, actions, and virtues, and the form of His nakedness and purity of spirit. Father of mercies, come to our aid, for without You, Lord, we can do nothing.2

Thus, John's prose writings are valuable, not for their


1The didactic intent of John's prose writing is clearly indicated in the prologue to each of his major treatises, viz., The Ascent-Dark Night, The Spiritual Canticle, & The Living Flame of Love. For other examples of his didactic intent, see A2,22,1 and N2,22,2.

2Sayings of Light and Love, Prologue, in Collected Works, p. 666.


literary grace, but for their spiritual doctrine and practical advice. They contain a comprehensive theology and psychology of Christian spirituality--from its initial stages of development to the heights of mystical union with God--based on John's own inner experience of the Spirit and his observation of the Spirit at work in souls under his guidance. They are the writings of an accomplished spiritual master interpreting with a sure hand the interior life for his disciples. Taken in their entirety, the prose works of John of the Cross serve as a reliable handbook of the spiritual life for persons seeking union with God and for their confessors and directors.

During the Andalusia and Segovia years, John, in his various capacities as confessor, spiritual director, and religious superior, served innumerable men and women1 representing every phase of the Christian spiritual life, from its earliest stages of conversion2 to the heights of mysti-


lBy actual count, Fr. Crisogono cites over 50 individual cases that bear some relation to John's ministry between 1578 and 1588. See Vida y Obra, pp. 147-304, and Life, pp. 118-269. In addition, we may estimate on the basis of his letters, his practice of hearing confessions regularly in Baeza (Vida y, Obras, p. 183; Life, p. 153) and in Granada (Vida y Obras, p. 234; Life, p. 206; see also the testimony of Baltasar de Jesús in BMC, 14:138) and his pastoral care of all the Carmelite friars and nuns in Andalusia during his 18 months as their vicar-provincial that his ministry extended to hundreds of persons, possibly over a thousand.

2See the case of Angela de Alemán in Vida y Obras, p. 294, and Life, p. 262. See also the case of the anonymous penitent, a gentleman of Baeza, relative of Fray Martin de la Asunci6n, in Vida y Obras, p. 187, and Life, pp. 156-57.


cism.1 His ministry included: young persons seeking guidance and support in determining their vocation in life;2 men and women troubled by scrupulosity,3 excessive guilt,4 and psychosomatic anxiety;5 profoundly disturbed hysterical and paranoid personalities manifesting bizarre forms of religious behavior;6 and persons with such normal problems in the spiritual

lSee the case of Madre Ana de Jesús Lobera mentioned above (66-68) and the cases of Catalina de Jesús (Vida y Obras, pp. 196-97; Life, pp. 167-68) and Teresa de Ibros (Vida y Obras, p. 183; Life, p. 153).

2For his influence upon the university students at Baeza, see Vida y Obras, p. 183 and Life, p. (illegible on thesis copy); upon the youth of Segovia, especially Jerónimo de Alcalá Yañez y Ribera who later became a physician and author of some note, see Vida y Obras, pp. 302-3. See also the individual cases of Alonso de la Madre de Dios (Vida y Obras, pp. 213-16; Life, pp. 187-90), Augustina de San José, María Machuca, and Isabel de la Encarnación (Vida y Obras, pp. 241-42; Life, pp. 213-14).. See also the letter to a young woman aspiring to be a Carmelite nun in Collected Works, p. 692, and BMC, 13:267-68.

3 See cases of María de la Paz (Vida y Obras, pp. 185-86; Life, pp. 155-56; and Ana de San José (Vida y Obras, p. 304). See also letters of Saint John to Ana de San Alberto (nos. 2, 3, 31 in Collected Works, pp. 685-86, 705) and to a Carmelite nun suffering from scruples (no, 21 in Collected Works, pp, 701-2, and in BMC, 13:284-85).

4See case of Diego Navarro in Vida y Obras, PP. l6l-62 and Life, pp. 131-32.

5See case of Augustín de la Concepción in Vida Y Obras, pp. 227-28, and Life, pp. 199-200.

6See cases of Juana Calancha (Vida y Obras, pp. 187-88, 197; Life, pp. 157-59) and the unnamed Carmelite nun mentioned above whom John discerned not to be of a "good spirit" (pp. 71-72). See also the case of María de la Visitacion, the famous Dominican stigmatic of Lisbon. Although he had no direct contact with the woman, John discerned that she was a religious fraud (Vida y Obras. pp. 258-60; Life, pp. 229-30). Among these disturbed persons should be mentioned Catalina Evangelista, a Carmelite nun in Málaga who took her own life.


life as difficulties in prayer,l feelings of desolation and emptiness,2 and diabolic torments and temptations.3

As we notice in his letters where he refers to his cor respondents as "my son" or "my daughter in the Lord,"4 John considered himself a spiritual father to all these persons. Like Saint Paul,5 he was conscious of fulfilling a paternal role in the Church devoted to helping persons achieve maturity in Christ. His ministry was thus in accord with an


Although John knew her in his capacity as provincial definitor and founder of the Málaga convent, we do not know the exact extent of his relationship with her (Vida y Obras, p. 260; Life, p. 230). Crisógono mentions in passing (Vida y Obras p. 187; Life, p. 157) that the extreme piety of this period gave rise to many grotesque forms of human behavior in religious persons. This behavior is often difficult to comprehend in our age when the boundaries between religious experience and psychopathology are more clearly drawn. A deeper study of the relationship between religious experience and psychological abnormality in 16th century Spain would shed greater light on the problems which John of the Cross met in his ministry.

1See cases of Marina de San Angelo (Vida y Obras, pp. 273-74; Life, pp. 242-43) and Mariana de la Cruz (Vida y Obras, pp. 298-99; Life, p. 266).

2See case of María de Jesús Sandoval in Bruno, St. John of the Cross, pp. 193-194. See also letters nos. 10 & 19 to Juana de Pedraza and letter no. 5 to a Discalced Carmelite nun in Collected Works, pp. 687, 690-91, and 699-700.

3See case of María Vilches Vida y Obras, pp. 183-84; Life, p. 154. See also letter no. 15 to Madre Leonor de San Gabriel in Collected Works, p. 696.

4See pp. 62-63 and 71 above. See also letters nos. 1,3, 5,6,7,8,11,12,14,15,17,19,20,22,23,24,27,28,30,31,32 in Collected Works, pp. 685-706.

5Pedro Gutierrez, La Paternité Sairituelle selon Saint Paul (Paris: J. Gabalda & Cie, 1968), pp. 87-117, 233-39.

pp 80-90

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