St John Of The Cross


ancient Christian tradition that regards the spiritual director as an "abbas" or father, one who guides his spiritual children to their perfection as sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father.1

Although we possess numerous sworn testimonies from eyewitnesses concerning John's spiritual direction, it is difficult to reconstruct his ministry in exact detail from these accounts. These testimonies, given at least 20 years after his death in the process of his beatification, reflect a primary concern of the witnesses to attest to his personal holiness rather than to provide details about his spiritual direction.2 Nonetheless, these testimonies, together with John's own letters and other biographical information,3 enable


1Dictionnaire de Spiritualité, s.v. "Direction Spirituelle," by Edouard des Places et al.; New Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Direction, Spiritual," by K. A. Wall; Hausherr, Direction Spirituelle en Orient Autrefois, pp. 17-211. For a discussion of spiritual fatherhood in spiritual direction, see Jean Laplace, The Direction of Conscience, trans. John C. Guinness (New York: Herder and Herder, 1967), pp. 66-93.

2These testimonies comprise the entire volume fourteen of Biblioteca Mistica Carmelitana (BMC). They often appear extremely exaggerated in support of John's sanctity, as can be seen from Miguel de Angulo's testimony that on three different occasions he saw a brilliant light shining from John's confession box (BMC, 14:265). For this reason, one must use the testimonies very critically and cautiously in searching for the true facts concerning John's life and ministry. Other examples of this exaggeration may be seen in the testimonies of María de la Cruz (BMC, 14: 126) and Diego de Riofrío (quoted in Vida y Obras, p. 294, n48). For a discussion of these testimonies, see Richard P. Hardy, "Early Biographical Documentation on Juan de la Cruz," Science et Espirit 30 (Octobre- Decembre 1978):313-23.

3For example, see the various documents included in


us to form a general outline of his practice as a spiritual director.

The testimonies reveal, first of all, that John rendered spiritual service "without distinction of persons."1 He welcomed all who came to him for help--religious, clergy, laity, young and old, learned and unlearned, rich and poor.2 He did not conceive of his ministry as directed only to a selected elite composed of persons with a privileged position in life or a reputation for exalted spirituality. His experience taught him that God acts in every soul and he accordingly made himself available to serve anyone redeemed by the blood of Christ.3

John carried on a large part of his spiritual ministry within the setting of the sacrament of Penance,4 although he


volume thirteen of Biblioteca Mistica Carmelitana (BMC) and translated into English by E. Allison Peers, The Complete Works of St. John of the Cross, vol. 3, 3rd rev. ed. (Westminster, Md.: Newman Press, 1953), pp. 288-404.

1Testimony of Miguel de Angulo (BMC, 14:265). See also the testimonies of Madre Augustina de San José (BMC, 14:41), María de la Encarnación (BMC, 14:219), and Alonso de la Madre de Dios (BMC, 14:373).

2See testimonies of Martín de San José (BMC, 14:17), Inocencio de San Andrés (BMC, 14:64), Francisca de San Eliseo (BMC, 14:162), and Isabel de Cristo (BMC, 14:445-46). Other references to John's availability may be found in BMC, 14:26- 27, 90-91, 138, 172.

3See testimony of Martín de la Asunción in BMC, 14:90-91. See also José Vincente, Rodríguez, "Magisterio Oral de San Juan de la Cruz," Revista de Espiritualidad 33 (Enero-Marzo 1974): 124.

4 See testimony of Inocencio de San Andrés in BMC, 14:64.


did not confine his work to the confession box.1 It is probable that he limited his time in the confessional to the administration of the sacrament and handled more involved personal and spiritual matters in another setting.2 such as


1See testimony of Francisca de San Eliseo in BMC, 14: 162.

2In a letter to María de San José (see Letters, 1:443), Saint Teresa writes approvingly of the practice of John's predecessor as confessor to the nuns of Beas to whom the nuns spoke of nothing but their sins in the confessional and who heard all their confessions in a half-hour. We do not know if John followed this practice when he became confessor at Beas. However, he seems to prefer limiting the sacrament of Penance to the confession and absolution of sins leaving other personal and spiritual matters to be dealt with in spiritual direction outside the confessional. In his letter to Juana de Pedraza (see Collected Works, pp. 699-700; see also letter to a Discalced Carmelite nun suffering from scruples, pp. 701-02), we see both that John understood spiritual direction and confession as two separate activities and that the roles of confessor and director could be fulfilled by different persons. In the testimonies, the words usually used to describe John's work with souls are "tratar, enseñar, y gobernar las almas," "confessar, consolar y tratar espiritualmente muchas personas" (BMC, 14:284), and "guiar y llevar las almas a Dios" (BMC, 14:36). While these words suggest considerable overlap between the functions of spiritual direction and the sacrament of Penance and are not used precisely in the testimonies to distinguish rigidly between the two processes (e.g., see BMC, 14:64 where "confessar" and "tratar" are used together with reference to the confessional), it is tenable that John restricted the confessional to the sacrament of Penance (implied by the word "confesar") and carried on the more extensive work of spiritual direction (implied by the words "tratar," "enseñar," "gobernar," "consolar," "guiar," and "llevar") apart from the sacrament.


his cell,l the convent grille,2 or the monastery garden.3 Outside the confessional, John apparently placed no arbitrary restrictions upon his ministry, but allowed this to be determined. by the individual needs of each person. For example, he saw Maria de Paz, a young woman struggling with scruples, three times a week for several years,4 and often spent hours at a time discussing spiritual subjects with Dr. Villegas, the canon-penitentiary of Segovia.5

In addition to his direct contact with persons in and out of the confessional, John carried on considerable spiritual direction through the mail. Only a small number of these letters have survived, yet we know that he wrote extensively to his spiritual children6 and that he encouraged them to write freely to him about their difficulties.7 In his guidance of souls, John respected each person's


lSee the testimony of Cristóbal de la Higuera in Vida y Obras, p. 161, n.61.

2Vida y Obras, p. 273; Life, pp. 242-43.

3Testimony of Isabel de Cristo, BMC, 14:234.

4See testimony of María de Paz in BMC, 14:45.

5See testimony of Isabel de Cristo, BMC, 14:234.

6See testimonies of María de la Madre de Dios (BMC, 14: 36), Juan de la Madre de Dios (BMC, 14:106), and Francisca de San Eliseo (BMC, 14:162-63).

7See letters to Juana de Pedraza and to Ana del Mercado y Peñalosa in Collected Works, pp. 691, 700, 704, 705.


individualityl and avoided imposing predetermined spiritual programs. He believed that the "mode and capacity" of each spirit is different and that instructions and explanations which are suitable for one person may not be for another.2 He appeared to have a gift for discerning quickly the particular needs of a person.3 Once these were clear to him, he adapted himself4 and his methods to meet these needs.5

Yet, John also had clearly defined objectives for his spiritual ministry. The most important of these were to help persons to be united with God,6 to imitate Jesus Christ7


1See testimonies of María de la Madre de Dios (BMC, 14: 36), and Augustina de San José (BMC, 14:41-42).

2C, Prologue, 2.

3 See testimonies of Martín de San José (BMC, 14:17), Juan de Santa Eufemia (BMC, 14:27), Augustina de San José (BMC, 14:41), and Francisca de la Madre de Dios (BMC, 14:172). See also Olivier Leroy, "Quelques Traits de Saint Jean de la Croix comme Maitre Spirituel," Carmelus 11 (1964):14-16.

4See testimony of Fernando de la Madre de Dios (BMC, 14:36) See also the testimonies of María de la Madre de Dios (BMC, 14:36) and Augustina de San José (BMC, 14:41). See also Lucien-Marie de Saint Joseph, "La Direction Spirituelle d'apres Saint Jean," pp. 186-94.

5 See testimony of Brígida de la Asunción (BMC, 14:245).For a discussion of the various methods used by Saint John in his spiritual direction, see Rodriguéz. "Magisterio Oral," pp. 115-21; Leroy, "Quelques Traits," pp. 21-25.

6 See testimony of Augustina de San José (BMC, 14:42) and Baltasar de Jesús (BMC 14:138). See also letters nos. 6,7,8,10,12,14,19,20,21,27 in Collected Works, pp 687-703. Also Rodriguéz. "Magisterio Oral," pp. 121-22.

7See letters nos. 6,7,10,16,21,22,23 in Collected Works, pp. 688-703.


and to grow in faith, hope, and love.1 To achieve these ends, he emphasized prayer2 and mortification of every desire not ordered to God and His service.3 Through prayer, one grows in faith, the "proximate and proportionate" means of union with God;4 through mortification of disordered appetites, one becomes psychologically prepared for this union. John was most demanding--particularly with the Carmelite friars and nuns5--about the mortification of disordered desires. He proposed it as a subject for the examination of conscience.6 He even imposed tests upon persons such as assigning a distasteful task7 or withholding holy communion in order to mortify in them the desire for anything other than the pure love and service of God. However, John


1See letter no. 19 to Juana de Pedraza in Collected Works, p. 699. See also letters nos. 6,7,11,12,19,21,23,31, 33 in Collected Works, pp. 687-706.

2See testimonies of Augustina de San José (BMC, 14:41- 42), María de la Cruz, (BMC, 14:125), Francisca de San Eliseo (BMC, 14:162), and Maria de la Encarnacíon (BMC, 14:219).

3See letters nos. 3,6,8,10,11,12,14,16,22,23,27 in Collected Works, pp. 685-704. Also Leroy, "Quelques Traits," pp. 17-21.

4A2, 9, 1-5.

5For example, see The Precautions and Counsels to a Religious on How to Reach Perfection in Collected Works, pp. 653, 656-65, and Vida V Obras, pp. 428-34.

6See the case of Marina de San Angelo in Vida y Obras, pp. 273-74, and Life, p. 243.

7See the case of Juan de San Pablo in Vida y Obras, p. 176; and Life, pp. 146-47.


stresses mortification, not as an isolated ascetical exercise, but as directly related to the end of the Christian spiritual life. He expressed the relationhip between striving for God and the mortification of disordered appetites in a letter to Magdalena del Espíritu Santo in 1589: "To possess God in all, you should not possess anything in all. For how can the heart that belongs to one belong completely to the other?"1

A dynamic and intimate relationship existed between John and the persons he directed. He challenged them to live for God as totally as possible. The example of his own love for God and his fidelity to the spiritual life motivated them to seek these goals in their own lives.2 And there was such a closeness with many of them that John was able to perceive and share their feelings. For example, he wrote to Juana de Pedraza:

A few days ago I wrote to you through Padre Fray Juan in answer to your last letter, which, as was your hope, I prized. I have answered you in that letter, since I believe I have received all your letters. And I have felt your grief, afflictions, and loneliness. These, in silence, ever tell me so much that the pen cannot declare it. They are all


1Letter no. 17 in Collected works, p. 698. The relationship between mortification of the appetites and desire for union with God is also expressed in letters nos. 6,8,10,14,16, pp. 687-97.

2See testimonies of Juan de Santa Eufemia (BMC, 14:27), Francisca de la Madre de Dios (BMC, 14:172-73), Isabel de Los Angeles (BMC, 14:240), and Isabel de Jesús (BMC, 14:436). See also Leroy, "Quelques Traits," pp. 7-9.


comparable to knocks and rappings at the door of your soul that it might love more, for they cause more prayer and spiritual sighs to God that he might fulfill the soul's petition.1

Thus, spiritual direction was for John a service of friendship2 as well as sacramental ministry, teaching, and guidance.3 Because of the closeness that exists between the director and penitent, John felt that one director, provided he was the right one, was enough for a person.4 However, he had little concern to build for himself a following of jealously guarded disciples. His main concern was always the good of souls.5 For this reason, he encouraged his penitents to see other priests when he was not available6 and shared the responsibility of their spiritual welfare with other priests.7

In summary, John's years in Andalusia and Segovia between 1579 and 1591 were his most fruitful as a spiritual


1Letter no. 10 in Collected Works, pp. 690-91.

2Leroy, "Quelques Traits," pp. 12-14.

3Rodriguez, "Magisterio Oral," pp. 110-15.

4Letter to Juana de Pedraza, Collected works, p. 691.

5See testimonies of María de la Cruz (BMC, 14:125) and María de la Encarnación (BMC, 14:219).

6Letter to Maria de Soto, in Felipe Zuazúa, "Nueva Carta Autografa de San Juan de la Cruz," Ephemerides Carmeliticae, 17 (1966): 491-506. See also letters no. 19 and 21 in Collected Works, pp. 700-701.

7Thus, John shared the direction of Ann of Jesus with the Jesuit father, Juan Bautista de Ribera. See Vida y Obras,


director. Despite the pressing demands which administrative office made upon his time and energy, he was able to minister spiritually to a large and diverse number of persons, whose problems represented the whole range of Christian experience. Viewing his own ministry as an exercise of spiritual fatherhood, he regarded these persons as sons and daughters, serving them according to their individual needs inside the confessional and out, teaching them the principles of Christian spirituality and guiding them in their religious growth.

Spiritual direction for John was, above all, a ministry of love, rooted in his own love for God and his desire to help others appreciate God's love for them. John felt that he served.God best by enabling others to grow in His love.1 His relationships with his directees were often ones of intimate friendship that both enabled him to understand the interior state of each person and allowed the ardor of his own spiritual life to ignite in his penitent a strong desire for God and His service. Respecting the individual differences of his spiritual children, he nontheless endeavored


p. 240, and Life, pp. 212-13.

1See testimonies of Baltasar de Jesús (BMC, 14:138) and María de la Encarnación (BMC, 14:219). For a discussion of John's human qualities and his capacity for friendship, see Richard P. Hardy, "Fray Juan de la Cruz (1542-1591): A Personality Sketch," Ephemerides Carmeliticae 29 (1978): 507-18.


to help each one to center his or her entire existence upon God, especially by means of prayer and self-denial.

The major enduring fruits of his spiritual direction, beyond the personal benefit of those he served, are his spiritual writings. These include mystical treatises, ascetical exhortations, and letters of personal guidance. Although the beatification testimonies and his biographers provide us with a general outline of John's approach to spiritual direction, only his writings, as we shall see later, fully reveal his own understanding of the role of the spiritual director. In these writings, speaking as a spiritual father to his children, answering problems and questions they have brought to him, he spells out his theory of spiritual direction.

In June, 1591, at the Chapter of Madrid, John was relieved of all the responsibilities of ecclesiastical office. We recall how, earlier in Andalusia, he longed for Castile and for freedom to seek God in solitude. His first desire was realized in 1588 when he came to Segovia as consultor general and prior of the monastery. Now the second one was to be fulfilled, although it would mean returning again to Andalusia. This time, however, his stay would be brief, for he died only four months after his arrival in Andalusia from Segovia. John's intuition told him he would never see Castile

pp 90-100

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