Saints

St. John of the Cross

St. John of the Cross  –  Spanish mystic, Carmelite friar and priest

Born in Spain in 1542, John learned the importance of self-sacrificing love from his parents. His father gave up wealth, status, and comfort when he married a weaver’s daughter and was disowned by his noble family. After his father died, his mother kept the destitute family together as they wandered homeless in search of work. These were the examples of sacrifice that John followed with his own great love — God.

When the family finally found work, John still went hungry in the middle of the wealthiest city in Spain. At fourteen, John took a job caring for hospital patients who suffered from incurable diseases and madness. It was out of this poverty and suffering, that John learned to search for beauty and happiness not in the world, but in God.

After John joined the Carmelite order, Saint Teresa of Avila asked him to help her reform movement. John supported her belief that the order should return to its life of prayer. But many Carmelites felt threatened by this reform, and some members of John’s own order kidnapped him. He was locked in a cell six feet by ten feet and beaten three times a week by the monks. There was only one tiny window high up near the ceiling. Yet in that unbearable dark, cold, and desolation, his love and faith were like fire and light. He had nothing left but God — and God brought John his greatest joys in that tiny cell.

After nine months, John escaped by unscrewing the lock on his door and creeping past the guard. Taking only the mystical poetry he had written in his cell, he climbed out a window using a rope made of strips of blankets. With no idea where he was, he followed a dog to civilization. He hid from pursuers in a convent infirmary where he read his poetry to the nuns. From then on his life was devoted to sharing and explaining his experience of God’s love.

His life of poverty and persecution could have produced a bitter cynic. Instead it gave birth to a compassionate mystic, who lived by the beliefs that “Who has ever seen people persuaded to love God by harshness?” and “Where there is no love, put love — and you will find love.”

John left us many books of practical advice on spiritual growth and prayer that are just as relevant today as they were then. These books include: Ascent of Mount Carmel , Dark Night of the Soul and A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ .

works by St. John of the Cross

Ascent of Mount Carmel

Description: One of St. John of the Cross’ most important and insightful works, Ascent of Mount Carmel is a brilliant work of Christian mysticism. Considered one of the great Spanish poets, St. John depicts the soul’s ascent to Mount Carmel–allegorically, the place of God–and the “dark night” that the soul must endure to reach it. St. John describes the different mystic experiences the soul encounters on its way to union with God through the dark night. Although St. John continues to describe the dark night in Dark Night of the Soul, the sequel to Ascent of Mount Carmel, this book provides a hauntingly beautiful, profound, and mystical account of Christian spirituality. It is highly recommended.

It also now comes with a beneficial introduction to Ascent of Mount Carmel, an outline of St. John’s life, and an introduction to St. John’s works.

Dark Night of the Soul

Description: A sequel and continuation of Ascent of Mount Carmel, the Dark Night of the Soul is a spiritually moving and mystical book. In it, St. John of the Cross continues his description of the soul’s journey–the “dark night”–to the “divine union of the love of God.” A poet at heart, St. John describes the journey and the union with beautifully rich and deeply symbolic language. However, St. John does not simply describe the journey; he seems at times to be offering encouragement and comfort directly to readers as they too struggle with the excruciating dark night. Offering hope to the downtrodden and discouraged, the Dark Night of the Soul is one of the most difficult books a person can read, but its difficulty is surpassed by its reward. One of the most profound works of Christian mysticism, this book is highly recommended for those seeking union with God.

It now also comes with a helpful introduction and extensive notes.

Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ

THE CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA

Founder (with St. Teresa) of the Discalced Carmelites, doctor of mystic theology, b. at Hontoveros, Old Castile, 24 June, 1542; d. at Ubeda, Andalusia, 14 Dec., 1591. John de Yepes, youngest child of Gonzalo de Yepes and Catherine Alvarez, poor silk weavers of Toledo, knew from his earliest years the hardships of life. The father, originally of a good family but disinherited on account of his marriage below his rank, died in the prime of his youth; the widow, assisted by her eldest son, was scarcely able to provide the bare necessities. John was sent to the poor school at Medina del Campo, whither the family had gone to live, and proved an attentive and diligent pupil; but when apprenticed to an artisan, he seemed incapable of learning anything. Thereupon the governor of the hospital of Medina took him into his service, and for seven years John divided his time between waiting on the poorest of the poor, and frequenting a school established by the Jesuits. Already at that early age he treated his body with the utmost rigour; twice he was saved from certain death by the intervention of the Blessed Virgin. Anxious about his future life, he was told in prayer that he was to serve God in an order the ancient perfection of which he was to help bring back again. The Carmelites having founded a house at Medina, he there received the habit on 24 February, 1563, and took the name of John of St. Matthias. After profession he obtained leave from his superiors to follow to the letter the original Carmelite rule without the mitigations granted by various popes. He was sent to Salamanca for the higher studies, and was ordained priest in 1567; at his first Mass he received the assurance that he should preserve his baptismal innocence. But, shrinking from the responsibilities of the priesthood, he determined to join the Carthusians.

However, before taking any further step he made the acquaintance of St. Teresa, who had come to Medina to found a convent of nuns, and who persuaded him to remain in the Carmelite Order and to assist her in the establishment of a monastery of friars carrying out the primitive rule. He accompanied her to Valladolid in order to gain practi cal experience of the manner of life led by the reformed nuns. A small house having been offered, St. John resolved to try at once the new form of life, although St. Teresa did not think anyone, however great his spirituality, could bear the discomforts of that hovel. He was joined by two companions, an ex-prior and a lay brother, with whom he inaugurated the reform among friars, 28 Nov., 1568. St. Teresa has left a classical description of the sort of life led by these first Discalced Carmelites, in chaps. xiii and xiv of her “Book of Foundations”. John of the Cross, as he now called himself, became the first master of novices, and laid the foundation of the spiritual edifice which soon was to assume majestic proportions. He filled various posts in different places until St. Teresa called him to Avila as director and confessor to the convent of the Incarnation, of which she had been appointed prioress. He remained there, with a few interruptions, for over five years. Meanwhile, the reform spread rapidly, and, partly through the confusion caused by contradictory orders issued by the general and the general chapter on one hand, and the Apostolic nuncio on the other, and partly through human passion which sometimes ran high, its existence became seriously endangered.

St. John was ordered by his provincial to return to the house of his profession (Medina), and, on his refusing to do so, owing to the fact that he held his office not from the order but from the Apostolic delegate, he was taken prisoner in the night of 3 December, 1577, and carried off to Toledo, where he suffered for more than nine months close imprisonment in a narrow, stifling cell, together with such additional punishment as might have been called for in the case of one guilty of the most serious crimes. In the midst of his sufferings he was visited with heavenly consolations, and some of his exquisite poetry dates from that period. He made good his escape in a miraculous manner, August, 1578. During the next years he was chiefly occupied with the foundation and government of monasteries at Baeza, Granada, Cordova, Segovia, and elsewhere, but took no prominent part in the negotiations which led to the establishment of a separate government for the Discalced Carmelites. After the death of St. Teresa (4 Oct., 1582), when the two parties of the Moderates under Jerome Gratian, and the Zelanti under Nicholas Doria struggled for the upper hand, St. John supported the former and shared his fate. For some time he filled the post of vicar provincial of Andalusia, but when Doria changed the government of the order, concentrating all power in the hands of a permanent committee, St. John resisted and, supporting the nuns in their endeavour to secure the papal approbation of their constitutions, drew upon himself the displeasure of the superior, who deprived him of his offices and relegated him to one of the poorest monasteries, where he fell seriously ill. One of his opponents went so far as to go from monastery to monastery gathering materials in order to bring grave charges against him, hoping for his expulsion from the order which he had helped to found.

As his illness increased he was removed to the monastery of Ubeda, where he at first was treated very unkindly, his constant prayer, “to suffer and to be despised”, being thus literally fulfilled almost to the end of his life. But at last even his adversaries came to acknowledge his sanctity, and his funeral was the occasion of a great outburst of enthusiasm. The body, still incorrupt, as has been ascertained within the last few years, was removed to Segovia, only a small portion remaining at Ubeda; there was some litigation about its possession. A strange phenomenon, for which no satisfactory explanation has been given, has frequently been observed in connexion with the relics of St. John of the Cross: Francis de Yepes, the brother of the saint, and after him many other persons have noticed the appearance in his relics of images of Christ on the Cross, the Blessed Virgin, St. Elias, St. Francis Xavier, or other saints, according to the devotion of the beholder. The beatification took place on 25 Jan., 1675, the translation of his body on 21 May of the same year, and the canonization on 27 Dec., 1726.

He left the following works, which for the first time appeared at Barcelona in 1619.

1.   “The Ascent of Mount Carmel”, an explanation of some verses beginning: “In a dark night with anxious love inflamed”. This work was to have comprised four books, but breaks off in the middle of the third.

2.  “The Dark Night of the Soul”, another explanation of the same verses, breaking off in the second book. Both these works were written soon after his escape from prison, and, though incomplete, supplement each other, forming a full treatise on mystic theology.

3.   An explanation of the “Spiritual Canticle”, (a paraphrase of the Canticle of Canticles) beginning “Where hast Thou hidden Thyself?” composed part during his imprisonment, and completed and commented upon some years later at the request of Venerable Anne of Jesus.

4.  An explanation of a poem beginning: “O Living Flame of Love”, written about 1584 at the bidding of Doña Ana de Penalosa.

5.    Some instructions and precautions on matters spiritual.

6. Some twenty letters, chiefly to his penitents. Unfortunately the bulk of his correspondence, including numerous letters to and from St. Teresa, was destroyed, partly by himself, partly during the persecutions to which he fell a victim.

7.    “Poems”, of which twenty-six have been hitherto published, viz., twenty in the older editions, and recently six more, discovered partly at the National Library at Madrid, and partly at the convent of Carmelite nuns at Pamplona.

8.    “A Collection of Spiritual Maxims” (in some editions to the number of one hundred, and in others three hundred and sixty-five) can scarcely count as an independent work, as they are culled from his writings.

It has been recorded that during his studies St. John particularly relished psychology; this is amply borne out by his writings. He was not what one would term a scholar, but he was intimately acquainted with the “Summa” of St. Thomas Aquinas, as almost every page of his works proves. Holy Scripture he seems to have known by heart, yet he evidently obtained his knowledge more by meditation than in the lecture room. But there is no vestige of influence on him of the mystical teaching of the Fathers, the Areopagite, Augustine, Gregory, Bernard, Bonaventure, etc., Hugh of St. Victor, or the German Dominican school. The few quotations from patristic works are easily traced to the Breviary or the “Summa”. In the absence of any conscious or unconscious influence of earlier mystical schools, his own system, like that of St. Teresa, whose influence is obvious throughout, might be termed empirical mysticism. They both start from their own experience, St. Teresa avowedly so, while St. John, who hardly ever speaks of himself, “invents nothing” (to quote Cardinal Wiseman), “borrows nothing from others, but gives us clearly the results of his own experience in himself and others. He presents you with a portrait, not with a fancy picture. He represents the ideal of one who has passed, as he had done, through the career of the spiritual life, through its struggles and its victories”.

His axiom is that the soul must empty itself of self in order to be filled with God, that it must be purified of the last traces of earthly dross before it is fit to become united with God. In the application of this simple maxim he shows the most uncompromising logic. Supposing the soul with which he deals to be habitually in the state of grace and pushing forward to better things, he overtakes it on the very road leading it, in its opinion to God, and lays open before its eyes a number of sores of which it was altogether ignorant, viz. what he terms the spiritual capital sins. Not until these are removed (a most formidable task) is it fit to be admitted to what he calls the “Dark Night”, which consists in the passive purgation, where God by heavy trials, particularly interior ones, perfects and completes what the soul had begun of its own accord. It is now passive, but not inert, for by submitting to the Divine operation it co-operates in the measure of its power. Here lies one of the essential differences between St. John’s mysticism and a false quietism. The perfect purgation of the soul in the present life leaves it free to act with wonderful energy: in fact it might almost be said to obtain a share in God’s omnipotence, as is shown in the marvelous deeds of so many saints. As the soul emerges from the Dark Night it enters into the full noonlight described in the “Spiritual Canticle” and the “Living Flame of Love”. St. John leads it to the highest heights, in fact to the point where it becomes a “partaker of the Divine Nature”. It is here that the necessity of the previous cleansing is clearly perceived the pain of the mortification of all the senses and the powers and faculties of the soul being amply repaid by the glory which is now being revealed in it.

St. John has often been represented as a grim character; nothing could be more untrue. He was indeed austere in the extreme with himself, and, to some extent, also with others, but both from his writings and from the depositions of those who knew him, we see in him a man overflowing with charity and kindness, a poetical mind deeply influenced by all that is beautiful and attractive.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

John of the Cross, O.C.D., (San Juan de la Cruz) (1542[1] – 14 December 1591), was a major figure of the Counter-Reformation, a Spanish mystic, Catholic saint, Carmelite friar and priest, born at Fontiveros, Old Castile.

John of the Cross was a reformer of the Carmelite Order and is considered, along with Saint Teresa of Ávila, as a founder of the Discalced Carmelites. He is also known for his writings. Both his poetry and his studies on the growth of the soul are considered the summit of mystical Spanish literature and one of the peaks of all Spanish literature. He was canonized as a saint in 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII. He is one of the thirty-five Doctors of the Church.

Contents

Life

Early life and education

He was born Juan de Yepes y Álvarez[2] into a Jewish converso family in a small community, Fontiveros, near Ávila.[3] His father, Gonzalo, was an accountant to richer relatives who were silk merchants. However, when in 1529 he married John’s mother, Catalina, who was an orphan of a lower class, Gonzalo was rejected by his family and forced to work with his wife as a weaver.[4] John’s father died in 1545, while John was still only around seven years old.[5] Two years later, John’s older brother Luis died, probably as a result of insufficient nourishment caused by the penury to which John’s family had been reduced. After this, John’s mother Catalina took John and his surviving brother Francisco, and moved first in 1548 to Arevalo, and then in 1551 to Medina del Campo, where she was able to find work weaving.[6][7]

In Medina, John entered a school for poor children, usually orphans, receiving a basic education, mainly in Christian doctrine, as well as some food, clothing, and lodging. While studying there, he was chosen to serve as acolyte at a nearby monastery of Augustinian nuns.[6] Growing up, John worked at a hospital and studied the humanities at a Jesuit school from 1559 to 1563; the Society of Jesus was a new organization at the time, having been founded only a few years earlier by the Spaniard St. Ignatius Loyola. In 1563[8] he entered the Carmelite Order, adopting the name John of St. Matthias.[6]

The following year (1564)[9] he professed his religious vows as a Carmelite and travelled to Salamanca, where he studied theology and philosophy at the prestigious University there (at the time one of the four biggest in Europe, alongside Paris, Oxford and Bologna) and at the Colegio de San Andrés. Some modern writers[citation needed] claim that this stay would influence all his later writings, as Fray Luis de León taught biblical studies (Exegesis, Hebrew and Aramaic) at the University: León was one of the foremost experts in Biblical Studies then and had written an important and controversial translation of the Song of Songs into Spanish. (Translation of the Bible into the vernacular was not allowed then in Spain.)

Joining the Reform of Teresa of Jesus

John was ordained a priest in 1567, and then indicated his intent to join the strict Carthusian Order, which appealed to him because of its encouragement of solitary and silent contemplation. A journey from Salamanca to Medina del Campo, probably in September 1567, changed this.[10] In Medina he met the charismatic Carmelite nun, Teresa of Jesus. She was in Medina to found the second of her convents for women.[11] She immediately talked to him about her reformation projects for the Order: she was seeking to restore the purity of the Carmelite Order by restarting observance of its “Primitive Rule” of 1209, observance of which had been relaxed by Pope Eugene IV in 1432.

Under this Rule, much of the day and night was to be spent in the recitation of the choir offices, study and devotional reading, the celebration of Mass and times of solitude. For the friars, time was to be spent evangelizing the population around the monastery.[12] Total abstinence from meat and lengthy fasting was to be observed from the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14) until Easter. There were to be long periods of silence, especially between Compline and Prime. Coarser, shorter habits, more simple than those worn since 1432, were to be worn.[13] They were to follow the injunction against the wearing of shoes (also mitigated in 1432). It was from this last observance that the followers of Teresa among the Carmelites were becoming known as “discalced”, i.e., barefoot, differentiating themselves from the non-reformed friars and nuns.

Teresa asked John to delay his entry into the Carthusians and to follow her. Having spent a final year studying in Salamanca, in August 1568 John traveled with Teresa from Medina to Valladolid, where Teresa intended to found another monastery of nuns. Having spent some time with Teresa in Valladolid, learning more about this new form of Carmelite life, in October 1568, accompanied by Friar Antonio de Jesús de Heredia, John left Valladolid to found a new monastery for friars, the first for men following Teresa’s principles. The were given the use of a derelict house at Duruelo (midway between Avila and Salamanca), which had been donated to Teresa. On 28 November 1568, the monastery,[14] was established, and on that same day John changed his name to John of the Cross.

Soon after, in June 1570, the friars found the house at Duruelo too small, and so moved to the nearby town of Mancera de Abajo. After moving on from this community, John set up a new community at Pastrana (October 1570), and a community at Alcalá de Henares, which was to be a house of studies for the academic training of the friars. In 1572[15] he arrived in Avila, at the invitation of Teresa, who had been appointed prioress of the Monastery of the Visitation there in 1571.[16] John become the spiritual director and confessor for Teresa and the other 130 nuns there, as well for as a wide range of laypeople in the city.[6] In 1574, John accompanied Teresa in the foundation of a new monastery in Segovia, returning to Avila after staying there a week. Beyond this, though, John seems to have remained in Avila between 1572 and 1577.[17]

Drawing of the crucifixion, by John of the Cross, which inspired Salvador Dali

One day at some point between 1574 and 1577, while praying in the monastery of the Incarnation in Ávila, in a loft overlooking the sanctuary, John had a vision of the crucified Christ, which led him to create his famous drawing of Christ “from above.” In 1641 this drawing was placed in a small monstrance, and kept in Avila. This drawing inspired the artist Salvador Dali‘s 1951 work, Christ of Saint John of the Cross.

The height of Carmelite tensions

The years 1575-77, however, saw a great increase in the tensions among the Spanish Carmelite friars over the reforms of Teresa and John. Since 1566 the reforms had been overseen by Canonical Visitors from the Dominican Order, with one appointed to Castile and a second to Andalusia. These Visitors had substantial powers: they could move the members of religious communities from house to house and even province to province. They could assist religious superiors in their office, and could depute other superiors from either the Dominicans or Carmelites. In Castile, the Visitor was Pedro Fernández, who prudently balanced the interests of the Discalced Carmelites against those of the friars and nuns who did not desire reform.[18]

In Andalusia to the south, however, where the Visitor was Francisco Vargas, tensions rose due to his clear preference for the Discalced friars. Vargas asked them to make foundations in various cities, in explicit contradiction of orders from the Carmelite Prior General against their expansion in Andalusia. As a result, a General Chapter of the Carmelite Order was convened at Piacenza in Italy in May 1575, out of concern that events in Spain were getting out of hand, which concluded by ordering the total suppression of the Discalced houses.[6]

This measure was not immediately enforced. For one thing, King Philip II of Spain was supportive of some of Teresa’s reforms, and so was not immediately willing to grant the necessary permission to enforce this ordinance. Moreover the Discalced friars also found support from the papal nuncio to King Philip II, Nicolò Ormanetto, Bishop of Padua, who still had ultimate power as nuncio to visit and reform religious Orders. When asked by the Discalced friars to intervene, Ormanetto replaced Vargas as Visitor of the Carmelites in Andalusia (where the troubles had begun) with Jerónimo Gracián, a priest from the University of Alcalá, who was in fact a Discalced Carmelite friar himself.[6] The nuncio’s protection helped John himself avoid problems for a time. In January 1576 John was arrested in Medina del Campo by some Carmelite friars. However, through the nuncio’s intervention, John was soon released.[6] When Ormanetto died on 18 June 1577, however, John was left without protection, and the friars opposing his reforms gained the upper hand.

Imprisonment, writings, torture, death and recognition

On the night of 2 December 1577, a group of Carmelites opposed to reform broke into John’s dwelling in Avila, and took him prisoner. John had received an order from some of his superiors, opposed to reform, ordering him to leave Avila and return to his original house, but John had refused on the basis that his reform work had been approved by the Spanish Nuncio, a higher authority than these superiors.[19] The Carmelites therefore took John captive. John was taken from Avila to the Carmelite monastery in Toledo, at that time the Order’s most important monastery in Castile, where 85 friars lived. John was brought before a court of friars, accused of disobeying the ordinances of Piacenza. Despite John’s argument that he had not disobeyed the ordinances, he received a punishment of imprisonment. He was jailed in the monastery, where he was kept under a brutal regimen that included public lashing before the community at least weekly, and severe isolation in a tiny stifling cell measuring ten feet by six feet, barely large enough for his body. Except when rarely permitted an oil lamp, he had to stand on a bench to read his breviary by the light through the hole into the adjoining room. He had no change of clothing and a penitential diet of water, bread and scraps of salt fish.[20] During this imprisonment, he composed a great part of his most famous poem Spiritual Canticle, as well as a few shorter poems. The paper was passed to him by the friar who guarded his cell.[21] He managed to escape nine months later, on 15 August 1578, through a small window in a room adjoining his cell. (He had managed to pry the cell door off its hinges earlier that day). After being nursed back to health, first with Teresa’s nuns in Toledo, and then during six weeks at the hospital of Santa Cruz, John continued with reform. In October 1578 he joined a meeting at Almodovar del Campo of the supporters of reform, increasingly known as the Discalced Carmelites. There, in part as a result of the opposition faced from other Carmelites in recent years, they decided to demand from the Pope their formal separation from the rest of the Carmelite Order.[6]

At this meeting John was appointed superior of El Calvario, an isolated monastery of around thirty friars in the mountains near Beas in Andalucia. During this time he befriended the nun Ana de Jesús, superior of the Discalced nuns at Beas, through his visits every Saturday to the town. While at El Calvario he composed his first version of his commentary on his poem, The Spiritual Canticle, perhaps at the request of the nuns in Beas.

In 1579 he moved to Baeza, a town of around 50,000 people, to serve as rector of a new college, the Colegio de San Basilio, to support the studies of Discalced friars in Andalucia. This opened on 13 June 1579, and he remained there until 1582, spending much of his time as a spiritual director for the friars and townspeople.

1580 was an important year in the resolution of the disputes within the Carmelites. On 22 June, Pope Gregory XIII signed a decree, titled Pia Consideratione, which authorised a separation between the Calced and Discalced Carmelites. The Dominican friar, Juan Velázquez de las Cuevas, was appointed to carry out the decisions. At the first General Chapter of the Discalced Carmelites, in Alcalá de Henares on 3 March 1581, John of the Cross was elected one of the ‘Definitors’ of the community, and wrote a set of constitutions for them.[22]

Saint John of the Cross’ shrine and reliquary, Convent of Carmelite Friars, Segovia

Reliquary of John of the Cross in Úbeda, Spain

In November 1581 John was sent by Teresa to help Ana de Jesus in founding a convent in Granada. Arriving in January 1582, she set up a monastery of nuns, while John stayed in the friars’ monastery of Los Martires, beside the Alhambra, becoming its prior in March 1582.[23] While here, he learned of the death of Teresa in October of that year.

In February 1585, John travelled to Malaga and established a monastery of Discalced nuns there. In May 1585, at the General Chapter of the Discalced Carmelites in Lisbon, John was elected Provincial Vicar of Andalusia, a post which required him to travel frequently, making annual visitations of the houses of friars and nuns in Andalusia. During this time he founded seven new monasteries in the region.

In June 1588, he was elected third Councillor to the Vicar General for the Discalced Carmelites, Father Nicolas Doria. To fulfill this role, he had to return to Segovia in Castile, where in this capacity he was also prior of the monastery. After disagreeing in 1590-1 with some of Doria’s remodeling of the leadership of the Discalced Carmelite Order, though, John was removed from his post in Segovia, and sent by Doria in June 1591 to an isolated monastery in Andalusia called La Peñuela. There he fell ill, and traveled to the monastery at Úbeda for treatment. His condition worsened, however, and he died there on 14 December 1591, of erysipelas.[6]

Veneration

The morning after John’s death, huge numbers of the townspeople of Úbeda entered the monastery to view John’s body; in the crush, many were able to take home parts of his habit. He was initially buried at Úbeda, but, at the request of the monastery in Segovia, his body was secretly moved there in 1593. The people of Úbeda, however, unhappy at this change, sent representative to petition the pope to move the body back to its original resting place. Pope Clement VIII, impressed by the petition, issued a Brief on 15 October 1596 ordering the return of the body to Ubeda. Eventually, in a compromise, the superiors of the Discalced Carmelites decided that the monastery at Úbeda would receive one leg and one arm of the corpse from Segovia (the monastery at Úbeda had already kept one leg in 1593, and the other arm had been removed as the corpse passed through Madrid in 1593, to form a relic there). A hand and a leg remain visible in a reliquary at the Oratory of San Juan de la Cruz in Úbeda, a monastery built in 1627 though connected to the original Discalced monastery in the town founded in 1587.[24]

The head and torso was retained by the monastery at Segovia. There, they were venerated until 1647, when on orders from Rome designed to prevent the veneration of remains without official approval, the remains were buried in the ground. In the 1930s they were disinterred, and now sit in a side chapel in a marble case above a special altar built in that decade.[24]

Proceedings to beatify John began with the gathering of information on his life between 1614 and 1616, although he was only beatified in 1675 by Pope Clement X, and was canonized by Benedict XIII in 1726. When his feast day was added to the General Roman Calendar in 1738, it was assigned to 24 November, since his date of death was impeded by the then-existing octave of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.[25] This obstacle was removed in 1955 and in 1969 Pope Paul VI moved it to the dies natalis (birthday to heaven) of the saint, 14 December.[26] The Church of England commemorates him as a “Teacher of the Faith” on the same date. In 1926, he was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI.

Editions of his works

His writings were first published in 1618 by Diego de Salablanca. The numerical divisions in the work, still used by modern editions of the text, were introduced by Salablanca (they were not in John’s original writings), in order to help make the work more manageable for the reader.[6] This edition does not contain the ‘’Spiritual Canticle’’, however, and also omits or adapts certain passages, perhaps for fear of falling foul of the Inquisition.

The ‘’Spiritual Canticle’’ was first included in the 1630 edition, produced by Fray Jeronimo de San Jose, at Madrid. This edition was largely followed by later editors, although editions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries gradually included a few more poems and letters.[27]

Literary works

St. John of the Cross is considered one of the foremost poets in the Spanish language. Although his complete poems add up to fewer than 2500 verses, two of them—the Spiritual Canticle and The Dark Night of the Soul are widely considered masterpieces of Spanish poetry, both for their formal stylistic point of view and their rich symbolism and imagery. His theological works often consist of commentaries on these poems. All the works were written between 1578 and his death in 1591, meaning there is great consistency in the views presented in them.

The poem The Spiritual Canticle, is an eclogue in which the bride (representing the soul) searches for the bridegroom (representing Jesus Christ), and is anxious at having lost him; both are filled with joy upon reuniting. It can be seen as a free-form Spanish version of the Song of Songs at a time when translations of the Bible into the vernacular were forbidden. The first 31 stanzas of the poem were composed in 1578 while John was imprisoned in Toledo. It was read after his escape by the nuns at Beas, who made copies of these stanzas. Over the following years, John added some extra stanzas. Today, two versions exist: one with 39 stanzas and one with 40, although with some of the stanzas ordered differently. The first redaction of the commentary on the poem was written in 1584, at the request of Madre Ana de Jesus, when she was prioress of the Discalced Carmelite nuns in Granada. A second redaction, which contains more detail, was written in 1585-6.[6]

The Dark Night (from which the spiritual term takes its name) narrates the journey of the soul from her bodily home to her union with God. It happens during the night, which represents the hardships and difficulties she meets in detachment from the world and reaching the light of the union with the Creator. There are several steps in this night, which are related in successive stanzas. The main idea of the poem can be seen as the painful experience that people endure as they seek to grow in spiritual maturity and union with God. The poem of this title was likely written in 1578 or 1579. In 1584-5, John wrote a commentary on the first two stanzas and first line of the third stanza of the poem.[6]

The Ascent of Mount Carmel is a more systematic study of the ascetical endeavour of a soul looking for perfect union, God, and the mystical events happening along the way. Although it begins as a commentary on the poem ‘’The Dark Night’’, it rapidly drops this format, having commented on the first two stanzas of the poem, and becomes a treatise. It was composed sometime between 1581 and 1585.[6]

A four stanza work, Living Flame of Love describes a greater intimacy, as the soul responds to God’s love. It was written in a first redaction at Granada between 1585-6, apparently in two weeks,[6] and in a mostly identical second redaction at La Penuela in 1591.

These, together with his Dichos de Luz y Amor, or “Sayings of Light and Love,” and St. Teresa‘s writings, are the most important mystical works in Spanish, and have deeply influenced later spiritual writers all around the world. Among these can be named T. S. Eliot, Thérèse de Lisieux, Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), and Thomas Merton. John has also influenced philosophers (Jacques Maritain), theologians (Hans Urs von Balthasar), pacifists (Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, and Philip Berrigan) and artists (Salvador Dalí). Pope John Paul II wrote his theological dissertation on the mystical theology of Saint John of the Cross.

See also

Books

Further reading

  • Sr. Pascale-Dominique Nau, When God Speaks: Lectio Divina in Saint John of the Cross and the Ladder of Monks (Rome: Lulu.com, 2011)
  • E Howells, ‘Spanish Mysticism and Religious Renewal: Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, and John of the Cross (16th Century, Spain)’, in Julia A Lamm, ed., Blackwell Companion to Christian Mysticism, (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012)
  • K Kavanaugh, John of the Cross: doctor of light and love, (2000)
  • Iain Matthew, The Impact of God, Soundings from St John of the Cross (Hodder & Stoughton, 1995)
  • Stephen Payne, John of the Cross and the Cognitive Value of Mysticism, (1990)
  • Rowan Williams, The wound of knowledge: Christian spirituality from the New Testament to St. John of the Cross, (1990)
  • K Wojtyla [Pope John Paul II], Faith According to St. John of the Cross, (1981)

References

  1. ^ The day is unknown. The parish registers were destroyed by a fire in 1546, and the only serious evidence is an inscription on the font in the church, dated 1689. Midsummer Day is sometimes cited as the date of John’s birth, but since this is also the Feast of St John the Baptist, this may simply be conjecture. See E Allison Peers, Spirit of Flame: A Study of St John of the Cross, (London: SCM Press, 1943), p11
  2. ^ Rodriguez, Jose Vincente, Biographical Narrative. God Speaks in the Night. The Life, Times, and Teaching of St. John of the Cross, Washington D.C.: ICS Publications, 1991, p. 3
  3. ^ Norman Roth, Conversos, Inquisition, and the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain, Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1995, pp. 157, 369
  4. ^ Desmond Tillyer, Union with God: The Teaching of St John of the Cross, London & Oxford: Mowbray, 1984, p4
  5. ^ Gerald Brenan, St John of the Cross: His Life and Poetry, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), p4
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Kavanaugh, Kieran (1991). “General Introduction: Biographical Sketch”. In Kieran Kavanaugh. The Collected Works of St John of the Cross. Washington: ICS Publications. pp. 9–27. ISBN 0-935216-14-6.
  7. ^ Matthew, Iain (1995). The Impact of God, Soundings from St John of the Cross.. Hodder & Stoughton. pp. 3. ISBN 0-340-61257-6.
  8. ^ Kavanaugh (1991) names the date as 24 February. However, E Allison Peers (1943), p13, points out that although this, the Feast of St Matthias, is often assumed to be the date, Father Silverio postulates a date in August or September.
  9. ^ At some point between 21 May and October. See E Allison Peers, Spirit of Flame: A Study of St John of the Cross, (London: SCM Press, 1943), p13
  10. ^ E Allison Peers (1943, p16) suggests that the journey was in order to visit a nearby Carthusian monastery; Richard P Hardy, The Life of St John of the Cross: Search for Nothing, (London: DLT, 1982), p24, argues that the reason was for John to say his first mass
  11. ^ E Allison Peers, Spirit of Flame: A Study of St John of the Cross, (London: SCM Press, 1943), p16
  12. ^ Desmond Tillyer, Union with God: The Teaching of St John of the Cross, (London & Oxford: Mowbray, 1984), p.8
  13. ^ Richard P Hardy, The Life of St John of the Cross: Search for Nothing, (London: DLT, 1982), p27
  14. ^ The monastery may have contained three men, according to E Allison Peers (1943), p27, or five, according to Richard P Hardy, The Life of St John of the Cross: Search for Nothing, (London: DLT, 1982), p35
  15. ^ The month generally given is May. E Allison Peers, Complete Works Vol I (1943, xxvi), agreeing with P Silverio, thinks it must have been substantially later than this, though certainly before 27 September.
  16. ^ http://translate.google.com/translate?&u=http%3A%2F%2Ffr.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2FJean+de+la+Croix&sl=fr&tl=en
  17. ^ Richard P Hardy, The Life of St John of the Cross: Search for Nothing, (London: DLT, 1982), p56
  18. ^ He is possibly the same Pedro Fernández who became the Bishop of Avila in 1581. It was he who appointed Teresa in 1571 as prioress in Avila, but who also enjoyed good relations with the Carmelite Prior Provincial of Castile.
  19. ^ Bennedict Zimmermann. “Ascent of Mt Carmel , introductory essay THE DEVELOPMENT OF MYSTICISM IN THE CARMELITE ORDER”. Thomas Baker and Internet Archive. Retrieved 2009-12-11. |pages = 10,11
  20. ^ Desmond Tillyer, Union with God: The Teaching of St John of the Cross, (London & Oxford: Mowbray, 1984), p.10
  21. ^ Dark night of the soul. Translation by Mirabai Starr. ISBN 1-57322-974-1 p.8.
  22. ^ “Jean de la Croix”. Retrieved 2012-10-13.
  23. ^ Richard P Hardy, The Life of St John of the Cross: Search for Nothing, (London: DLT, 1982), p90
  24. ^ a b Richard P Hardy, The Life of St John of the Cross: Search for Nothing, (London: DLT, 1982), pp113-130
  25. ^ Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 110
  26. ^ Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 146
  27. ^ The Complete Works of Saint John of the Cross. Translated and edited by E Allison Peers, from the critical edition of Silverio de Santa Teresa. 3 vols, (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1943). Vol I, pp.l-lxxvi
Saint John of the Cross, O.C.D.
Religious founder, priest and Doctor of the Church
Born 24 June 1542
Fontiveros, Ávila, Spain
Died December 14, 1591 (aged 49)
Úbeda, Jaén, Spain
Honored in Roman Catholic Church; Anglican Communion; Lutheran Church
Beatified 25 January 1675 by Pope Clement X
Canonized 27 December 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII
Major shrine Tomb of Saint John of the Cross, Segovia, Spain
Feast 14 December
24 November (General Roman Calendar, 1738-1969)
Patronage contemplative life; contemplatives; mystical theology; mystics; Spanish poets

 

A series of articles on
Christian mysticism
Mystic Marriage.jpg
Articles
Aspects of meditationChristian meditationChristian contemplationHesychasmMystical theologyReflection on the New Age

Early period
Gregory of NyssaBernard of ClairvauxGuigo II

13th and 14th centuries
Francis of AssisiDominic de GuzmánBonaventureCatherine of Siena

15th and 16th centuries
Ignatius of LoyolaFrancisco de OsunaJohn of AvilaTeresa of ÁvilaJohn of the Cross

17th and 18th centuries
Francis de SalesPierre de Bérulle

19th century
Thérèse of LisieuxGemma GalganiConchita de Armida

20th century
Maria ValtortaFaustina KowalskaThomas Merton

 

External links

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