St John of the Cross (1542 - 1591)
Catholic belief, prayers and spiritual teaching
St John of the Cross (1542 - 1591)
THE DARK NIGHT (cont)
by St John of the Cross
Ch 5. [Begins to explain how this dark contemplation is not only night for the soul but also affliction and torment.]
infused contemplation is loving wisdom of God, it produces two principal effects
in the soul: by both purging and illumining, this contemplation prepares the
soul for union with God through love. Hence the same loving wisdom that purges
and illumines the blessed spirits purges and illumines the soul here on earth.
to this, there are two reasons this divine wisdom is not only night and darkness
for the soul but also affliction and torment. First, because of the height of
the divine wisdom that exceeds the abilities of the soul; and on this account
the wisdom is dark for the soul. Second, because of the soul's baseness and
impurity; and on this account the wisdom is painful, afflictive, and also dark
for the soul.2
Hence when the divine light of contemplation strikes a soul not yet entirely illumined, it causes spiritual darkness, for it not only surpasses the act of natural understanding but it also deprives the soul of this act and darkens it. This is why St. Dionysius and other mystical theologians call this infused contemplation a "ray of darkness" - that is, for the soul not yet illumined and purged.4 For this great supernatural light overwhelms the intellect and deprives it of its natural vigor.
David also said that clouds and
darkness are near God and surround him [Ps. 18:11], not because this is true in
itself, but because it appears thus to our weak intellects, which in being
unable to attain so bright a light are blinded and darkened. Hence he next
declared that clouds passed before the great splendor of his presence [Ps.
18:12], that is, between God and our intellect. As a result, when God
communicates this bright ray of his secret wisdom to the soul not yet
transformed, he causes thick darkness in its intellect.
The soul, because of its impurity, suffers immensely at the time this divine light truly assails it. When this pure light strikes in order to expel all impurity, persons feel so unclean and wretched that it seems God is against them and they are against God.
Because it seems that God has rejected
it, the soul suffers such pain and grief that when God tried Job in this way it
proved one of the worst of Job's trials, as he says: Why have You set me against
You, and I am heavy and burdensome to myself? [Jb. 7:20]. Clearly beholding its
impurity by means of this pure light, although in darkness, the soul understands
distinctly that it is worthy neither of God nor of any creature. And what most
grieves it is that it thinks it will never be worthy, and there are no more
blessings for it. This divine and dark light causes deep immersion of the mind
in the knowledge and feeling of one's own miseries and evils; it brings all
these miseries into relief so the soul sees clearly that of itself it will never
possess anything else. We can interpret that passage from David in this sense:
You have corrected humans because of their iniquity and have undone and consumed
their souls, as a spider is eviscerated in its work [Ps. 39:11].
amazing and pitiful it is that the soul be so utterly weak and impure that the
hand of God, though light and gentle, should feel so heavy and contrary. For the
hand of God does not press down or weigh on the soul, but only touches it; and
this mercifully, for God's aim is to grant it favors and not to chastise it.