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Saint John of the Cross
Confessor and Doctor of the Church
Born 24 June 1542, Fontiveros, Spain
Died December 14, 1591 (aged 49), Ubeda, Andalusia, Spain
Venerated 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

Saint John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz) (24 June 1542 — 14 December 1591), born Juan de Yepes Alvarez, was a major figure of the Catholic Reformation, a Spanish mystic, and Carmelite friar and priest, born at Fontiveros, Old Castile.

Saint 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-three Doctors of the Church. When his feast day was inserted into the General Roman Calendar in 1738, it was assigned at first to 24 November, since his date of death was impeded by the then existing octave of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This obstacle was removed in 1955 and in 1969 his feast day was moved to his date of death, 14 December.

Contents

Life

Early life and education

St. John was born by the name of Juan de Yepes Alvarez[1] into a Jewish converso family in a small community near Ávila.[2] His father died when he was young, and so John, his two older brothers and his widowed mother struggled with poverty, moving around and living in various Castilian villages, with the last being Medina del Campo, to which he moved in 1551. There he worked at a hospital and studied the humanities at a Society of Jesus (Jesuit) school from 1559 to 1563. The Society of Jesus was a new organization at the time, having been founded a few years earlier by the Spanish St. Ignatius Loyola. On 24 February 1563 he entered the Carmelite order, adopting the name Fr. Juan de Santo Matía.

The following year (1564) he professed as a Carmelite (was promoted from novice status) and moved to Salamanca, where he studied theology and philosophy at the University and at the Colegio de San Andrés. 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).

Priesthood and association with Saint Teresa de Jesús

Saint 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. Before this, however, he travelled to Medina del Campo, where he met the charismatic Saint Teresa de Jesús. She immediately talked to him about her reformation projects for the Carmelite order, and asked him to delay his entry into the Carthusians. The following year, on 28 November, he started this reformation at Duruelo together with Fr. Antonio de Jesús de Heredia, and the originally small and impoverished town of Duruelo became a center of religion.

John, still in his 20s, continued to work as a helper of Saint Teresa until 1577, founding monasteries around Spain and taking active part in their government. These foundations and the reformation process were resisted by a great number of Carmelite friars, some of whom felt that Teresa's version of the order was too strict. Some of these opponents would even try to bar Teresa from entering their convents.

The followers of St. John and St. Teresa differentiated themselves from the non-reformed communities by calling themselves the "discalced", i.e., barefoot, and the others the "calced" Carmelites.

Imprisonment, writings, torture, death and recognition

On the night of 2 December 1577, following his refusal to relocate after his superior's orders and allegedly because of his attempts to reform life within the Carmelite order, he was taken prisoner by his superiors, and jailed in Toledo, 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 barely large enough for his body. 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). In the meantime, he had composed a great part of his most famous poem Spiritual Canticle during this imprisonment; his harsh sufferings and spiritual endeavours are then reflected in all of his subsequent writings. The paper was passed to him by one of the friars guarding his cell.[3]

After returning to a normal life, he went on with the reformation and the founding of monasteries for the new Discalced Carmelite order, which he had helped found along with his fellow St. Teresa de Ávila.

He died on 14 December 1591, of erysipelas (cellulitis). His writings were first published in 1618, and he was canonized by Benedict XIII in 1726. In 1926, he was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI. When inserted into the Roman Catholic calendar of saints in 1738, his feast day was assigned to 24 November.[4] Pope Paul VI moved it to the dies natalis (birthday to heaven) of the saint, 14 December.[5]

The Church of England commemorates him as a "Teacher of the Faith" on the same date.

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 less than 2500 verses, two of them—the Spiritual Canticle and Dark Night of the Soul are widely considered to be among the best poems ever written in Spanish, both for their formal stylistic point of view and their rich symbolism and imagery.

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.

Dark Night of the Soul (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. A year after writing this poem, in 1586 he wrote a commentary on Dark Night of the Soul with the same title. This commentary explains the meaning of the poem verse by verse.

St. John also wrote four treatises on mystical theology, two treatises concerning the two poems above, which set out to explain the true meaning of the poems verse by verse and even word by word.

The third work, 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. A four stanza work, Living Flame of Love describes a greater intimacy, as the soul responds to God's love. 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), and pacifists (Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, and Philip Berrigan). Pope John Paul II wrote his theological dissertation on the mystical theology of Saint John of the Cross. Saint John is also mentioned in Allen Ginsberg's groundbreaking poem Howl,[6] and is quoted by Jonas Mekas in his epic film-diary work 'Walden'.

See also

Books

  • Dark Night of the Soul: A Masterpiece in the Literature of Mysticism (Translated and Edited by E. Allison Peers), Doubleday, 1959. ISBN 978-0385-02930-8
  • The Poems of Saint John of the Cross (English Versions and Introduction by Willis Barnstone), Indiana University Press, 1968, revised 2nd ed. New Directions, 1972. ISBN 0-8112-0449-9
  • Dark Night Of The Soul, Saint John of The Cross (Translated by Mirabai Starr), Riverhead Books, New York, 2002, ISBN 1-57322-974-1
  • Poems of St John of The Cross (Translated and Introduction by Kathleen Jones), Burns and Oates, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, UK, 1993, ISBN 0860122107

References

  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ Norman Roth, Conversos, Inquisition, and the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain, Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1995, pp. 157, 369
  3. ^ Dark night of the soul. Translation by Mirabai Starr. ISBN 1-57322-974-1 p.8.
  4. ^ Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 110
  5. ^ Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 146
  6. ^ [1]

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Upon a darkened night the flame of love was burning in my breast...

John of the Cross [Juan de la Cruz] (24 June 154214 December 1591) was a Spanish Carmelite mystic and poet.

Contents

Sourced

Dark Night of the Soul

The Dark Night Of The Soul as translated by David Lewis (1909) - Original Spanish with English translation - Full English text in various formats
And by a lantern bright I fled my house while all in quiet rest.
  • On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings — oh, happy chance! —
    I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.
    In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised — oh, happy chance! —
    In darkness and in concealment, My house being now at rest.
    • One dark night, fired with love's urgent longings — ah, the sheer grace! —
      I went out unseen, my house being now all stilled.
      In darkness, and secure, by the secret ladder, disguised, — ah, the sheer grace! — in darkness and concealment, my house being now all stilled.
      • Variant translation by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (1991)
    • Upon a darkened night the flame of love was burning in my breast
      And by a lantern bright I fled my house while all in quiet rest.
      Shrouded by the night and by the secret stair I quickly fled.
      The veil concealed my eyes while all within lay quiet as the dead
  • In the happy night, In secret, when none saw me,
    Nor I beheld aught, Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart.
O guiding night! O night more lovely than the dawn!
  • Oh, night that guided me, Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
    Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, Lover transformed in the Beloved!
    • O guiding night! O night more lovely than the dawn!
      O night that has united the Lover with his beloved, transforming the beloved in her Lover.
      • Variant translation by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (1991)
    • Oh night thou was my guide
      Oh night more loving than the rising sun
      Oh night that joined the lover to the beloved one
      transforming each of them into the other.
  • I remained, lost in oblivion; My face I reclined on the Beloved.
    All ceased and I abandoned myself, Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.
    • I abandoned and forgot myself, laying my face on my Beloved; all things ceased; I went out from myself, leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.
    • Variant translation by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (1991)
In search of my Love I will go over mountains and strands...

Canticle of The Soul and The Bridegroom

The Spiritual Canticle as translated by E. Allison Peers - A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ as translated by David Lewis
  • In search of my Love
    I will go over mountains and strands;
    I will gather no flowers,
    I will fear no wild beasts;
    And pass by the mighty and the frontiers.
    ~ 3
A thousand graces diffusing He passed through the groves in haste, and merely regarding them as He passed clothed them with His beauty.
  • A thousand graces diffusing
    He passed through the groves in haste,
    And merely regarding them
    As He passed
    Clothed them with His beauty.
    ~ 5
  • Reveal Thy presence,
    And let the vision and Thy beauty kill me,
    Behold the malady
    Of love is incurable
    Except in Thy presence and before Thy face. ~ 11
O crystal well! Oh that on Thy silvered surface Thou wouldest mirror forth at once those eyes desired which are outlined in my heart!
  • O crystal well!
    Oh that on Thy silvered surface
    Thou wouldest mirror forth at once
    Those eyes desired
    Which are outlined in my heart! ~ 12
My Beloved is the mountains...
  • My Beloved is the mountains,
    The solitary wooded valleys,
    The strange islands,
    The roaring torrents,
    The whisper of the amorous gales;
    The tranquil night
    At the approaches of the dawn,
    The silent music,
    The murmuring solitude,
    The supper which revives, and enkindles love.
    ~ 14 & 15
  • O killing north wind, cease!
    Come, south wind, that awakenest love!

    Blow through my garden,
    And let its odours flow,
    And the Beloved shall feed among the flowers. ~ 17
  • The bride has entered
    The pleasant and desirable garden,
    And there reposes to her heart’s content;
    Her neck reclining
    On the sweet arms of the Beloved. ~ 22
  • There He taught me the science full of sweetness.
    And there I gave to Him
    Myself without reserve;
    There I promised to be His bride. ~ 27
My sole occupation is love.
  • My soul is occupied,
    And all my substance in His service;

    Now I guard no flock,
    Nor have I any other employment:
    My sole occupation is love. ~ 28
  • If, then, on the common land
    I am no longer seen or found,
    You will say that I am lost;
    That, being enamoured,
    I lost myself; and yet was found.
    ~ 29
  • When Thou didst regard me,
    Thine eyes imprinted in me Thy grace:

    For this didst Thou love me again,
    And thereby mine eyes did merit
    To adore what in Thee they saw. ~ 32
  • Despise me not,
    For if I was swarthy once
    Thou canst regard me now;
    Since Thou hast regarded me,
    Grace and beauty hast Thou given me.
    ~ 33
The little white dove has returned to the ark with the bough...
  • The little white dove
    Has returned to the ark with the bough
    ;
    And now the turtle-dove
    Its desired mate
    On the green banks has found. ~ 34
  • In solitude she lived,
    And in solitude built her nest;
    And in solitude, alone
    Hath the Beloved guided her,
    In solitude also wounded with love.
    ~ 35
Let us rejoice, O my Beloved! Let us go forth to see ourselves in Thy beauty, To the mountain and the hill, Where the pure water flows...
  • Let us rejoice, O my Beloved!
    Let us go forth to see ourselves in Thy beauty,
    To the mountain and the hill,
    Where the pure water flows:

    Let us enter into the heart of the thicket. ~ 36
  • We shall go at once
    To the deep caverns of the rock
    Which are all secret,
    There we shall enter in
    And taste of the new wine of the pomegranate. ~ 37
  • There thou wilt show me
    That which my soul desired;
    And there Thou wilt give at once,
    O Thou, my life!
    That which Thou gavest me the other day. ~ 38
  • The breathing of the air,
    The song of the sweet nightingale,
    The grove and its beauty
    In the serene night,
    With the flame that consumes, and gives no pains. ~ 39
God is pleased with nothing but love ... All our works, and all our labours, how grand soever they may be, are nothing in the sight of God...

Notes to the Stanzas

  • I have said that God is pleased with nothing but love; but before I explain this, it will be as well to set forth the grounds on which the assertion rests. All our works, and all our labours, how grand soever they may be, are nothing in the sight of God, for we can give Him nothing, neither can we by them fulfil His desire, which is the growth of our soul. As to Himself He desires nothing of this, for He has need of nothing, and so, if He is pleased with anything it is with the growth of the soul; and as there is no way in which the soul can grow but in becoming in a manner equal to Him, for this reason only is He pleased with our love. It is the property of love to place him who loves on an equality with the object of his love. Hence the soul, because of its perfect love, is called the bride of the Son of God, which signifies equality with Him. In this equality and friendship all things are common, as the Bridegroom Himself said to His disciples: I have called you friends, because all things, whatsoever I have heard of my Father, I have made known to you.
    • Note to Stanza 27
All the powers of soul and body, memory, understanding, and will, interior and exterior senses, the desires of spirit and of sense, all work in and by love...
  • My sole occupation is love.
    All my occupation now is the practice of the love of God, all the powers of soul and body, memory, understanding, and will, interior and exterior senses, the desires of spirit and of sense, all work in and by love. All I do is done in love; all I suffer, I suffer in the sweetness of love.
    • Explanation of Stanza 28 part 8
  • When the soul has arrived at this state all the acts of its spiritual and sensual nature, whether active or passive, and of whatever kind they may be, always occasion an increase of love and delight in God: even the act of prayer and communion with God, which was once carried on by reflections and divers other methods, is now wholly an act of love. So much so is this the case that the soul may always say, whether occupied with temporal or spiritual things, "My sole occupation is love." Happy life! happy state! and happy the soul which has attained to it!
    • Explanation of Stanza 28 part 8
There is nothing better or more necessary than love.
  • There is nothing better or more necessary than love.
    • Note to Stanza 28 part 1
  • If the soul has not reached the state of unitive love, it is necessary for it to make acts of love, as well in the active as in the contemplative life. But when it has reached it, it is not requisite it should occupy itself in other and exterior duties — unless they be matters of obligation — which might hinder, were it but for a moment, the life of love in God, though they may minister greatly to His service; because an instant of pure love is more precious in the eyes of God and the soul, and more profitable to the Church, than all other good works together, though it may seem as if nothing were done.
    • Note to Stanza 28 part 2
In a word, it is for this love that we are all created.
  • When the soul, then, in any degree possesses the spirit of solitary love, we must not interfere with it. We should inflict a grievous wrong upon it, and upon the Church also, if we were to occupy it, were it only for a moment, in exterior or active duties, however important they might be. When God Himself adjures all not to waken it from its love, who shall venture to do so, and be blameless? In a word, it is for this love that we are all created. Let those men of zeal, who think by their preaching and exterior works to convert the world, consider that they would be much more edifying to the Church, and more pleasing unto God — setting aside the good example they would give if they would spend at least one half their time in prayer, even though they may have not attained to the state of unitive love.
    • Note to Stanza 28 part 3
  • I have said this to explain the stanza that follows, in which the soul replies to those who call in question its holy tranquillity, who will have it wholly occupied with outward duties, that its light may shine before the world: these persons have no conception of the fibres and the unseen root whence the sap is drawn, and which nourish the fruit.
    • Note to Stanza 28 part 4
  • Worldly people are in the habit of censuring those who give themselves up in earnest to God, regarding them as extravagant, in their withdrawal from the world, and in their manner of life. They say also of them that they are useless for all matters of importance, and lost to everything the world prizes and respects! This reproach the soul meets in the best way; boldly and courageously despising it with everything else that the world can lay to its charge. Having attained to a living love of God, it makes little account of all this; and that is not all: it confesses it itself in this stanza, and boasts that it has committed that folly, and that it is lost to the world and to itself for the Beloved.
    • Note to Stanza 29 part 1
  • He who loves is not ashamed before men of what he does for God, neither does he hide it through shame though the whole world should condemn it.
    • Note to Stanza 29 part 4
  • When a soul has advanced so far on the spiritual road as to be lost to all the natural methods of communing with God; when it seeks Him no longer by meditation, images, impressions, nor by any other created ways, or representations of sense, but only by rising above them all, in the joyful communion with Him by faith and love, then it may be said to have found God of a truth, because it has truly lost itself as to all that is not God, and also as to its own self.
    • Note to Stanza 29 part 8

The Sayings of Light and Love

As translated by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (1991)
The very pure spirit does not bother about the regard of others or human respect, but communes inwardly with God, alone and in solitude as to all forms, and with delightful tranquility, for the knowledge of God is received in divine silence.
  • Deny your desires and you will find what your heart longs for. For how do you know if any desire of yours is according to God?
  • One human thought alone is worth more than the entire world, hence God alone is worthy of it.
  • The very pure spirit does not bother about the regard of others or human respect, but communes inwardly with God, alone and in solitude as to all forms, and with delightful tranquility, for the knowledge of God is received in divine silence.
  • If you wish to attain holy recollection, you will do so not by receiving but by denying.
  • Souls will be unable to reach perfection who do not strive to be content with having nothing, in such fashion that their natural and spiritual desire is satisfied with emptiness; for this is necessary in order to reach the highest tranquility and peace of spirit. Hence the love of God in the pure and simple soul is almost continually in act.
  • Although you perform many works, if you do not deny your will and submit yourself, losing all solicitude about yourself and your affairs, you will not make progress.
  • If you desire to discover peace and consolation for your soul and to serve God truly, do not find your satisfaction in what you have left behind, because in that which now concerns you you may be as impeded as you were before, or even more. But leave as well all these other things and attend to one thing alone that brings all these with it (namely, holy solitude, together with prayer and spiritual and divine reading), and persevere there in forgetfulness of all things.
  • Love consists not in feeling great things but in having great detachment and in suffering for the Beloved.
  • Not all the faculties and senses have to be employed in things, but only those that are required; as for the others, leave them unoccupied for God.
  • The soul that desires God to surrender himself to it entirely must surrender itself entirely to him without keeping anything for itself.
  • Strive to preserve your heart in peace; let no event of this world disturb it; reflect that all must come to an end.
  • Whoever flees prayer flees all that is good.
  • Live as though only God and yourself were in this world, so that your heart may not be detained by anything human.
I have gone over three different translations of the poem, and am struck by how much a translation can alter our interpretation. ~ Loreena McKennitt

Quotes about John of the Cross

  • It is perhaps not an exaggeration to say that the verse and prose works combined of St. John of the Cross form at once the most grandiose and the most melodious spiritual canticle to which any one man has ever given utterance.
    • E. Allison Peers
  • May, 1993 - Stratford... have been reading through the poetry of 15th century Spain, and I find myself drawn to one by the mystic writer and visionary St. John of the Cross; the untitled work is an exquisite, richly metaphoric love poem between himself and his god. It could pass as a love poem between any two at any time ... His approach seems more akin to early Islamic or Judaic works in its more direct route to communication to his god... I have gone over three different translations of the poem, and am struck by how much a translation can alter our interpretation. Am reminded that most holy scriptures come to us in translation, resulting in a diversity of views.
    • Loreena McKennitt, notes from her journals in the CD booklet for The Mask and Mirror (1994)

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