John of the Cross: The Dazzling Power of Desire Saturday, Jul 16 2011 

The soul that is clouded by the desires is darkened in the understanding, and allows neither the sun of natural reason nor that of the supernatural Wisdom of God to shine upon it and illumine it clearly.

[…] And, at this same time, when the soul is darkened in the understanding, it is benumbed also in the will, and the memory becomes dull and disordered in its due operation.

For, as these faculties in their operations depend upon the understanding, it is clear that, when the understanding is impeded, they will become disordered and troubled.

And thus David says: “My soul is sorely troubled”. Which is as much as to say, “disordered in its faculties.”

For, as we say, the understanding has no more capacity for receiving enlightenment from the wisdom of God than has the air, when it is dark, for receiving enlightenment from the sun.

Neither has the will any power to embrace God within itself in pure love, even as the mirror that is clouded with vapour has no power to reflect clearly within itself any visage.

And even less power has the memory, which is clouded by the darkness of desire, to take clearly upon itself the form of the image of God, just as the muddled water cannot show forth clearly the visage of one that looks at himself therein.

Desire blinds and darkens the soul; for desire, as such, is blind, since of itself it has no understanding in itself, the reason being to it always, as it were, a child leading a blind man.

And hence it comes to pass that, whensoever the soul is guided by its desire, it becomes blind; for this is as if one that sees were guided by one that sees not, which is, as it were, for both to be blind.

[…] And even so we may say that one who feeds upon desire is like a fish that is dazzled, upon which the light acts rather as darkness, preventing it from seeing the snares which the fishermen are preparing for it.

[…] And it is this that desire does to the soul, enkindling its concupiscence and dazzling its understanding so that it cannot see its light.

For the cause of its being thus dazzled is that when another light of a different kind is set before the eye, the visual faculty is attracted by that which is interposed so that it sees not the other.

And, as the desire is set so near to the soul as to be within the soul itself, the soul meets this first light and is attracted by it.

And thus it is unable to see the light of clear understanding, neither will see it until the dazzling power of desire is taken away from it.

John of the Cross (1542-1591): Ascent of Mount Carmel, 1, 8, 1-3.

John of the Cross: My House Being Now At Rest Tuesday, Dec 14 2010 

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 this first stanzas the soul sings of the happy fortune and chance which it experienced in going forth from all things that are without, and from the desires and imperfections that are in the sensual part of man because of the disordered state of his reason.

For the understanding of this it must be known that, for a soul to attain to the state of perfection, it has ordinarily first to pass through two principal kinds of night, which spiritual persons call purgations or purifications of the soul.

And here we call them nights, for in both of them the soul journeys, as it were, by night, in darkness. The first night or purgation is of the sensual part of the soul…and the second is of the spiritual part.

And this first night pertains to beginners, occurring at the time when God begins to bring them into the state of contemplation….And the second night, or purification, pertains to those who are already proficient, occurring at the time when God desires to bring them to the state of union with God.

[…] Briefly, then, the soul means by this stanza that it went forth (being led by God) for love of Him alone, enkindled in love of Him, upon a dark night, which is the privation and purgation of all its sensual desires, with respect to all outward things of the world and to those which were delectable to its flesh, and likewise with respect to the desires of its will.

This all comes to pass in this purgation of sense; for which cause the soul says that it went forth while its house was still at rest; which house is its sensual part, the desires being at rest and asleep in it, as it is to them.

For there is no going forth from the pains and afflictions of the secret places of the desires until these be mortified and put to sleep.

And this, the soul says, was a happy chance for it — namely, its going forth without being observed: that is, without any desire of its flesh or any other thing being able to hinder it.

And likewise, because it went out by night — which signifies the privation of all these things wrought in it by God, which privation was night for it.

And it was a happy chance that God should lead it into this night, from which there came to it so much good; for of itself the soul would not have succeeded in entering therein, because no man of himself can succeed in voiding himself of all his desires in order to come to God.

John of the Cross (1542-1591): Ascent of Mount Carmel, 1,1.


John of the Cross: The Soul’s Transformation into the Will of God Saturday, May 8 2010 

All the desires are not equally hurtful, nor do they all equally embarrass the soul.

I am speaking of those that are voluntary, for the natural desires hinder the soul little, if at all, from attaining to union, when they are not consented to nor pass beyond the first movements.

And to take away these — that is, to mortify them wholly in this life — is impossible.

And these hinder not the soul in such a way as to prevent its attainment to divine union, even though they be not, as I say, wholly mortified.

The natural man may well have them, and yet the soul may be quite free from them according to the rational spirit.

For it will sometimes come to pass that the soul will be in the full union of the prayer of quiet in the will at the very time when these desires are dwelling in the sensual part of the soul, and yet the higher part, which is in prayer, will have nothing to do with them.

But all the other voluntary desires, whether they be of mortal sin, which are the gravest, or of venial sin, which are less grave, or whether they be only of imperfections, which are the least grave of all, must be driven away every one, and the soul must be free from them all, howsoever slight they be, if it is to come to this complete union.

And the reason is that the state of this divine union consists in the soul’s total transformation, according to the will, in the will of God, so that, there may be naught in the soul that is contrary to the will of God, but that, in all and through all, its movement may be that of the will of God alone.

It is for this reason that we say of this state that it is the making of two wills into one — namely, into the will of God, which will of God is likewise the will of the soul.

For if this soul desired any imperfection that God wills not, there would not be made one will of God, since the soul would have a will for that which God has not.

It is clear, then, that for the soul to come to unite itself perfectly with God through love and will, it must first be free from all desire of the will, howsoever slight.

That is, that it must not intentionally and knowingly consent with the will to imperfections, and it must have power and liberty to be able not so to consent intentionally.

John of the Cross (1542-1591): Ascent of Mount Carmel, 1, 11, 2-3.

John of the Cross: The Deified Soul as the Altar of God’s Presence Thursday, Mar 4 2010 

In Genesis…we read that, when the patriarch Jacob desired to ascend Mount Bethel, in order to build an altar there to God whereon he should offer Him sacrifice, he first commanded all his people to do three things:

One was that they should cast away from them all strange gods; the second, that they should purify themselves; the third, that they should change their garments (Gen. 35:2).

By these three things it is signified that any soul that will ascend this mount in order to make of itself an altar whereon it may offer to God the sacrifice of pure love and praise and pure reverence, must, before ascending to the summit of the mount, have done these three things aforementioned perfectly.

First, it must cast away all strange gods — namely, all strange affections and attachments.

Secondly, it must purify itself of the remnants which the desires aforementioned have left in the soul, by means of the dark night of sense whereof we are speaking, habitually denying them and repenting itself of them.

And thirdly, in order to reach the summit of this high mount, it must have changed its garments, which, through its observance of the first two things, God will change for it, from old to new.

He will change it by giving it a new understanding of God in God, the old human understanding being cast aside.

And He will change it by giving it a new love of God in God – once the will has been stripped of all its old desires and human pleasures,

…and the soul has been brought into a new state of knowledge and profound delight,

…and all other old images and forms of knowledge have been cast away,

…and all that belongs to the old man, which is the aptitude of the natural self, has been quelled,

…and the soul has been clothed with a new supernatural aptitude with respect to all its faculties.

So that its operation, which before was human, has become Divine.

This becoming Divine is what which is attained in the state of union, wherein the soul becomes nothing other than an altar whereon God is adored in praise and love, and God alone is upon it.

For this cause God commanded that the altar whereon the Ark of the Covenant was to be laid should be hollow within (Ex. 27:8) so that the soul may understand how completely empty of all things God desires it to be, that it may be an altar worthy of the presence of His Majesty.

On this altar it was likewise forbidden that there should be any strange fire, or that its own fire should ever fail.

By this we are to understand that the love of God must never fail in the soul, so that the soul may be a worthy altar, and so that no other love must be mingled with it.

John of the Cross (1542-1591): Ascent of Mount Carmel, 1, 5, 6-7.

John of the Cross: “He That Renounces Not All Things That He Possesses With His Will Cannot Be My Disciple” Thursday, Feb 11 2010 

Wherefore, it is supreme ignorance for the soul to think that it will be able to pass to this high estate of union with God if first it void not the desire of all things, natural and supernatural, which may hinder it…

For this reason Our Lord, when showing us this path, said through Saint Luke: “He that renounces not all things that he possesses with his will cannot be My disciple”.

And this is evident; for the doctrine that the Son of God came to teach was contempt for all things, whereby a man might receive as a reward the Spirit of God in himself.

For, as long as the soul rejects not all things, it has no capacity to receive the Spirit of God in pure transformation.

[…] Oh, did spiritual persons but know how much good and what great abundance of spirit they lose through not seeking to raise up their desires above childish things, and how in this simple spiritual food they would find the sweetness of all things, if they desired not to taste those things!

[…]  Thus he that will love some other thing together with God of a certainty makes little account of God, for he weighs in the balance against God that which, as we have said, is at the greatest possible distance from God.

It is well known by experience that, when the will of a man is affectioned to one thing, he prizes it more than any other; although some other thing may be much better, he takes less pleasure in it.

And if he wishes to enjoy both, he is bound to wrong the more important, because he makes an equality between them.

Wherefore, since there is naught that equals God, the soul that loves some other thing together with Him, or clings to it, does Him a grievous wrong.

And if this is so, what would it be doing if it loved anything more than God?

John of the Cross (1542-1591): Ascent of Mount Carmel, 1, 5, 2-5.

John of the Cross: Three Ways in which God is Present in the Soul Monday, Dec 14 2009 

We must remember that there are three ways in which God is present in the soul.

The first is His presence in essence, not in holy souls only, but in wretched and sinful souls as well, and also in all created things;

for it is by this presence that He gives life and being, and were it once withdrawn all things would return to nothing. This presence never fails in the soul.

The second is His presence by grace, whereby He dwells in the soul, pleased and satisfied with it.

This presence is not in all souls; for those who fall into mortal sin lose it, and no soul can know in a natural way whether it has it or not.

The third is His presence by spiritual affection. God is wont to show His presence in many devout souls in diverse ways, in refreshment, joy, and gladness;

yet this, like the others, is all secret, for He does not show Himself as He is, because the condition of our mortal life does not admit of it. Thus this prayer of the soul may be understood of any one of them:

“Reveal Your presence.”

Inasmuch as it is certain that God is ever present in the soul, at least in the first way, the soul does not say, “Be present”; but, “Reveal and manifest Your hidden presence, whether natural, spiritual, or affective, in such a way that I may behold You in Your divine essence and beauty.”

The soul prays Him that as He by His essential presence gives it its natural being, and perfects it by His presence of grace, so also He would glorify it by the manifestation of His glory.

But as the soul is now loving God with fervent affections, the presence, for the revelation of which it prays the Beloved to manifest, is to be understood chiefly of the affective presence of the Beloved.

Such is the nature of this presence that the soul felt there was an infinite being hidden there, out of which God communicated to it certain obscure visions of His own divine beauty.

Such was the effect of these visions that the soul longed and fainted away with the desire of that which is hidden in that presence.

John of the Cross (1542-1591): Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 11, 2-4.

John of the Cross: The Soul Has Its Life In God Tuesday, Dec 1 2009 

The soul lives there where it loves, rather than in the body which it animates.

The soul does not live by the body, but, on the contrary, gives it life, and lives by love in that which it loves.

For beside this life of love which it lives in God Who loves it, the soul has its radical and natural life in God, like all created things, according to the saying of St. Paul: “In Him we live, and move, and are”, that is, our life, motion, and being is in God.

St. John also says that all that was made was life in God: “That which was made, in Him was life”

When the soul sees that its natural life is in God through the being He has given it, and its spiritual life also because of the love it bears Him, it breaks forth into lamentations, complaining that so frail a life in a mortal body should have the power to hinder it from the fruition of the true, real, and delicious life, which it lives in God by nature and by love.

Earnestly, therefore, does the soul insist upon this. It tells us that it suffers between two contradictions – its natural life in the body, and its spiritual life in God…The soul living this double life is of necessity in great pain.

For the painful life hinders the delicious, so that the natural life is as death, seeing that it deprives the soul of its spiritual life, wherein is its whole being and life by nature, and all its operations and feelings by love.

John of the Cross (1542-1591): Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 8, 2-3.

John of the Cross: Creation, Incarnation, Resurrection Thursday, Nov 12 2009 

The son of God is, in the words of St. Paul, “the brightness of His glory and the figure of His substance” (Heb. 1:3).

God saw all things only in the face of His Son.

This was to give them their natural being, bestowing upon them many graces and natural gifts, making them perfect, as it is written in the book of Genesis: “God saw all the things that He had made: and they were very good” (Gen. 1:31).

To see all things very good was to make them very good in the Word, His Son.

He not only gave them their being and their natural graces when He beheld them, but He also clothed them with beauty in the face of His Son, communicating to them a supernatural being when He made man, and exalted him to the beauty of God, and, by consequence, all creatures in him, because He united Himself to the nature of them all in man.

For this cause the Son of God Himself said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all things to Myself” (John 12:32).

And thus in this exaltation of the incarnation of His Son, and the glory of His resurrection according to the flesh, the Father not only made all things beautiful in part, but also, we may well say, clothed them wholly with beauty and dignity.

John of the Cross (1542-1591): Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 5, 3-4.

John of the Cross: Becoming Divine Friday, Nov 6 2009 

Light-winged birds,
Lions, fawns, bounding does,
Mountains, valleys, strands,
Waters, winds, heat,
And the terrors that keep watch by night;
By the soft lyres
And the siren strains, I adjure you,
Let your fury cease,
And touch not the wall,
That the bride may sleep in greater security.

Here the Son of God, the Bridegroom, leads the bride into the enjoyment of peace and tranquillity in the conformity of her lower to her higher nature, purging away all her imperfections, subjecting the natural powers of the soul to reason, and mortifying all her desires, as it is expressed in these two stanzas, the meaning of which is as follows.

In the first place the Bridegroom adjures and commands all vain distractions of the fancy and imagination from henceforth to cease, and controls the irascible and concupiscible faculties which were previously the sources of so much affliction.

He brings, so far as it is possible in this life, the three powers of memory, understanding, and will to the perfection of their objects, and then adjures and commands the four passions of the soul, joy, hope, grief, and fear, to be still, and bids them from henceforth be moderate and calm.

All these passions and faculties are comprehended under the expressions employed in the first stanza, the operations of which, full of trouble, the Bridegroom subdues by that great sweetness, joy, and courage which the bride enjoys in the spiritual surrender of Himself to her which God makes at this time;

under the influence of which, because God transforms the soul effectually in Himself, all the faculties, desires, and movements of the soul lose their natural imperfection and become divine.

John of the Cross (1542-1591): Spiritual Canticle, Stanzas 20-21, 1-2.

John of the Cross: The Doctrine that the Son of God Came to Teach Wednesday, Oct 28 2009 

From what has been said it may be seen in some measure how great a distance there is between all that the creatures are in themselves and that which God is in Himself, and how souls that set their affections upon any of these creatures are at as great a distance as they from God; for, as we have said, love produces equality and likeness….

Wherefore, it is supreme ignorance for the soul to think that it will be able to pass to this high estate of union with God if first it void not the desire of all things, natural and supernatural, which may hinder it, according as we shall explain hereafter.

For there is the greatest possible distance between these things and that which comes to pass in this estate, which is naught else than transformation in God. For this reason Our Lord, when showing us this path, said through Saint Luke “he that renounces not all things that he possesses with his will cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:33).

And this is evident; for the doctrine that the Son of God came to teach was contempt for all things, whereby a man might receive as a reward the Spirit of God in himself. For, as long as the soul rejects not all things, it has no capacity to receive the Spirit of God in pure transformation.

John of the Cross (1542-1591): Ascent of Mount Carmel, 2,5.

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