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  • St. John Of The Cross

    3 posts, 3 voices, 617 views, started Jan 2, 2009

    Posted on Friday, January 2, 2009


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      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 Dark Night of the Soul 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 of them concerning the two poems above, and supposedly explaining the meaning of the poems verse by verse and even word by word. He actually proves unable to follow this scheme and writes freely on the subject he is treating at each time.

      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]


           1. On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings—oh, happy


           I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.

           2. In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised—oh,

           happy chance!—

           In darkness and in concealment, My house being now at rest.

           3. 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.

           4. This light guided me More surely than the light of noonday

           To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me—A place

           where none appeared.

           5. Oh, night that guided me, Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,

           Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, Lover transformed in the


           6. Upon my flowery breast, Kept wholly for himself alone,

           There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him, And the fanning of the

           cedars made a breeze.

           7. The breeze blew from the turret As I parted his locks;

           With his gentle hand he wounded my neck And caused all my senses to

           be suspended.

           8. 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.


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