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Posted October 25, 2005

Book: Loving God Through the Darkness: Selected Writings of John of the Cross
Author: Selected, edited, and introduced by Keith Beasley-Topliffe
Upper Room Books, Nashville, TN, pp.80

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

John of the Cross, a sixteenth century Carmelite monk, used vivid metaphors and Biblical stories to describe a process of detachment from earthly loves. This he described as the “dark night of the soul.” The experience frees us to receive God’s blessings. John’s writings have inspired countless Christians over the centuries.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Light and Dark

In this selection, John explains the importance of stripping away all worldly attachments.

The necessity to pass through this dark night (the mortification of the appetites and denial of pleasure in all things) to attain divine union with God arises from the fact that all of a person’s attachments to creatures are pure darkness in God’s sight. Clothed in these affections, people are incapable of the enlightenment and dominating fullness of God’s pure and simple light.

The reason, as we learn in philosophy, is that two contraries cannot coexist in the same subject. Darkness, which is an attachment to creatures, and light, which is God, are contraries and bear no likeness toward each other, as Saint Paul teaches in his letter to the Corinthians, “What fellowship is there between light and darkness?” Consequently, the light of divine union cannot be established in the soul until these affections are eradicated.

For a better proof of this, it ought to be kept in mind that an attachment to a creature makes a person equal to that creature; the stronger the attachment, the closer is the likeness to the creature and the greater the equality, for love effects a likeness between the lover and the beloved. Anyone who loves a creature, then, is as low as that creature and in some way even lower because love not only equates but even subjects the lover to the loved creature.

All creatures of heaven and earth are nothing when compared to God, as Jeremiah points out: “I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light.” By saying that he saw an empty earth, he meant that all its creatures were nothing and that the earth too was nothing. In stating that he looked up to the heavens and beheld no light, he meant that all the heavenly luminaries were pure darkness in comparison to God. All creatures considered in this way are nothing, and a person’s attachments to them are less than nothing since these attachments are an impediment to and deprive the soul of transformation in God – just as darkness is nothing and less than nothing since it is a privation of light. In no way, then, is such a person capable of union with the infinite being of God. There is no likeness between what is not and what is. To be particular, here are some examples.

All the beauty of creatures compared to the infinite beauty of god is the height of ugliness. As Solomon says in Proverbs: “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain.” So a person attached to the beauty of any creature is extremely ugly in God’s sight. A soul so unsightly is incapable of transformation into the beauty that is God.

All the grace and elegance of creatures compared to God’s grace is utter coarseness and crudity. That is why a person captivated by this grace and elegance of creatures becomes highly coarse and crude in God’s sight. Someone like this is incapable of the infinite grace and beauty of God.

Colmpared to the infinite goodness of God, all the goodness of the creatures of the world can be called wickedness. Nothing is good but God alone. Those who set their hearts on the good things of the world become extremely wicked in the sight of God. Since wickedness does not comprehend goodness, such persons will be incapable of union with God, who is supreme goodness.

All the world’s wisdom compared to the wisdom of God is pure and utter ignorance, as Saint Paul writes to the Corinthians: “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom.” Those, therefore, who value their knowledge and ability as a means of reaching union with the wisdom of God are highly ignorant in God’s sight and will be left behind, far away from this wisdom. Ignorance does not grasp what wisdom is. In God’s sight those who think they have some wisdom are very ignorant. The Apostle ways of them in writing to the Romans: “Claiming to be wise, they become fools.”

Only those who set aside their own knowledge and walk in God’s service like unlearned children receive wisdom from God. This is the wisdom about which Saint Paul taught the Corinthians: “If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise.” Accordingly, to reach union with the wisdom of God, a person must advance by unknowing rather than knowing.

All the delights and satisfactions of the will in the things of the world compared to all the delight that is God are intense suffering, torment, and bitterness. Those who link their hearts to these delights, then, deserve in God’s eyes intense suffering, torment, and bitterness. They will not be capable of attaining the delights of the embrace of union with God, since they merit suffering and bitterness.

All the wealth and glory of creation compared to the wealth that is God is utter poverty and misery in the Lord’s sight. The person who loves and possesses these things is completely poor and miserable before God and will be unable to attain the richness and glory of transformation in God.

Divine Wisdom, with pity for these souls that become ugly, abject, miserable, and poor because of their love for worldly things, which in there opinion are rich and beautiful, exclaims in Proverbs: “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. O simple ones, learn prudence; acquire intelligence, you who lack it. Hear, for I will speak noble things. . .Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and prosperity. My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver. I walk in the way of the righteousness, along the paths of justice, endowing with wealth those who love me, and filling their treasuries.”

Divine Wisdom speaks, here, to all those who are attached to the things of the world. She tells them that she is dealing with great things, not small things, as they are. The riches and glory they love are with her and in her, not where they think. Lofty riches and justice are present in her. Although in their opinion the things of this world are riches, she tells them to bear in mind that her riches are more precious, that the fruit found in them will be better than gold and precious stones, and that what she begets in souls has greater value than cherished silver, which signifies every kind of affection possible in this life.

Table of Contents:

One Dark Night

John’s purpose in writing

Light and darkness


Climbing the mountain

The nature of union with God

Spiritual detachment

Openness to a new kind of prayer

The prayer of beginners

Spiritual pride

Spiritual gluttony

Signs of God’s call to contemplation

Accepting God’s guidance

Prayer of proficients

Light in the night

The ladder of love