No John no!

The Crucifiction of ChristSaturday morning, and it was off to Noggs Barn to ‘meet the mystics’ once again. This month: St John of the Cross, author of the seminal The Dark Night of the Soul, a vision of the torment of the human soul as it seeks God that continues to exert a powerful fascination on Western minds.

We’ve all had our dark nights, but what is it for John? He describes three nights, or stages.

One must know that if the soul is to attain the state of perfection, she must pass through two main kinds of “night”. The first night or purification is that of the sensory part of the soul, and he second, that of the spiritual part. [There is also] a third night in which God finishes making his communication to the spirit, which is generally done amidst a great darkness of soul, there then follows the union with the bride, who is the wisdom of God.

This last part, with its reference to sophia (wisdom), the feminine aspect of the Judeo-Christian, sounds an exciting description of a gnosis achieved after much spiritual difficulty. Let’s read more about it.

The soul, in love wih her bridegroom and desirous of uniting with him… declares her amorous longings… but must still suffer the absence of her beloved, who has not yet released her from her mortal flesh to let her enjoy him in the glory of eternity.

O goodness, it’s an unrequited, unconsumated love (note that the genders have reverted to type), a crucifixion without end. (Now I never knew that Salvador Dali’s iconic and vertiginous representation of the crucifixion is based on this sketch by – guess who – John of the Cross):John of The Cross

Just in case one is in any doubt, the passage continues:

[The soul prays God thus]: “Rend the veil of his life and do not let it tarry until old age and many years. Cut it short naturally, so that I may love you immediately with the fullness and amplitude that my soul desires, without term or ending!”

John got his wish: he died of blood poisoning at the age of 59.

The parallels between John’s writing (God gives the soul “burning touches of love” and “penetrates her”) and the romantic literature of courtly love are striking, which for me casts an interesting light on the evangelical rapture. These erotic associations were typical of the period: just look at Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa (Teresa of Avila was John’s close friend and colleague in the Carmelite order):

Now, The Dark Night of the Soul may be widely considered one of the best poems ever written in Spanish; and Pope John Paul II may have written his theological dissertation on John’s mystical theology; but, is that it, John? That the best we can hope for on this earth is to be tormented unto death with love for a God with whom we cannot be joined? It’s as if not only the resurrection but even the incarnation has never happened. No John, no. John, you are still living in the Old Testament.

He came so that we might have life, and have it in abundance.
John 10:10



~ by scalambra on February 8, 2009.

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