Posted October 25, 2005
Book: Loving God Through the Darkness: Selected Writings of John of the
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
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
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
Openness to a new kind of prayer
The prayer of beginners
Signs of God’s call to contemplation
Accepting God’s guidance
Prayer of proficients
Light in the night
The ladder of love