JOHN of the CROSS
(1542-1591)

 

 


JOHN of THE CROSS, Spanish mystic, Doctor of the Church, and joint founder of the Discalced Carmelites. He became a Carmelite in 1563. He was dissatisfied with the prevalent laxity of the order and with St. Teresa's aid he brought her Reform to include friars.

After the anti-Reformist General Chapter of the Calced Carmelites (i.e. of the Mitigated Observance) in 1575, he was seized and imprisoned in 1577. He escaped alter nine months, and the separation of the Calced and Discalced Carmelites was effected in 1579-80.

John became Prior of Granada in 1582 and of Segovia in 1588. He incurred the hostility of the Vicar General of the Discalced Carmelites, was banished to Andalusia in 1591, and died after a severe illness.

His extensive treatises on the mystical life consist of commentaries on his own poems, the Spiritual Canticle, the Ascent of Mount Carmel, and the Living Flame of Love. His commentaries on the first two deal with the purgation of the soul by the 'night of the senses', when, becoming detached from ail sensible devotion, the sous maintains itself in pure faith. Ibis is followed, usually alter a period of test, by a second purgation, the 'night of the spirit', when the soul is further spiritualized by the Divine action, normally accompanied by intense suffering, to fit it for the transforming union described in the Living Flame and its commentary. The works of St. Teresa and of St. John of the Cross on the progress of the soul are regarded as possessing a unique authority.

Adapted from The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. E. Livingstone, (Oxford, 1977), p. 277



JOHN OF THE CROSS ( 1542, Fontiveros, Spain-14 December 1591, Ubeda, Spain). Education: studied at the Jesuit Coll., Medina del Campo, Spain, 155963; studied arts and theology, Univ. of Salamanca, 1564-68. Career: entered Carmelites, Medina del Campo, 1563; ordained priest, 1567; entered first Discalced monastery for men, Duruelo, 1568; rector, Carmelite Coll. at the Univ. of Alcalá de Henares, 1572; vicar and confessor, Teresa of Avila's monastery of the Incarnation, 1572; abducted and imprisoned, Carmelite friary at Toledo, 1577; escaped, August of 1578; administrative positions in the Carmelites, 1578-91; beatified, 1675; canonized, 1726; declared a doctor of the church, 1926; feast, 14 December.

Juan de Yepes, known as Juan de San Matiá as a Carmelite, then as Juan de la Cruz, had as his principal ministry spiritual guidance for Carmelite nuns and friars, laity, and clergy. His writings resulted from this ministry. His poems, especially the three major poems, The Spiritual Canticle, The Dark Night, and The Living Flame of Love, report John's mystical experience. Commentaries ( The Ascent of Mount Carmel, The Dark Night, The Spiritual Canticle, and The Living Flame of Love) were written for directees. John Sayings of Light and Love recall, in form, the Sayings of the Desert. John's prologues offer help in reading his commentaries. John's letters (only thirty-three survive) reveal his compassionate nature.

John of the Cross is perhaps best known for his description of the dark night, the pain and suffering that accompany the purification/liberation of the senses and spirit as one passes from the practice of meditation to the gift of contemplation. Yet, John's writings celebrate equally the fire of love that brings one to divine union. The Living Flame of Love, a commentary on John's deepest experience of God, contains a theology of the Holy Spirit as the principal guide on the journey to union with God in love.

Neoscholasticism neglected John's poetry, much of which is laced with the imagery of the Song of Songs, and it tended to see John's doctrine in overly categorical terms, missing the biblical character of his teaching.

Article by Keith Egan in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Theologians. ed. Patrick W. Carey , Joseph T. Lienhard . (Greenwood Press. ,Westport, CT, 2000 )


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