Thread: St John of the Cross Board: Oblivion / Ship of Fools.

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Posted by Robert Armin (# 182) on :
For a long time now I have been fascinated by St John's concept of the Dark Night of the Soul, and would like to understand it better. However, when I've tried to read him in his own words (or rather, in translation) I've got nowhere. Through Kindle I've picked up both The Ascent of Mount Carmel and The Dark Night of the Soul but found them impenetrable; however, these are old editions.

Does anyone know of a good way into this Saint's work? Ideally I'd like to find a clear modern translation, with lots of explanation to help me understand him.
Posted by k-mann (# 8490) on :
I've never read him, but I have been told by some who has that they didn't understand him until they experienced a dark night themselves.
Posted by Pancho (# 13533) on :
A book that I often see recommended to people who want a better understanding of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila is Fire Within by the late Fr. Thomas Dubay.

A passage about St. John taken from the book can be read here.
Posted by StevHep (# 17198) on :
You could try a lateral approach and read the works of other Carmelites who were influenced by his spirituality. St Therese of Lisieux being the obvious example as she too experienced a dark night and wrote about it. Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity was another Carmelite mystic who is worth looking at in this context.

Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote Two Sisters in the Spirit about them which might help also.

Curiously, I'm hoping to write about the Dark Night in my next blog (I'm doing a series on Christian Meditation) so I will be interested to see what people write about it on this thread.

[ 01. May 2014, 20:07: Message edited by: StevHep ]
Posted by Elephenor (# 4026) on :
By far the most accessible, yet some also claim the most important, part of John's writings is his poetry. (I like Roy Campbell's translation.)

John was absolutely right to present the didactic part of his work as an unsuccessful, defective commentary on his poems, which constitute his message in the proper sense in a way that prose cannot rival. If we trust and agree with the correctness of John's judgment of himself, then we must see that it is as a poet rather than as a prose writer that he is a Doctor of the Church.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord III, p.171

Posted by Autenrieth Road (# 10509) on :
People keep recommending him to me, because of my own dark night of the soul, and I can't understand anything he says.

I can't understand any theologians, though, so not understanding St. John of the Cross may just be more of the same, for me.
Posted by EloiseA (# 18029) on :
My spiritual director suggested I begin reflecting on the works of St John of the Cross when I struggled with Ignatian meditations and needed a non-discursive kind of meditation practice.

I don't know I would recommend any guides but just to read the Spiritual Canticles or Ascent of Mount Carmel and then take an image or phrase into meditation time and stay with that.

It isn't easy or accessible material, as others have noted, and I don't think I could have drawn on the insights to do with developing a prayer life found in St John of the Cross before I had established a regular daily meditation practice for some years. Much of the focus is self-forgetting and paying attention to the Revealed, the beauty of the Christ.

Reading St John of the Cross these last eight years has deepened my love of God, the willingness to let go of what is not essential and to risk anything for greater intimacy in prayer.
Posted by StevHep (# 17198) on :
I think Simone Weil's thoughts on Attention are somewhat descriptive of the kind of approach that St John favoured

"Attention consists of suspending our thought, leaving it detached, empty and ready to be penetrated by the object. It means holding in our minds, within reach of this thought, but on a lower level and not in contact with it, the diverse knowledge we have acquired which we are forced to make use of. Our thought should be, in relation to all particular and already formulated thoughts, as a man on a mountain who, as he Iooks forward, sees also below him, without actually looking at them, a great many forests and plains. Above all, our thought should be empty, waiting, not seeking anything, but ready to receive in its naked truth the object which is to penetrate it."

From Waiting on God
Posted by Ian Climacus (# 944) on :
Iain Matthew's The Impact of God was recommended to me on a Carmelite Retreat weekend and I did not regret buying it. It is not a collection of his works but a guide through his writings and the themes that emerge.

I also have this version of his collected works, and there are very readable and helpful explanations in them.

Nunc Dimittis back here in 2001, iirc, recommended St John to me when I was going through a dark period. Poetry and imagery speak more to me than exacting theology and he, and St Teresa of Avila, became beloved companions. I think I barely scratch the surface of understanding to be honest, but I hope & pray my poor suggestions and the great suggestions of those above assist you Robert.

[ 02. May 2014, 09:11: Message edited by: Ian Climacus ]
Posted by Dafyd (# 5549) on :
Rowan Williams has written about John of the Cross. There's The Wound of Knowledge, which is a work of theology covering Christian spirituality from Paul to John and Teresa, and then at least one of the sermons in the collection Open to Judgement.
Posted by anteater (# 11435) on :
I only ever read the Cantico espiritual when I was studying spanish and thought it great.

I believe it is based on shepherd love songs, though would not swear to it. If it is, it's a sort of modern Song of Songs.

It's wonderful stuff, IMO, of course. I've not found a good translation into english, and some are woeful. e.g. (right at the start)
¿Adónde te escondiste,
amado, y me dejaste con gemido?
Como el ciervo huiste,
habiéndome herido;
salí tras ti, clamando, y eras ido

Where have you hidden away,
lover, and left me grieving, care on care?
Hurt me and wouldn't stay
but off like a deer from there?
I hurried forth imploring the empty air

I suppose it's trying to keep the rhyming system which makes it go wrong. There's no "empty air" in the original.

I know that many people think the best translation of the Divine Comedy is a prose one.

Or a sort of literal one with no attempt at prosody, so:

Where did you hide
Beloved, and left me with a groan (not a nice english word. It could be lament. Here the above translation "left me grieving" sounds right)
like a deer you fled
having wounded me
I went out after you, crying out (often in the sense of crying for justice) and you had gone.

Anyhow maybe a native Spanish speaker could have a try. Could we do a progressive translation in the Circus.

Or in the circus, translated into limerick mode:

Posted by Robert Armin (# 182) on :
Dafyd, I'm currently reading The Wound of Knowledge, which is what reminded me of my long held fascination with St John. Many thanks for the modern versions folk have recommended; I'll try to get hold of one of them and have another go.

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