John of the Cross: Mysticism as Developmental Psychology


John of the Cross gives us a picture of the mystical life, or at least the path to the mystical life, as one of individual development. He constantly particularizes the discussion by saying that "some people are like X, and others are like Y". So, the mystical path is not the unified and universalized path that we have seen to now. The beginning of book 2 is a discussion of the kinds of pain that the soul encounters in the night of the spirit.

So, what is the person like, according to John of the Cross?

1. No contradictions (p. 112, p. 121) or contraries (p. 128)

2. Use of individualism to overcome individualism, so that there is individualism.

3. Particularity is not the Protestant particularity of freedoms or possibilities, but the particularity of limitations.

4. Goal of the mystical path: tranquility (poem, p. 124)

5. Growth = pain, because the individual is tied to individual attributes, and their absence is painful. John of the Cross often emphasizes that the night of the soul is really light, but we can't perceive it as light (p. 116-117, 145). This parallels the comments about pain. Part of the reason for this is that we are far from God in the hierarchies (p. 137).

6. The path is a cycle of suffering/relief/suffering (p. 130)

7. The infused love could be read as the commitment from the inside. The soul is passively infused with this love (p. 132). All understandings of the world require a point of view. It is not the move from no point of view, to having one; it is the move from a point of view that we don't choose, to one that we do. The will and understanding support each other, although they can act separately (p. 139). Example of the nature of this love: Mary Magdalene (143-144). Also note p. 155 -- God is the health of the soul.

8. There is a kind of tension here (p. 156-157): That which brings us health is the thing we run away from.

9. Almost a theory of the subconscious here (p. 147, 153). Soul goes out "when the low operations, passions, and desires of the soul are, because it is night, sleeping and at rest." Natural way of being is a distraction.

10. On secrets: It happens away from the understanding (p. 159). Secrecy also seems to refer to subjectivity, or personal-ness. The experience cannot be communicated.

Passages to Note:

  1. The pain we suffer 100-119
  2. Metaphor of fire 127-131
  3. "Went forth without being observed" 147-149
  4. Nature of knowledge and will 136-139
  5. The nature of love
  6. Nature of secrecy 158-167.
  7. The secret ladder 167-175
  8. The disguise 175-181
  9. Concealment 182-190