Ten Steps of Love through the Dark Night

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There had been so many interpretations of the DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL that I deemed it an accountability to post what ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS wrote about it with utmost sincerity of heart in the light of the purest Grace that had been made available to man to understand heaven’s mysteries.

His writings had been quoted and misquoted a great number of times, perverted to infuse some truth into some subtle lies that seek only to deceive people.  Let none be fooled or misguided.

  • The dark night of the soul is a journey of the spirit, a journey of  love towards her greatest LOVE, who is GOD, a personal God that helps us along the difficult path of learning what it really means and what it really takes to be able to love fully.
  • The dark night of the soul is not about the eradication of the personality, but the transformation of the soul into a living likeness with Christ.  This likeness is unto a perfection of the capacity to give and receive love, and not to become mindless zombies with no personality of its own.
  • The dark night of the soul is not a meaningless state of confusion and depression because of sin or of rebelliousness, but of submitting one’s soul upon God’s hands, as a clay is submitted unto the hands of the Master Potter.  The soul is thus like the clay and becomes a master work of art, but it remains to be a creation of the Potter.
  • The dark night of the soul is a not a void or an empty place we are thrust into whenever we reach a spiritual depression after self-seeking spiritual ecstasies that leave us addicted from one encounter to another.
  • The purpose of the dark night is not the “spiritual high” of awareness or knowledge after we have been purged of our impurities, but a deeper loving intimacy with God. In this way, the dark night became a test of one’s faithfulness to that love even if the soul in no way receives the usual joys it experiences when one is in the presence of her greatest Love.

Having said the above points, we may now proceed to an excerpt of what St. John of the Cross wrote:

Begins to explain the ten steps [231] of the mystic ladder of Divine
love, according to Saint Bernard and Saint Thomas. The first five
are here treated.

WE observe, then, that the steps of this ladder of love by which the
soul mounts, one by one, to God, are ten. The first step of love causes
the soul to languish, and this to its advantage. The Bride is speaking
from this step of love when she says: `I adjure you, daughters of
Jerusalem, that, if ye find my Beloved, ye tell Him that I am sick with
love.’ [232] This sickness, however, is not unto death, but for the
glory of God, for in this sickness the soul swoons as to sin and as to
all things that are not God, for the sake of God Himself, even as David
testifies, saying: `My soul hath swooned away’ [233] –that is, with
respect to all things, for Thy salvation. For just as a sick man first
of all loses his appetite and taste for all food, and his colour
changes, so likewise in this degree of love the soul loses its taste
and desire for all things and changes its colour and the other
accidentals of its past life, like one in love. The soul falls not into
this sickness if excess of heat be not communicated to it from above,
even as is expressed in that verse of David which says: Pluviam
voluntariam segregabis, Deus, haereditati tuae, et infirmata est, [234]
etc. This sickness and swooning to all things, which is the beginning
and the first step on the road to God, we clearly described above, when
we were speaking of the annihilation wherein the soul finds itself when
it begins to climb [235] this ladder of contemplative purgation, when
it can find no pleasure, support, consolation or abiding-place in
anything soever. Wherefore from this step it begins at once to climb to
the second.

2. The second step causes the soul to seek God without ceasing.
Wherefore, when the Bride says that she sought Him by night upon her
bed (when she had swooned away according to the first step of love) and
found Him not, she said: `I will arise and will seek Him Whom my soul
loveth.’ [236] This, as we say, the soul does without ceasing as David
counsels it, saying: ‘seek ye ever the face of God, and seek ye Him in
all things, tarrying not until ye find Him;’ [237] like the Bride, who,
having enquired for Him of the watchmen, passed on at once and left
them. Mary Magdalene did not even notice the angels at the sepulchre.
[238] On this step the soul now walks so anxiously that it seeks the
Beloved in all things. In whatsoever it thinks, it thinks at once of
the Beloved. Of whatsoever it speaks, in whatsoever matters present
themselves, it is speaking and communing at once with the Beloved. When
it eats, when it sleeps, when it watches, when it does aught soever,
all its care is about the Beloved, as is said above with respect to the
yearnings of love. And now, as love begins to recover its health and
find new strength in the love of this second step, it begins at once to
mount to the third, by means of a certain degree [239] of new purgation
in the night, as we shall afterwards describe, which produces in the
soul the following effects.

3. The third step of the ladder of love is that which causes the soul
to work and gives it fervour so that it fails not. Concerning this the
royal Prophet says: ‘ Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, for in
His commandments he is eager to labour greatly.’ [240] Wherefore if
fear, being the son of love, causes within him this eagerness to
labour, [241] what will be done by love itself? On this step the soul
considers great works undertaken for the Beloved as small; many things
as few; and the long time for which it serves Him as short, by reason
of the fire of love wherein it is now burning. Even so to Jacob, though
after seven years he had been made to serve seven more, they seemed few
because of the greatness of his love. [242] Now if the love of a mere
creature could accomplish so much in Jacob, what will love of the
Creator be able to do when on this third step it takes possession of
the soul? Here, for the great love which the soul bears to God, it
suffers great pains and afflictions because of the little that it does
for God; and if it were lawful for it to be destroyed a thousand times
for Him it would be comforted. Wherefore it considers itself useless in
all that it does and thinks itself to be living in vain. Another
wondrous effect produced here in the soul is that it considers itself
as being, most certainly, worse than all other souls: first, because
love is continually teaching it how much is due to God; [243] and
second, because, as the works which it here does for God are many and
it knows them all to be faulty and imperfect, they all bring it
confusion and affliction, for it realizes in how lowly a manner it is
working for God, Who is so high. On this third step, the soul is very
far from vainglory or presumption, and from condemning others. These
anxious effects, with many others like them, are produced in the soul
by this third step; wherefore it gains courage and strength from them
in order to mount to the fourth step, which is that that follows.

4. The fourth step of this ladder of love is that whereby there is
caused in the soul an habitual suffering because of the Beloved, yet
without weariness. For, as Saint Augustine says, love makes all things
that are great, grievous and burdensome to be almost naught. From this
step the Bride was speaking when, desiring to attain to the last step,
she said to the Spouse: ‘set me as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal
upon thine arm; for love–that is, the act and work of love–is strong
as death, and emulation and importunity last as long as hell.’ [244]
The spirit here has so much strength that it has subjected the flesh
and takes as little account of it as does the tree of one of its
leaves. In no way does the soul here seek its own consolation or
pleasure, either in God, or in aught else, nor does it desire or seek
to pray to God for favours, for it sees clearly that it has already
received enough of these, and all its anxiety is set upon the manner
wherein it will be able to do something that is pleasing to God and to
render Him some service such as He merits and in return for what it has
received from Him, although it be greatly to its cost. The soul says in
its heart and spirit: Ah, my God and Lord! How many are there that go
to seek in Thee their own consolation and pleasure, and desire Thee to
grant them favours and gifts; but those who long to do Thee pleasure
and to give Thee something at their cost, setting their own interests
last, are very few. The failure, my God, is not in Thy unwillingness to
grant us new favours, but in our neglect to use those that we have
received in Thy service alone, in order to constrain Thee to grant them
to us continually. Exceeding lofty is this step of love; for, as the
soul goes ever after God with love so true, imbued with the spirit of
suffering for His sake, His Majesty oftentimes and quite habitually
grants it joy, and visits it sweetly and delectably in the spirit; for
the boundless love of Christ, the Word, cannot suffer the afflictions
of His lover without succouring him. This He affirmed through Jeremias,
saying: `I have remembered thee, pitying thy youth and tenderness, when
thou wentest after Me in the wilderness.’ [245] Speaking spiritually,
this denotes the detachment which the soul now has interiorly from
every creature, so that it rests not and nowhere finds quietness. This
fourth step enkindles the soul and makes it to burn in such desire for
God that it causes it to mount to the fifth, which is that which
follows.

5. The fifth step of this ladder of love makes the soul to desire and
long for God impatiently. On this step the vehemence of the lover to
comprehend the Beloved and be united with Him is such that every delay,
however brief, becomes very long, wearisome and oppressive to it, and
it continually believes itself to be finding the Beloved. And when it
sees its desire frustrated (which is at almost every moment), it swoons
away with its yearning, as says the Psalmist, speaking from this step,
in these words: `My soul longs and faints for the dwellings of the
Lord.’ [246] On this step the lover must needs see that which he loves,
or die; at this step was Rachel, when, for the great longing that she
had for children, she said to Jacob, her spouse: `Give me children,
else shall I die.’ [247] Here men suffer hunger like dogs and go about
and surround the city of God. On this step, which is one of hunger,
[248] the soul is nourished upon love; for, even as is its hunger, so
is its abundance; so that it rises hence to the sixth step, producing
the effects which follow.

Wherein are treated the other five steps of love.

ON the sixth step the soul runs swiftly to God and touches Him again
and again; and it runs without fainting by reason of its hope. For here
the love that has made it strong makes it to fly swiftly. Of this step
the prophet Isaias speaks thus: ‘ The saints that hope in God shall
renew their strength; they shall take wings as the eagle; they shall
fly and shall not faint,’ [249] as they did at the fifth step. To this
step likewise alludes that verse of the Psalm: ‘ As the hart desires
the waters, my soul desires Thee, O God.’ [250] For the hart, in its
thirst, runs to the waters with great swiftness. The cause of this
swiftness in love which the soul has on this step is that its charity
is greatly enlarged within it, since the soul is here almost wholly
purified, as is said likewise in the Psalm, namely: Sine iniquitate
cucurri. [251] And in another Psalm: `I ran the way of Thy commandments
when Thou didst enlarge my heart’; [252] and thus from this sixth step
the soul at once mounts to the seventh, which is that which follows.

2. The seventh step of this ladder makes the soul to become vehement in
its boldness. Here love employs not its judgment in order to hope, nor
does it take counsel so that it may draw back, neither can any shame
restrain it; for the favour which God here grants to the soul causes it
to become vehement in its boldness. Hence follows that which the
Apostle says, namely: That charity believeth all things, hopeth all
things and is capable of all things. [253] Of this step spake Moses,
when he entreated God to pardon the people, and if not, to blot out his
name from the book of life wherein He had written it. [254] Men like
these obtain from God that which they beg of Him with desire. Wherefore
David says: `Delight thou in God and He will give thee the petitions of
thy heart.’ [255] On this step the Bride grew bold, and said: Osculetur
me osculo oris sui. [256] To this step it is not lawful for the soul to
aspire boldly, unless it feel the interior favour of the King’s sceptre
extended to it, lest perchance it fall from the other steps which it
has mounted up to this point, and wherein it must ever possess itself
in humility. From this daring and power which God grants to the soul on
this seventh step, so that it may be bold with God in the vehemence of
love, follows the eighth, which is that wherein it takes the Beloved
captive and is united with Him, as follows.

3. The eighth step of love causes the soul to seize Him and hold Him
fast without letting Him go, even as the Bride says, after this manner:
`I found Him Whom my heart and soul love; I held Him and I will not let
Him go.’ [257] On this step of union the soul satisfies her desire, but
not continuously. Certain souls climb some way, [258] and then lose
their hold; for, if this state were to continue, it would be glory
itself in this life; and thus the soul remains therein for very short
periods of time. To the prophet Daniel, because he was a man of
desires, was sent a command from God to remain on this step, when it
was said to him: `Daniel, stay upon thy step, because thou art a man of
desires.’ [259] After this step follows the ninth, which is that of
souls now perfect, as we shall afterwards say, which is that that
follows.

4. The ninth step of love makes the soul to burn with sweetness. This
step is that of the perfect, who now burn sweetly in God. For this
sweet and delectable ardour is caused in them by the Holy Spirit by
reason of the union which they have with God. For this cause Saint
Gregory says, concerning the Apostles, that when the Holy Spirit came
upon them visibly they burned inwardly and sweetly through love. [260]
Of the good things and riches of God which the soul enjoys on this
step, we cannot speak; for if many books were to be written concerning
it the greater part would still remain untold. For this cause, and
because we shall say something of it hereafter, I say no more here than
that after this follows the tenth and last step of this ladder of love,
which belongs not to this life.

5. The tenth and last step of this secret ladder of love causes the
soul to become wholly assimilated to God, by reason of the clear and
immediate [261] vision of God which it then possesses; when, having
ascended in this life to the ninth step, it goes forth from the flesh.
These souls, who are few, enter not into purgatory, since they have
already been wholly purged by love. Of these Saint Matthew says: Beati
mundo corde: quoniam ipsi Deum videbunt. [262] And, as we say, this
vision is the cause of the perfect likeness of the soul to God, for, as
Saint John says, we know that we shall be like Him. [263] Not because
the soul will come to have the capacity of God, for that is impossible;
but because all that it is will become like to God, for which cause it
will be called, and will be, God by participation.

6. This is the secret ladder whereof the soul here speaks, although
upon these higher steps it is no longer very secret to the soul, since
much is revealed to it by love, through the great effects which love
produces in it. But, on this last step of clear vision, which is the
last step of the ladder whereon God leans, as we have said already,
there is naught that is hidden from the soul, by reason of its complete
assimilation. Wherefore Our Saviour says: `In that day ye shall ask Me
nothing,’
etc. [264] But, until that day, however high a point the soul
may reach, there remains something hidden from it–namely, all that it
lacks for total assimilation in the Divine Essence. After this manner,
by this mystical theology and secret love, the soul continues to rise
above all things and above itself, and to mount upward to God. For love
is like fire, which ever rises upward with the desire to be absorbed in
the centre of its sphere.

DARK NIGHT (Poem by St. John of the Cross)

On a darkened night,
Anxious, by love inflamed,
– O happy chance! –
Unnoticed, I took flight,
My house at last at peace and quiet.

Safe, disguised by the night,
By the secret ladder I took flight,
– O happy chance! –
Cloaked by darkness, I scaled the height,
My house at last at peace and quiet.

On that blessed night,
In secret, and seen by none,
None in sight,
I saw with no other guide or light,
But the one burning in my heart bright.

This guide, this light,
Brighter than the midday sun,
Led me to the waiting One
I knew so well — my delight!
To a place with none in sight.

O night! O guide!
O night more loving than the dawn!
O night that joined
The lover with the Beloved;
Transformed, the lover into the Beloved drawn!

Upon my flowered breast,
For him alone kept fair,
There he slept
There I caressed,
There the cedars gave us air.

I drank the turret’s cool air
Spreading playfully his hair.
And his hand, so serene,
Cut my throat. Drained
Of senses, I dropped unaware.

Lost to myself and yet remaining,
Inclined so only the Beloved I spy.
All has ceased, all rests,
Even my cares, even I;
Lost among the lilies, there I die.

4 Comments

  1. lucero July 14, 2008 10:34 pm Reply

    Without being irreverent, there is a limit to the value of wandering in the darkness of the soul. There comes a point when the darkness has served its purpose of making one introspect sufficiently to be ready to see in a different way. When you are ready to come out of the darkness, read Soul Wisdom by Dr. Zhi Gang Sha and learn how to speak soul language. It will open the way for you to communicate with the soul world and dialogue for a broader perspective and help you find your place in it all. It is an immensely valuable skill to develop if you have had enough of the darkness.

  2. Oscar Del Santo August 24, 2008 8:51 pm Reply

    Jocelyn, your posting is authoritative and well-informed and shows a deep understanding of John of the Cross and raise some important issues about the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ and how it has been misinterpreted down the centuries.

    I am in the process of writing a book about ‘Dark Nights of the Soul’ and I feel you may have some contributions to make based on your experience and the views you express here. It is currently housed at WEbook on http://www.webook.com/project/Dark-Nights-of-the-Soul-A-Survival-Guide-for-Spiritual-Warriors

    I feel it is important that we understand that in a sense way we are all mystics and the ‘dark night of the soul’ is a process we all go through in our lives at one point or another in the context of our evolutionary development as human beings.

    Thank you for this posting and I look forward to your comments and criticism.

    http://integraloscar.gaia.com/blog

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