John of the Cross: February 2004 Archives

Ascent of Mount Carmel IX

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In which we revisit some old territory and forge into new

Ascent of Mount Carmel IX--Book II Chapter 6-8

Read pages 166-176

Chapter 6

1-4 How are the three faculties related to the theological virtues? What does each virtue do to each faculty?

6-8. What must we do to each of the faculties? Why?

Chapter 7
1-3 How does John use scripture metaphorically or in an analogy to explain the "narrow gate" and the "constricted way?" How is that important for us? What does it call on us to do?

4-5. What is the common misunderstanding even people of good will and good faith have of the passage from Mark (8:34-35)? What do spiritual people refuse to annhilate? Why might this be a problem?

What does a genuine spirit of prayer seek?

6. Where does all negation take place? Why is it necessary? Pick one of the verses St. John uses to support his arguments (Mt: 16: 25; Lk. 9:24; Jn 12:25; Mt 20:22) and take it with you for a short lectio. Write out the conclusion of your prayer--what are you called to do?

7. Where is the road of relief and sweetness? What happens to those who seek after things, either material or spiritual?

8.What is the one thing necessary in prayer life? To what does St. John liken failure to do this? What is accomplished if one does not do the one thing necessary?

9-11 How is the death necessary in the spirit like the Death of Christ Himself?

12-13 What topic will John next consider? What is his purpose?

Chapter 8

1. What is necessary to achieve union with God? Is it possible to use the intellect to obtain this?

2 St. John points out that the mean must be proportionate to the end. In one sense they must "resemble" the end that will result. Study his example of the fire and the log until this point is clear.

3. John uses this section to point out that there is no creature proportionate to God. Use what you learned above to affirm John's conclusion that it would not be possible for a creaturely means to end in an eternal God. What does John state is not possible based on creatures for the intellect?

4. What other things do not lend help to the intellect in obtaining Union with God?

5. What third category of things is not useful in obtaining Union with God? Why?

6. What is another way to think about contemplation? What must the intellect do to reach Union with God?

Consider the points St. John made in the passages we have read. Where do they lead in prayer? What must we do? How do we go about it? Think of one way you can take positive steps toward union with God. What above all else is necessary for this motion?

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St. John of the Cross in The Ascent of Mount Carmel (book II, chapter 6 to be precise) tells us that faith is the dark night of the intellect. It took me a great many readings to begin to understand what St. John meant by this statement. Faith accepts and integrates in a supernatural way what the intellect can only assent to.

For example, we know by faith that Jesus is fully human and fully God. We know this only by faith because, while the intellect may parse the sentence and be able to make a comprehensible statement of the individual words, the statement itself is not resolvable within the intellect. We can make all sorts of tortured analogies and metaphors, but the intellect "knows" that what is 100% one thing cannot be 100% something else. It is inconceivable that something might be 100% dog and 100% cat at the same time. So too, it is not possible to apprehend with mere intellectual prowess the means by which the truth is accomplished in Jesus. Nevertheless, we know it is. We know this by faith--the intellect assents to it, and thus seems to know it--but if we really grappled with the statement with mind alone we would not be able to resolve it. In the darkness of faith we assent and know this as part of the reality around us. It is truer than many things that we can prove, and more a part of our world. (For example how many people care about Euclid's hypothesis of parallel lines and points extraneous to them? How relevant is that for the majority of us.)

In the end, it is not what we know. We start by knowing, but eventually the understanding must be darkened because it is constantly looking for explanations and God will choose to perfect us in faith, where the understanding is rooted so deep that we have no need of proofs. The proofs are the breathing we do every day.

So, when wrassling with theological imponderables or Christological controversies, take heart. It little matters what the outcome, so long as the will continues to follow and seek out God, because our imperfect understandings will be perfected in the Dark Night of Faith.

(Yes, I know this is a horrific thought to the Jesuits and Domincans among us, but both St. Ignatius and St. Dominic eventually testify to its truthfulness. St. John of the Cross didn't come up with anything new, he simply stated it for all to see and read.)

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This page is a archive of entries in the John of the Cross category from February 2004.

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