On the Difficulties of St. John of the Cross


Because she is such a hit with a least one reader, more from Sister Ruth.

from Ascent to Love
Ruth Burrows

John can sometimes give the impression that we must renounce all love of creatures:'He who loves anything besides God is incapable of divine union'. . . But of course God is not an object and therefore lies totally ouitside the range of our thinking, imagining, loving. One of the implications of his hiddenness is that he cannot be held, looked at, enjoyed directly in this life. He is in all; things are only because of his self-communication to them. To love anyone or anything purely is to love him; to relate them in accordance with his designs is to be in union with him. In our unsullied enjoyment of creatures, in our delight in others, we are enjoying and delight in him. We ask everyone and everything about him:'Has he passed by you? Show me what he is like. Tell me of him. We ask these questions not merely with the mind in meditation; we ask in action by using creatures as they should be used.

It would be very easy to misread this. Some apparently have already done so; however, understood correctly, I think Sr. Ruth is, on the whole, on-target here. Any creature available to the senses can be loved either for itself or for God in it. That is we can seek to use it illicitly or licitly. When we see God through the object or person, we are loving properly. It is the object of our love that is critical. Do we love what the person or thing can do for us, or do we love that person or thing as an object of God's love and being? I apologize because I recognize that I am not making clear what I really want to say here; and it does seem really quite simple. However language is so fraught with implicit dangers that it is difficult to say. Were I to say that we are to "love God in the creature" it might imply that we could not love the creature--that is bestow some good upon it as a logical outgrowth of love. But that is not what is meant. We must love God in the creature and the creature as an outgrowth of our love of God, thus we may do good as an outgrowth of that love. But more often than not we love the creature only for what it can do for us. We love money, or we love some other legitimate good, not because they give glory to God, but because they give glory to us. The proper use of creatures is a very difficult line to define. That may be why St. John of the Cross is so frequently misunderstood to say abandon all creatures. He does not do so. And yet, as Jesus instructs us, it is better to abandon them, even be they so close as our own eye or hand, than to be unable to enter the kingdom. When we begin to love and lust after a creature for itself rather than for God-in-it, we have moved from the proper "use" of things into the self-aggrandizement of the ego.

This is what St. John of the Cross would have us understand, I think. Anything created thing we want for the thing itself becomes an object that bars us from further growth in God. However anything loved for the loved of God can help us on our way.

It makes a certain amount of sense. Out of love for the nuns at Beas, St. John of the Cross wrote many of these works and commentaries. Obviously he did not abandon, no more did he cease to love them. He loved them for God -in-them (purely) and was led naturally to seek their betterment as love will do.

The proper use of created things is use according to their dignity, stature, and ordained purpose in bringing us closer to God. Any use other than that is obstructive to our growth and it may be sin. We cannot love creatures for what we can get from them in this world and still aspire to the kingdom of God.

(Or, at least, so my weak understanding carries me. There are a great many unresolved questions regarding this in my own mind and my formulation is far from complete, but here's a start.)

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on January 11, 2005 8:47 AM.

Our Relationship With Created Things was the previous entry in this blog.

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