Friday, December 14, 2012

Censure and Opinion of a Certain 'Mystic' by St. John of the Cross

At the time Nicolas Doria was vicar general he asked John of the Cross to examine an account written by a Discalced Carmelite nun and give his opinion about her spirit. We do not know who this nun was or the community to which she belonged, but we know that other learned men had judged her favorably. Discerning five defects in the nun's report of her experiences, John gives a negative evaluation of her spirit in this written opinion for his vicar general.

Censure and Opinion

[On the spirit and procedure in prayer of a discalced Carmelite 
nun, given by St. John of the Cross Segovia, 1588-91]

In the affective manner with which this soul proceeds there appear to be five defects manifesting a lack of the good spirit.

First, it seems she bears within herself a great fondness for possessing things, whereas the good spirit is always very detached in its appetites.

Second, she is too secure in her spirit and has little fear of being inwardly mistaken. Where this fear is absent, the spirit of God is never present to preserved the soul from harm, as the Wise Man says [Prv. 15:27].

Third, it seems she has the desire to persuade others that her experiences are good and manifold. Persons of a genuine spirit do not desire to do this, but, on the contrary, desire that their experiences be considered of little value and despised, and this they do themselves.

Fourth-and this is the main fault-the effects of humility are not manifest in her attitude. When favors are genuine, as she says here that hers are, they are ordinarily never communicated to a soul without first undoing and annihilating it in the inner abasement of humility. And if these favors had produced this effect in her, she would not have failed to say something about it here, and even a great deal. For the first thing the soul esteems and is eager to speak of are the effects of humility, which, certainly, are so strong that they cannot be disguised. For although they may not be so noticeable in all the apprehensions of God, still, these apprehensions that she here calls union are never present without them: 'Before the soul is exalted, it is humbled' [Prv. 18:12] and, 'It is good for me that you have humbled me' [Ps. 119:71].

Fifth, her style and language don't seem to come from the spirit she claims, for the good spirit itself teaches a simpler style, one without the affectation or exaggeration she uses. And all this about what she said to God and God said to her seems to be nonsense.

I would advise that they should not command or allow her to write anything about this, and her confessor should not show willingness to hear of it, other than to hold it in little esteem and contradict it. Let them try her in the practice of sheer virtue, especially in self-contempt, humility, and obedience; and by the sound of the metal when tapped the quality of soul caused by so many favors will show itself. And the tests must be good ones, for there is no devil that will not suffer something for his honor.

The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross
Translated by Fathers Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD and Otilio Rodriguez, OCD