Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Saint John of the Cross, born Juan de Yepes Álvarez NULL

Spanish Priest, Friar, Poet, Catholic Mystic, Major Figure in the Counter-Reformation

"All the riches of the world and the glory of creation, compared with the wealth of God, are extreme and abject poverty."

"The soul lives by that which it loves rather than in the body which it animates. For it has not life in the body, but rather gives it to the body and lives in that which it loves."

"Think not that pleasing God lies so much in performing good works as in performing them with good will, and without attachment and respect for persons."

"That thou mayest have pleasure in everything, seek pleasure in nothing."

"For growth in virtue the important thing is to be silent and work."

"I Live yet do not Live in Me - I live yet do not live in me, am waiting as my life goes by, and die because I do not die. No longer do I live in me, and without God I cannot live; to him or me I cannot give my self, so what can living be? A thousand deaths my agony waiting as my life goes by, dying because I do not die. This life I live alone I view as robbery of life, and so it is a constant death -- with no way out until I live with you. God, hear me, what I say is true: I do not want this life of mine, and die because I do not die. Being so removed from you I say what kind of life can I have here but death so ugly and severe and worse than any form of pain? I pity me -- and yet my fate is that I must keep up this lie, and die because I do not die. The fish taken out of the sea is not without a consolation: his dying is of brief duration and ultimately brings relief. Yet what convulsive death can be as bad as my pathetic life? The more I live the more I die. When I begin to feel relief on seeing you in the sacrament, I sink in deeper discontent, deprived of your sweet company. Now everything compels my grief: I want -- yet can't -- see you nearby, and die because I do not die. Although I find my pleasure, Sir, in hope of someday seeing you, I see that I can lose you too, which makes my pain doubly severe, and so I live in darkest fear, and hope, wait as life goes by, dying because I do not die. Deliver me from death, my God, and give me life; now you have wound a rope about me; harshly bound I ask you to release the cord. See how I die to see you, Lord, and I am shattered where I lie, dying because I do not die. My death will trigger tears in me, and I shall mourn my life: a day annihilated by the way I fail and sin relentlessly. O Father God, when will it be that I can say without a lie: I live because I do not die?"

"The Dark Night of the Soul - On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings--oh, happy chance!-- I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest. In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised--oh, happy chance!-- In darkness and in concealment, My house being now at rest. In the happy night, In secret, when none saw me, Nor I beheld aught, Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart. This light guided me More surely than the light of noonday To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me-- A place where none appeared. Oh, night that guided me, Oh, night more lovely than the dawn, Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, Lover transformed in the Beloved! Upon my flowery breast, Kept wholly for himself alone, There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him, And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze. The breeze blew from the turret As I parted his locks; With his gentle hand he wounded my neck And caused all my senses to be suspended. I remained, lost in oblivion; My face I reclined on the Beloved. All ceased and I abandoned myself, Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies."

"A gloss (with spiritual meaning). Without support yet with support, living without light, in darkness, I am wholly being consumed. 1. My soul is disentangled from every created thing and lifted above itself in a life of gladness supported only in God. So now it can be said that I most value this: My soul now sees itself without support yet with support. And though I suffer darknesses in this mortal life, that is not so hard a thing; for even if I have no light I have the life of heaven. For the blinder love is the more it gives such life, holding the soul surrendered, living without light in darkness. After I have known it love works so in me that whether things go well or badly love turns them to one sweetness transforming the soul in itself. And so in its delighting flame which I am feeling within me, swiftly, with nothing spared, I am wholly being consumed. A gloss (with a spiritual meaning). Not for all of beauty will I ever lose myself, but for I-don't-know-what which is so gladly gained. Delight in the world's good things at the very most can only tire the appetite and spoil the palate; and so, not for all of sweetness will I ever lose myself, but for I-don't-know-what which is so gladly found. The generous heart never delays with easy things but eagerly goes on to things more difficult. Nothing satisfies it, and its faith ascends so high that it tastes I-don't-know-what which is so gladly found. He who is sick with love, whom God himself has touched, finds his tastes so changed that they fall away like a fevered man's who loathes any food he sees and desires I-don't know-what which is so gladly found. Do not wonder that the taste should be left like this, for the cause of this sickness differs from all others; and so he is withdrawn from all creatures, and tastes I-don't-know-what which is so gladly found. For when once the will is touched by God himself, it cannot find contentment except in the Divinity; but since his Beauty is open to faith alone, the will tastes him in I-don't-know-what which is so gladly found. Tell me, then, would you pity a person so in love, who takes no delight in all creation; alone, mind empty of form and figure, finding no support or foothold, he tastes there I-don't-know-what which is so gladly found. Do not think that he who lives the so-precious inner life finds joy and gladness in the sweetness of the earth; but there beyond all beauty and what is and will be and was, he tastes I-don't-know-what which is so gladly found. Whoever seeks to advance takes much more care in what he has yet to gain than in what he has already gained; and so I will always tend toward greater heights; beyond all things, to I-don't-know- what which is so gladly found. I will never lose myself for that which the senses can take in here, nor for all the mind can hold, no matter how lofty, nor for grace or beauty, but only for I-don't-know-what which is so gladly found. Christmas Refrain The Virgin, weighed with the Word of God, comes down the road: if only you'll shelter her. The Sum of Perfection Forgetfulness of created things, remembrance of the Creator, attention turned toward inward things, and loving the Beloved."

"I live, but not in myself, and I have such hope that I die because I do not I no longer live within myself and I cannot live without God, for having neither him nor myself what will life be? It will be a thousand deaths, longing for my true life and dying because I do not die. This life that I live is no life at all, and so I die continually until I live with you; hear me, my God: I do not desire this life, I am dying because I do not die. When I am away from you what life can I have except to endure the bitterest death known? I pity myself, for I go on and on living, dying because I do not die. A fish that leaves the water has this relief: the dying it endures ends at last in death. What death can equal my pitiable life? For the longer I live, the more drawn out is my dying. When I try to find relief seeing you in the Sacrament, I find this greater sorrow: I cannot enjoy you wholly. All things are affliction since I do not see you as I desire, and I die because I do not die. And if I rejoice, Lord, in the hope of seeing you, yet seeing I can lose you doubles my sorrow. Living in such fear and hoping as I hope, I die because I do not die. Lift me from this death, my God, and give me life; do not hold me bound with these bonds so strong; see how I long to see you; my wretchedness is so complete that I die because I do not die. I will cry out for death and mourn my living while I am held here for my sins. O my God, when will it be that I can truly say: now I live because I do not die?"

"THIS EARTH A BOW - You let my sufferings cease, for there was no one who could cure them. Now let my eyes behold your face for you are our only love. My spirit’s body is rising near – this earth a bow that shot me; now lift me into your arms as something precious that you dropped. My only suffering, from this day forth, will be your divine beauty, and you will constantly cure my blessed sight each time you bring your face so near to mine and call me bride. Do not be sad, my old friends; look, these wings are finally stretched and laughing. Our souls are rising near to you - this earth a bow that shot us; now lift me into your arms, dear God, like something precious that you dropped. "

"The Living Flame Of Love O living flame of love that tenderly wounds my soul in its deepest center! Since now you are not oppressive, now consummate! if it be your will: tear through the veil of this sweet encounter! O sweet cautery, O delightful wound! O gentle hand! O delicate touch that tastes of eternal life and pays every debt! In killing you changed death to life. O lamps of fire! in whose splendors the deep caverns of feeling, once obscure and blind, now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely, both warmth and light to their Beloved. 4. How gently and lovingly you wake in my heart, where in secret you dwell alone; and in your sweet breathing, filled with good and glory, how tenderly you swell my heart with love. "

"SONG OF THE SOUL AND THE BRIDEGROOM I THE BRIDE Where hast Thou hidden Thyself, And abandoned me in my groaning, O my Beloved? Thou hast fled like the hart, Having wounded me. I ran after Thee, crying; but Thou wert gone. II O shepherds, you who go Through the sheepcots up the hill, If you shall see Him Whom I love the most, Tell Him I languish, suffer, and die. III In search of my Love I will go over mountains and strands; I will gather no flowers, I will fear no wild beasts; And pass by the mighty and the frontiers. IV O groves and thickets Planted by the hand of the Beloved; O verdant meads Enamelled with flowers, Tell me, has He passed by you? V ANSWER OF THE CREATURES A thousand graces diffusing He passed through the groves in haste, And merely regarding them As He passed Clothed them with His beauty. VI THE BRIDE Oh! who can heal me? Give me at once Thyself, Send me no more A messenger Who cannot tell me what I wish. VII All they who serve are telling me Of Thy unnumbered graces; And all wound me more and more, And something leaves me dying, I know not what, of which they are darkly speaking. VIII But how thou perseverest, O life, Not living where thou livest; The arrows bring death Which thou receivest From thy conceptions of the Beloved. IX Why, after wounding This heart, hast Thou not healed it? And why, after stealing it, Hast Thou thus abandoned it, And not carried away the stolen prey? X Quench Thou my troubles, For no one else can soothe them; And let mine eyes behold Thee, For thou art their light, And I will keep them for Thee alone. XI Reveal Thy presence, And let the vision and Thy beauty kill me, Behold the malady Of love is incurable Except in Thy presence and before Thy face. XII O crystal well! Oh that on Thy silvered surface Thou wouldest mirror forth at once Those eyes desired Which are outlined in my heart! XIII Turn them away, O my Beloved! I am on the wing: THE BRIDEGROOM Return, My Dove! The wounded hart Looms on the hill In the air of thy flight and is refreshed. XIV My Beloved is the mountains, The solitary wooded valleys, The strange islands, The roaring torrents, The whisper of the amorous gales; XV The tranquil night At the approaches of the dawn, The silent music, The murmuring solitude, The supper which revives, and enkindles love. XVI Catch us the foxes, For our vineyard hath flourished; While of roses We make a nosegay, And let no one appear on the hill. XVII O killing north wind, cease! Come, south wind, that awakenest love! Blow through my garden, And let its odours flow, And the Beloved shall feed among the flowers. XVIII O nymphs of Judea! While amid the flowers and the rose-trees The amber sends forth its perfume, Tarry in the suburbs, And touch not our thresholds. XIX Hide thyself, O my Beloved! Turn Thy face to the mountains, Do not speak, But regard the companions Of her who is travelling amidst strange islands. XX THE BRIDEGROOM Light-winged birds, Lions, fawns, bounding does, Mountains, valleys, strands, Waters, winds, heat, And the terrors that keep watch by night; XXI By the soft lyres And the siren strains, I adjure you, Let your fury cease, And touch not the wall, That the bride may sleep in greater security. XXII The bride has entered The pleasant and desirable garden, And there reposes to her heart's content; Her neck reclining On the sweet arms of the Beloved. XXIII Beneath the apple-tree There wert thou betrothed; There I gave thee My hand, And thou wert redeemed Where thy mother was corrupted. XXIV THE BRIDE Our bed is of flowers By dens of lions encompassed, Hung with purple, Made in peace, And crowned with a thousand shields of gold. XXV In Thy footsteps The young ones run Thy way; At the touch of the fire And by the spiced wine, The divine balsam flows. XXVI In the inner cellar Of my Beloved have I drunk; and when I went forth Over all the plain I knew nothing, And lost the flock I followed before. XXVII There He gave me His breasts, There He taught me the science full of sweetness. And there I gave to Him Myself without reserve; There I promised to be His bride. XXVIII My soul is occupied, And all my substance in His service; Now I guard no flock, Nor have I any other employment: My sole occupation is love. XXIX If, then, on the common land I am no longer seen or found, You will say that I am lost; That, being enamoured, I lost myself; and yet was found. XXX Of emeralds, and of flowers In the early morning gathered, We will make the garlands, Flowering in Thy love, And bound together with one hair of my head. XXXI By that one hair Thou hast observed fluttering on my neck, And on my neck regarded, Thou wert captivated; And wounded by one of my eyes. XXXII When Thou didst regard me, Thine eyes imprinted in me Thy grace: For this didst Thou love me again, And thereby mine eyes did merit To adore what in Thee they saw XXXIII Despise me not, For if I was swarthy once Thou canst regard me now; Since Thou hast regarded me, Grace and beauty hast Thou given me. XXXIV THE BRIDEGROOM The little white dove Has returned to the ark with the bough; And now the turtle-dove Its desired mate On the green banks has found. XXXV In solitude she lived, And in solitude built her nest; And in solitude, alone Hath the Beloved guided her, In solitude also wounded with love. XXXVI THE BRIDE Let us rejoice, O my Beloved! Let us go forth to see ourselves in Thy beauty, To the mountain and the hill, Where the pure water flows: Let us enter into the heart of the thicket. XXXVII We shall go at once To the deep caverns of the rock Which are all secret, There we shall enter in And taste of the new wine of the pomegranate. XXXVIII There thou wilt show me That which my soul desired; And there Thou wilt give at once, O Thou, my life! That which Thou gavest me the other day. XXXIX The breathing of the air, The song of the sweet nightingale, The grove and its beauty In the serene night, With the flame that consumes, and gives no pains. XL None saw it; Neither did Aminadab appear The siege was intermitted, And the cavalry dismounted At the sight of the waters."

"I entered into unknowing, and there I remained unknowing transcending all knowledge. I entered into unknowing, yet when I saw myself there, without knowing where I was, I understood great things; I will not say what I felt for I remained in unknowing transcending all knowledge. That perfect knowledge was of peace and holiness held at no remove in profound solitude; it was something so secret that I was left stammering, transcending all knowledge. I was so 'whelmed, so absorbed and withdrawn, that my senses were left deprived of all their sensing, and my spirit was given an understanding while not understanding, transcending all knowledge. He who truly arrives there cuts free from himself; all that he knew before now seems worthless, and his knowledge so soars that he is left in unknowing transcending all knowledge. The higher he ascends the less he understands, because the cloud is dark which lit up the night; whoever knows this remains always in unknowing transcending all knowledge. This knowledge in unknowing is so overwhelming that wise men disputing can never overthrow it, for their knowledge does not reach to the understanding of not understanding, transcending all knowledge. And this supreme knowledge is so exalted that no power of man or learning can grasp it; he who masters himself will, with knowledge in unknowing, always be transcending. And if you should want to hear: this highest knowledge lies in the loftiest sense of the essence of God; this is a work of his mercy, to leave one without understanding, transcending all knowledge."

"My soul is a candle that burned away the veil; only the glorious duties of light I now have. The sufferings I knew initiated me into God. I am a holy confessor for men. When I see their tears running across their cheeks and falling into His hands, what can I say to their great sorrow that I too have known. The soul is a candle that will burn away the darkness, only the glorious duties of love we will have. The sufferings I knew initiated me into God. Only His glorious cares I now have."

"“What is grace” I asked God. And He said, “All that happens.” Then He added, when I looked perplexed, “Could not lovers say that every moment in their Beloved’s arms was grace? Existence is my arms, though I well understand how one can turn away from me until the heart has wisdom.”"

"All that is required for a complete pacification of the spiritual house is the negation through pure faith of all the spiritual faculties and gratifications and appetites. This achieved, the soul will be joined with the Beloved in a union of simplicity and purity and love and likeness. In the night of sense there is yet some light, because the intellect and reason remain and suffer no blindness. But his spiritual night of faith removes everything, both in the intellect and in the senses. The less a soul works with its own abilities, the more securely it proceeds, because its progress in faith is greater."

"Abide in peace, banish cares, take no account of all that happens, and you will serve God according to his good pleasure and rest in him."

"At the end of our life, we shall all be judged by charity."

"As God sets the soul in this dark night… He allows it not to find attraction or sweetness in anything whatsoever. God transfers to the spirit the good things and the strength of the senses… if it is not immediately conscious of spiritual sweetness and delight, but only of aridity and lack of sweetness, the reason for this is the strangeness of the exchange. #6. If those souls to whom this comes to pass knew how to be quiet at this time… then they would delicately experience this inward refreshment in that ease and freedom from care… it is like the air which, if one would close one’s hand upon it, escapes. In this state of contemplation… it is God Who is now working in the soul. He binds its interior faculties, and allows it not to cling to the understanding, nor to have delight in the will, nor to reason with the memory. God communicates… by pure spirit. From this time forward imagination and fancy can find no support in any meditation."

"Because wisdom pleased you more than any other thing… I give you everything. Pray in our secret chamber, or in the solitary wilderness, and at the best and most quiet time of night."

"Any kind of thought or meditation or pleasure would impede and disturb the soul and would introduce noise into the deep silence which the soul should observe in order to hear the deep and delicate voice in which God speaks to the heart in this secret place. When the soul is led into silence, it must forget even the practice of loving advertence… it must practice that advertence only when it is not conscious of being brought into solitude or interior rest or forgetfulness. Pure contemplation consists in receiving. The soul approaches God more nearly by not understanding than by understanding. Faith is darkness to the understanding. God brought them to this solitude and emptiness of their faculties and operations that He may speak to their hearts. God is leading you through the state of solitude and recollection and withdrawing you from your labors of sense. Return not to sense again. Lay aside your operations for they will now be a great obstacle and hindrance to you, since God is granting you the grace of Himself working within you. God is bearing the soul in His arms… and thus, although it is making progress at the rate willed by God Himself, it is not conscious of such movement. Three kinds of love: 1. the soul now loves God, not through itself but through Himself. 2. the soul is absorbed in the love of God and God surrenders Himself to the soul with great vehemence. 3. the soul love Him for Who He is."

"All these sensory means and exercises of the faculties must be left behind and in silence so that God Himself may affect the divine union of the soul. As a result one has to follow this method of disencumbering, emptying, and depriving the faculties of their natural rights and operations to make room for the inflow and illumination of the supernatural. If a person does not turn his eyes from his natural capacity, he will not attain to so lofty a communication; rather he will hinder it. If it is true that the soul must journey by knowing God through what He is not, rather than through what He is, it must journey, insofar as possible, by way of the denial and rejection of natural and supernatural apprehensions. This is our task now with the memory. We must draw it away from its natural props and capacities and raise it above itself (above all distinct knowledge and apprehensible possession) to supreme hope in the incomprehensible God. The annihilation of the memory in regard to all forms (including the five senses) is an absolute requirement for union with God. This union cannot be wrought without a complete separation of the memory from all forms that are not God. In great forgetfulness it is absorbed in a supreme good. Once he has the habit of union he no longer experiences these lapses of memory in matters concerning his moral and natural life. All the operations of the memory and other faculties in this state are divine."

"Cares do not bother the detached man."

"As the soul becomes purged and purified by means of this fire of love, it becomes ever more enkindled in love. This enkindling of love is not always felt by the soul, but only at times when contemplation assails it less vehemently."

"Beloved, all that is harsh and difficult I want for myself, and all that is gentle and sweet for thee."

"Contemplation is receiving… and the spirit has to be silent and detached from sweetness and knowledge. The sooner the soul reaches this restful tranquility, the more abundantly does it become infused with the spirit of Divine wisdom. At times the soul will feel itself to be tenderly and serenely ravished and wounded, not knowing how, since the Spirit communicates Himself without any act on the part of the soul. The soul feels withdrawn from all things, together with a sweet aspiration of love and life in the spirit, and with an inclination to solitude and a sense of weariness with regard to creatures and the world. God is secretly speaking to the solitary soul while the soul keeps silence. The greater the progress it makes, the farther it must withdraw from itself walking in faith, believing and not understanding; and thus it approaches God more nearly by not understanding than by understanding."

"Desolation is a file, and the endurance of darkness is preparation for great light."

"Distress and worry ordinarily makes things worse and even does harm to the soul itself. The endurance of all with equanimity not only reaps many blessings but also helps the soul to employ the proper remedy."

"Faith is the marriage of God and the Soul."

"Faith is a dark night for man, but in this very way it gives him light."

"Do the most difficult, the harshest, the less pleasant, the un-consoling, the lowest and most despised, want nothing, look for the worst."

"God is communicating to the soul loving knowledge. greatly esteems having brought them to this solitude and emptiness of their faculties and operations, that He may speak to their heart, which is what He ever desires. If you only wait upon God with loving and pure attentiveness (detach the soul from everything and set it free). God will feed your soul for you with heavenly food, since you are not hindering Him. When God brings the soul into that emptiness and solitude where it can neither use its faculties nor make any acts, it sees that it is doing nothing and strives to do something. Therefore it becomes distracted and full of aridity and displeasure. Although it is doing nothing, it is nevertheless accomplishing much more than if it were working, since God is working within it. The deep caverns of sense, with strange brightness, give heat and light together to their Beloved. ‘Together’ because the communication of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in the soul are made together, and are the light and fire of love."

"Faith is the proper and adequate means of union with God. #6. Contemplation, by which the intellect has a higher knowledge of God, is called mystical theology, meaning the secret wisdom of God. St. Dionysius calls contemplation a ray of darkness."

"From time to time the soul sees this flame and this enkindling grow so greatly within it that it desires God with yearning of love. This love is not as a rule felt at first, but only the dryness and emptiness. The soul then experiences a habitual care and solicitude with respect to God. This Divine love begins to be enkindled in the spirit. The soul enters the night of spirit in order to journey to God in pure faith, which is the means whereby the soul is united to God."

"He who interrupts the course of his spiritual exercises and prayer is like a man who allows a bird to escape from his hand; he can hardly catch it again."

"God sustains every soul and dwells in it substantially, even though it be that of the greatest sinner in the world, and this union is natural. The supernatural union exists when God’s will and the soul’s will are in conformity. Therefore the soul rests transformed in God through love. The illumination of the soul and its union with God corresponds to its purity."

"God is awakened in the soul. God breathes in the soul. Wisdom is more active than all active things. Oh, how happy is this soul that is ever conscious of God resting and reposing within its breast!"

"How to being this journey: don’t pursue delights, and overcome temptations and difficulties; which equal the practice of self-knowledge."

"If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark."

"If formerly it sought sweetness and fervor, and found it, now it much neither seek it nor desire it, for not only will it be unable to find it through its own diligence, but it will rather find aridity, for it turns from the quiet and peaceful blessings which were secretly given it its spirit, to the work that it desires to do with sense; and thus it will lose one and not obtain the other, since no blessings are now given to it by means of sense as they were formerly… God secretly and quietly infuses into the soul loving knowledge and wisdom without any intervention of specific acts. And the soul has then to walk with loving advertence to God, without making specific acts, but conducting itself passively, and making no efforts of its own, but preserving this simple, pure and loving advertence. The soul must be attached to nothing – not even to any kind of meditation or sweetness. The spirit needs to be so free and so completely annihilated that any thought or meditation which the soul in this state might desire, or any pleasure to which it may conceive an attachment, would impede and disturb it and would introduce noise into the deep silence which it is meet that the soul should observe so that it may hear the deep and delicate voice of God which speaks to the heart in this secret place."

"If the memory is annihilated, the devil is powerless, and it liberates us from a lot of sorrow, affliction and sadness."

"If the soul sometimes prays it does so with such lack of strength and sweetness that it thinks that God neither hears it nor pays heed to it. Indeed, this is no time for the soul to speak with God – it should rather put its mouth in the dust, and endure its purgation with patience… It has such distractions and times of such profound forgetfulness of the memory that frequent periods pass by without its knowing what it has been doing or thinking. This unknowing and forgetfulness are caused by the interior recollection wherein this contemplation absorbs the soul."

"If an experience fails to engender humility, charity, mortification, holy simplicity, and silence, etc., of what value is it? In this faith God supernaturally and secretly teaches the soul and, in a way unknown to it, raises it up in virtues and gifts. When together with the words and concepts the soul is loving God and simultaneously experiencing this love with humility and reverence, there is indication that the Holy Spirit is at work within it. Whenever He bestows favors, He clothes them with this love."

"If the soul is hardly conscious of this contemplation, such a person is only able to say that he is satisfied, tranquil and contented and that he is conscious of the presence of God… Pure contemplation is indescribable and therefore secret. This mystical knowledge has the property of hiding the soul within itself."

"In remaining unattached, a person is unencumbered and free to love all rationally and spiritually, which is the way God wants him to love."

"In passive joy the will finds itself rejoicing without any clear and direct understanding of the object of its joy."

"If you purify your soul of attachment to and desire for things, you will understand them spiritually. If you deny your appetite for them, you will enjoy their truth, understanding what is certain in them."

"In the dark night of the soul, bright flows the river of God."

"In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone."

"In solitude He guides her, He alone, Who also bears in solitude the wound of love."