(NOTE: This transcription has been automatically generated through an AI program. Consequently, this transcript may not match everything you hear in the podcast episode, and it may contain errors such as spelling, grammar, word choice, etc., due to the limitations of current AI technology.)
Hi everyone and welcome this week’s episode of Midnight Carmelite. This is your host Andrew Gniadek. This week, I’m going to talk a little bit about the Dark Night in Saint john of the Cross. People talk about the “dark night of the soul.” Saint John of the Cross doesn’t title his work in that way; it’s actually just titled the Dark Night. And also his first work, The Ascent of Mount Carmel references the Dark Night that is the separate work of the Dark Night as a section in the Ascent of Mount Carmel.
And furthermore, another interesting fact is in his later works, he refers to a work he calls the Dark Night of the Ascent of Mount Carmel, and this is just my opinion, but I think what we have as two separate works are actually what he intended to be one work. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you just combine the works and that’s the Dark Night of the Ascent of Mt. Carmel.
So, for example, we’ve seen this actually in Carmelite history before. Edith Stein, when she became a Carmelite nun had been working on a book and In 19, I think 35 or 36, when she came out with Finite and Eternal Being. Finite and Eternal Being was based on her work Potency and Act. However, and she says this in the introduction, she said Potency and Act that didn’t go to publication at the time.
So, my point is that those are two separate works of hers, but they’re kind of dealing with the same thing. So, in the same way with Saint John of the Cross we may have that situation. But regardless, interesting history aside, we can talk a little bit about what the Dark Night is. So John is very clear. St. John of the Cross is very clear what the dark night is at the beginning of The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, essentially what he says is he says, this journey has called the dark night, but it’s really the night part has to do with purgation, the classic three part division of the spiritual life into the purgative, the illuminative, and then the unitive.
If so, this would be considered the purgative. The second thing is, he calls it dark because you don’t know what’s going on. And what he’ll do is he’ll talk more about what the dark night means beyond what I just said. Right, even you know, for you just get within Chapter two, I think of the ascent and he’ll start discussing 3 ways that this is a dark night for the soul. But the point is, is that that’s the real starting point for what his understanding of the Dark Night is.
For those of you who don’t know the stage comes from Pseudo-Dionysus. And since we’re dealing with the purgative stage, the dark night for Saint John of the Cross is dealing with what he rightly terms ignored and appetites and inclinations. So when he, again, I’ve said this before, another podcast when John uses the word appetite. St. John is talking about inordinate ones. So again, in an order, an appetite would be, you know, let’s say you’re married, you have kids and you are instead of paying attention to your kids, you want to be on the mission’s somewhere in a far off land.
The problem is, that the state in life, God called you to is the married life. Now the missions are good in themselves and the married life is good in itself. But the question is, what does God want you to do? And obviously you chose to get married. So clearly, that’s what you should be faithful to. In your state in life, your vows and those things take priority over being able to go travel in far-off lands. If a person in that situation feels like they have to go travel in far off lands and let’s say, leaves their family to go do that.
Well, you’re that’s inordinate, right? That would be the official story is out of order. It’s not how it ought to be ordered. So that would be a good example of what he means by an ordinance. The dark night, he says, is divided into four parts is the active and passive sensory part of the person and then the active and passive spiritual part of the person. And he’ll say the soul, however, remember, were psychosomatic unity. While yes, a lot of this occurs in the soul, right? You can’t dismiss the body, right, That would not be good.
So, anyway, so he talks about how someone who’s going through the dark night. Whether it’s the active night of the sense, passive night of the sense, active night of spirit, passive night of the spirit. That’s what he primarily deals with in his book the Dark Night. The active and passive night of the sense and the active night of spirit, he deals mainly in the Ascent of Mount Carmel. And the issue that happens is he says, look, the lot of beginners is the active night of senses where you’re working on removing these inordinate appetites and that in a way is like a dark night, why?
Because you’re you’re removing, clouding, depriving something that you would normally engage in, right? So for you, and again, this is from your perspective, as a beginner, it feels like a dark night and so this is incredibly key, it feels like it too. So he’s acknowledging subjective experience here, he’s saying, look, when you start off as a beginner and you start mortifying the appetites and doing those things, it’s going to feel awful, it’s going to feel like a dark night to feel like a suffering because it is why?
Because what you’re doing is your reorienting yourself away from these inordinate things to being more orderly virtuous, you know, that type of thing. So what happens here is he says, that’s a lot of beginners. And then obviously proficient in this purgative process are going to start moving into the active night of the spirit. Now, one thing to understand here is that the dark night is the major theme John talks about in his work obviously, and not only that, John, like I said earlier in the podcast, says more about the dark night like when God is acting on you and you have no idea what is going on.
You have to trust by faith. That’s a good example. This person, according to Saint John of the Cross is going to be feeling like they’re a bad person, they’re going to see their since clearly they are not going to, you know, and if they go to a spiritual director who doesn’t understand this process, the spiritual director might say, John has this example, he says, well it’s either that they, the spiritual director, acts like the comforters of Job who basically said, oh, it’s because you’re bad and a sinner, that God is cursing you, Job.
And then the second thing would be, he said, is this spiritual director, maybe like someone who goes to the Tower of Babel and brings the wrong supplies to build the tower. So the person you being the tower, right? Going to the spiritual director, the spiritual director will tell you the wrong thing because they don’t understand the language of what’s happening is how St. John puts it. And you know, that’s an interesting part to it. So he basically is saying, I’m expounding this doctrine of the dark night because I feel bad for people.
That’s really what he says, he says, I feel bad for people. I feel really bad for them. I feel that, you know, they end up in these situations where they could be living this better life, a much better life more closely united they got in this life and he’s like, and they’re never making it there or if they’re making it there, it’s because God dragged them basically for whatever reason, and they don’t gain as much merit because God dragged them there versus them engaging their will to do it.
So he’s dealing with those types of things. And I just want to make one final note about the dark night. Saint John of The Cross uses the dark night based off of his poetry, which is outstanding poetry in my opinion. And John’s approach is of the artistic poetic sense. You know, he’ll, again, he’ll say and explain the dark night through further, not demonstrative examples, but metaphorical examples. And he’ll use a lot of metaphorical language to describe what’s going on. But the beauty of St. John of the Cross, one of the many beauties, in my opinion, is he states that his understanding of the dark night is going to be based on Sacred Scripture.
He says that from the outset. So instead of using, you know, this source or that source, Saint John of the Cross is relying totally on his own experience, what he does know in theological science, what he was trained in Salamanca and as well as in his own, I’m sure. And then mostly Sacred Scripture, because he says that it’s through Sacred Scripture, The Holy Spirit speaks to us anyway, so that’s kind of a quick thing about the dark night. I just wanted to share with you all. And hopefully it was kind of helpful to kind of get an idea of what saint john of the cross means by the dark night.
And you know, kind of gets you thinking like, hey, when I want to start on this journey of prayer and union with God, what am I going to be dealing with and you’ll be dealing with the dark night.
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