John of the Cross

Infobox Saint
name=Saint John of the Cross
birth_date=24 June 1542
death_date=Death date and age|1591|12|14|1542|06|24
feast_day=14 December
24 November (General Roman Calendar, 1738-1969)
venerated_in=Roman Catholic Church; Anglican Communion; Lutheran Church

birth_place=Fontiveros, Spain
death_place=Ubeda, Andalusia, Spain
titles=Confessor and Doctor of the Church
beatified_date=25 January 1675
beatified_by=Pope Clement X
canonized_date=27 December 1726
canonized_by=Pope Benedict XIII
patronage=contemplative life; contemplatives; mystical theology; mystics; Spanish poets
major_shrine=Tomb of Saint John of the Cross, Segovia, Spain
:"For another saint who lived around the same time and area, see John of Avila".

Saint John of the Cross ("San Juan de la Cruz") (24 June 1542 – 14 December 1591), born Juan de Yepes Alvarez, was a major figure of the Counter-Reformation, a Spanish mystic, and Carmelite friar and priest, born at Fontiveros, a small village near Ávila.

Saint John of the Cross was a reformer of the Carmelite Order and is considered, along with Saint Teresa of Ávila, as a founder of the Discalced Carmelites. He is also known for his writings. Both his poetry and his studies on the growth of the soul are considered the summit of mystical Spanish literature and one of the peaks of all Spanish literature. He was canonized as a saint in 1762 by Pope Benedict XIII. He is one of the thirty-three Doctors of the Church. When his feast day was inserted into the General Roman Calendar in 1738, it was assigned at first to 24 November, since his date of death was impeded by the then existing octave of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This obstacle was removed in 1955 and in 1969 his feast day was moved to his date of death, 14 December.


Early life and education

He was born by the name of "Juan de Yepes y Álvarez" [Roddriguez, Jose Vincente, Biographical Narrative. "God Speaks in the Night. The Life, Times, and Teaching of St. John of the Cross", Washington D.C.: ICS Publications, 1991, p. 3 ] into a Jewish converso family of silk weavers in a small village called Fontiveros in the province of Ávila. [Norman Roth, "Conversos, Inquisition, and the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain", Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1995, pp. 157, 369] His father, of wealthy origins, was disinherited by his family because of marriage to a woman below his rank, and died just the year after his birth. As a consequence, John, his two older brothers and his widowed mother struggled with poverty, moving around and living in various Castilian villages, with the last being Medina del Campo, to which he moved in 1551. There he worked at a hospital and studied the humanities at a Society of Jesus (Jesuit) school from 1559 to 1563. The Society of Jesus was a new organization at the time, having been founded a few years earlier by the Spanish St. Ignatius Loyola. On 24 February 1563 he entered the Carmelite order, adopting the name Fr. Juan de Santo Matías.

The following year (1564) he professed as a Carmelite (was promoted from novice status) and moved to Salamanca, where he studied theology and philosophy at the University of Salamanca and at the Colegio de San Andrés. This stay would influence all his later writings, as Fray Luis de León taught biblical studies (Exegesis, Hebrew and Aramaic) at the University. Fray Luis de León was one of the foremost experts in Biblical Studies then and had written an important and controversial translation of the Song of Songs into Spanish. (Translation of the Bible into the vernacular was not allowed then in Spain).

Priesthood and association with Saint Teresa de Jesús

John was ordained a priest in 1567, and then indicated his intent to join the strict Carthusian order, which appealed to him because of its encouragement of solitary and silent contemplation. Before this, however, he travelled to Medina del Campo, where he met the charismatic Saint Teresa de Jesús. She immediately talked to him about her reformation projects for the Carmelite order, and asked him to delay his entry into the Carthusians. The following year, on 28 November in Duruelo, he renounced to the rule of St. Albert, changed his name to Juan de la Cruz (John of the Cross) and effectively entered upon the reform of the Order. He started this reformation at Duruelo together with Fr. Antonio de Jesús de Heredia, and the originally small and impoverished town of Duruelo became a center of religion.

John, still in his 20s, continued to work as a helper of Saint Teresa until 1577, founding monasteries around Spain and taking active part in their government. These foundations and the reformation process were resisted by a great number of Carmelite friars, some of whom felt that Teresa's version of the order was too strict. Some of these opponents would even try to bar Teresa from entering their convents.

The followers of St. John and St. Teresa differentiated themselves from the non-reformed communities by calling themselves the "discalced", i.e., barefoot, and the others the "calced" Carmelites.

Imprisonment, writings, torture, death and recognition

On the night of 3 to 4 December 1577, following his refusal to relocate after his superior's orders and allegedly because of his attempts to reform life within the Carmelite order, he was taken prisoner by his superiors, and jailed in Toledo, where he was kept under a brutal regimen that included public lashing before the community at least weekly, and severe isolation in a tiny stifling cell barely large enough for his body. Six months into his imprisonment, St. John was assigned a new jailer, Fr. Juan de Santa María, who was much more kindly disposed toward John than his previous incarcerator. He appears to have allowed him oil and a lamp, and more importantly, paper and ink upon which to write. It is during this time when he composed some of his most famous works, among them the first 21 verses of his [ "Spiritual Canticle"] , the "Romances", "Qué bien sé yo" and probably he began to write on the "Dark Night of the Soul" ["Dark night of the soul" translation by Mirabai Starr ISBN 1-57322=974-1 p.8 ] as well. The darkness and loneliness of his imprisonment, his harsh sufferings and spiritual endeavours are reflected in all of his subsequent writings. He managed to escape after nine months, on 15 August 1578, by escaping through a small window in a room adjoining his cell. (He had managed to prise the cell door off its hinges earlier that day).

After returning to a normal life, he went on with the reformation and the founding of monasteries for the new Discalced Carmelite order, which he had helped found along with his fellow St. Teresa de Ávila and got finally approbation by Pope Gregor XIII in 1580.

John, in the years ensuing, was extremely active within the newly reformed order. He hold a variety of positions as confessor, vicar, Prior, Second Definitor, Vicar-Provincial, Definitor and Consiliar, and Deputy-Vicar General. He continued to be target for accusations and resentments by the carmelite Order. Finally, he was deprived of every office within the Reform, and in failing health, he retreated to the monastery of La Peñuela in Jaén in 1591, only to learn that efforts were already under way to expel him from the Reform itself which he had founded. John was a person of very weak health, and short and faint corpulence (Teresa de Ávila used to call him affectively “my half friar”). The adversities that he had to fight during his life were beginning to wear him out. While his health continued to decline, and still under the vow of obedience, he was ordered to seek medical assistance which was available both at Báez and Úbeda, and when presented with the choice, he opts for Úbeda, where he got as well a cold reception and was assigned one of the poorest cells. About to be banished to America, John died there on 14 December 1591, of erisipelis (cellulitis), at the age of only forty-nine. His writings were first published in 1618, he was beatified by Pope Clement X in 1675, and canonized by Benedict XIII in 1726. In 1926, he was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI. When inserted into the Roman Catholic calendar of saints in 1738, his feast day was assigned to 24 November. ["Calendarium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 110]
Pope Paul VI moved it to the "dies natalis" (birthday to heaven) of the saint, 14 December. ["Calendarium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 146]

The Church of England commemorates him as a "Teacher of the Faith" on the same date.

Literary Works

St. John of the Cross is considered one of the foremost poets in the Spanish language. Although his complete poems add up to less than 2500 verses, among them the "Spiritual Canticle" and "Dark Night of the Soul", they are considered to be among the most beautiful, preeminent and evocative works ever written in Spanish language, both for their formal stylistic point of view and their rich symbolism and imagery. His poetrical style is very diverse, ranging from intelectual rigour, naked sobriety, exuberance of colours and senses to glowing passion, depending on the poem. His poetrical style is one of extreme precision, with a very dense intelectual architecture and coupled with a beauty of sensual and flowery expressions. The effect on the reader is one of emotional dramaturgy and extreme lyric density, difficult to reveal in any tranlastion away from its original Spanish language. His literature remains humble, and his drive shares his own love for beauty of the written word and the wish for mission and didactic exposure of his mysticism. As with most mysticists, his poetry is full of allegories, metaphors, paradoxons and suggestive symbolism.

The "Spiritual Canticle" is an eclogue in which the bride (representing the soul) searches for the bridegroom (representing Jesus Christ), and is anxious at not finding him; both are filled with joy upon reuniting. It can be seen as a free-form Spanish version of the Song of songs at a time when translations of the Bible into the vernacular were forbidden.

"Dark Night of the Soul" (from which the spiritual term Dark Night of the Soul takes its name) narrates the journey of the soul from her bodily home to her union with God. It happens during the night, which represents the hardships and difficulties she meets in detachment from the world and reaching the light of the union with the Creator. There are several steps in this night, which are related in successive stanzas. The main idea of the poem can be seen as the painful experience that people endure as they seek to grow in spiritual maturity and union with God. Canadian world music artist Loreena McKennitt composed the music for and recorded a "song" version of the poem on her 1994 album "The Mask and Mirror".

St. John also wrote four treatises on mystical theology, two of them concerning the two poems above, and supposedly explaining the meaning of the poems verse by verse and even word by word. He actually proves unable to follow this scheme consistently and writes often freely on the subject he is treating at each time. His treatises and "Commentaries" in prose contrast sharply in style with his poetry, being dense and austere, more practical guide-like and often plagued with redundancies between the chapters and inconsistent through contradictions resulting from scarce or no revision. This would prove his own conviction that the mystical experience is incommunicable with objective words. His mysticism is fully revealed only in his poetry.

The third work, "Ascent of Mount Carmel" is a more systematic study of the ascetical endeavour of a soul looking for perfect union, God, and the mystical events happening along the way, and forms with his Commentary on the "Dark Night" the core of his Mystical Theology. A four commentary work about "Living Flame of Love" describes a greater intimacy, as the soul responds to God's love. These, together with his "Dichos de Luz y Amor", or "Sayings of Light and Love," and St. Teresa's writings, are the most important mystical works in Spanish, and have deeply influenced later spiritual writers all around the world. Among these can be named T. S. Eliot, Thérèse de Lisieux, Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), and Thomas Merton. John has also influenced philosophers (Jacques Maritain), theologians (Hans Urs von Balthasar), and pacifists (Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, and Philip Berrigan). He is also mentioned in Allen Ginsberg's groundbreaking poem "Howl, [] ."

ee also

*Book of the First Monks
*Byzantine Discalced Carmelites
*Calendar of saints (Church of England)
*Carmelite Rule of St. Albert
*Christian Meditation
*Constitutions of the Carmelite Order
*Miguel Asín Palacios
*Saint Raphael Kalinowski, the first friar to be canonized (in 1991 by Pope John Paul II) in the Order of Discalced Carmelites since Saint John of the Cross
*Spanish Renaissance literature


*"Dark Night of the Soul: A Masterpiece in the Literature of Mysticism (Translated and Edited by E. Allison Peers)", Doubleday, 1959. ISBN 978-0385-02930-8
*"Dark Night Of The Soul, Saint John of The Cross" (Translated by Mirabai Starr), Riverhead Books, New York, 2002, ISBN 1-57322-974-1


External links

* [ St John of the Cross, Dec 14 - Solemnity]
* [ Books written by St John of the Cross] including St Teresa of Avila
* [ St. John of the Cross and his influence on St. Therese of Lisieux]
* [ Catholic Encyclopedia on John of the Cross]
* [ The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross] at Discalced Carmelites in the Australian Region
* [ The Metaphysics of Mysticism: The Mystical Philosophy of Saint John of the Cross] Biography of St. John of the Cross
* [ Christian Classics Ethereal Library: St. John of the Cross]
* [ Short film based on St. John of the Cross' "Dark Night of the Soul"]
* [ St. John of the Cross on the Mystical Site]
* [ Carmel's Heights] - This CD album is an attempt to share with all, some of Carmel's Saints - real persons of flesh and blood - who share with us in song their own spiritual experiences.
* [ Carmelite Vocation]
* [ Poetry of John of the Cross]
* [ Discalced Carmelite Calendar and Saints]
* [ Index of Carmelite Websites]
* [ Thomas Merton on St. John of the Cross]
*worldcat id|id=lccn-n79-63706

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • John of the Cross — Saint (born Juan de Yepes y Álvarez) (1542 91); Sp. monk & mystic: his day is Nov. 24 …   English World dictionary

  • John of the Cross — (1542–91)    Mystic, Poet, Devotional Writer, Order Founder and Saint.    John was born Juan de Yepez y Alvarez in Old Castile, Spain. He joined the Carmelites at the age of twenty one and, after studying in Salamanca, he joined the new Discalced …   Who’s Who in Christianity

  • John of the Cross — Saint (Juan de Yepis y Álvarez), 1542 91, Spanish mystic, writer, and theologian: cofounder with Saint Theresa of the order of Discalced Carmelites. Spanish, San Juan de la Cruz. * * * …   Universalium

  • John of the Cross — noun Saint (Juan de Yepis y Álvarez), 1542–91, Spanish mystic; with Saint Theresa founder of the discalced Carmelites. Spanish, San Juan de la Cruz /san ˌhwan də la ˈkruθ (say sahn .hwahn duh lah kroohth) …   Australian English dictionary

  • John of the Cross — Saint (Juan de Yepis y Álvarez), 1542 91, Spanish mystic, writer, and theologian: cofounder with Saint Theresa of the order of Discalced Carmelites. Spanish, San Juan de la Cruz …   Useful english dictionary

  • John of the Cross, St. — (1542 91), Spanish mystic and poet; born Juan de Yepis y Alvarez. A Carmelite monk and priest, he cofounded, with St. Teresa of Ávila, the discalced Carmelite order in 1568. Feast day, December 14 …   Useful english dictionary

  • John of the Cross — biographical name 1542 1591 Juan de Yepes y Álvarez Spanish mystic & poet …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • John of the Cross, Saint — • Article on the life and teaching of this Discalced Carmelite associated with St. Teresa of Avila. Mystic, Doctor of the Church, d. 1591 Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006 …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • John of the Cross, Saint — Spanish San Juan de la Cruz orig. Juan de Yepes y Álvarez born June 24, 1542, Fontiveros, Spain died Dec. 14, 1591, Ubeda; canonized 1726; feast day December 14 Spanish mystic, poet, Doctor of the Church, and reformer of monasticism. He became a… …   Universalium

  • JOHN OF THE CROSS, SAINT — (1542 1591)    ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTICAL writer and CAMELITE reformer best known for his meditation The Dark Night of the Soul which shows profound insight into spiritual and PSYCHOLOGICAL states based on his own experience. His work, which was… …   Concise dictionary of Religion

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