Dark Night of the Soul: A Classic in the Literature of Mysticism

by John of the Cross

Other authorsP. Silverio de Santa Teresa (Contributor), E. Alison Peers (Translator)
Paperback, 1959





With His gentle hand He wounded my neck And caused all my senses to be suspended.' Part poetic masterpiece, part mystic treatise, The Dark Night of the Soul by 16th century Carmelite monk, St. John of the Cross, addresses the feeling of being forgotten by the Presence of the Almighty that every Christian desirous of walking more closely with God must pass through in order to learn to walk by faith and not by sight. 'Spiritual persons suffer great trials...by reason�of the fear which they have of being lost on the road, thinking that all spiritual blessing is over for them and that God has abandoned them since they find no help or pleasure in good things. Then they grow weary, and endeavor to concentrate their faculties with some degree of pleasure upon some object of meditation, thinking that, when they are not doing this and yet are conscious of making an effort, they are doing nothing.' Perhaps one of the most widely recognized of the mystical writings, St. John's classic Dark Night of the Soul is not only practical theology but a beautiful balm of healing to anyone whose heart has ever echoed the words of Christ, 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?'.… (more)


Image Books (1959), 193 pages

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(173 ratings; 4)

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LibraryThing member atimco
Upon a darkened night
The flame of love was burning in my breast
And by a lantern bright
I fled my house while all in quiet rest...

I was first introduced to this famous poem by 16th-century mystic St. John of the Cross through Loreena McKennitt's song on her album "The Mask and Mirror." It's a
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beautiful piece of work describing the soul's union with God, and I was interested to read the theological treatise he wrote later in his life about it. Unfortunately, the poem is much better read by itself than painstakingly expounded.

The "dark night of the soul" is a term that denotes a period of spiritual dryness, when all devotional activities feel particularly flat and stale, and the soul is assailed by doubts and confusion. As a description of spiritual drought — something I think every Christian experiences — it's excellent, but where I just don't follow St. John is in his insistence on the details of every stage of the dark night. His wandering, belabored descriptions quickly become tedious, and the result is irrelevant to the vigorous pursuit of holiness taught by the New Testament.

Biblically speaking, is the dark night supposed to be the defining theme of the Christian life? I'm not convinced it is. In the New Testament, Christians are urged to live wisely, serve one another, grow in knowledge and wisdom, work hard, examine themselves, bear fruit, be humble, and love faithfully. One thing we aren't told to do is spend our lives analyzing our spiritual depression and contemplating the vicissitudes of our inner man. Focusing so much energy and time on what's going on inside seems a little narcissistic, even if it is a spiritualized introspection. The Bible doesn't emphasize the experience of spiritual dryness and I think it's a mistake for us to do so. I'm not denying that spiritual dryness exists, but I think wallowing in it encourages a focus on self to the exclusion of other things like serving others and being faithful regardless of our feelings.

St. John's biblical exegesis is weak; he only quotes Scripture when it supports his point (rather than Scripture being the starting point and his point being drawn from it), and he often has to twist it dreadfully to make it mean what he wants it to. Occasionally even the interpretations he wrests from his spare lines of poetry are also a stretch; at times he is extremely literal and other times the meaning is, of course, highly symbolic. There is no consistency in his interpretative principles.

What I'm gathering from the Catholic mystics I've read thus far is that they are just like mystics of any other religion: they spout lots of man-made ideology and structures, they are absorbed in their own spiritual lives to the point of being self centered, and occasionally they say something that is true and beautiful. For the Christian seeking biblical truth, this will not satisfy.
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LibraryThing member StrokeBoy
Beutiful poetry even for a novice like myself. The depth would be unreachable without Johns outstanding commentary.
LibraryThing member shooster
This is the follow-on companion book to the Ascent of Mount Carmel. Honestly I have not indulged my self yet. It appears to be done in the same objective approach as Ascent of Mount Carmel.
LibraryThing member thornton37814
This book is a Christian classic. It is somewhat like a commentary on a poem. The reading requires contemplation, and it really should not be rushed. The fact I was in a rush to complete it probably influenced my lower rating. I found the language a bit "stilted" and the sentences too long for most
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modern readers.
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LibraryThing member jeterat
A beautiful meditation on spiritual progress, primarily aimed at those relatively advanced in the spiritual life. I was surprised to find how much like a modern self-help book the text really is.
LibraryThing member Mattmcmanus
I fear I've understood only a small bit of this book, but I'm glad I worked my way through it. It's a view into a mind and religious worldview that is completely foreign to me but still worth trying to internalize.
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