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General_Intro_Biography_of_St_John

General_Intro_Biography_of_St_John - General Introduction...

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Unformatted text preview: General Introduction 3/04”?” PH)’ 6”: S‘fl/A/TJ‘df/N St. john of the Cross is a major figure in the history of Spanish litera- ture and Christian mysticism. From the time Pius XI declared him a Doctor of the Church, in 1926, a large amount of historical, doctrinal, and critical research has taken place, providing us with a much better grasp of the depth of his personality and work. The most widely known biographies of St. john of the Cross are those of the French scholar Bruno de jésus-Marie and the Spanish historian and theologian, Crisogono de jesfis. Padre Crisogono‘s hi- ography is especially valuable for its thorough treatment and abun- dance of documentation. The complaint made is that although these authors had worked with the manuscripts and had attempted to be faithful to the witnesses of john’s time, they continued a tradition of hagiography. In this tradition, the complaint goes, john‘s human qualities are either forgotten or lost among all the trappings that six- teenth-century Spain considered requisite in the life of a true saint. Some basiqknowledge about john’s life, despite the hagiographical problems, can prove immensely helpful for the interpretation of his personality and works.1 I. See Bruno de jésus—Marie, Saintjobn qfrbe Cram (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1932}; and Crisogono de Jesus Sacramentado, Tb: Life of St. john qf tbs Cross (London: Longman, Green 8: Co., 1958). For a more contemporary but much less thorough approach. see Richard P. Hardy. Scarab for Nothing: Tb: Lifi afjobn qf the Cross (New York; Crossroad, [982); see also Hardy's methodological articles on this question: “Early Biographical Doc- umentation on Juan de la Cruz," Science at Eryn} 30 (Dec—Dec. 1978): 313—23; and “A Personality Sketch," Epkmm'de: Carmelitica: 29 (1978): 507—18. Early Years (1542—1563) Juan de Yepes was born in 1542 in Fontiveros, a little town about twenty-four miles northwest of Avila, a rocky and barren part of Spain. His father, Gonzalo de Yepes, had come from an upper-class family of silk merchants, probably of Jewish origin, but was dis- owned by the family when he insisted on marrying a poor weaver, Catalina Alvarez. The parents of the future saint entered a marriage based on love, one demanding the sacrifice of wealth and worldly sta- tus to the nobler aspirations of a married union in intimacy and friendship. Juan was the last of the three boys born to the marriage. A lingering illness gradually destroyed the life of Gonzalo, who died when Juan was about three. The story of Catalina with her three chil— dren then became a sad one of unemployment, rejection, and hunger. Soon Luis, the middle son, also died, leaving the mother with only her oldest, Francisco, and her youngest. When Juan was nine, the family moved to Medina del Campo, one of the great market centers of Spain. Here Catalina succeeded in placing Juan in a school for poor children where he could receive food and shelter, a rudimentary ed- ucation, and a trade that would fit him for life. But the young lad did not feel any enthusiasm for the trades he tried out at the school. Rather, his gentleness and patience led to the discovery of his gift of caring for the sick. and he was given a job as nurse and alms seeker for one of the fourteen hospitals in Medina. While he was working at the hospital, an opportunity for attending classes in Latin and rhetoric at the nearby Jesuit school came along and another of Juan’s gifts was revealed—a sharp intellect. His love for studies stirred him to find time for them at night when he was free of his duties connected with the hospital. Thus Juan de Yepes with his gifts and curiosity of mind received a basic education and came into contact with the classics and the imagery found in them. He learned about literary technique, was encouraged to write his own composi- tions and poems, and opened himself sensitively to the world around him. These years of hospital work and study, tasks that called for re- sponsibility and diligence, complemented his early experiences of poverty. Spanisb Reform and a Carmelite Vocation ( l 563— l 5 78) When Juan was twenty-one, the hospital administrator, Don Alonso Alvarez de Toledo, offered him ordination to the priesthood and the post of chaplain at the hospital. Economically, this would have pro- vided Juan with a secure future, but he refused, deciding instead to en— ter the Carmelite order, which had a monastery in Medina. His desire for solitude and the contemplative life, as well as his devotion to our Lady, may have prompted him most to make this fateful decision. Receiving the name Fray Juan de Santo Maria, he passed his no- vitiate year, one would suppose, studying the rule and learning about the order’s ancient, eremitical origins. In Tbs Book [3)“ the First Mon/er, considered by Carmelites at the time to be their manual of spirituality, the following teaching brings to mind John's own doctrine: — The goal of this life is twofold. One part we acquire, with the help of divine grace, through our efforts and virtuous works. This is to offer God a pure heart, free from all stain of actual sin. We do this when we are perfect and in Cherith, that is, hidden in that charity of which the Wise Man says: "Charity covers all sins" (Prv 10:12). God desired Elijah to advance thus far when he said to him: “Hide yourself by the brook Cherith" (1 K35 17:3-4). The other part of the goal ofthis life is granted us as the free gift of God: namely, to taste somewhat in the heart and to experience in the soul, not only after death but even in this mor- tal life, the intensity of the divine presence and the sweetness of the glory of heaven. This is to drink of the torrent of the love of God. God promised it to Elijah in the words: “You shall drink from the brook." It is in view of this double end that the monk ought to give himself to the eremitic and prophetic life.2 Entering the monastery did not demand of Fray Juan the denial of studies. After making profession at the completion of his one-year no- 2. Tbs Book gfrbe First Month, trans. Michael Edwards (Boats Hill, Oxford: Teresian - Press. 1985). For a historical account of the use of this text in the Spanish Carmela ofJohn's time, see Otger Steggink, Experiencing; Radium en Santa Tiara-a)! Sanjuan dc Id Cruz (Madrid: Edltorial de Espirituaiidad, 1974-), pp. 99—122. vitiate, he departed for the bustling university city of Salamanca, where for four years (1564—1568) he studied philosophy and theology. He at- tended courses at the University of Salamanca as well as at the Car- melite College of San Andres. Stimulating and excellent in quality, the intellectual surroundings in which Fray Juan found himself gave him the opportunity of coming into contact with some of the outstanding teachers of the times. [t was a period in which all systems were dis- cussed and any opinion could be held as long as faith was not called into question. Exactly which lectures Fray Juan attended remains un- known. That he was recognized for his intellectual talents is evident in the fact that he was appointed prefect of studies at the College of San Andres. This office required him to conduct some classes, defend theses, and answer objections-wassignments that meant he had to be in command of the material. Later on, in the university cities of Alcala and Baeza, Fray Juan was noted for his knowledge of Scripture, the Fathers, and theology, and also for his keen mind. But at Salamanca witnesses remembered him as well for the austere and contemplative way of life he had set up for himself during these student years. Despite the rich intellectual experience in Salamanca and his bent for intellectual work. Fray Juan at the time of his ordination was feeling an attraction to a full contemplative life and thinking of transferring to the Carthusian order. When he went back to Medina in 1567 to sing his first Mass, he met St. Teresa of Avila, who was then fifty-two and look- ing for friars to help her adapt for them the new contemplative form of life she was establishing among the Cannelite nuns. Teresa was de- lighted with what she found in the small friar (four feet eleven inches in height), and Fray Juan decided to devote himself to this work and way of life she so enthusiastically and fervently explained to him. Teresa’s interest in founding small conununities of contemplatives must be seen as part of a larger movement of reform spreading through sixteenth-century Spain. Certain common characteristics marked the spirit of this Spanish reform: the return to one‘s origins, to primitive rules and the founders; a strict life lived in community with practices of poverty, fasting, silence, and enclosure; and, as the most important element, the life of prayer. The communities that were formed as a re- sult were referred to descriptively as “reform," “observant,” “dis- calced," or “hermit” communities. The efforts at reform had their beginnings in the fifteenth century, taking the shape of a response to the upheavals in religious life that were caused by the Black Death. The early attempts, with an anti-intellec- 10 tual tone, especially among the Franciscans, stressed affectivity, exter- nal ceremonies, devotions, and community vocal prayer. These communities of religious spent no less than seven hours a day on the Divine Office and more on Sundays and feast days. One of the pro- moters of this kind of reform, Pedro de ViElacreces (1350—1429), urged that this vocal prayer of the Divine Office not be disturbed or short- changed by manual labor. But so much vocal prayer day after day, for so many hours, could only become tedious and mechanical; it bore little noticeable fruit, unless in breeding a desire for forms of spiritual life and prayer more interior-in their dimensions. As a matter of fact, a way called “recollection,” whose followers were called rccogidos, began to de- velop in many Franciscan houses. This way, or spirituality, made union with God through love its most important concern, while it sought its nourishment in Sacred Scripture and other classic spiritual works by authors such as Augustine, Gregory the Great, Bernard, and Bonaventure. A Franciscan friar, Francisco de Osuna (c.1492—c.1540), took up the task of elaborating this spirituality and achieved his goal in The Third Spiritual Alphabet.3 Teresa in her Life speaks of the happiness brought her by this book, a gift from her uncle, and how, though a Carmelite nun, she first learned about prayer from its pages. She then began to follow earnestly the path of recollection recommended by Osuna. Osuna taught that to advance on the path of union, one must prac- tice recollection, imitating Jesus Christ who went alone into the desert to pray secretly and spiritually. By this recollection, Osuna explained, you withdraw from people and noisy places and enter within yourself. By it you recollect the exterior person, the senses and bodily members, withdraw into the heart, unite the powers of the soul with the soul's highest part where the image of God is imprinted. Finally, this praver joins God and the soul, that is, “the soul participates in the Lord himself and is perfectly recollected in him.” This way of recollection, also called mental prayer, had to involve one’s whole life. You lived a life of recollection, a life of mental prayer. Finally, though the practitioners of recollection gave greater importance to recollection, they did not abandon vocal prayer. In another simultaneous development, a movement whose mem- 3. Francisco de Osuna, Tb: TbirdSpirimai‘Afiabaaer, trans. and intro. Mary E. Giles {N ev.‘ York: Paulist Press, 1981}. ll hers were later called alambrador rejected vocal prayer entirely and counseled a type of abandonment in which the soul would remain sus- pended in God. In this suspended state of abandonment in God you could not sin, nor did you need to bother with meditation on the Pas- sion of Christ, or with fasts and abstinences, and rites and ceremonies; the use of images was useless, the religious life a hindrance. This aban- donment placed you at the summit of perfection; you could find no quicker and safer way to union with God. But the practice did not pre- vent the members of this movement, called dejades, from showing at times an aggressive contempt for tradition. Coming as no surprise, the belief in one’s incapacity to' sin ended with immoral sexual practices in a number of instances. A further aberration to appear at the time was the attraction to ec- stasy and other extraordinary phenomena. These experiences were pre- sented as something to be sought, but such esteem led to fraud and then suspicion as news about bogus ecstatics, visionaries, and stigmatics made its way through Spain. To begin to understand the suspicion that became a part-of the fabric of the Spain of this time, one must go back to the reign of the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. Toward the beginning of the sixteenth century, Granada was finally conquered and a country formerly divided was united and pacified. The authority of the Crown became absolute, and the country assumed its full role in the arena of European politics and diplomacy; at the same time a whole New World was discovered. In addition, Isabella’s enthusiasm for the new learning of the Renaissance infused the kingdom with renewed cultural activity. But in her attempts to pacify and unite her people, Isabella gave in to pressures and imposed religious orthodoxy as a means of preserving po— litical unity and social stability. The Inquisition was set up as a coercive tool for Christian orthodoxy. Moslems and Jews had either to convert or leave Spain. A land in which Christians, Moslems, and jews were able to live side by side relatively peacefully now bred intolerance and a climate of mistrust. With regard to the alumbradn movement, the Inquisition suspected that, though fundamentally different, it was closely connected with Lu- theranism, since both stressed internal religion at the expense of out- ward ceremony. And the recogidor themselves were often confused with those in the alumbrado movement. Teresa, in forming small, simplified communities of Carmelite nuns devoted to a life of recollection, was influenced partly by her fa- IZ milarity with the movement of the recagidos but even more by the ex- traordinary mystical favors God was granting her. In either case, considering the temper of the times, she too was vulnerable to the sus- picions and accusations of others and, in fact, suffered no small amount from the mistaken opinions formed about her. Philip II, who began to reign in 1556, had received the notion from his father, the emperor Charles V (grandson of the Catholic monarchs), that one of the reasons for the spread of Protestantism in Europe was the laxity of religious orders. It is not difficult to understand, then, that Philip took much interest and engaged actively in the reform of reli- gious communities. The prior general of the Carmelite order, john Baptist Rossi, to whom Teresa referred, in a Spanish rendering, as Ru- beo, was also interested in reform. In 1566, traveling sometimes by mule sometimes on horseback, he set about a journey throughout the Iberian peninsula on a mission of pastoral visitation and reform of his Carmelite communities. He came to Avila in 1567 and there Teresa first met him. She had been living for nearly five years in a little mon- astery of discalced, or contemplative, Carmelite nuns that she had founded. Since she had arranged that the community he placed under the jurisdiction of the local bishop, she was anxious about what Rubeo would decree. To her delight, he was impressed by the life she had es- tablished and urged her to make more foundations similar to the one she had made in Avila. But only reluctantly did he grant her request to found two houses for friars who, while living in a manner resembling that of her nuns, would also engage in pastoral ministry as the occasion arose. Since Rubeo had met with resistance in his efforts to bring about reform among the rival factions of Carmelites in Andalusia, he specified that the friars who would join Teresa should be subject to the province of Castile. To forestall any trouble, as though peering into the future, he gave further orders: There must be no attempt to seek separation from the province through the favor of princes or with briefs and other concessions from Rome. At sundown on August 9, 1568, Teresa, with a small group, set off on a journey from Medina del Campo to Valladolid, where she in- tended to make another foundation. Traveling with the group was her new recruit, Fray juan de Santo Matfa, whom the Mother Foundress was bringing along to teach about the contemplative way of life she had been establishing. Fray juan enioyed the beauties of the sky spreading over the small caravan in that journey by night and spoke knowingly and brilliantly to Teresa and the others about the wonders of God and 13 the mysteries of the divine goodness, so knowingly in fact that the group'began to refer to him as “God’s archives." When they arrived In Valladolid the small friar began to learn firsthand how Teresa s nuns had adopted a mode of life in which, unlike that of the lfoundress's for- mer monastery. the numbers were few and all class distinctions were eliminated. As a result of her personal mystical experience, Teresa en- visioned her communities as small groups of friends of Christ and the contemplative life, the way of recollection, as a life of intimacy wrth Jesus, who continued forever to be human as well as divme. The man- ner of reciting the Divine Office was now simpler, an hour in the mom- ing and an hour in the evening was set aside for mental prayer, and the nuns lived their day mostly in silence and solitude, engaging, alone in their cells, in the manual labor of spinning to help support themselves. The friar also learned, as Teresa takes pains to point out. “about the recreation we have together . . . to provide a little relief so that the rule may be kept in its strictness.“ In her account of this event in her Faun- datiom, Teresa confesses that she felt that Fray Juan was so good that she could have learned more from him than be from her.‘ She none- theless persevered in her role as teacher so that he would have a better notion of how to initiate the Teresian life among the friars. On finishing this brief novitiate under Teresa’s guidance, Fray Juan left Valladolid to start working to convert into a monastery the little farm house ac- quired by Teresa for her first friars. It was situated in a lonely spot of Castile, called Duruelo, midway between Avila and Salamanca. _ On November 28, 1568, with two of his confreres, Fray Juan in- augurated the new contemplative life that Teresa had taught him. The three friars in the presence of their provincial promised to follow the primitive Carmelite rule without mitigation. At this timeJuan de Santo Maria changed his name to Juan de la Cruz; or in English, John of the Cross. History has respected this choice, and he has been known by this name ever since. The cross, indeed, lay at the core of his life and teaching, and it became for him a title of glory in the mystery of Jesus Christ. Aithough Rubeo had wanted the new group of friars to be known as the contemplative Carmelites, the popular name “discalced ’ won out. They were called discalced because initially they went bare- 4. See Chapter 13 of The Foundation: in The Collected Works afSt. Teresa aonii‘a, vol. 3, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (Washington, D.C.: I.C.S. Publications, 1085). 14 foot, a practice in vogue among the more eremitical groups of those times. The former prior of Medina, Antonio de Heredia, became the first superior of the new foundation, and John of the Cross, the first novice master. John thus began what was to become one of his major minis- tries, an apostolate of spiritual ...
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