Monday, October 18, 2010

St. John of the Cross on Humility and Pride

The River Raisin
Life's goal, according to St John of the Cross, is contemplative union with God. Progress towards this end is defined in terms of a series of "dark nights" which are, actually, "happy nights," since they are needed in order to intimately dwell with God.

Remember that, for St John, the term "dark night" is not equivalent to "tough times" or "suffering." The Dark Night of the Soul is about, e.g., the impotence of sensual and discursive abilities to know God.

St John refers to the journey of knowing God as "advancing in perfection." Pride blocks such advancing. In John's second chapter (Book One, Chapter 2) he writes of "Some of the imperfections of pride possessed by beginners." Pride is the original pretender that circumvents access to God. But, on the other hand, there are "souls who are advancing in perfection at this time act in an entirely different manner and with a different quality of spirit. They receive great benefit from their humility, by which they not only place little importance on their deeds, but also take very little self-satisfaction from them. They think everyone else is far better than they are, and usually possess a holy envy of them and would like to emulate their service of God."

To the humble God bestows his grace. To the proud God would place them in a "dark night" to purify them of the spiritual imperfection of pride. In that dark night, where all human powers fail, there comes a "passive purgation." (Book One, Chapter 3) Only those who are purged of pride can continue to journey into the presence of God. And this purging includes a renunciation of human abilities as spiritually inefficacious.

Humility? Good. Pride? Bad. When it comes to knowing God.