07
Mar
13

Dark Night of the Soul, Lenten Observance, Day 35, 2013

Bk. II, Ch. XXII: Explains the third line of the second stanza.
and Bk II, Ch. XXIV: Expounds the fourth line and describes the wondrous hiding-place wherein the soul is set during this night. Shows how, although the devil has an entrance into other places that are very high, he has none into this.
Ch. XXIII is very short, and adds very little to the discussion, but there are a couple of things in this brief (1 page) section which jumped out at me. First is what St. John saw as his mission in undertaking this work: “the explanation of this night to the many souls who pass through it and yet know nothing about it.” So the work is primarily aimed at those who, of their own, are going through this trouble, but without any guidance. That’s what it sounds like. And yet, that makes it sound a lot like a self-help book, which someone might pick up, and I don’t think that is St. John’s intent. Certainly only a very few people are likely to go to this work, and only those people who are already spiritually minded. That is not to say that this cannot be of some assistance in helping those going through such troubles as the dark night to name their troubles and so better face them. I just wonder how he imagined the work would be disseminated, and how awareness of it would spread about. It is a famous work of spiritual struggle, and so must reach some people, but I wonder how St. John saw it that way during his day.
The other section that jumped out at me follows immediately after the above, when he adds that “this explanation and exposition has already been half completed.” What we have ends in a few short chapters, so we are quite a bit further than half, and he’s only gotten through the first 2 of 8 stanzas, so was there more? Or did he imagine there was more? We don’t have the autograph of the work, but have some early manuscripts of the work. So did he have more written than has come down to us? We’ll never know, but this suggests there should be more than we have.
And then in Ch. XXIV we move into a discussion of the fourth line of the 2nd stanza: “In darkness and in concealment.”
This continues the ideas he has already mentioned, that the devil will work upon the senses and the sensual side to lead one astray, so it is important to remain very much insulated from such sensations, hidden from view, as it were. In this discussion, he calls upon the statement to “not let the left hand know what the right is doing.” And he identifies the right hand with the spiritual efforts, and the left hand with the senses. But cannot the devil get into one’s thoughts as well as senses? I’m not sure how one escapes the devil here, or how God is more present in the one manner than in the other.
The devil cannot know this inner communication (not sure how that is), but can see when the soul remains somewhat unperturbed by his attacks that such interior communication is at work. And then he’ll try harder, but, according to St. John, the soul, realizing it is under attack will burrow deeper into this interior cave of spirit. But then St. John goes on to point out that the soul is aware of this great inner peace, “although it is often equally conscious that its flesh and bones are being tormented from without.” What’s that all about? It sounds like some physical attack on the body. But such physical ailments cannot be laid on the devil. Physical troubles have to do with the equipment you have, and with the care you take of your own body. So I would think that excessive zeal in starving the flesh might cause some harm, but that harm isn’t so much from without as from within.
And then St. John says that sometimes there are certain blessings of God which come to us through angels, and those blessings are made known to the other side. Sounds like the Rule of Discovery in law, but how does that work out here? Sounds like God and the adversary in Job betting on Job’s goodness and ability to stand up to all sorts of difficulties. St. John suggests that God does this because a lobsided victory for good does not test the soul, and so there is no great victory. Sounds rather convoluted idea to me – as if God is competing against himself in some way.
And St. John goes on to say that the devil is given leave to present a rather strong (if misleading) argument for his side, so that “the soul which is not cautious may easily be deceived by their outward appearances.” Again, this seems wrong somehow. As if we are all being tested by God. I’m not sure I’m following the logic of this. I can believe in human fallibility, but the idea of God making it easier for the devil to trick us to see if we are weak and can be tricked seems a trifle sadistic.
This trial, in any event, can be long and hard, with the soul quite shaken (but what happened to the idea of the soul burrowing deeper into its safe cave?). And when the good angel allows this to happen, he does so to give life and to exalt, and not to debase. And yet, when God visits the soul, it is in this interior space that neither the angel nor the demon can fully get at, though it remains open to God. And this divine communication is union with God. And when the soul has achieved this level of connection, there seems to be a dichotomy between the spiritual side and the sensual or corporeal side of a person.

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