John, Dark night 1 1


IN this book are first set down all the stanzas which are to be expounded;afterwards, each of the stanzas is expounded separately, being set down beforeits exposition; and then each line is expounded separately and in turn, theline itself also being set down before the exposition. In the first two stanzasare expounded the effects of the two spiritual purgations: of the sensualpart of man and of the spiritual part. In the other six are expounded variousand wondrous effects of the spiritual illumination and union of love withGod.


1. On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings--oh, happy chance!-- Iwent forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.

2. In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised--oh, happy chance!--In darkness and in concealment, My house being now at rest.

3. In the happy night, In secret, when none saw me, Nor I beheld aught, Withoutlight or guide, save that which burned in my


4. This light guided me More surely than the light of noonday To the placewhere he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me-- A place where none appeared.

5. Oh, night that guided me, Oh, night more lovely than the dawn, Oh, nightthat joined Beloved with lover, Lover transformed in the Beloved!

6. Upon my flowery breast, Kept wholly for himself alone, There he stayedsleeping, and I caressed him, And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

7. The breeze blew from the turret As I parted his locks; With his gentlehand he wounded my neck And caused all my senses to be suspended.

8. I remained, lost in oblivion; My face I reclined on the Beloved. All ceasedand I abandoned myself,

Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.

Begins the exposition of the stanzas which treat of the way and manner whichthe soul follows upon the road of the union of love with God. Before we enterupon the exposition of these stanzas, it is well to understand here thatthe soul that utters them is now in the state of perfection, which is theunion of love with God, having already passed through severe trials and straits,by means of spiritual exercise in the narrow way of eternal life whereofOur Saviour speaks in the Gospel, along which way the soul ordinarily passesin order to reach this high and happy union with God. Since this road (asthe Lord Himself says likewise) is so strait, and since there are so fewthat enter by it,(19) the soul considers it a great happiness and good chanceto have passed along it to the said perfection of love, as it sings in thisfirst stanza, calling this strait road with full propriety 'dark night,'as will be explained hereafter in the lines of the said stanza. The soul,then, rejoicing at having passed along this narrow road whence so many blessingshave come to it, speaks after this manner.


Which treats of the Night of Sense.


On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings--oh, happy chance!-- I wentforth without being observed, My house being now at rest.


IN this first stanza the soul relates the way and manner which it followedin going forth, as to its affection, from itself and from all things, andin dying to them all and to itself, by means of true mortification, in orderto attain to living the sweet and delectable life of love with God; and itsays that this going forth from itself and from all things was a 'dark night,'by which, as will be explained hereafter, is here understood purgativecontemplation, which causes passively in the soul the negation of itselfand of all things referred to above. 2. And this going forth it says herethat it was able to accomplish in the strength and ardour which love forits Spouse gave to it for that purpose in the dark contemplation aforementioned.Herein it extols the great happiness which it found in journeying to Godthrough this night with such signal success that none of the three enemies,which are world, devil and flesh (who are they that ever impede this road),could hinder it; inasmuch as the aforementioned night of purgative(20)contemplation lulled to sleep and mortified, in the house of its sensuality,all the passions and desires with respect to their mischievous desires andmotions. The line, then, says:

On a dark night


Sets down the first line and begins to treat of the imperfections of beginners.

1 INTO this dark night souls begin to enter when God draws them forth fromthe state of beginners--which is the state of those that meditate on thespiritual road--and begins to set them in the state of progressives--whichis that of those who are already contemplatives--to the end that, after passingthrough it, they may arrive at the state of the perfect, which is that ofthe Divine union of the soul with God. Wherefore, to the end that we maythe better understand and explain what night is this through which the soulpasses, and for what cause God sets it therein, it will be well here to touchfirst of all upon certain characteristics of beginners (which, although wetreat them with all possible brevity, will not fail to be of service likewiseto the beginners themselves), in order that, realizing the weakness of thestate wherein they are, they may take courage, and may desire that God willbring them into this night, wherein the soul is strengthened and confirmedin the virtues, and made ready for the inestimable delights of the love ofGod. And, although we may tarry here for a time, it will not be for longerthan is necessary, so that we may go on to speak at once of this dark night.

2. It must be known, then, that the soul, after it has been definitely convertedto the service of God, is, as a rule, spiritually nurtured and caressed byGod, even as is the tender child by its loving mother, who warms it withthe heat of her bosom and nurtures it with sweet milk and soft and pleasantfood, and carries it and caresses it in her arms; but, as the child growsbigger, the mother gradually ceases caressing it, and, hiding her tenderlove, puts bitter aloes upon her sweet breast, sets down the child from herarms and makes it walk upon its feet, so that it may lose the habits of achild and betake itself to more important and substantial occupations. Theloving mother is like the grace of God, for, as soon as the soul is regeneratedby its new warmth and fervour for the service of God, He treats it in thesame way; He makes it to find spiritual milk, sweet and delectable, in allthe things of God, without any labour of its own, and also great pleasurein spiritual exercises, for here God is giving to it the breast of His tenderlove, even as to a tender child.

3. Therefore, such a soul finds its delightin spending long periods--perchance whole nights--in prayer; penances areits pleasures; fasts its joys; and its consolations are to make use of thesacraments and to occupy itself in Divine things. In the which things spiritualpersons (though taking part in them with great efficacy and persistence andusing and treating them with great care) often find themselves, spirituallyspeaking, very weak and imperfect. For since they are moved to these thingsand to these spiritual exercises by the consolation and pleasure that theyfind in them, and since, too, they have not been prepared for them by thepractice of earnest striving in the virtues, they have many faults andimperfections with respect to these spiritual actions of theirs; for, afterall, any man's actions correspond to the habit of perfection attained byhim. And, as these persons have not had the opportunity of acquiring thesaid habits of strength, they have necessarily to work like feebler children,feebly. In order that this may be seen more clearly, and likewise how muchthese beginners in the virtues lacks with respect to the works in which theyso readily engage with the pleasure aforementioned, we shall describe itby reference to the seven capital sins, each in its turn, indicating someof the many imperfections which they have under each heading; wherein itwill be clearly seen how like to children are these persons in all they do.And it will also be seen how many blessings the dark night of which we shallafterwards treat brings with it, since it cleanses the soul and purifiesit from all these imperfections.


Of certain spiritual imperfections which beginners have with respect to thehabit of pride.

1 AS these beginners feel themselves to be very fervent and diligent in spiritualthings and devout exercises, from this prosperity (although it is true thatholy things of their own nature cause humility) there often comes to them,through their imperfections, a certain kind of secret pride, whence theycome to have some degree of satisfaction with their works and with themselves.And hence there comes to them likewise a certain desire, which is somewhatvain, and at times very vain, to speak of spiritual things in the presenceof others, and sometimes even to teach such things rather than to learn them.They condemn others in their heart when they see that they have not the kindof devotion which they themselves desire; and sometimes they even say thisin words, herein resembling the Pharisee, who boasted of himself, praisingGod for his own good works and despising the publican.(21)

2. In these persons the devil often increases the fervour that they have and the desire to performthese and other works more frequently, so that their pride and presumptionmay grow greater. For the devil knows quite well that all these works andvirtues which they perform are not only valueless to them, but even becomevices in them. And such a degree of evil are some of these persons wont toreach that they would have none appear good save themselves; and thus, indeed and word, whenever the opportunity occurs, they condemn them and slanderthem, beholding the mote in their brother's eye and not considering the beamwhich is in their own;(22) they strain at another's gnat and themselves swallowa camel.(23)

3. Sometimes, too, when their spiritual masters, such as confessorsand superiors, do not approve of their spirit and behavior (for they areanxious that all they do shall be esteemed and praised), they consider thatthey do not understand them, or that, because they do not approve of thisand comply with that, their confessors are themselves not spiritual. Andso they immediately desire and contrive to find some one else who will fitin with their tastes; for as a rule they desire to speak of spiritual matterswith those who they think will praise and esteem what they do, and they flee,as they would from death, from those who disabuse them in order to lead theminto a safe road-- sometimes they even harbour ill-will against them. Presumingthus,(24) they are wont to resolve much and accomplish very little. Sometimesthey are anxious that others shall realize how spiritual and devout theyare, to which end they occasionally give outward evidence thereof in movements,sighs and other ceremonies; and at times they are apt to fall into certainecstasies, in public rather than in secret, wherein the devil aids them,and they are pleased that this should be noticed, and are often eager thatit should be noticed more.(25)

4. Many such persons desire to be the favouritesof their confessors and to become intimate with them, as a result of whichthere beset them continual occasions of envy and disquiet.(26 ) They aretoo much embarrassed to confess their sins nakedly, lest their confessorsshould think less of them, so they palliate them and make them appear lessevil, and thus it is to excuse themselves rather than to accuse themselvesthat they go to confession. And sometimes they seek another confessor totell the wrongs that they have done, so that their own confessor shall thinkthey have done nothing wrong at all, but only good; and thus they alwaystake pleasure in telling him what is good, and sometimes in such terms asmake it appear to be greater than it is rather than less, desiring that hemay think them to be good, when it would be greater humility in them, aswe shall say, to depreciate it, and to desire that neither he nor anyoneelse should consider them of account.

5. Some of these beginners, too, make little of their faults, and at other times become over-sad when they seethemselves fall into them, thinking themselves to have been saints already;and thus they become angry and impatient with themselves, which is anotherimperfection. Often they beseech God, with great yearnings, that He willtake from them their imperfections and faults, but they do this that theymay find themselves at peace, and may not be troubled by them, rather thanfor God's sake; not realizing that, if He should take their imperfectionsfrom them, they would probably become prouder and more presumptuous still.They dislike praising others and love to be praised themselves; sometimesthey seek out such praise. Herein they are like the foolish virgins, who,when their lamps could not be lit, sought oil from others.(27)

6. From theseimperfections some souls go on to develop(28) many very grave ones, whichdo them great harm. But some have fewer and some more, and some, only thefirst motions thereof or little beyond these; and there are hardly any suchbeginners who, at the time of these signs of fervour,(29) fall not into someof these errors.(30) But those who at this time are going on to perfectionproceed very differently and with quite another temper of spirit; for theyprogress by means of humility and are greatly edified, not only thinkingnaught of their own affairs, but having very little satisfaction with themselves;they consider all others as far better, and usually have a holy envy of them,and an eagerness to serve God as they do. For the greater is their fervour,and the more numerous are the works that they perform, and the greater isthe pleasure that they take in them, as they progress in humility, the moredo they realize how much God deserves of them, and how little is all thatthey do for His sake; and thus, the more they do, the less are they satisfied.So much would they gladly do from charity and love for Him, that all theydo seems to them naught; and so greatly are they importuned, occupied andabsorbed by this loving anxiety that they never notice what others do ordo not; or if they do notice it, they always believe, as I say, that allothers are far better than they themselves. Wherefore, holding themselvesas of little worth, they are anxious that others too should thus hold them,and should despise and depreciate that which they do. And further, if menshould praise and esteem them, they can in no wise believe what they say;it seems to them strange that anyone should say these good things of them.

7. Together with great tranquillity and humbleness, these souls have a deepdesire to be taught by anyone who can bring them profit; they are the completeopposite of those of whom we have spoken above, who would fain be alwaysteaching, and who, when others seem to be teaching them, take the words fromtheir mouths as if they knew them already. These souls, on the other hand,being far from desiring to be the masters of any, are very ready to traveland set out on another road than that which they are actually following,if they be so commanded, because they never think that they are right inanything whatsoever. They rejoice when others are praised; they grieve onlybecause they serve not God like them. They have no desire to speak of thethings that they do, because they think so little of them that they are ashamedto speak of them even to their spiritual masters, since they seem to themto be things that merit not being spoken of. They are more anxious to speakof their faults and sins, or that these should be recognized rather thantheir virtues; and thus they incline to talk of their souls with those whoaccount their actions and their spirituality of little value. This is acharacteristic of the spirit which is simple, pure, genuine and very pleasingto God. For as the wise Spirit of God dwells in these humble souls, He movesthem and inclines them to keep His treasures secretly within and likewiseto cast out from themselves all evil. God gives this grace to the humble,together with the other virtues, even as He denies it to the proud.

8. These souls will give their heart's blood to anyone that serves God, and will helpothers to serve Him as much as in them lies. The imperfections into whichthey see themselves fall they bear with humility, meekness of spirit anda loving fear of God, hoping in Him. But souls who in the beginning journeywith this kind of perfection are, as I understand, and as has been said,a minority, and very few are those who we can be glad do not fall into theopposite errors. For this reason, as we shall afterwards say, God leads intothe dark night those whom He desires to purify from all these imperfectionsso that He may bring them farther onward.


Of some imperfections which some of these souls are apt to have, with respectto the second capital sin, which is avarice, in the spiritual sense.

1 MANY of these beginners have also at times great spiritual avarice. Theywill be found to be discontented with the spirituality which God gives them;and they are very disconsolate and querulous because they find not in spiritualthings the consolation that they would desire. Many can never have enoughof listening to counsels and learning spiritual precepts, and of possessingand reading many books which treat of this matter, and they spend their timeon all these things rather than on works of mortification and the perfectingof the inward poverty of spirit which should be theirs. Furthermore, theyburden themselves with images and rosaries which are very curious; now theyput down one, now take up another; now they change about, now change backagain; now they want this kind of thing, now that, preferring one kind ofcross to another, because it is more curious. And others you will see adornedwith agnusdeis(31) and relics and tokens,(32) like children with trinkets.Here I condemn the attachment of the heart, and the affection which theyhave for the nature, multitude and curiosity of these things, inasmuch asit is quite contrary to poverty of spirit which considers only the substanceof devotion, makes use only of what suffices for that end and grows wearyof this other kind of multiplicity and curiosity. For true devotion mustissue from the heart, and consist in the truth and substances alone of whatis represented by spiritual things; all the rest is affection and attachmentproceeding from imperfection; and in order that one may pass to any kindof perfection it is necessary for such desires to be killed.

2. I knew a person who for more than ten years made use of a cross roughly formed froma branch(33) that had been blessed, fastened with a pin twisted round it;he had never ceased using it, and he always carried it about with him untilI took it from him; and this was a person of no small sense and understanding.And I saw another who said his prayers using beads that were made of bonesfrom the spine of a fish; his devotion was certainly no less precious onthat account in the sight of God, for it is clear that these things carriedno devotion in their workmanship or value. Those, then, who start from thesebeginnings and make good progress attach themselves to no visible instruments,nor do they burden themselves with such, nor desire to know more than isnecessary in order that they may act well; for they set their eyes only onbeing right with God and on pleasing Him, and therein consists theircovetousness. And thus with great generosity they give away all that theyhave, and delight to know that they have it not, for God's sake and for charityto their neighbour, no matter whether these be spiritual things or temporal.For, as I say, they set their eyes only upon the reality of interior perfection,which is to give pleasure to God and in naught to give pleasure to themselves.3. But neither from these imperfections nor from those others can the soulbe perfectly purified until God brings it into the passive purgation of thatdark night whereof we shall speak presently. It befits the soul, however,to contrive to labour, in so far as it can, on its own account, to the endthat it may purge and perfect itself, and thus may merit being taken by Godinto that Divine care wherein it becomes healed of all things that it wasunable of itself to cure. Because, however greatly the soul itself labours,it cannot actively purify itself so as to be in the least degree preparedfor the Divine union of perfection of love, if God takes not its hand andpurges it not in that dark fire, in the way and manner that we have to describe.


Of other imperfections which these beginners are apt to have with respectto the third sin, which is luxury.

1 MANY of these beginners have many other imperfections than those which Iam describing with respect to each of the deadly sins, but these I set aside,in order to avoid prolixity, touching upon a few of the most important, whichare, as it were, the origin and cause of the rest. And thus, with respectto this sin of luxury (leaving apart the falling of spiritual persons intothis sin, since my intent is to treat of the imperfections which have tobe purged by the dark night), they have many imperfections which might bedescribed as spiritual luxury, not because they are so, but because theimperfections proceed from spiritual things. For it often comes to pass that,in their very spiritual exercises, when they are powerless to prevent it,there arise and assert themselves in the sensual part of the soul impureacts and motions, and sometimes this happens even when the spirit is deepin prayer, or engaged in the Sacrament of Penance or in the Eucharist. Thesethings are not, as I say, in their power; they proceed from one of threecauses.

2. The first cause from which they often proceed is the pleasurewhich human nature takes in spiritual things. For when the spirit and thesense are pleased, every part of a man is moved by that pleasure(34) to delightaccording to its proportion and nature. For then the spirit, which is thehigher part, is moved to pleasure(35) and delight in God; and the sensualnature, which is the lower part, is moved to pleasure and delight of thesenses, because it cannot possess and lay hold upon aught else, and it thereforelays hold upon that which comes nearest to itself, which is the impure andsensual. Thus it comes to pass that the soul is in deep prayer with God accordingto the spirit, and, on the other hand, according to sense it is passivelyconscious, not without great displeasure, of rebellions and motions and actsof the senses, which often happens in Communion, for when the soul receivesjoy and comfort in this act of love, because this Lord bestows it (sinceit is to that end that He gives Himself), the sensual nature takes that whichis its own likewise, as we have said, after its manner. Now as, after all,these two parts are combined in one individual, they ordinarily both participatein that which one of them receives, each after its manner; for, as thephilosopher says, everything that is received is in the recipient after themanner of the same recipient. And thus, in these beginnings, and even whenthe soul has made some progress, its sensual part, being imperfect, oftentimesreceives the Spirit of God with the same imperfection. Now when this sensualpart is renewed by the purgation of the dark night which we shall describe,it no longer has these weaknesses; for it is no longer this part that receivesaught, but rather it is itself received into the Spirit. And thus it thenhas everything after the manner of the Spirit.

3. The second cause whencethese rebellions sometimes proceed is the devil, who, in order to disquietand disturb the soul, at times when it is at prayer or is striving to pray,contrives to stir up these motions of impurity in its nature; and if thesoul gives heed to any of these, they cause it great harm. For through fearof these not only do persons become lax in prayer--which is the aim of thedevil when he begins to strive with them--but some give up prayer altogether,because they think that these things attack them more during that exercisethan apart from it, which is true, since the devil attacks them then morethan at other times, so that they may give up spiritual exercises. And notonly so, but he succeeds in portraying to them very vividly things that aremost foul and impure, and at times are very closely related to certain spiritualthings and persons that are of profit to their souls, in order to terrifythem and make them fearful; so that those who are affected by this dare noteven look at anything or meditate upon anything, because they immediatelyencounter this temptation. And upon those who are inclined to melancholythis acts with such effect that they become greatly to be pitied since theyare suffering so sadly; for this trial reaches such a point in certain persons,when they have this evil humour, that they believe it to be clear that thedevil is ever present with them and that they have no power to prevent this,although some of these persons can prevent his attack by dint of great effortand labour. When these impurities attack such souls through the medium ofmelancholy, they are not as a rule freed from them until they have been curedof that kind of humour, unless the dark night has entered the soul, and ridsthem of all impurities, one after another.(36)

4. The third source whence these impure motions are apt to proceed in order to make war upon the soulis often the fear which such persons have conceived for these impurerepresentations and motions. Something that they see or say or think bringsthem to their mind, and this makes them afraid, so that they suffer fromthem through no fault of their own.

5. There are also certain souls of so tender and frail a nature that, when there comes to them some spiritualconsolation or some grace in prayer, the spirit of luxury is with themimmediately, inebriating and delighting their sensual nature in such mannerthat it is as if they were plunged into the enjoyment and pleasure of thissin; and the enjoyment remains, together with the consolation, passively,and sometimes they are able to see that certain impure and unruly acts havetaken place. The reason for this is that, since these natures are, as I say,frail and tender, their humours are stirred up and their blood is excitedat the least disturbance. And hence come these motions; and the same thinghappens to such souls when they are enkindled with anger or suffer anydisturbance or grief.(37)

6. Sometimes, again, there arises within thesespiritual persons, whether they be speaking or performing spiritual actions,a certain vigour and bravado, through their having regard to persons whoare present, and before these persons they display a certain kind of vaingratification. This also arises from luxury of spirit, after the manner whereinwe here understand it, which is accompanied as a rule by complacency in thewill.

7. Some of these persons make friendships of a spiritual kind withothers, which oftentimes arise from luxury and not from spirituality; thismay be known to be the case when the remembrance of that friendship causesnot the remembrance and love of God to grow, but occasions remorse of conscience.For, when the friendship is purely spiritual, the love of God grows withit; and the more the soul remembers it, the more it remembers the love ofGod, and the greater the desire it has for God; so that, as the one grows,the other grows also. For the spirit of God has this property, that it increasesgood by adding to it more good, inasmuch as there is likeness and conformitybetween them. But, when this love arises from the vice of sensualityaforementioned, it produces the contrary effects; for the more the one grows,the more the other decreases, and the remembrance of it likewise. If thatsensual love grows, it will at once be observed that the soul's love of Godis becoming colder, and that it is forgetting Him as it remembers that love;there comes to it, too, a certain remorse of conscience. And, on the otherhand, if the love of God grows in the soul, that other love becomes coldand is forgotten; for, as the two are contrary to one another, not only doesthe one not aid the other, but the one which predominates quenches and confoundsthe other, and becomes strengthened in itself, as the philosophers say. WhereforeOur Saviour said in the Gospel: 'That which is born of the flesh is flesh,and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.'(38) That is to say, thelove which is born of sensuality ends in sensuality, and that which is ofthe spirit ends in the spirit of God and causes it to grow. This is thedifference that exists between these two kinds of love, whereby we may knowthem.

8. When the soul enters the dark night, it brings these kinds of loveunder control. It strengthens and purifies the one, namely that which isaccording to God; and the other it removes and brings to an end; and in thebeginning it causes both to be lost sight of, as we shall say hereafter.


Of the imperfections into which beginners fall with respect to the sin ofwrath.

1 BY reason of the concupiscence which many beginners have for spiritualconsolations, their experience of these consolations is very commonly accompaniedby many imperfections proceeding from the sin of wrath; for, when their delightand pleasure in spiritual things come to an end, they naturally becomeembittered, and bear that lack of sweetness which they have to suffer witha bad grace, which affects all that they do; and they very easily becomeirritated over the smallest matter--sometimes, indeed, none can toleratethem. This frequently happens after they have been very pleasantly recollectedin prayer according to sense; when their pleasure and delight therein cometo an end, their nature is naturally vexed and disappointed, just as is thechild when they take it from the breast of which it was enjoying the sweetness.There is no sin in this natural vexation, when it is not permitted to indulgeitself, but only imperfection, which must be purged by the aridity and severityof the dark night.

2. There are other of these spiritual persons, again,who fall into another kind of spiritual wrath: this happens when they becomeirritated at the sins of others, and keep watch on those others with a sortof uneasy zeal. At times the impulse comes to them to reprove them angrily,and occasionally they go so far as to indulge it(39) and set themselves upas masters of virtue. All this is contrary to spiritual meekness.

3. Thereare others who are vexed with themselves when they observe their ownimperfectness, and display an impatience that is not humility; so impatientare they about this that they would fain be saints in a day. Many of thesepersons purpose to accomplish a great deal and make grand resolutions; yet,as they are not humble and have no misgivings about themselves, the moreresolutions they make, the greater is their fall and the greater their annoyance,since they have not the patience to wait for that which God will give themwhen it pleases Him; this likewise is contrary to the spiritual meeknessaforementioned, which cannot be wholly remedied save by the purgation ofthe dark night. Some souls, on the other hand, are so patient as regardsthe progress which they desire that God would gladly see them less so.

John, Dark night 1 1