From St. John of the Cross to Us

Part II, Section 2: A LOST WORLD



By the year 1604 the die had been cast for the upheavals in Christian mysticism that were to come. The teachings of Teresa and John were going to spread all over Europe and beyond with the rapid growth of the Carmelite Order. And everywhere they found fertile ground in fervent Christians who could now ask themselves in a new way whether they were being called to be contemplatives. And flowing right with the works of the Carmelite founders was the idea of acquired contemplation.

The Diffusion of Tomás de Jesús’ Ideas of Acquired Contemplation

We saw how in 1608 Alvarado’s version of the Tratado breve had appeared, and in 1610 the novices of the Benedictine Order were told to read Alvarado’s works. (1) And beyond this daylight diffusion there was a less visible spread of this same idea by Tomás’ manuscripts and no doubt orally, as well. Tomás’ time in Rome was to be followed by intense missionary activity during which he founded monasteries in northern Europe, and he would not have forgotten to spread his ideas on contemplation there, as well, and would not his ideas on contemplation have had a special weight precisely because he had been the first editor of St. John’s writings? We have also seen that three copies of his treatise on prayer and contemplation have come down to us, and there were others that were mentioned by Andrés de la Encarnación.

It is interesting to note how often Tomás’ writings are to be found bundled together with those of John of the Cross. Ms. 12398, which has a copy of Tomás’ treatise on contemplation, also contains John’s Cautelas, or Cautions, while ms. 12068, which contains a treatise on mystical theology by Tomás, as well as one on the presence of God, both in the same handwriting, has sandwiched between them a copy of John’s Dark Night which, as Andrés de la Encarnación noted on it, must be very old because it calls St. John the second friar of the Reform, which is an indication that it antedated the Chapter of 1603 which declared John the first friar. There is no way, though, to tell when these manuscripts were bound together in the same volume. A manuscript of the Discalced Sisters of Pamplona has bound in it after John’s writings a fragment of a treatise of Tomás that was taken up in the Camino espiritual, while in the Library of the University of Barcelona, there is another manuscript, ms. 411, from the old Carmelite convent of San José in that city with the Ascent, Dark Night, and the part of the Living Flame containing the transition from meditation to contemplation, and a few pages of Tomás’ treatise on mental prayer. The fact that only this part of The Living Flame is reproduced is not unique to it, for the same part of the Living Flame is also found in the BNM ms. 8273 which contains Quiroga’s Don que tuvo and part of Tomás’ Tratado de oración. In a 1619 copy of John’s works, also in the university library of Barcelona, there is a marginal note in The Dark Night, Book 1, Chapter XIIII, which reads, in part, "vide Thomá a Jesu de oratio infusa..."

The Toledo manuscript of the Tratado breve also contains St. John’s Dark Night, and ms. 6895 has another copy of the Tratado breve, John’s Dark Night, and his poem "The Spiritual Canticle" in its second version with a commentary by Agustín Antolínez. And, although we don’t know when this bundling took place, it would not be surprising if it happened soon after Tomás had written his works. It is even possible that some of it happened while Tomás was handling John’s manuscripts in Las Batuecas, and writing his own. This would make it possible – and here we get to the point of this little exercise – for someone to be introduced to John’s ideas on contemplation, and at the same time to get Tomás’ view of how to understand them. Even more telling are the manuscripts of the Tratado breve, for we saw that two of them (Toledo and ms. 6895) had John’s name on them, and the Toledo manuscript was dated 1618. Therefore, before John’s writings appeared in print for the first time in Alcalá de Henares, someone could have been reading the Tratado breve as John’s work. This Toledo manuscript was handled by Esteban de San José who wrote on it, "Belonging to the Discalced Carmelites of Toledo," as we saw, but either didn’t notice or didn’t think it worth correcting this attribution to John of the Cross, even though this very Tratado was derived from the treatise on contemplation that he had helped Tomás write down. Later we will meet with Esteban again, who is going to be instrumental in circulating the commentaries of Antolínez on John’s poems.

Just who put John’s name on the Tratado breve, and how much before 1618 did they do it? We don’t know. But let’s imagine how it could have taken place. The first part of the Camino espiritual was finished by 1604 and someone extracted from it, or from the treatise on contemplation, the version that Alvarado had by the middle of 1607 at the latest when his book was ready to go to press. This kind of extracting could easily have been done by Tomás, himself. Would Alvarado have used this treatise if it had come to him with St. John’s name on it? Probably not. But what if he knew through their mutual friends that it was a work of Tomás and Tomás was on the brink of leaving Spain, as we surmised before? At the same time, other copies of this Tratado breve could have been circulated both in and outside the Order, and someone who read it and recognized its affinity with John of the Cross – which was rather easy to do since Chapter 9 gives John’s famous maxims for ascending Mt. Carmel, i.e., travelling by the road you don’t know – and put his name on it. In any event, the basic point is clear. John of the Cross is made the father of acquired contemplation before his works are even printed. It would be little wonder that later spiritual writers, even those within the Order, will take up the theme of acquired contemplation and honestly think they are following John of the Cross.

Just what did spiritual writers within the Discalced think about John’s doctrine on contemplation in the years leading up to 1618 when his works were to be published? No clear picture emerges. It is not as if they were uniformly overwhelmed by John’s writings and made them the firm foundations on which to build their own.

The Treatise of 1602

Was Tomás de Jesús actually the first to develop the idea of acquired contemplation in the wake of reading John of the Cross? All the evidence points that way. But in an appendix to a spiritual treatise found among the Discalced Carmelites of Segovia and written, apparently, by 1602, we read that there are "two contemplations. One natural that we can acquire with common grace; the other supernatural and infused where our Lord, with very little work, or without any, gives to his servants great and profound contemplation…" (2) Sometimes it is difficult to tell the two apart, we are told, but if we burn with the love of God without preliminary exercise of discourse, then it is infused.

If the date of this passage is, indeed, 1602 - the dating is somewhat indirect – then this is, indeed, an interesting statement. But what does it say? Its wider context is to compare meditation with contemplation taken in the general sense of a natural conclusion to the discursive process and, as I mentioned before, the problem of acquired contemplation is not the existence of this kind of contemplation as a momentary rest at the conclusion of meditation. It is the identification of this contemplation with passages in the writings of St. John on infused contemplation. Still, the language of this passage is interesting. Can it have nothing to do with Tomás de Jesús? He could have written his Tratado de oracion y contemplacion by this time, and this treatise is, in fact, bound with a collection of spiritual writings which include both John of the Cross and Tomás’ Del modo de caminar por la mística Theulujia y ejercicio de las virtudes a la union con Dios which is his Tratado de mística theologia which, in turn, was included in the last part of the Camino espiritual, and so it is possible that even this early treatise owes something of its language to the work of Tomás.

Jerónimo Gracián

Jerónimo Gracián (1545-1614),was the confidant of St. Teresa and the first provincial of the Carmelite Reform, and from there he went on to lead a life worthy of any adventure novel. He was expelled from the Discalced by Nicolás Doria, and then later captured by the Barbary pirates and held for ransom. His Elucidation Concerning the True Spirit was published in Spain in 1604 where he had spent from 1600 to 1607, though he may have composed this book before in Rome. There he writes: "There are two kinds of spiritual unions. The one procured and worked for and acquired with meditation and the exercise of reason…; the second union is given, supernatural and impressed in prayer…" (3) He says something similar in his 1609 Vida del alma: "the first which they call active which the soul procures for itself with its meditation… the second, which some call passive, is that which comes from God, Himself… without working with meditation." (4)

In his De la vida del Cristo y perfección del alma unida he states: "Union with Christ has two modes. The first we can call active, which is when our free will works together with grace to unite us to Christ, although it may go by the way of meditation or contemplation or speaking vocally. The second is more passive…" (5)

All these passages seem to be describing nothing more than the difference between meditation and infused contemplation on the one hand, and sometimes contemplation taken as the culmination of the process of meditation. Later Gracián went to the Low Countries where he teamed up with Tomás de Jesús in combating what they felt were the excesses of the perfectionists, that is, the followers of the northern mystics who went too far, they felt, in the annihilation of the faculties. Gracián had also written various versions of a commentary on a treatise of St. Bonaventure which now is attributed by scholars to Hughes de Balma. The initial version of 1601 he called The Heavenly Road, while another in 1607 he named Mystical Theology. There was also a 1616 version called The Itinerary of the Ways of Perfection, and one that was published in 1617 in Brussels after his death, but which is said to have appeared eight years earlier. (6) In it he draws on "the masters of mystical theology" and discusses the difference between acquired mental prayer and supernatural mental prayer or theology. It would, perhaps, be worthwhile to compare these various versions, as well as the development of this theme of acquired prayer in his other writings, to see if he developed in the direction of the acquired contemplation of Tomás, but as things stand now, he can hardly be called a proponent of acquired contemplation in that sense.

Inocencio de San Andrés

Let’s take the case of Inocencio de San Andrés (Andrés Lacarra López), 1553-1620. If anyone should have known John of the Cross’ doctrine on contemplation, it was Inocencio. He had met John when John was the rector of the Carmelite College of Alcalá de Henares, and it was on John’s counsel that he join the Carmelites. Later Inocencio was in El Calvario when John arrived there after having escaped from prison, and he went with John to Baeza and then to Granada. He even tells us that it was at his request that John wrote The Dark Night by which he might have meant the Ascent of Mt. Carmel, or even the whole Ascent-Dark Night.

After all this, when we hear he wrote a book called Theológia mística y espejo de la vida eterna por el cual son encaminadas las almas, which was published in 1615, we want nothing more than to see what he has to say about this difficult issue of acquired contemplation. This would have been a desire that for a long time would not have been easy to satisfy. There is a singular lack of information about his book in the ancient chronicles of the Order, but we are told that his Theológia mística y espejo was published under the pseudonym Andrés Lacarra y Crucate, Canon Regular, and it was divided into three parts: mental prayer, mortification, and the interior man. Later, in the middle of the 18th century Andrés de la Encarnación adds that he found the original in Granada, but when he compared it with the printed version he noticed important additions and omissions.

In the 20th century Crisógono de Jesús had found a copy of the book in the library of the Discalced Friars in Toledo, but the library was ravaged during the Civil War and the book disappeared. But the story has a happy ending. In the 1950s Eulogio Pacho found a copy of the book, but it raised more questions than it answered. (7) It showed the influence of John of the Cross in a very literal way, for its third part actually transcribes chapters 13 and 14 of Book II of the Ascent, and thus one of these chapters is called, "The signs that have to be present in the spiritual person in order to know what time to leave discourse and meditation." And all this is, of course, three years before the publication of John’s writings. But despite this borrowing of John’s text, the book never mentions him, nor is it prefaced with an approval by a censor of the Order.

These facts, along with the circumstances surrounding the book’s publication, lead us in the direction of an explanation along the lines we have already seen when it was a question of why it took so long for St. John’s writings, themselves, to appear, and why Tomás de Jesús failed to cite John in his published writings. The political climate of the Order may have caused Inocencio to give his manuscript to a friend to publish, and to make no mention in it of John of the Cross. This would still leave unexplained why it was published in a form that differed from the original, and poorly edited, as well.

The Prologue of the book reads: "This compendium is divided into two kinds of subject matter. In the first we will treat of acquired prayer, which is a kind of common and plain prayer for those souls who, like animals, advance with work and effort… In the second mystical theology will be treated…" Thus, we are promised the study of the two kinds of mental prayer: "one supernatural, or divine, or mystical, which God infuses in whomever he desires… the other kind of prayer is that which each one with divine favor can and ought to have, which is ordinarily called acquired."

At first glance this appears to be an impressive testimony about the early origins of the use of the word acquired in connection with prayer although not with contemplation, perhaps even reflecting the teaching of John of the Cross, himself. But Inocencio never follows this plan in the printed version of the book, and this latter passage has a very familiar ring to it. In fact, when the Spanish Carmelite scholar Fortunato de Jesús Antolín, another of our detective-scholars, saw a copy of Eulogio Pacho’s article, he must have read it with great interest, for he, too, had discovered a copy of Inocencio’s book in the library of the Discalced Sisters of Alba de Tormes. (8) But when he read these passages, he turned to Tomás de Jesús’ Tratado de oración mental, which had appeared in Rome five years before the publication of Inocencio’s book, and he found that far from Inocencio giving original testimony to the antiquity of the doctrine of acquired contemplation he, or his editor, appeared to be paraphrasing Tomás’ treatise. Not only that, Tomás’ book had been printed at the same place as Inocencio’s, and a canon regular, Pedro Cayas de Torres of Montaragón, who was devoted to St. Teresa, had been instrumental in the publication of Tomás’ work, and it seemed possible to Padre Fortunato that the pseudonym Andrés Lacarra y Cruzate, Canon Regular, was a combination of Inocencio’s name in the world and the title of this canon regular. We can even go further and surmise, as we have, that this was a device by which Inocencio avoided the ban on John of the Cross in his Order, and paid homage to his dear master. Inocencio writes that it is important to dwell on the acts of the will in prayer, and that "the saints and masters of the spiritual life call that good and perfect prayer, and even contemplation," for all the other parts of prayer are meant to lead to contemplation. There is certainly nothing here that could not have come from Tomás de Jesús, and he might have been one of the spiritual masters called upon. Padre Fortunato goes on to show that other parts of the Theológia mística y espejo had been cobbled together, relying on Francisco Arias, Luis de Granada, and others, and while John of the Cross is present in virtue of a transcription of part of the Ascent – which Inocencio might have felt a certain proprietary rights to – his influence does not appear elsewhere in the book.

Juan de Jesús María Aravalles

Juan de Jesús María Aravalles, whom we saw assigned with Tomás to edit the works of John of the Cross, had also known St. John towards the end of John’s life. For a long time he was thought to be the author of an often reprinted Instruction of Novices, and a treatise on prayer, written around 1587 but not printed until the 20th century, had been attributed to him, as well. But Simeón de la Sagrada Familia had shown that the attribution of these works to Aravalles was without foundation. (9) Whoever the author of this treatise of prayer may have been, he makes no pretense at being a mystic, himself. "If I had tasted it, I should not speak of it," he tells us. (10) And despite our expectations that someone so close to the beginnings of the Carmelite Reform would reflect the influence of John of the Cross, he cites him neither in his Treatise of Prayer nor in his Instruction of Novices. In The Treatise on Prayer he divides mental prayer into the traditional seven parts: preparation, reading, meditation, contemplation, thanksgiving, petition and epilogue. He connects meditation with the work of the understanding, and contemplation with the work of the will, and while contemplation is the "soul of prayer," sometimes it is difficult to distinguish from meditation. (11) In this context contemplation could not be infused contemplation, but simply the affectively toned insights that meditation naturally leads to.

Juan de Jesús María (el Calagurritano)

Juan de San Pedro y Ustarroz (1564-1615) also took the name of Juan de Jesús María after entering the Order in 1582, and he was a much more important figure in the history of Carmelite spirituality than his namesake, Aravalles, leaving more than 70 titles. But he interests us here for two reasons. First, for the light that his relationship with John of the Cross, or lack of one, sheds on St. John’s influence within the Order in its early years, and secondly, his relationship with Tomás de Jesús.

As a student at Alcalá de Henares from autumn 1579 to January of 1582, it is probable that he came in contact with the Discalced Carmelites there at the house at which John of the Cross had been Rector in 1571, for he entered the Reform right after; nor could he have escaped the influence of St. John because his novice master at Pastrana was Juan Bautista, el Remendato who, in turn, had been the novice of John of the Cross. Juan de Jesús María was sent to Italy by Doria in 1585 and remained there the rest of his life. Some scholars have gone so far as to say that he had no knowledge of John of the Cross’ writings. This is unlikely for the reasons just given, and so we are left with the puzzle of why he never cites St. John.

The problem we saw in connection with the listing of the seven parts of mental prayer in Aravalles is resolved by Juan de Jesús María by leaving out contemplation for fear that beginners would attempt to do it prematurely, for in his mind, this contemplation meant infused contemplation. (12)

From 1607 to 1608 Juan de Jesús María taught theology in Naples, and then went to Rome as the Procurator General of the Order, where he worked on St. Teresa’s beatification. It is here that he met Tomás de Jesús, whom we saw leaving Spain in 1607, and they worked on the idea of a Carmelite missionary congregation and, no doubt, discussed passionately the nature of contemplation. Their relationship is one more reason why Juan de Jesús María had to be acquainted with the works of John of the Cross, for it was in the years preceding Tomás de Jesús’ departure for Rome that he was annotating and reflecting on the works of John of the Cross. The relationship between Tomás de Jesús and Juan de Jesús María has never, unfortunately, been subject to close scrutiny, and there are a number of hints that it would be a fruitful project. Tomás de Jesús shared Juan de Jesús María’s six-fold division of mental prayer. In his Escuela de oración or School of Prayer written in 1610 and published the following year he divides contemplation into natural, supernatural and divine, with the supernatural being equivalent to acquired contemplation. (13)

For Juan de Jesús María, if we are to understand divine contemplation we must note "that there is a natural contemplation of God insofar as he is the author of nature and about natural things, and there is a supernatural contemplation of God insofar as he is the author of grace, mysteries and supernatural works, and finally, there is divine contemplation of this same God and His divine perfections by means of the gift of wisdom." (14) The first kind of contemplation is found among philosophers who arrive at a clear and penetrating understanding of things after having reasoned about them. The second kind of contemplation is an admirable knowledge of the mysteries of grace in which we know them "with a quiet and penetrating knowledge and with suspension of the soul." (15) The third kind of contemplation works through the gift of wisdom when we receive from it an actual divine light with special aid. (16)"

Juan de Jesús María joins with Tomás de Jesús and later Quiroga in invoking Dionysius the Areopagite and in expressing the following sentiment: "considering the state of this age of ours, in which many books on this subject circulate and are read in the vernacular, in unintelligible language, causing spiritual persons no little harm, and considering, furthermore, the profit which can arise from brief and clear expositions in the vulgar tongue… we will treat of the points of this said theology in clear terms." (17)

The role of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in contemplation would be another way to try to unravel the relationship between Tomás de Jesús and Juan de Jesús María. The latter in his Theologica Mística talks of a contemplation that does not come from the gift of wisdom, but from the gift of prophecy, and is not limited to souls in grace. (18) The Theologia Mística appeared in 1605 and thus before Tomás de Jesús’ appearance on the Roman scene. Is this doctrine on contemplation through the gift of prophecy present in the 1605 version without any influence of Tomás, or did Tomás receive it from Juan de Jesús María whose book he apparently knew before he left Spain because he made a reference to it in his Repertorium? And when it comes to the central issue of acquired contemplation it seems possible that Juan de Jesús María in his School of Prayer is reflecting in a minor way the influence of Tomás de Jesús who had come to Rome with well-developed ideas on the subject. If Juan de Jesús María shows so little influence of John of the Cross, and acquired contemplation was supposed to be an invention of John of the Cross, how could he have come to this idea if not through some intermediary? This second kind of contemplation is acquired normally, and the word acquired occurs in the Italian original and the Latin translation of the book, but not, we are told, in the Spanish translation. (19) Is Juan de Jesús María really talking about an acquired contemplation in the modern sense of the term stemming from Tomás de Jesús? If he is, it does not play a significant role in his work. (20)

Tomás’ attempt to found a missionary congregation of Discalced Carmelites ran into serious opposition on the part of both the Spanish and Italian congregation, and in 1608 Juan de Jesús María was requesting that the new General, Fernando de Santa María, come to Rome to speak to the Pope about the elimination of the missionary congregation, which the Pope did. (21) If Juan de Jesús María and the unknown author of the book attributed to his name sake, Aravalles, both of whom followed so closely in time after John of the Cross in the Carmelite Order could escape without a significant understanding of his work, what does this tell us? First, St. John’s spiritual authority and influence grew only slowly within the Carmelite Order itself. If his works circulated in manuscript widely, as is likely, they were not necessarily appreciated as the work of genius we know them for today. With the rapid expansion of the Reform and its acceptance of men already formed, it was entirely possible to be a Carmelite during the time that John of the Cross was still alive and have no deep understanding of his teaching and of his works. This isn’t to suggest that these early spiritual writers had anything against John of the Cross, not to say, however, that this was an impossibility, given the disgrace that John of the Cross fell in at the end of his life, but rather, early Carmelite spirituality, while it could hardly escape the influence of St. Teresa, in its earliest formative stage did not necessarily build on the work of John of the Cross.

José de Jesús María Quiroga

Given the failure of these writers to openly cite John of the Cross, and even to speak in a way that would make their dependence on him, or lack of it, clear, it is a relief to come to someone who was an outstanding and vocal champion of John of the Cross and who cited him at every turn. This is Francisco de Quiroga (1562-1628) known in religion as José de Jesús María. Quiroga was the nephew of Cardinal Gaspar de Quiroga and was already a priest of 33 years of age when he joined the Carmelites. He was soon appointed their first Historian General, and traveled all over Spain collecting information about the Order and its founders. Except for a period between 1600 to 1607, when he was appointed Prior of Toledo, he successfully resisted office. He wanted nothing more than to be left alone in his cell and to give himself over to prayer and his spiritual writings. Unfortunately, it was his writings that were to bring him into conflict with his superiors. Quiroga had strong views about what he saw as the excessive activity in the Order, and how it was detrimental to its contemplative vocation, and he didn’t hesitate to make these criticisms known. He felt that the Order had been more solitary in the past, and should follow that past example, as well as that of John of the Cross. The friars should spend four hours in the morning in their cells in spiritual exercises.

The balance between the active and the contemplative dimensions of the Carmelite life was already a touchy point, which we have seen flare up with Tomás’ interpolations of Diego Yepes’ book on St. Teresa, and the question of a Carmelite missionary congregation. When Quiroga’s life of John of the Cross appeared in Brussels in 1628 without the approval of the Order, and asserting his strong opinions about the need for the predominance of the solitary life, as well as other controversial matters, he was exiled to Cuenca where he soon died.

Quiroga must have known Tomás de Jesús, for what would have been more natural for the Order’s Historian General to consult with the editor of John’s writings? Indeed, in a letter to Alonso de Madre de Dios dated Feb. 13, 1614, he tells Alonso that his first volume of the history of the Order, which he is sending him, had been ready for three years. (22) And in a letter to Quiroga, Alonso praises him for the care he has taken in verifying the facts about what he has been writing, and adds: "And it didn’t come to me to say this either from the love or lack of it I might have for Tomás de Jesús, for I have said something of it to him on another occasion." (23) The very least that this correspondence shows is that Quiroga had some knowledge of Tomás de Jesús, which is something that we would have expected in any event. But it also might imply some friction between Tomás and Alonso, and perhaps Tomás and Quiroga, over something Tomás had written. But there is something more here. The same kind of events that held up the publication of John of the Cross’ writings could have easily effected Quiroga’s writing career, as well. Why was Quiroga’s book on hold for three years? Eulogio Pacho feels that Quiroga’s literary activity ceased between 1607 and 1613-1614. (24) Then it began again, as we have just seen, and Quiroga began collaborating in the production of the first edition of John’s writings and contributed the first published biographical sketch of St. John. (25) Did he have any influence on the text of the edition itself? He knew its editor, Salablanca, very well, not only in religion, but from the fact that both of them had grown up as part of the household of Cardinal Quiroga.

Quiroga’s mystical works, which include his Don que tuvo and Apología mística, as well as Subida del alma, allow us to see in detail what he thought about John of the Cross’ doctrine of contemplation, especially its delicate beginnings. There is no unanimity, however, among scholars about the relationship between Quiroga’s teaching on contemplation and that of John of the Cross. Jean Krynen, for example, whom we saw before insisting that Tomás de Jesús had deformed John’s teaching on contemplation, in this case believes that Quiroga was his faithful interpreter. (26) For my part, I confess that I see Quiroga as one of the chief architects of a doctrine of acquired contemplation, which is incorrectly attributed to John of the Cross.

Let’s look at Quiroga’s Don que tuvo. One of the approbations of the book was written on Nov. 19, 1622 by a Dr. Merino, so Padre Fortunato dates the composition of the book somewhere between 1618 and 1622. (27) Gerardo de San Juan de la Cruz in his edition of John of the Cross published the Don que tuvo, basing himself on a manuscript of the Discalced Friars of Toledo, as well as ms. 11990 and ms. 8273 in the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid. We have already met ms. 8273 because it contains a partial copy of Tomás’ Tratado de oración y contemplación. Quiroga’s full title runs: Summary Notice of the Singular Divine Gift that our Holy Father, Fray Juan de la Cruz had in order to communicate to contemplative souls the hidden wisdom he had received from the Holy Spirit. Quiroga explains in the first chapter just what this singular gift is. Not only did John have the gift to know: "the highest grades of contemplation, which no one can arrive at without a particular divine illumination" – a gift he shared with St. Teresa – "but also (the gift) to teach advantageously the common grades of contemplation that we are able to achieve by our own human mode by means of the light of faith and the ordinary help of grace, and which is what properly concerns and upon which we have to principally found our exercise of mental prayer as the means and proportionate disposition for the other more elevated graces." (28) What was obscure in this contemplation in St. Dionysius and the other saints, John has made clear even to the "simple and uneducated." And Quiroga, relying on the twin lights of St. Dionysius and St. Thomas Aquinas, is going to make the nature of this contemplation clear to us despite the objections raised by "some spiritual masters."

The first objection of these masters is that John didn’t teach about meditation with the imagination, but had people jump straight into "divine intellectual contemplation." Quiroga replies that John is limiting himself to the proximate means that lead to divine union, and not dealing with the more remote ones like sensible meditation. Now while it is necessary for the soul to be totally mortified in order to reach divine union, such complete mortification is not required to attain "simple intellectual contemplation." Indeed, this simple intellectual contemplation serves to prepare us for divine union.

All this begins to sound very much like Tomás’ acquired contemplation. But let’s go on. Quiroga claims that John taught his disciples about meditation and divided it into three parts. The first two were the representation of the mystery to be meditated on and the intellectual consideration of it. The third we would expect to be the exercise of the will in love and, indeed, it is, but Quiroga calls it "an attentive and loving quiet towards God," (quietud atenta y amorosa a Dios) and a peaceful, loving and calm quiet of faith (quietud pacifica amorosa y sosagada de fe) and a "simple attention to God" (atención sencilla). And so we are back to the very misunderstanding we saw in the Tratado breve. The terms used by St. John to explain our receptivity to infused contemplation have now become attached to a contemplation we can do ourselves.

Quiroga goes on to tell us that this kind of meditation, which John taught to his disciples, quickly led them to contemplation. In fact, "without having ever left sensible means, they were already contemplatives because they were finishing their meditation in contemplation, and before entering of set purpose in it they have already overcome the major difficulty of the contemplative life," (29) which is not knowing how to quiet the soul in God. Since they are accustomed to working actively, "it appears to them that they are losing time, although passively they might be receiving divine influence and illumination even if it is not communicated to them so efficaciously so as to suspend their proper operations. In this way, they are taught to speak with God, not with the discourses of the understanding, but with the voices of the affect."

Much of this, of course, echoes the language of John of the Cross, but a language now given over to the service of acquired contemplation. The goal of meditation is "the simple contemplation of God in the general, loving and pure knowledge of faith." (30)And it is to this that Quiroga applies John’s signs. Given this overall program, it is not surprising to find Quiroga quoting St. John’s Ascent to the effect that acts of loving knowledge in meditation lead to a habit of loving knowledge. This loving knowledge, for Quiroga, has two components, which are knowledge and sensible love. As far as knowledge is concerned, a few acts of meditation are sufficient and "very soon the soul is prepared in meditation to pass to contemplation." (31) When it comes to sensible love, more effort is needed. He cites St. Bonaventure to the effect that one or two months are enough to mature the sensible appetite so that it, too, can pass to contemplation, and when the soul has made use of meditation and finds it has no more taste for it, "it is a very certain sign that it is prepared to pass to contemplation." (32) It is this divine contemplation that is the goal of the Order. (33)

There seems to be little in Quiroga’s contemplation that we have not seen in one way or another in Tomás de Jesús, and when Quiroga was criticized by his superiors, he wrote a short treatise, BNM ms. 2711, that contains a very intriguing passage. If the Company of Jesus, he tells us, can be so appreciated for having received the way of sensible meditation, how can I fulfill my office without talking about the divine contemplation which is the goal of our Order, and which opens the door to divine illumination? This divine contemplation is the contemplation that he has been talking about throughout the Don que tuvo. "And further, it is very clear to me," he continues, " that one of the greatest harms that our Order has suffered is the little appreciation and exercise of this contemplation so that although our Lord gave us an accredited master of it in our venerable father Fray Juan de la Cruz, the first Discalced of the Reform, and he taught us about it by word and writing with distinction and propriety, his most useful doctrine is not received with the applause it deserves, not only in the monasteries of the common life, but also in the desert monasteries dedicated to this divine contemplation." (34)

Jean Krynen attempted to use this passage to show that Quiroga was not in agreement with Tomás de Jesús since it was Tomás, of course, who played the leading role in the formation of the Carmelite desert monasteries. If this were true, then we are left in the strange situation of wondering why Quiroga’s doctrine on active contemplation would be so similar to that of Tomás de Jesús if he were really at odds with him. The answer, I think, is to be found in the concluding paragraphs of the Don que tuvo. Here Quiroga again berates the Order for forgetting the doctrine of John of the Cross, but he is more explicit about what is being forgotten. He writes, "Because the influence and teaching of our holy father Fray Juan de la Cruz is lacking (in the Order) other masters have entered that favor more discourse of reason and the unquiet operation of the soul than simple spiritual acts where the divine operation is received and the effects of supernatural influence which work our perfection. They made in their disciples such a different work that the disciples came forth from them many times with crippled heads and are found few elevated spirits, and as they do not teach them in the novitiates how to travel to contemplation when they have become ready for it, they go out of the school without knowing the chief thing about their vocation, and afterwards remain the rest of the life without knowing it…" (35) By 1628 when Quiroga made his response to his superiors, Tomás had been gone from the Carmelite deserts in Spain for more than 20 years, and Quiroga is not complaining about Tomás’ doctrine on contemplation, but rather he is complaining that active contemplation that he imagines John of the Cross to be the father of is not being used widely enough.

Later Andrés de la Encarnación will also complain that even in the Discalced cloisters, themselves, until this venerable father came (Quiroga), the doctrine of our holy father (John of the Cross) appeared unknown… Before him (Quiroga) no one seems to refer or even know (John’s) most particular new doctrine of faith and contemplation, as we have seen in the writings of el Calagurritano, Fray Tomás de Jesús, and Fray Domingo (de Jesús María). (36)

Does this testimony drive a wedge between Tomás and Quiroga? Not really, for we have only to remember the praise that Andrés, himself, heaped upon the Tratado breve. He would not have included Tomás among those forgetful of John’s doctrine on contemplation, as set forth by Quiroga – this new doctrine of faith and contemplation – if he had known that Tomás was responsible for the Tratado breve. Why didn’t Andrés ever notice the similarity between The Tratado breve and Tomás’ Tratado de oración y contemplación, which he handled when they returned to the archive of San Hermenegildo? Perhaps having already been familiar with some of Tomás’ published works he did not look at these manuscripts closely. (37)

Quiroga’s doctrine on acquired contemplation in the Don que tuvo can be found in his other works, as well, like his Apología mística, which was written sometime between 1615-1625, (38) but not published until a few years ago when Jean Krynen came out with a French translation of BNM ms. 4478, and later with the Spanish text. (39) In Chapter 4, for example, Quiroga will make many of the same points as the author of the first chapter of the Tratado breve in Alvarado’s version. He will, for example, make a fundamental distinction between discourse and intuition, which latter he calls "intelligence of the indivisible." And when this intelligence is applied to faith it becomes a "simple apprehension of the objects of the faith," "a pure intelligence" without discourse.

And the same doctrine is to be found in his Subida del alma de Dios which was published in two parts in 1656 and 1659, although there remains a question about how faithful this printed edition was to the original manuscripts. BNM ms. 2231 of the Subida was written prior to 1617, for one of the approvals of that manuscript is of that date. (40) The Subida was to go on to have a tumultuous history of condemnation and resurrection that was to last well beyond the end of the 17th century. There is no need to examine these works in detail, but only to note some interesting points that supplement the perspective of the Don que tuvo. The Subida states that Teresa was "chosen by God to be a master of infused and supernatural contemplation," and John of the Cross "a master of the contemplation we can attain by our own industry." (41) And Quiroga, having spoken of the spiritual marriage, refers to "a most eminent contemplation practiced by those transformed in God in the participation of the celestial life." And he tells us "an experienced author" calls this "supereminent contemplative life." E. Allison Peers, the great English scholar of Spanish mysticism, suggests that this experienced author might be none other than Tomás de Jesús, himself. (42)

These might not be the only hints on Tomás’ influence on Quiroga. In the tenth chapter of the Don que tuvo Quiroga leaves us with this striking passage: "There are two manners of supernatural contemplation: one in the human mode by means of the simple light of faith and the common help of grace; and this we are able to exercise whenever we want just as we are able to exercise whatever other act of faith with this same help; and the gift of wisdom supernaturally illumines this contemplation in our human mode… The other contemplation is more elevated and makes use of a particular and more efficacious aid and a greater illumination than the gift of wisdom which lifts the soul to a knowledge and love of God above our human mode to which no one can attain without God granting it to him…" (43) He goes on to say that God made St. Teresa the teacher of this latter kind of contemplation, as is seen in her books, and of the other "which is exercised in our human mode by means of the enigmatic mirror, that is, by a superintellectual concept formed by our mode in the obscurity of faith (which is not denied to anyone). God made our holy father Fray Juan de la Cruz a great master as his writing and the experience of his disciples show." (44) When Fortunato Antolín examined in detail Quiroga’s doctrine on ordinary contemplation, he found that Quiroga describes two kinds of contemplation. The first he calls divine, supernatural and illuminated, perfect, supernaturally infused, elevated, above our human mode, and the second is described as simple, pure and simple, simple of faith, light of faith, common, ordinary, obscure knowledge of faith, simple of God in general, loving and pure knowledge of faith, and so forth. (45)

The main point of all this is that Quiroga had a doctrine of acquired contemplation which, in substance, was the same as Tomás de Jesús’ whether he received it from him or not. Both of them commented on John of the Cross á la Dionysius and Thomas Aquinas, and both created a contemplation we can do ourselves.


  1. Antoine de Alvarado, DS, 403.
  2. Jacinto de Santa Teresa, "Manuscritos espirituales," p. 109.
  3. Crisógono de Jesús, La escuela mística..., p. 130.
  4. Jerónimo Gracián, Vida del Alma, Obras, Vol. I, p. 385.
  5. Crisógono de Jesús, La escuela mística..., p. 130.
  6. E.A. Peers, Studies of the Spanish Mystics, Vol. II, p. 139ff.
  7. Eulogio Pacho, "Fray Inocencio..."
  8. Fortunado Antolín, "Inocencio de San Andrés..."
  9. Simeón de la Sagrada Familia, "Dos tratados espirituales..."
  10. Peers, Studies of the Spanish Mystics, Vol. III, p. 12.
  11. Ibid., p. 10.
  12. Ibid., p. 20.
  13. Jean de Jésus Marie, DS, 579.
  14. Juan de Jesús María, Escuela de oración, Tratado VII, Duda 7a, p. 209.
  15. Ibid., p. 210.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Peers, Studies of the Spanish Mystics, Vol. III, p. 26.
  18. Ibid., p. 28.
  19. Ibid., p. 27, note 4.
  20. Roberto di Santa Teresa, "La contemplatione infusa..." p. 664, note 42.
  21. HCD, VIII, p. 586.
  22. HCD, IX, p. 466.
  23. "No me nace el decirlo de amor o desamor que yo tenga al Fr. Tomás de Jesús, que a él en otra occasión le dije algo de esto." Ibid.
  24. Eulogio Pacho, El Cántico Espiritual, p. 43.
  25. Ibid., p. 45, note 19.
  26. Jean Krynen, L’Apologie Mystique de Quiroga, Introduction.
  27. The Don que tuvo was dated 1614 in an article in the Dictionnaire de spiritualité written by Fortunato de Jesús (Antolín). This would have had Quiroga defending John of the Cross well before the publication of his writings, and citing John of the Cross according to the text of the first edition. Padre Fortunato said in a letter to me, however, that the 1614 date is a typographical error for 1914, which is when Don que tuvo was first published by Gerardo de San Juan de la Cruz.
  28. Gerardo de San Juan de la Cruz, Obras de San Juan de la Cruz, Vol. III, pp. 511-512.
  29. Ibid., p. 518.
  30. Ibid., p. 520.
  31. Ibid., p. 525.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Ibid., p. 528.
  34. Jean Krynen, "Saint Jean de la Croix, Antolínez..." p. 411.
  35. Gerardo de San Juan de la Cruz, Obras de San Juan de la Cruz, Vol. III, p. 569.
  36. Jean Krynen, "Saint Jean de la Croix, Antolínez..." p. 412.
  37. In the first decades of the 20th century when the debates over acquired contemplation were raging, Claudio de Jesús Crucificado felt that Juan Arintero had misunderstood this very passage of Andrés and identified the kind of contemplation at stake as acquired contemplation. Claudio de Jesús Crucificado, "Questiones místicas," IV, p. 75, note 1.
  38. Jean Krynen, L’Apologie Mystique de Quiroga, p. x.
  39. Jean Krynen, L’Apologie Mystique de Quiroga; Max Huot de Longchamp produced a Spanish-French version of the same manuscript, and Fortunado Antolín another Spanish version of the same text.
  40. The first approval was by Dr. Martín Ramírez on April 9, 1617, followed by one by Fray Juan González on Oct. 10, 1619, but the third by Andrés Merino does not take place until July 10, 1625. (Matías del Niño Jesús, "Indice de manuscritos," p. 202) Alonso de Jesús María was back in power between 1619 and 1625. Was Quiroga’s book on hold during that time?
  41. Peers, Studies of the Spanish Mystics, Vol. III, p. 49.
  42. Ibid., p. 52.
  43. Gerardo de San Juan de la Cruz, Obras de San Juan de la Cruz, Vol. III, pp. 533-534.
  44. Ibid., p. 534.
  45. Fortunado Antolín, El Padre José... sobre contemplación ordinaria, pp. 175ff., p. 179, note 77.





Juan Bretón

The official delays to print St. John’s writings did not prevent them from circulating widely in manuscript, nor did it stop what could be called a partial pirated edition of them. This "first" edition did not go unnoticed by the Carmelites. In his introductory remarks to the official first edition the General of the Order, José de Jesús María – not to be confused with his namesake Quiroga – made a veiled reference to it, and in the next century Andrés de la Encarnación wrote: "I have seen a book on mysticism by a Victorine father printed before that of the saint in which many and entire chapters of The Ascent of Mt. Carmel have been taken word for word and been passed off as his own." (1) Finally, Gerardo de San Juan de la Cruz named the culprit in the introduction to his edition of the writings of John of the Cross. It was Juan Bretón in his Mística theologia y doctrina de la perfección evangelica a la que puede llegar el alma en esta vida sacada del spú (espíritu) de los sagrados doctores. And the Carmelite Enrique Llamas in 1991 clarified the extent of Bretón’s borrowings. (2) This is yet another example, similar to that of the Tratado breve, where the wheels of Carmelite scholarship ground slowly, but continued to work over the centuries.

But just who was Juan Bretón, and why did he appropriate John’s writings? Bretón was a friar Minim of the Order of San Francisco de Paula which were also called Victorines after their house Our Lady of Victory in Madrid. He borrowed long passages from The Ascent, and some from the Living Flame, as well, including one that didn’t come from any of the manuscripts that we know now, and so incidentally did a service to the textual criticism of St. John’s works. Bretón was a lector of theology at Valladolid from 1583 onwards, as well as a Consultor y Calificador of the Holy Office. He also preached widely in Valladolid, Madrid and Andalusía. He was invited to Valencia, perhaps by Juan de Ribera, its archbishop and future saint, sometime before 1611 when Ribera died. (3) There he met "good preachers and spiritual directors," and he mentions in 1612 the work of Sobrino who had been writing about some propositions that were "sent from Flanders and which have made a great disturbance." (4) He is referring to the Franciscan Antonio Sobrino who worked in Valencia and whom he might have met there. Sobrino, as we will see later, had strong Carmelite connections, and in his own book of 1612 he took up the cause of Jerónimo Gracián and Tomás de Jesús who were fighting against the perfectionists in the Lowlands.

Any or all of these circumstances could have brought him into contact with St. John’s writings, but we are left with the puzzle of why he felt free to so largely avail himself of them, and why, too, he never cites John of the Cross once. Perhaps he, too, knew of the official opposition of the Order to the publication of St. John’s writings, and so could have reasoned that he was doing the world a favor by publishing them. Bretón also tells us that he had been working on his book for 14 years, (5) and that would make it possible that he might have known St. John’s writings around the same time that Tomás began his work as editor.

But together with John’s writings we find Bretón propounding a doctrine that sounds much like acquired contemplation. He describes three kinds of recollection: contemplation, union, and mystical theology, and E. Allison Peers comments: "This is an unusual use of the work "recollection" (recogimiento), to take in the whole of the contemplative life, and the word "contemplation" must also be understood in a special sense - viz., as acquired contemplation. For it is something which, through silence and the stilling of the understanding, can be achieved by all." (6)

Melquiades Andrés Martín, in his Los Recogidos, mentions in passing that Bretón knew the Tratado breve, and, if this is true, this makes us wonder even more about the context in which he discovered St. John’s writings. (7) Bretón’s work was translated into French by his fellow Minim Claude Burens in 1619, but no copy of that translation is to be found. He also strongly influenced the Benedictine Pelayo de San Benito (died1635) in his 1626 Suma de oración. Later, when controversy was going to envelope Antonio Rojas’ 1628 Vida del espiritú because he was teaching an acquired contemplation, Bretón’s name was to come up again. The Discalced Carmelite, Agustín de San José, writing from the monastery of Los Mártires in Granada, denounced Rojas’ book to the Inquisition in 1630 and said that Rojas should not be claiming to be following John of the Cross, but rather, Juan Bretón in his Theologia mística where "it teaches in detail this kind of prayer, and so is as worthy of being withdrawn as that of this other author." (8) Rojas, in his defense of his book, as we shall see shortly, freely calls on Juan Bretón as someone who is teaching the same doctrine as John of the Cross, as well as himself. He mentions that "after the Tribunal of Toledo had called him before it over this doctrine, and had discussed and satisfied itself about all its doubts, they made him Calificador de la Suprema, and he taught it in pulpits and confessionals, in the court and beyond it." (9) Perhaps Rojas thought that he, too, deserved this kind of treatment after having been called before the Inquisition.

The First Edition

In 1618 when John of the Cross’ works were finally published, the doctrine of acquired contemplation and its attribution to St. John were well on their way to being established. John’s writings appeared at the end of that year in Alcalá de Henares under the editorship of Diego de Jesús Salablanca (1570-1621), and soon after in another printing in Barcelona at the beginning of 1619. Diego had close links both with Quiroga, whose summary of the life of John of the Cross appeared in this edition, and to Tomás de Jesús whose secretary and student he had been, filling in for him on occasion in class. For fear of John of the Cross being accused of the errors of the Alumbrados, this first edition appeared with innumerable alterations in the text and left out the Spiritual Canticle entirely. Evidently Salablanca had been working on St. John’s works for some time, or they were already in an almost publishable form, for it took him only little more than a year after being given the commission to publish on Sept. 21, 1617 before the job was done. (10) Perhaps Salablanca, with the help of Quiroga, had begun work soon after Alonso de Jesús had left the generalship in 1613. Later when Salablanca was reproached for these alterations and omissions, he laid the blame at the doorstep of his superiors. (11)

But is there any real evidence that Tomás’ and Quiroga’s doctrine on acquired contemplation played a role in how the first edition appeared? No strong evidence is visible. (12) Quiroga does, indeed, cite one of these altered passages in his Don que tuvo, as we will see in a moment, and it certainly suits his purpose better to see in it the doctrine of acquired contemplation. But there is no way to really link these alterations to him, and they may, however suggestive they appear, be written off to the general purpose of the editor, which was to avoid any accusations on the part of critics that John of the Cross was recommending excessive passivity. Further, at this point in time, Tomás de Jesús had long since departed from Spain, and there is no strong connection, according to Padre Simeón, between the manuscript of St. John’s writings he had annotated and how the first edition appeared.

Salablanca, himself, published with this edition some clarifications which he called Apuntamientos y advertencias en tres discursos. He mentions that some people had made extracts of St. John’s writings, distorting the original, leaving us to wonder whether he had Juan Bretón in mind. He defends John against any accusation that he has neglected meditation and discourse, mortification, and the acquiring of virtues, all of which, he tells us, "puede tener nombre de aquisita," that is, could have the name acquired. But Salablanca never takes advantage of this wonderful opportunity to say that John is talking about an acquired contemplation. (13)

Later he has another chance to do so when he is commenting on the phrase "sin obrar las potencias," or without the working of the faculties. But again he does not take advantage of it. Instead, he tells us that the divine life and loving affect seems to strike the substance of the soul rather than its powers. (14) And so here all is totally infused without giving place to reflection. We work, but in a higher fashion, moved by God by means of silence, or quietude. So the phrase of not working with the faculties means "that the powers don’t work when they are in this serene, calm, simple quietude of infused contemplation." (15) With these kinds of remarks Diego shows a keen appreciation of St. John’s doctrine of infused contemplation. When he comments on the Ascent, Book II, Chapter 12, he says that in every state there is some operation of the soul, at least "an advertence or loving knowledge in general of God, (una advertencia o noticia amorosa en general de Dios.)" (16) For without it we would have laziness rather than contemplation.

On the surface and in the context of his other remarks on infused contemplation, this seems quite unobjectionable, but it could actually serve as a starting point for a movement towards acquired contemplation because this chapter of the Ascent contains the following passage about infused contemplation: "…the faculties are at rest and are working, not actively, but passively by receiving what God acts in them…" and in the first edition, it has been altered to read "…and work not save in that simple and sweet loving attentiveness…" This is a critical change, and if we could attribute it with any certainty to Salablanca rather than to someone like Quiroga, his remarks would become more suspect. Yet earlier (17) he says (with emphasis at least in the Gerardo version), "the soul does not have to work or concur actively but passively." All in all, then, it would be hard to accuse Salablanca of promoting an acquired contemplation.


The first edition finally appeared, armored with the approbations of scholars, the explanations of Salablanca, the innumerable changes in the text, and the absence of the Spiritual Canticle, and yet all of this did not prevent it from being denounced to the Inquisition. On May 29, 1623 the Inquisitor of Sevilla, Alonso de Hoces, wrote to the Inquisitor General in Madrid, sending him a book from which he claimed the Alumbrados of Sevilla were taking their doctrine, together with some of his remarks about it. (18) The book was none other than the writings of St. John, which he called The Dark Night.

The Inquisitor General turned to Agustín Antolínez (1554-1626), for an opinion. This was certainly a choice that was to incline the final verdict in favor of the Carmelites. Antolínez had had a close relationship with the Discalced sisters of Salamanca from whom he received St. John’s Spiritual Canticle long before it was published and which he commented on, as well as the Dark Night and the Flame and he, in turn, recommended his fellow Augustinian, Basileo Ponce de León (1570-1629), a relative of Luis de León, and the man who was to succeed him in his chair at Salamanca. Basilio obviously took this task seriously and signed his Respuesta a las notas y objecciones que se hicieron a algunas proposiciones del libro de fray Juan de la Cruz on July 11, 1623. (19)

Basilio’s defense of the third proposition, which has to do with John’s three signs, is particularly interesting. The inability to meditate had obviously bothered the delator. Basilio responds: "I first lay down that which is not in the power of man, neither does it fall within the scope of human industry, to reach so high a point of contemplation and prayer of union as this." He insists that the words Luis de León applied to the work of St. Teresa ought to be applied in this case, as well: "Of this raising up or suspension of the soul it is said that it is supernatural: that is, that the soul more properly suffers therein than works. And it is said that nobody must presume to raise himself up, before he be raised up: for one reason, because this transcends all our industry and thus would be in vain; for another, because it would show a lack of humility, and the Holy Mother warns us of this with good reason because there are books of prayer which counsel those who pray, to suspend thought and to allow nothing to figure in the imagination, with the result that they remain cold and undevout." (20)

This stands in strong contrast with Quiroga’s sentiments expressed in his Apologia mística that was written about the same time, and with his ideas in his Subida, which he was finishing in November of that year. Basilio Ponce de León’s response had its desired effect, and no action was taken against the first edition, but the struggle was not over. On Sept. 9, 1625 Rodrigo de Villavincencio and Dionisio Fernández Portocarrero wrote to Madrid again about the danger to be found in the mystical writings circulating in the vernacular in Sevilla. All sorts of people, they claim, from all classes and levels of education are reading them, and yet don’t necessarily understand them, but this lack of understanding doesn’t prevent them from teaching others about them, which leads to spiritual confusion.

On May 4, 1626 the Dominican Domingo Farfán, who had been employed by the Inquisition in Sevilla to help stamp out the errors of the Alumbrados also wrote to the Inquisitor General about a book commonly called The Dark Night. Farfán told him that he had the keys to the rooms of those accused of being Alumbrados, and when he examined their papers, he always found this book which he hadn’t known about before. And when he studied it, he realized that the Alumbrados had either taken their doctrine from it, or its author had taken it from them. (21) And he goes on to give a very interesting example of the errors it contains: "The book teaches perfection by rules as an art is taught and it teaches it in such a manner that what God is accustomed to communicate by special favor and privilege to some souls, it does by ordinary rule and law for all. I will give an example: it teaches in prayer the path that they call suspension, which is to put oneself in the presence of God and be there without thinking about anything (sin pensar en nada) and without meditating and without making particular acts with which it could exercise itself in the love of God and the sorrow for sins…" (22)

Why, Padre Domingo tells us, even the mystical doctors of the author’s own Order, like Gracián and Santa Teresa disagree with this, and given all these reasons, the book ought to be condemned. But nothing happened because, unknown to Domingo, Basilio de Ponce de León’s defense had derailed these kinds of accusations. John is now made the author of a contemplation we can all do, and condemned on the testimony of Gracián and Teresa. Further, the leader of the Alumbrados in Sevilla was Juan de Villalpando who in his youth had been a Discalced Carmelite, which makes him a likely candidate to spread about John’s writings, and perhaps even the interpretation of them that Farfán picked up. It would not have been impossible, as we have already seen, that a Discalced Carmelite could have read John’s writings in the context of acquired contemplation, which was already well on its way to be established. (23)

A postscript to turmoil in Sevilla can be found in the 1623 publication of a book by our old friend Leandro de Granada called Resolución de la contemplación sobrenatural, revelaciones, apariciones, éxtasis y arrobamientos para confundir la falsa doctrina de los torpes y desvanecidos alumbrados... which turned out to be nothing more than his Luz de las maravillas repackaged for a new market as a treatise against the Alumbrados. (24)

Jorge de San José

Not all the Augustinians were as favorably disposed to John of the Cross as Agustín Antolínez and Basilio Ponce de León. In 1615 a Spanish edition of Juan de Jesús María’s (el Calagurritano) Escuela de la oración had appeared carrying an approbation by Esteban de San José, then prior of Zaragoza. Four years later, on June 5, 1619, the Augustinian, Juan Márquez (1565?-1621) denounced it to the Inquisition. (25) He was upset by Juan de Jesús María’s comments on how to deal with certain sensual movements of the soul in the time of prayer, remarks that, when we read them today, seem quite balanced, but for which Márquez wanted the book taken out of circulation. He supported his case against it by citing, as if it belonged to Teresa of Avila, a Compendio de los grados de oración, which turns out to be Tomás de Jesús’ Suma y compendio of Teresa’s teaching. There is a certain irony here in the fact that Márquez wanted to condemn Juan de Jesús María’s book by citing Tomás’ who approved of Juan de Jesús María’s works. In any event, the censor chosen by the Inquisition did not proceed, claiming that he could not find a copy of the book.

But Padre Juan was not forgotten by the Inquisition. When, a little later, the work of Jorge de San José Serrano (1566-1636) of the Order of Mercy called El Solitario contemplativo y guía espiritual which had appeared in Lisbon in 1616 was denounced to the Inquisition, it chose Márquez one of the three censors to evaluate it. The two other censors could not find anything wrong with the book, but Márquez’ denunciation of it still carried the day, and it was withdrawn from circulation. While he was at it, he didn’t fail to aim some more negative comments at Juan de Jesús María. Unfortunately, our knowledge of the Solitario contemplativo is derived from Márquez’ censure, for the book, itself, has disappeared.

Jorge de San José was the author of another work: Vuelo del espiritu y escala de la perfección y oración. This, too, is very difficult if not impossible to come by. He was apparently a follower of John of the Cross and spoke of the need to leave discursive prayer, and one of the censors, the Dominican Tomás de Daoiz, who had written an approbation of the first edition of St. John’s writings, found El Solitario contemplativo in accordance with St. John’s teachings as seen in his newly published edition of his works. Padre Márquez seems unaware of John of the Cross, and objects that the book teaches that after the soul has been exercised in meditation, "God raises it to the state of the spirit which is an infused contemplation, which is secret, obscure and dark to the senses, and in which has to cease all images and knowledge of corporeal things." Jorge de San José also says that the soul which arrives at contemplation, " has to leave off exercising a loving attentiveness (se ha de dejar llevar con una advertencia amorosa)." (26) It sounds as if he is following John of the Cross closely, and perhaps accurately, which makes us wish all the more that we would have an opportunity to look at his two books, one of which, at least, was published before the first edition, to see what he knew about John of the Cross.

This is the first of a series of denunciations and defenses we are going to be confronted with, and they are often difficult to unravel, for on the one hand, there are people like Márquez who seem to be objecting to the idea of contemplation, itself. They can see no reason to leave the field of meditation. And on the other hand, there are those who find in St. John a contemplation that everyone can do whenever they wish.

It is worth noting that Jorge de San José was a member of the Order of Mercy, and there are any number of links between the Mercedarians, the Minims and the Carmelites. Juan Bretón, who was a Minim and who borrowed heavily from John of the Cross, as we saw, was in contact with members of the Order of Mercy. His companion in the Order, Gabriel López Navarro, whom we will meet in a little while, also availed himself of St. John’s writings and Quiroga’s, and a number of Carmelites who left the Order found a home among the Mercedarians. (27)

Nicolás de Jesús María

Another edition of St. John’s writings appeared in 1630 and it, too, like the first edition, had its detractors and defenders. In 1631 the Discalced Carmelite Nicolás de Jesús María Centurión came to St. John’s aid with his Phrasium mysticae theologiae V.P. Joannis a Cruce… elucidatio. It had been written by the end of 1627, perhaps in preparation for the new edition of St. John’s works. It collects an impressive amount of authorities in order to vindicate St. John, but suffocates under the weight of them. But what it does accomplish is to give us a glimpse of the kinds of authorities closest to home that Centurión turned to. They included St. Teresa and Gracián, Diego de Jesús Salablanca’s defense of John that had appeared in the first edition, and Juan de Jesús María’s School of Prayer and Mystical Theology, and the defense of Basilio de Ponce de León. Centurión also quotes Tomás de Jesús’ De contemplatione divina, as well as no. 4 and 20 of Tomás’ Mystical Theology. Last but not least, Centurión turns to Alvarado’s Arte de bien vivir, including the place where the Tratado breve is inserted. But Quiroga is notable by his absence. Perhaps it is too soon after the appearance of his Historia de la Vida of John of the Cross and his subsequent disgrace for him to be rehabilitated.

Permission to publish Centurión’s work was first given on Sept. 22, 1630, and it was probably meant to replace the Apuntamientos of Salablanca. (28) The idea of acquired contemplation that cannot be found in Salablanca’s defense is now going to blossom in Centurión’s. His work went on to lead an interesting history. It was translated from its original Latin into French by Cyprien de la Nativité who was the first Discalced translator of John’s works in France, not to mention the editor of Antonio Rojas in that country, and the great Bossuet was later to call Centurión one of the most erudite interpreters of John of the Cross. This was high praise, but as we shall see, scarcely warranted. This French version was to surface again in 1911 in the first issues of the newly founded Carmelite review, Études Carmélitaines, with the express purpose of defending the idea of acquired contemplation.

When we look at Centurión’s defense of St. John’s signs for the transition from meditation to contemplation, we can see why Bossuet’s praise was excessive. He cites John’s first sign of The Ascent of Mt. Carmel rather than the three signs together, and divides it into three different propositions to defend: first, if the soul wishes to arrive at the summit of contemplation it ought to deprive its understanding of imaginary forms; secondly, it ought to suspend discursive acts which are made in meditation; and finally, the sign that one ought to go up to this sublime contemplation is the inability of the imagination and the distaste for discursive acts in place of the devotion that one found there before. Once any discussion of the signs is severed from the actual presence of infused contemplation, which is the most important sign, itself, then the door is open for an acquired contemplation. So Centurión continues: "There are two sorts of knowledge and of supernatural contemplation; the one human, which, although it is done with the aid of grace, is nevertheless proportioned to our natural manner of operating by means of the discourse that precedes it, and the imagination which cooperates with it; the other, above human effort, in which the spirit, aided by a special grace corresponding to the gift of knowledge, is elevated and contemplates without the ordinary imperfections…" (29)

Centurión in his initial propositions, and even in this passage, has hinted at a particular view of our human faculties which we have seen over and over again and which he now begins to develop. The legitimate distinctions that can be made between imagination and the working of reasoning, or between reasoning and intuition, now are elevated into separations. "Let us note," Centurión writes, "that one is able to find in these two sorts of contemplation the absence of imaginary forms and of discursive meditation, although diversely." (30) He goes on to distinguish the kind of cessation of the natural faculties found in the contemplation that is above our ability from that which is found in the contemplation that we can do. In the latter we need this human working, but then he gives this traditional assertion a new meaning because although this acquired contemplation supposes the use of reason, discourse "nonetheless ceases when one has arrived at contemplation. In its place succeeds a simple regard of the eternal truths and a tranquil operation." (31) It is only by this kind of procedure that Centurión can legitimize a contemplation we can do by making it both distinct from meditation and from infused contemplation.

Centurión continues his exposition by considering the three divisions he made of the first sign. He finds a double sense in which we should understand how to leave aside all imaginary forms. One sense applies to infused contemplation, and the other to this contemplation we can do. In the contemplation we can do we leave aside the working of the imagination in the actual act of contemplation, and while the imagination will continue to work, we center our attention on an obscure and confused knowledge of God.

When it comes to the second division of the sign he again finds two senses: one applicable to infused contemplation, and the other to acquired. In the acquired contemplation we have made use of reason, but then we lay it aside and go on to dwell in this simple and uniform regard of the eternal truths.

When Centurión is discussing the third part of the sign, he expands his initial treatment and speaks not only of the inability to use the imagination and discourse and the distaste for something that we had enjoyed before, but goes on to add to this sign " the desire the soul has for a simple and peaceful attention to God united to divine love." (32) In support of his interpretation he quotes The Institutions, Chapter 35, ascribed to John Tauler. But once again we have to assume that he understands this sign in two distinct senses, one of which applies to infused contemplation, and to the other to that contemplation that we can do ourselves. St. John’s original doctrine of contemplation has been split in half and already at this early date Centurión can point to the tradition within the Order that supports his interpretation.


  1. Gerardo de San Juan de la Cruz, Obras de San Juan de la Cruz, Vol. I, p. xlviii.
  2. Enrique Llamas, "La "Editio princeps"..."
  3. Ibid., p. 529.
  4. Ibid., p. 531, note 38.
  5. Ibid., p. 531.
  6. Peers, Studies of the Spanish Mystics, Vol. III, p. 117.
  7. Melquiades Andrés Martín, Los Recogidos, p. 656.
  8. Eulogio Pacho, "San Juan de la Cruz y Juan de Santo Tomás..." p. 358.
  9. Ibid., p. 378.
  10. Gerardo de San Juan de la Cruz, Obras de San Juan de la Cruz, Vol. I, p. xlviii. See also in Peers’ The Complete Works of St. John of the Cross, the Introduction to The Ascent of Mt. Carmel by Silverio de Santa Teresa.
  11. Louis Cognet, La Spiritualité Moderne, p. 178.
  12. See my St. John of the Cross and Dr. C.G. Jung, pp. 86-89.
  13. Gerardo de San Juan de la Cruz, Obras de San Juan de la Cruz, Vol. III, p. 467.
  14. Ibid., p. 469.
  15. Ibid., p. 477.
  16. Ibid., p. 482.
  17. Ibid., p. 478.
  18. Álvaro Huerga, Historia de los Alumbrados, Vol. IV.
  19. There is some uncertainty about this date. Cf. Eulogio Pacho, El Cántico Espiritual, p. 48, note 22.
  20. It was first published by Silverio de Santa Teresa in his edition of John of the Cross, and there is an English translation in Peers’ The Complete Works of St. John of the Cross, Vol. III.
  21. Álvaro Huerga, Historia de los Alumbrados, Vol. IV, p. 497.
  22. Ibid., pp. 497-498.
  23. Ibid., p. 421.
  24. Ibid., p. 344. Peers found a reference to another book by Leandro called Mystica theologia sobrenatural.
  25. Eulogio Pacho, "Juan de Jesús María..."
  26. Ibid., p. 203. Peers apparently found a 1632 edition of Jorge de San José’s Vuelo published in Sevilla in the library of the University of Barcelona, but he didn't think highly of it. See Studies of the Spanish Mystics, Vol. III, p. 245.
  27. BNM ms. 2201 is a copy of the writings of John of the Cross that belong to the Order of Mercy.
  28. Eulogio Pacho, El Cántico Espiritual, p. 80.
  29. Nicolás Centurión, Eclairissements..., p. 132.
  30. Ibid., p. 133.
  31. Ibid., p. 134.
  32. Ibid., p. 162.





In the years preceding the second edition of St. John’s writings in 1630 the idea of acquired contemplation was expounded outside of the Carmelites and presented in a more and more simplified and one-sided manner.

Antonio Rojas

It was Eulogio Pacho, once again searching through the files of the Inquisition at the National Historical Archives in Madrid, who uncovered and brought fully to light the story of Rojas’ book and its condemnation. (1) Antonio Rojas was a secular priest and the author of the Vida del espíritu, or Libro intitulado Vida del espiritu para saber, tener oración y union con Dios y provecho de las almas, which appeared in Madrid in 1628, and then again in 1629 and 1630. This is a very simple book that wanted nothing more than to view the interior life from the perspective of the practice of acquired contemplation. After the 1629 edition appeared it was denounced not once, but twice. The book and the first denunciation were given by the Supreme Council of the Inquisition to Gabriel López Navarro, a Minim father and rigorous censor of the Inquisition who found it wanting. The judgment of a second censor is missing from this incomplete file, but López Navarro’s opinion carried the day.

Around the same time another denunciation of the book was underway, this time by the Carmelite Agustín de San José, whom we saw denouncing Bretón’s book. It arrived at the Inquisition of Granada on March 22, 1630. Agustín de San José had been professed in February 1611 in Sevilla, and was renowned as a preacher, and in at least one case he was called to consult with the Holy Office on a difficult matter of spirituality, which had perplexed it for several months, and which, we are told, he resolved in 24 hours with an answer that covered but two sheets of paper. (2)

His complaints in this case are particularly interesting because they center on how Rojas makes use of John of the Cross. Rojas, he says, is teaching an "acquired contemplation, an interior recollection" to everyone indiscriminately without paying heed to the other exercises of the spiritual life, like the exercise of the virtues and meditation on sins, or the practice of mortification. He is oversimplifying the spiritual life and creating something that is like "a staircase without steps, a goal without the journey, and an end without the means." And Agustín de San José is not done. John of the Cross is being maligned in this book because he teaches that the meditation on the sacred passion and penance and mortification are lifelong obligations, and he gives by his three signs the indications of when it can be known that God is raising the soul "from meditation to infused contemplation." (3) This is the critical point. Rojas is teaching acquired contemplation while John of the Cross is teaching an infused one. So Agustín de San José concludes that if the three signs are not present we ought to exercise ourselves in meditation because it is a sign that "God does not want to communicate contemplation which, as it is not necessary for salvation, God does not give contemplation to all who exercise themselves in prayer…" This confusion, to his mind, can deceive the less cautious and cause them damage, as he has seen in the confessional. Further, it is not the doctrine of John of the Cross, but of Juan Bretón. Padre Agustín has put his finger on the real issue.

When Agustín’s denunciation reached the two Dominicans who were censors, they confessed that they did not have a copy of the book, but nonetheless it ought to "be consumed and blotted out from the memory of mankind." Two Jesuit censors, however, actually read the book, and found nothing wrong with it, and with the split vote the Inquisition of Granada sent the matter to the Supreme Council of the Inquisition in Madrid, not aware that it already had the matter in hand. The complaint from Granada was tabled, but the story in Madrid was not over.

Toward the end of 1631 Rojas mounted his own defense. His Vida del espíritu had drawn heavily on John of the Cross both from the first edition and from manuscripts. He cites John with and without attribution, and summarizes him without citing him. He also copied some of St. John’s poems and maxims. Therefore, with good reason, when he writes his defense he will say that the Vida del espíritu is really "a compendium and quintessence of what the venerable P. Fr. Juan de la Cruz wrote in the Dark Night." (meaning the Ascent and the Dark Night.) And he calls to his support many classical and modern spiritual writers: for example, Fernando Caldera and his Mística theologia y dirección de espíritus, Madrid, 1623; Juan Bretón, Pelayo de San Benito and his Suma de oración, Burgos, 1626 – who was a follower of Bretón; Juan de Torres and his Sostento del ánima, Madrid, 1625; Mateo Villarroel, Gregory López, etc. Villarroel was the teacher and a close associate of Juan Falconi. And among this crowd of spiritual writers cited by Rojas there are some even more familiar faces, as well: Antonio Alvarado and his Arte de bien vivir which, of course, contains the Tratado breve; Quiroga in his life of John of the Cross, and Juan de Jesús María whom he calls Gracián. It was probably el Calagurritano. (4)

What is important to note is that Rojas is right in saying that he is just following those who blazed the trail before him and, indeed, he has abundant material to choose from, some of which, like Alvarado’s Tratado breve, is explaining John of the Cross in terms of acquired contemplation, just as Rojas is doing. His intent seemed to be to write a little devotional manual for those interested in the practice of the contemplative life. The French edition of 1646, for example, is a small pocketbook complete with a ribbon to mark the page. The Lisbon edition of 1645 measures 2¾ inches, by 3 ¾ inches by 1 inch. (5) But it is a book of acquired contemplation, which is a topic that has now taken on a life of its own and appears to all the world as rooted in many and weighty spiritual authors. The heading of Chapter 19 in the French edition of Rojas’ book is going to tell us how supernatural acquired contemplation is within the power of all, while Chapter 13, which is on the difference between meditation and contemplation, will say: "And so when you regard God by faith and leave aside discourse, and believe you have Him within you, believing He is in all things, although you do not see Him, and making that act you keep silent, and in repose, this is called contemplation." (6) Rojas will also talk in his defense about leaving discourse for a "simple intuition of the truth," which reminds us of the first chapter of the Tratado breve and Quiroga’s pure intuition akin to the angels.

Rojas’ defense was to be of no avail, but these complicated proceedings were going to call forth an enduring contribution to clarifying the history of acquired contemplation. Padre Pacho discovered in the case file a final judgment of condemnation on Rojas’ book signed by Martín de Albiz, and Juan de Santo Tomás, who appeared to have written the document, and this Juan de Santo Tomás turned out to be none other than the great Dominican philosopher and theologian, Juan Poinsot (1589-1644), who was one of the greatest Thomists of his age, and whose treatise on the gifts of the Holy Spirit shows the hand of a superb theologian of mysticism.

Juan de Santo Tomás is not impressed by Rojas’ accumulation of authorities. To his mind, they aren’t saying the same thing as the author – although some of them, of course, were – and he goes on to put his finger on the key issue. Rojas claims that after someone makes an act of faith he or she ought to leave aside "all the discourses, images, phantasms, of all created things, keeping the understanding without discourse or thought, without knowing, like a dead person in God." But this, according to Juan de Santo Tomás, is against "well-grounded theology which, in this matter teaches us that our manner of contemplating in this life is not able to disengage itself totally from sensible forms and phantasms upon which our natural mode of knowing depends."

This is a very important and telling point. This separation of intuition from reason that we have been seeing is not good philosophy. It is a valid distinction driven into a separation by a desire to create a kind of contemplation between meditation and infused contemplation. And however much its creators try to bolster their arguments by appealing to Thomas Aquinas, this is not what he taught. Juan de Santo Tomás admits that discourse stops as it gives birth to intuition: "but to understand or to make an act of understanding without discourse, without sensible forms or phantasms or imagination is impossible unless the soul would understand like an angel or out of the body, which is not a natural way of understanding in this life." (7) It may happen that God might give some kind of divine illumination without discourse, but "that is not in our hands, nor does it depend on our exercises, nor can it be proposed as the way for ordinary and common contemplation, which this book speaks of." (8) In short, Rojas has taken an idea that better fits in the world of infused contemplation and has applied it to his acquired contemplation which, in fact, is a part of meditation in the wide sense of the term, and so needs some kind of discourse and exercise of the faculties in order to exist.

With its condemnation in Spain, the Vida del espíritu didn’t simply disappear, but went on to new printings with a Spanish edition in Lisbon in 1645, and a French edition in 1646. Rojas may have been the author of a book called Espejo de perfección which appeared in 1604 and was reprinted in 1619. This would make interesting reading for the light it might shed on the development of Rojas’ ideas and how he came to the idea of acquired contemplation, but no one has been able to locate a copy of it, although some bibliographies describe one as belonging to one of the universities of Madrid.

Augustine Baker

Augustine Baker (1575-1641) was an English Benedictine who had converted to Catholicism in 1603 and entered the Order in Padua two years later. His story, while interesting in itself, would take us too far afield from our preoccupation with events in Spain, so we will confine ourselves to the fact that he made use of Rojas’ Vida del espíritu. (9)

In 1624 he joined the Benedictines in Douai, and soon became a spiritual director to the young community of Benedictine nuns at Cambrai where he remained for nine years. It was here that he must have known Rojas’ book through one of its earlier Spanish editions. And it is here, too, that Baker wrote many of his spiritual treatises. This kind of contact with Spanish mystical literature was common at that time in France and the Low Countries, and Baker also had some acquaintance with the writings of St. Teresa and John of the Cross. The Prior at his house at Douai, Rudesind Barlow, for example, had gone to Spain in 1605 to study at Salamanca, and he is listed in the records of the Order as a graduate of Irache. (10) If this is true, Barlow might even have come into contact with the work of our old friend, Antonio Alvarado whose Arte de vivir bien had been published in Irache in 1608, and who later became the Benedictine Abbot of the Royal monastery and university there. Thus, it is not surprising to find Baker reading Rojas’ book, or that he knew the biography of Gregorio López, whom we will meet in a moment. (11)

Baker places a strong emphasis on the states of prayer that fall between meditation, taken in a formal discursive sense, and infused contemplation. In fact, he could even be said to have misunderstood both meditation and infused contemplation, and made the summit of the spiritual life a perfect active contemplation. For him Rojas’ type of prayer "may be described as a prayer of interior silence, quietness and repose. There is no meditation, nor even expressed direct act of the will. It is a virtual, habitual loving attention to God rather than a formal direct tending to Him." (12)

His fellow Benedictine, Serenus Cressy, compiled some forty spiritual treatises of Baker into Holy Wisdom which first appeared in 1657 and contained a section on Rojas. While this compilation makes it harder for us to see clearly what Baker actually said, it did go on to influence the English-speaking world of contemplative prayer to our day. A new edition of Holy Wisdom appeared in 1876 – perhaps an indication that mystical studies had begun to revive – and occasioned by that edition Bishop Hedley, a noted English theologian, wrote an anonymous article in the Dublin Review of October 1876 claiming that Baker’s use of Rojas was sound. (13) Cuthbert Butler, a defender of the idea of acquired contemplation whom we will meet later, is said to have read Baker at least once a year for fifty years, and he drew nourishment from Bishop Hedley’s article for his own views on acquired contemplation. Closer to our own day, the reading of Holy Wisdom played a role in the Benedictine John Main’s development of the Christian Meditation Movement. (14)

Juan Falconi

While Rojas’ Vida del espíritu was appearing in Madrid, Juan Falconi, a young priest of the Order of Mercy, was in the midst of an extensive ministry of spiritual direction in that city. Years later, after his death, Dona Aldonza de Castilla, a witness in the process for Falconi’s beatification, described his ministry this way: "He would set souls upon the road to perfection, giving them instructions for the practice of mental prayer. And when he recognized that Our Lord God desired to raise them from meditation to contemplation of the Divine mysteries, he had the greatest skill and facility in dealing with them, although his continual exhortation in the matter of prayer was that all should place themselves, in faith, in the presence of God." (15)

Naturally this only whets our appetite to know more about his doctrine on contemplation. In his Carta a hija espiritual or Letter to a Spiritual Daughter that he wrote on July 23, 1628 he advises her to put herself in the presence of God and make an act of faith and resignation: "This done, do thou, like a person who no longer possesses anything, remain in repose and quiet silence, thinking of set purpose upon naught whatsoever, not even though it be good and sublime, save that thou hast this pure faith in God and art resigned to His Divine will." (16)

By now we are quite familiar with this kind of contemplation by faith, which is supposedly separate from discursive activity. But Falconi raises it to new heights: "I would that every day, every week, every year, and all thy life long thou shouldst make this continuous act of contemplation in faith and in love in a manner as pure and as spiritual as possible… and that, having once surrendered and resigned thyself to the divine will… thy hours of prayer should not be filled with fresh acts, but should merely continue that first act of faith and love already made." (17) And Falconi holds up the example of Gregory López, a lay contemplative, who lived a singular mystical life in Mexico as an example of someone who, after attaining this "continuous act of faith and loving resignation" never had need even for "brief ejaculatory prayer or anything else that had to do with the senses." (18)

This letter must have circulated among those interested in the contemplative life because it came to the attention of a Discalced Carmelite friar – probably the very Agustín de San José we saw denouncing Rojas – who complained to Falconi about it. Wasn’t Falconi teaching people to be idle in prayer? And even if he were describing a legitimate kind of contemplation, wasn’t he teaching it to everyone indiscriminately? Falconi answers him in another letter, Carta a un religioso, which exists only in a later Italian translation, and which may not be completely accurate. Number 26 in Falconi’s Carta a un religioso mentions the contradictors who Quiroga speaks of in his life of John of the Cross. They might have been the same people who complained about Falconi. Indeed, we are told they preached against him in Madrid without mentioning his name. (19)

In this letter Falconi responds that he instructs all beginners to meditate first, then, after they have acquired what is necessary for meditation, they are ready to pass, little by little, to contemplation, as José de Jesús María (Quiroga) taught in his life of John of the Cross. (20) Then Falconi goes on to cite John of the Cross, himself, on the transition from meditation to contemplation. "In order to know when this disposition is in the soul the venerable Father John of the Cross says that it is when the soul doesn’t find in itself savor in meditation, but rather aridity, and that it applies itself to remain in a general knowledge of living faith of the presence of God." (…in vna notitia general di fede viua della presenza di Dio) that time being, he says, the time of the beginning of contemplation: so he writes in the Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Book II, Chapter 13." (21)

But we have to notice how Falconi has altered St. John’s thought. We are no longer dealing with a noticia amorosa general, or infused contemplation, itself, but rather a notitia generale di fede viua, a general knowledge of lively faith. This Falconi makes clear as he continues, and ascribes to St. John his ideas about how these people should act at this time. They should place themselves in the presence of God, believing Him present, with a general knowledge or lively faith and resigning themselves into His hands. Now this, obviously, has nothing to do with infused contemplation. And if these people begin to suffer aridity and temptations, Falconi continues, thinking that they are doing nothing, they ought to continue in their faith and resignation without discourse or meditation "for this is contemplation, that is, a simple and pure view of the object." (22)

A little later he complains that some masters without experience think that this kind of praying is to do nothing, but they are deceived because these people may not be discoursing with the intellect but they are believing in God with lively faith, and he cites in his support John of the Cross’ Dark Night, Book I, Chapter 10, but in a strangely truncated form. Falconi paraphrases St. John here by saying, "It is not important that they exercise discursive meditation, although it appears that they are not doing anything and losing time and that through their laziness they don’t have the desire to think now of anything; it will be enough that they have patience and perseverance, leaving the soul free, unburdened and at rest from all knowledge and thought, not being solicitous about thinking or meditating." (23)

The actual text reads: "The attitude necessary in the night of sense is to pay no attention to discursive meditation, since this is not the time for it. They should allow the soul to remain in rest and quietude, even though it may seem very obvious to them that they are doing nothing and wasting time, and even though they think this disinclination to think about anything is due to their laxity. Through patience and perseverance in prayer, they will be doing a great deal without activity on their part. All that is required of them here is freedom of soul, that they liberate themselves from the impediment and fatigue of ideas and thoughts and care not about thinking and meditating." (24)

This is where Falconi stops. Let us notice that he leaves out any mention of the soul remaining in rest and quietude, and even more revealing is that he stops just before this striking passage: "They must be content simply with a loving and peaceful attentiveness to God, and live without the concern, without the effort, and without the desire to taste or feel Him. All these desires disquiet the soul and distract it from the peaceful quiet and sweet idleness of the contemplation which is being communicated to it." Immediately after this passage Falconi takes up St. John's text again and stays fairly close to it. Then he goes on and says that St. John is saying this same thing in all the other chapters of the Dark Night, namely, when souls have arrived at contemplation they have to keep themselves in this general loving knowledge of lively faith, although secret and obscure, which appears to be idleness. (25)

It is important that we are very clear about what Falconi is doing. In place of infused contemplation he places an active exercise of faith in God’s presence, and once he makes this enormous change, all the rest of his doctrine on contemplation falls into place. So he goes on and asserts that everyone who has been exercised in meditation ought to go on to contemplation because contemplation, for him, is a simple view of lively faith that has nothing to do with meditation or reflection, and so if we exercise faith we are in contemplation. It also follows clearly that this practice of the presence of God, "averting with faith that He is present, is something common for all even if they are unlearned." (26)

The objection that people who pray in this fashion are idle is dismissed by Falconi, for just as when we have our eyes open, we have to see something, any adult must understand something with the intellect. So if we put ourselves before God and empty our minds of all creatures and try to be in His presence, then since the mind is empty of creatures it has to be in some way filled with God, since it is not possible to have a vacuum. It is clear here that Falconi is again taking up a thought found in John of the Cross in the Chapter 15 of the Ascent of Mt. Carmel. But while St. John is talking about the contemplative experience filling the soul, Falconi has confused this experience with his practice of faith as if the elimination of all discursive activity really means that faith is left when, in fact, there is a good possibility that nothing is left at all.

For Falconi, if we put ourselves in the presence of God by faith and have the intent to love Him, this intent will endure until we revoke it, and therefore it would be wrong for anyone to say that we are being idle. It is also equally wrong, according to Falconi, to imagine that this kind of contemplation is not for everyone. He writes that this is the opinion of Padre Fray Juan de la Cruz who teaches that all the souls, having passed the stage of beginners in meditation, have to pass right away to this prayer of pure faith and contemplation. (27) There is very little give in Falconi. He is convinced not only about the nature of this contemplation, but how universally everyone is called to it. "In short, I say, that either this prayer and road is good and true, or it is not; if it is not, it should not be taught to anyone; but if it is, why not teach it to everyone?" (28)

The dangers in Falconi’s teaching should now be evident. He misunderstands the nature of contemplation and compounds his error by applying ideas about passivity that strictly belong only to infused contemplation to his practice of faith. We can put ourselves in the presence of God by making acts of faith, but this is an active form of praying, and part of what St. John would call meditation. But Falconi separates it from discourse and meditation, so he not only misunderstands infused contemplation, but makes it more difficult for people to go ahead and actively pray. He is attempting to find a third alternative between actively exercising the faculties and passively receiving with these faculties, and according to John of the Cross, there is none.

This is the doctrine that Falconi, according to his own admission, taught to "many in Madrid." (29) The doctrine of these two letters was expanded in his Camino derecho para el cielo. And again he draws on John of the Cross on the transition from meditation to contemplation: "And so I repeat this rule, that from the day when thou canst no longer meditate or reason, but canst remain in the presence of Christ our Redeemer, – though thou be besieged by thoughts and oppressed by dryness – from that day continue thy prayer after this manner; for thy very perseverance in faith, through dryness, is the sign that God has given thee a gift for contemplation, and desires to lead thee out of meditation, since thou art ready to go." (30)

In his Camino derecho Falconi mentions Quiroga’s recently republished life of John of the Cross which had been issued in 1632. So the date for the Camino can be put somewhere around 1632-1633. (31) And what is the advice that Falconi derives from Quiroga, and through Quiroga, he believes, from John of the Cross? If someone has difficulty in remaining without discourse in this simple knowledge of faith, they have to struggle "to persevere in that pure faith without meditating or discoursing." (32)

Under the heading of "how easy is contemplation" he writes, "Contemplation consists in nothing more than making an act of faith, and any Christian will be able to remain for an hour making an act of faith… without meditating on aught." (33) In another place he says, "For the soul to be in true prayer all the time… there is no need for it to be all the time attentive to God nor to be thinking upon Him." (34)

For Falconi this is an active contemplation, not an infused one, and it works no longer by repeated acts, but by simple apprehension. And from this contemplation, which contains something of the senses, " may rise to another, which is purer, and which can hardly be said to be felt or experienced at all." (35) This, too, is an echo of John of the Cross, but it again misunderstands what St. John is saying about infused contemplation and applies it to acquired contemplation. E. Allison Peers, who devoted considerable energy to Falconi’s story and doctrine and whom I have been following here, and who can hardly be said to be a foe of acquired contemplation, finds Falconi’s works to have deviated from the path of true mysticism. (36) "It is this contemplation, which he substitutes for the whole extent of mystic experience higher than meditation, for all St. Teresa’s inner mansions and the higher slopes of St. John of the Cross’ Mt. Carmel, and apparently it gives him perfect and complete satisfaction." (37)

It is interesting to note, however, that Elías Gómez, a modern member of Falconi’s Order of Mercy, and a leading expert on Falconi’s work, could find nothing wrong in Falconi’s writings, and could not understand how Peers could come to such an opinion. (38) Gómez, in defending Falconi, makes use of an interesting distinction between direct knowledge and reflective knowledge when a person prays. This reflective knowledge, according to Gómez, is not necessary for prayer and, indeed, breaks the thread of prayer, and he supports this point of view by citing Jacques and Raissa Maritain to the effect that it is necessary to flee from the reflexive spirit and take into account what St. Anthony, the desert father, meant when he said there is no perfect prayer if the person praying is aware of praying. This is an issue that we will come back to when we look at the work of Jacques and Raissa Maritain.

Falconi’s letters and his Camino derecho were to have repercussions that their author could not have foreseen. Falconi died in 1638, and his Carta a hija espiritual saw one edition in Spanish, which appeared in Madrid in 1657, but it fell afoul of the Inquisition and was withdrawn. But it had a more extensive life abroad. It was printed in Italian in a translation by Nicholas Balducci in 1667. Balducci was a member of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri and a friend of his fellow Oratorian, Cardinal Pietro Petrucci. Balducci also translated Falconi’s Carta a un religioso, which appeared in 1674. The Camino derecho is known now by a single manuscript BNM ms. 7038. It wasn’t published until 1783 in Madrid, and then finally in a modern edition by Elías Gómez in 1960. But it may have led a subterranean life as a manuscript. After Falconi’s death, it might have been kept as a relic and did not surface again until the 1660s when it was examined, probably in preparation for being printed, by the Franciscans and Carmelites of Salamanca. The Carmelites who reviewed it were Antonio de Santa María, Andrés de la Madre de Dios, Alonso de la Madre de Dios, and Nicolas de Jesús María, who appears to be Nicolás de Jesús María Centurión whom we have met before penning his defense for the second edition of St. John’s writings. (39)

Just as Falconi’s two letters had made their way to Rome, - his Letter to a Religious in manuscript because it had never been published in Spain - so did in some fashion a manuscript of the Camino derecho, and it ended up in the hands of Miguel Molinos.

Where did Falconi get his doctrine? Gómez points to two proximate sources: Melchor Rodríguez de Torres in his Agricultura del alma, published in Burgos in 1603, and Mateo de Villarroel who wrote Reglas muy importantes para en exercicio de la frecuente oración, published in Madrid in 1630 with an approbation of Falconi but written earlier, and made use of by Rojas in his defense, as we saw. (40) Falconi also knew, beyond John and Teresa and Quiroga, Gracián and the Carmelites of the regular observance, Miguel de la Fuente and Juan Sanz.

Francisco Pizaño de León

Francisco Pizaño de León belonged to the Order of Mercy and was one of the chief disciples of Juan Falconi. He was also the author of a book published in Madrid in 1649 called Compendium totius mysticae theologiae ex doctrina sanctorum patrum ex parte concinnatum. Two years later its author was dead, and the book was not to be found. (41)

Pizaño expounded on the acquired contemplation of his master Falconi, and goes on to treat infused contemplation, as well. He calls acquired contemplation a "noticia intuitiva dei ac divinorum affectuosa, humano labore et industria comparata," that is, an intuitive and affective notice of God in divine things acquired by human labor and industry. (42) This definition is quite close to Tomás’ own definition of acquired contemplation, which is "suma deitatis adque effectum ejus affectuosa et sincere cognitio nostra industria comparata." (43) Elsewhere Pizaño describes two kinds of contemplation, one which proceeds by the way of oars, or our proper industry, and the other, which is infused, which makes use of oars and sails. (44) This, too, echoes Tomás. (45)

Are we now so sensitized to the influence of Tomás de Jesús that our imaginations are overheating and we are seeing his influence everywhere? We have already seen some links that connect the Carmelites and the Mercederians, so it is not surprising that Pizaño, himself, was in close relationship with the Carmelites. But there is much more solid evidence than that to show the influence of Tomás de Jesús on Pizaño’s work. Both José del Espíritu Santo of Portugal in his Cadena mística and his counterpart, José del Espíritu Santo, el Andaluz, in his famous Cursus theologiae mistico-scholasticae mention but don’t name someone who borrowed from Tomás’ De contemplatione divina. In 1931 Anastasio a S. Paulo, in a new edition of the Cursus, finally tells us the culprit was Pizaño. (46)

But did Pizaño simply borrow from the printed edition of De contemplatione divina? Perhaps. But it would be interesting to compare his book with the published texts of Tomás’ and see if all his borrowings, both about infused and acquired contemplation, can be accounted for in this way. Perhaps he knew something of Tomás in manuscript, and it is even a remote possibility that he could be working from something like the lost second part of Tomás’ El Camino espiritual.

Juan de Lazcano

Juan Arintero, the Spanish Dominican scholar who was credited with helping to lead the revival of mystical studies in Spain at the beginning of the 20th century, felt that his fellow Dominican, Juan de Lazcano, was one of the first to speak out against the new type of contemplative prayer in his 1628 Oración y meditación dedicated to St. Teresa. (47) Each day many books on prayer are being written, Padre Lazcano tells us, but they forget the traditional ways. Some instruct people to suspend discourse, and others that it is only with acts of faith that they should love God without discourse and the consideration of creatures. St. Thomas, however, teaches us that to work without discourse is proper to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. People end up thinking that they can erroneously suspend discursive activity, and that prayer without discourse is a very great thing, and they have a prayer of union, or quietude. It appears that Padre Lazcano would have found good company with Agustín de San José and Juan de Santo Tomás in objecting to the works of Rojas and Falconi.



  1. Eulogio Pacho, "San Juan de la Cruz y Juan de Santo Tomás..." See also Elías Gómez, Fr. Juan Falconi... p. 301.
  2. HCD, X, p. 589ff.
  3. Eulogio Pacho, "San Juan de la Cruz y Juan de Santo Tomás..." p. 359.
  4. Ibid., p. 379.
  5. A copy is in the Hispanic Society in New York. The Hispanic Society has a small collection of Carmelite manuscripts: a Miscellánea of the Discalced Sisters of Avila which includes St. John’s poem, Entréme dónde no supe, and a thirty-nine verse copy of the Spiritual Canticle without attribution; a Formulario monástico of Manuel de Santa María del Carmen; a compilation of spiritual quotations by Pedro Maldonado including a section of Gracián’s Anastasio, and poems by Juan de Jesús María with the dates given as 1560-1632; These dates don’t fit any of the three Juan de Jesús Marías we have met: Aravalles, 1549-1609, el Calagurritano, 1564-1615, or Robles, 1566-1644; a Persecución injusta que los PP. Carmelitas hicieron al P. Gracián.
  6. Chapter XIII, p. 102.
  7. Eulogio Pacho, "San Juan de la Cruz y Juan de Santo Tomás..." p. 383.
  8. Ibid., p. 385.
  9. See my St. John of the Cross and Dr. C.G. Jung, pp. 96-98, and the extensive studies of Knowles, Gaffney, Low, and especially McCann.
  10. Justin McCann. Memorias, p. 214.
  11. Ibid., p. 127.
  12. Augustine Baker, Holy Wisdom, p. 358.
  13. Ibid., p. 357, note.
  14. Paul Harris, John Main..., p. 69.
  15. E.A. Peers, Studies of the Spanish Mystics, Vol. II, p. 275.
  16. Ibid., p. 281.
  17. Ibid., p. 282.
  18. Ibid., p. 283.
  19. Elías Gómez, Dos Cartas..., p. 107.
  20. Juan Falconi cites Quiroga’s Historia de la vida twice in his Camino derecho, and twice in his Carta a un religioso. In the latter these citations serve him well because he is trying to refute the objections of the Discalced Carmelite Agustín de San José, and what better way to do it than to cite another Carmelite, not to mention John of the Cross, himself. In No. 2 of this letter he cites no. 67 in Quiroga’s table of places (Dos Cartas, p. 81) in which Quiroga tries to make a case about the relatively small amount of time that it is necessary for someone to become prepared for contemplation. (Historia de la vida, p. 582). Quiroga touches on some of the same themes in this life of St. John that we saw in some of his other writings, and so Falconi and Rojas could be assured by it that they were following Carmelite doctrine, and even the doctrine of John of the Cross, himself. (Cf. Historia de la vida, p. 188ff.)
  21. Elías Gómez, Dos Cartas..., p. 82.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Ibid., p. 83.
  24. Dark Night, 1, 10, 4. K. p. 317.
  25. Elías Gómez, Dos Cartas..., p. 84.
  26. Ibid., p. 88.
  27. Ibid., p. 99.
  28. Ibid., p. 104.
  29. E.A. Peers, Studies of the Spanish Mystics, Vol. II, p. 286.
  30. Ibid., p. 291.
  31. Juan Falconi, Camino Derecho..., p. 87, note 1.
  32. Ibid., p. 88.
  33. E.A. Peers, Studies of the Spanish Mystics, Vol. II, p. 292.
  34. Ibid., p. 296.
  35. Ibid., p. 301.
  36. Ibid., p. 284.
  37. Ibid., p. 286.
  38. Elías Gómez, Dos Cartas..., p. 29.
  39. Juan Falconi, Camino Derecho, p. 14, while the article on Nicolás de Jesús María in the DS has him dying in 1655.
  40. Ibid., p. 42.
  41. Elías Gómez, Fr. Juan Falconi... p. 129.
  42. Ibid., p. 305.
  43. De contemplatione acquisita, p. 76.
  44. Melquiades Andrés Martín, Los Recogidos, p. 560.
  45. E.A. Peers, Studies of the Spanish Mystics, Vol. II, p. 238.
  46. Simeón de la Sagrada Familia, "La Obra Fundamental..." p. 499.
  47. Juan Arintero, La verdadera mística tradicional, pp. 258-260.



Part II, Section 3