From St. John of the Cross to Us

Part II, Section 3:

CHAPTER 10: 1675



We have entered deeply now into the world of 17th century Spanish contemplative spirituality where acquired contemplation mixed with genuine mystical experience, and many of the people interested in these things knew each other in one fashion or another. Let’s learn some more about this world, for it will prepare us to understand its collapse in a catastrophe that was to effect Christian mysticism for centuries.

We should take Tomás de Jesús’ words about seeking out contemplatives both within and outside the Order quite literally. A Tomás de Jesús, for example, appears briefly in the autobiography of Sr. María Vela, a visionary of Avila, who consulted him about her spiritual life when he came to town. (1) Is it our Tomás?

The Sobrino Family

Rather more is known about his relationship with the Discalced sister Cecilia del Nacimiento Sobrino (1570-1646) who wrote extensively about the spiritual life basing it, it appears, on her own experience. One poem, Aquella niebla obscura, written after the model of John of the Cross’ own poetry, was composed around 1600 and it was Tomás de Jesús, sometime between 1600-1604, who asked her to write a commentary on it. The result was her Transformation of the Soul in God, which was also written in the style of John of the Cross. This poem appears to have circulated quite widely. It appears, for example, without attribution in ms. 1114 of the University of Barcelona, and elsewhere it is attributed to John of the Cross and even to Juan de Palafox. (2) Cecilia del Nacimiento wrote a commentary on the Dark Night, while Quiroga commented on her poem, (3) as did the Carmelite Antonio de San Bartolomé who left the Order to become the Corrector of the Minims in Madrid in 1631. (4) This kind of commenting seems at times to be almost a cross between a pious exercise and spiritual recreation, and we will see another example of it in the work of Agustín Antolínez.

The Sobrino family was a mainstay of the Carmelite Order. Cecilia’s sister was her companion in the Order under the name of María de San Alberto, and at least two of her brothers were Discalced Carmelites, including Diego de San José (1559-1623) who helped Tomás found Las Batuecas. Cecilia, in fact, was also to write a poem about that desert monastery.

We met another of her brothers, Antonio, (1554-1622) before, seconding the efforts of Gracián and Tomás de Jesús against the perfectionists in Flanders. Earlier, we find him writing to Cecilia on July 3, 1605, thanking her for sharing with him an account of her spiritual life, which may have been the commentary commissioned by Tomás. (5) Antonio also annotated a collection of short spiritual treatises, BNM ms. 12408, which included a poem of a Discalced Carmelite sister.

By 1597 Antonio was living in Valencia where he was to hold various positions of authority in the Franciscan province of San Juan Baptista until his death in 1622. He was esteemed for his holy life and wrote many works, most of which have remained in manuscript. His De la vida espiritual y perfección cristiana, which appeared in Valencia in 1612, devotes its latter chapters to refuting the errors of the perfectionists and its beginning ones to a description of the mystical life, which is quite unremarkable and, indeed, rather well put at times, and a cursory examination of it shows no hint of Tomás’ acquired contemplation. The book, however, was withdrawn by the Inquisition in 1618, apparently because of his connection with Francisco Simó. (6)

Among Sobrino’s manuscripts is a three-volume Tesoros de Dios revelados a la V.M. Francisca López. Francisca López was one of the many holy women, or beatas, of the time who, while not nuns, gave themselves over to spiritual exercises. She was closely associated in Valencia with the parish priest, Francisco Jerónimo Simó whose position at the Church of San Andrés Miguel Molinos was later to fill, and whose cause for beatification was one of the principle reasons why Molinos originally traveled to Rome. Simó’s death in 1612 was met with great spiritual tumult as various religious guilds poured out into the streets of the city and outdid each other in homage. (7)

Juan Sanz

Sobrino was also acquainted with the Calced Carmelite Juan Sanz (1557-1601?) and with Juan Falconi. Gracián, himself, had spent time in Valencia around November 1604 as a visitor to the Discalced Augustinian sisters, a post in which Sanz was to follow him, and with whom he was acquainted. (8) Sanz had derived part of the spiritual doctrine from the teaching on affective prayer of the Jesuit Antonio Cordeses (1518-1601), and Sanz, in his turn, by means of a letter to Sor Elvira Corella de Mendoza, was to influence Juan Falconi’s Camino derecho. Juan Falconi had studied theology in Valencia at San Juan de la Ribera, and it was in Valencia in 1660 that Falconi’s works were printed without the Camino derecho. Sanz’s letter to Sor Elvira was probably written towards the end of his life, and it can be understood, and was probably meant to be understood by its author, as a description of how affective prayer, or what Sanz calls aspirations, can become infused prayer, or what he calls affective repose, and then suspense. In short, it can be read as an affective version of St. John’s transition from meditation to contemplation, but precisely for that reason it could be misunderstood by someone like Falconi as another description of acquired contemplation, especially since Sanz talks of the lack for need of discourse and reflection, the uninterruptedness of these advanced affective acts, how misinformed people call them ocio or idleness, etc. (9)

Miguel de la Fuente

Juan Sanz also influenced his brother in religion, Miguel de la Fuente (1573-1625) who is best known for his Las tres vidas del hombre corporal, racional y espiritual, which appeared in 1623. But what interests us here is his Ejercicios de oración mental, published as an appendix to his 1615 Regla y modo de vida de los terceros y beatas de Nuestra Señora del Carmen. De la Fuente makes use of Sanz’s three levels of affective prayer, as well as describing various grades of recollection, and what was just said of Sanz could be said of him, as well, that is, that he produced an orthodox presentation of the transition from ordinary prayer to infused contemplation, but this time there is a hint of the influence of John of the Cross: "When the soul is recollected and feels God within itself, the first thing it has to do without force or noise, but gently, is to cut the threads of discourse of the understanding and remain with only a general knowledge of God, infinite, incomprehensible whom it knows by faith (sola una noticia general de Dios) who is interiorly working in the depths of the soul…" (10) But this expression can easily be shifted into the world of acquired contemplation.

Esteban de San José and Agustín Antolínez

We have already met the Discalced Carmelite Esteban de San José in various places, for example, when he was helping Tomás de Jesús write down his Tratado de oración y contemplación. He had eventually served as the General of the Order from 1631 to 1636, and at the end of that period we find him spreading about the commentaries that Agustín Antolínez had written on the poems of John of the Cross. He gave them, for example, to a Calced Carmelite of Tudela who, in turn, wrote a preface to them in which he praises them as explaining these poems more clearly than the commentaries of John of the Cross, and in easier terms, and went so far as to alter the language of the poems to avoid offending pious ears. Surprisingly, he seems to have no knowledge that John of the Cross had, himself, published a commentary on the Spiritual Canticle. These commentaries have been dated to the mid 1620s, and they, indeed, appear as simple sermon-like reflections on St. John’s poems without the depth of St. John’s own commentaries. (11)

Esteban had also lent a copy of these same commentaries to Juan de Palafox. In 1634 Esteban wrote a pastoral letter to the Carmelites urging them to have in their libraries not only books about the practice of prayer, but about its theory, as well. Would he have had in mind some of the works of his old teacher, Tomás de Jesús? (12) And sometime before 1633 he asks Cecilia del Nacimiento to rewrite her commentary on her poem, Aquella niebla oscura because the one she had written at Tomás de Jesús’ request had disappeared.

Juan de Palafox, Juan de Jesús María, and Gregorio López

Juan de Palafox y Mendoza (1600-1659) was born out of wedlock to noble parents. When his father inherited the family title he recognized Juan while his mother became a Discalced Carmelite in Tarazona. Juan was entrusted to Diego de Yepes, the bishop of Tarazona, and went on to have a high profile priestly and political career. He went to Mexico and became the bishop of Puebla and the viceroy of New Spain. He wrote extensively, feuded with the Jesuits, and eventually fell out of favor. He entrusted his Vida interior to the Carmelites, telling them to publish it if they saw fit, which they did in 1691 at the price of having to defend it. The inventory book of the Carmelite archive has a whole section devoted to documents about the proposed beatification of Palafox.

While in Mexico Juan kept up his Carmelite ties. His confessor was Juan de Jesús María Robles or Sanlucar (1566?-1644) who had been among the first group of Carmelite missionaries to go to Mexico in 1585. (13) There Robles held many important positions and founded the desert of Santa Fe near Mexico City. He, too, wrote extensively and his massive Epistolario espiritual which consisted of letters written to people in different states of life, stretched to 844 folio pages. All, however, was not smooth sailing. His autobiography disappeared and he suspected a confrere when he found it in a sodden mass in an irrigation ditch. His Guía interior is in the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid, ms.13496, while a second part of it, ms.7037, though highly praised by Andrés de la Encarnación, probably belongs to someone else. (14)

As soon as the Carmelites arrived in Mexico City they were in close contact and spiritual consultation with Gregory López and his companion and later biographer, Francisco Losa. Gregory López (1542-1596) was a fascinating figure who had served as a page to Philip II, then went on pilgrimage and was inspired to go to Mexico where he arrived in 1562. He gave all that he had to the poor and settled as a hermit in the valley of Amayac near Zacatecas. He became suspect for failing to have either a rosary or pious image in his hut, but he was given over to prayer and contemplation and later, although he was not a priest, he became a spiritual director. He wrote a commentary on the Apocalypse, a book on medicinal herbs, and according to Andrés de la Encarnación a study of the mystical theology of Dionysius. (15) When his biography appeared in 1613 it described his life of prayer and became a favorite of some people like Falconi who were to later be accused of Quietism.

Gabriel López Navarro

In 1641, in Madrid, we find Gabriel López Navarro publishing his Theologia mística unión y junta perfecta de la alma con Dios en este destierro por medio de la oración de contemplación en vista sencilla de fe recogida de la divina escritura padres de la iglesia y doctores místicos. The phrase "en vista sencilla de fe," in the simple light of faith, is now enough to alert us that López Navarro has placed himself within the tradition of acquired contemplation. And so it comes as no real surprise that he calls his fourth chapter of the seventh treatise: "There are two kinds of contemplative prayer in the divine light of faith. One is exercised by our connatural human mode of working, the other supernaturally, the one acquired or active, the other infused or passive." We met López Navarro before writing an approbation of Juan Bretón’s book, as well as censoring Rojas’. How he reconciled these two deeds is unknown.

Gerardo de San Juan de la Cruz, editor of the modern Toledo edition of St. John’s works, accuses López Navarro of borrowing heavily from Quiroga, just as he accused Bretón of borrowing from John of the Cross. López Navarro helped himself to Quiroga’s Tratado de oración y contemplación sacado de la doctrina de la bienaventurada Madre Teresa y del Venerable Padre Fray Juan de la Cruz. This book of Quiroga is known only by a single fragmentary manuscript in the possession of the Discalced Carmelites of Consuegra, and Padre Gerardo found that it matched certain chapters of López Navarro’s book. Indeed, he felt that almost all of López Navarro’s book came from Quiroga. And López Navarro admitted that he had borrowed from Quiroga after the book was published. (16) How did he acquire the manuscript? Perhaps through his work with the Inquisition, and since Quiroga had died out of favor in his own Order, he might have reasoned, like others before him, that he was doing the world of spirituality a favor by publishing his work. BNM ms. 8452 is an autograph of Quiroga’s Subida which served as the basis for the published version, and it also contains part of López Navarro’s Mística teología. López Navarro also quotes Tomás de Jesús and calls him "a renowned master of mystical theology" and "one of the most eminent mystics which the present age has known." And he calls the Carmelites a "school of continuous contemplation." (17)

Lopéz Navarro was a disciple of Juan Falconi and a provincial of the Order of Mercy, Jerónimo de Valderas who wrote an approbation for his book describing it as a way to go to God "by means of pure and simple faith without human discourse..." But López Navarro never cites Falconi. (18)

Carmelites in the Second Half of the 17th Century

There is no need for us to examine in any detail most of the Carmelite writers who inhabit the second half of the 17th century and inquire after their teaching on acquired contemplation. But it is worth gaining a nodding acquaintance with some of them.

There is the Frenchman, Philippe de la Sainte Trinité who went on a long missionary voyage to Persia and Goa before writing his Suma theologiae misticae, Lyon, 1656.

Sometime between 1660-1670, the Discalced Carmelite, Antonio de la Cruz, Sánchez de Pavia (1594-1670), wrote a Libro de la contemplación divina or Book of Divine Contemplation in which he wanted to explain the doctrine of John of the Cross. It was never published except for excerpts in the 20th century, and he, too, felt the need to describe two kinds of contemplation: "The one a suspense and an elevation of our mind to God in the knowledge of His greatness wherein we aid ourselves by our own efforts, guiding ourselves by faith, and aiding our love with occasional tender aspirations and loving interior words which from time to time are formed in the soul." (19)

Not to be forgotten is Francisco de la Madre de Dios and his Instruction and method for the practice of ordinary and extraordinary exercises very useful and advantageous for everyone (1666) which states that John of the Cross "taught souls to travel in a brief time to contemplation and to the most sublime perfection," and "guided souls quickly to contemplation," (20) and Antonio del Espíritu Santo with his Directorium misticum, Lyon, 1677. Then there was Antonio de la Anunciación and his Disceptatio mistica, 1686, composed by the order of the General Chapter of 1670 who somehow managed to list St. Teresa’s prayer of quiet under the heading of acquired contemplation and make infused contemplation a charismatic grace, (21) and Francisco de Santo Tomás and his Medula mística, published in Madrid in 1695 after his death, which listed a prayer of acquired quiet, and later, a higher state of acquired active union. (22) Juan de la Madre de Dios’ Brief summary of mental prayer and of the practice thereof, appeared in the 1701 edition of John of the Cross’ Spiritual Sentences and Maxims, but was written much earlier. He describes the three ways of prayer, following Tomás de Jesús, and a third stage of meditation which is a "loving and quiet attentiveness to God in order to receive His illuminations." (23)

A little more should be said of Baldassaro di Sta. Catarina di Sienna (1597-1673) who was born in Bologna, but who was sent to Rome at the beginning of his religious life where he met Tomás de Jesús who made a strong impression on him. He had a predilection for mystical theology and translated into Italian the first volume of Quiroga’s Subida which was published in Rome in 1664. He went on to write his own massive Splendori riflessi di sapienza celeste vibrati da’ gloriosi gerachi Tomaso d’Aquino e Teresa de Giesu sopra il Castello interiore e Mistico Giordino in which, as the title indicates, he comments on Teresa’s Interior Castle. He knew the work not only of Tomás and Quiroga, but Gracián, Nicolás de Jesús María, and so forth. And so it is not surprising to see him inserting in his commentary on Teresa’s work at the beginning of the fourth mansion, acquired contemplation, as taught by "Quiroga following our venerable Father Fray John of the Cross." (24) He later talked of a supereminent contemplation, and acquired contemplation makes its appearance again at the highest levels of the spiritual life, which makes us wonder how much his own conception of the mystical life he owes to Tomás de Jesús.


  1. Frances Parkinson Keyes, The Third Mystic of Avila, p. 80.
  2. Alfonso Méndez, San Juan de la Cruz..., pp. 35-38.
  3. Andrés de la Encarnación, Memorias historiales, Vol. I, p. 266.
  4. Ibid., p. 177.
  5. HCD, IX, p. 907.
  6. Álvaro Huerga, Historia... p. 353, note 23.
  7. Ramón Robres, "En torno a Miguel de Molinos..."
  8. Pablo Garrido, "Escritos espirituales del Ven. Juan Sanz," p. 140.
  9. Ibid., p. 187.
  10. Pablo Garrido, "Miguel de la Fuente," p. 309.
  11. Agustín Antolínez, Amores de Dios y el alma, p. L ff.
  12. Jean Krynen, Le Cantique Spirituel..." p. 335, note 1.
  13. St. John of the Cross in Baja California? No. But John came close to going to Mexico, and the Carmelites in Mexico came close to going to Baja California. (Dionisio Victoria Moreno, Los Carmelitas Descalzos... p. 265.) And I like to think that John would have enjoyed that rugged, rocky land.
  14. Juan de Jesús María Robles, DS, 282: Andrés de la Encarnación, Memorias historiales, Vol. II, p. 310
  15. Ibid., p. 308.
  16. Gerardo de San Juan de la Cruz, Obras de San Juan de la Cruz, Vol. I, p. xlix.
  17. E.A. Peers, Studies of the Spanish Mystics, Vol. III, p. 124. Ms. 8273 of the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid, which we have already met before because it contains a copy of the first part of Tomás’ Tratado de oración y contemplación, contains, as well, Quiroga’s Don que tuvo, and in the back of this manuscript someone has copied the part of John of the Cross’ Living Flame of Love that deals with the transition from meditation to contemplation, and at the end of this copy is a half page of notes in which he cites López Navarro’s Mística theologia, treatises 1, Chapter 4. And he cites Thomas Aquinas. Part of the text of this note reads: "Souls do not feel the interior effects of the divine influence for lack of disposition to receive them… Other times it is not perceived because it only acts in the essence of the soul without touching its powers or reverberating in the sensitive part." (Folio 157v) This is just another little indication of the mixture of acquired and infused contemplation to be found in these times.
  18. Elías Gómez, Fr. Juan Falconi... p. 134. Andrés de la Encarnación in his Memorias historiales (Vol. II, p. 318) describes as "long and erudite" a defense of "the letter of Falconi which has been withdrawn" by Mercedarian Jerónimo Rodríguez Valderas, who had gone on to become the Bishop of Badajoz and Jaen, and whose life and heroic virtues were described by the Carmelite Juan de San José. Is this the same Valderas?
  19. E.A. Peers, Studies of the Spanish Mystics, Vol. III, p. 41. Alberto de la V.C., "Antonio de la Cruz"
  20. E.A. Peers, Studies of the Spanish Mystics, Vol. III, p. 73.
  21. Ibid., p. 76.
  22. Ibid., pp. 78-79.
  23. Ibid., pp. 44ff.
  24. Balthazar de Sainte-Catherine de Sienne, DS, 1213.





1675 was the year John of the Cross was beatified, and the cause for the beatification of Gregorio López introduced, and there were four publishing events that mark it as a high point in the diffusion of the idea of acquired contemplation. We have already seen one of them. In Brussels, a French translation of Tomás de Jesús’ Tratado de oración y contemplación, according to the manuscript of the first part of the Camino espiritual, appeared under the auspices of the Discalced Carmelites.

Pablo Ezquerra

The second event appears at first glance to have no connection with the first. In Zaragoza, a Carmelite of the Regular Observance, Pablo Ezquerra, (1626-1696) published a book called Escuela de perfección. Ezquerra served as a novice master in Zaragoza for more than 30 years, and his book consisted of two parts, the first of which was a general manual of the spiritual life, and the second was devoted to Carmelite novices.

E. Allison Peers in his Studies of the Spanish Mystics devotes less than a page to it and its author, and we would think the whole affair of slight moment for our enterprise except for two things. First of all, Peers tells us that the School of Perfection’s divisions of the three ways of the spiritual life are reminiscent of Tomás de Jesús. Then he goes on and leaves an intriguing footnote: "The late P. Vicente de Peralta (Estudios Franciscanos 1920, XXIV, 285-286) remarks that Ezquerra "según aparece gozó de mucha fama en nombre de excelente místico en su tiempo (he apparently enjoyed in his time great fame as a mystic)," and he goes on to discuss a work of his called Camino de la vida espiritual. He says that "the whole of this work is taken literally from P. Alvarado" who, as he aptly adds, "podía convertirse de acusado en acusador, de reo en juez (could be changed from the accused to the accuser and from the guilty party to the judge.") As I have found no trace of this work in any library or catalogue, and no other reference to it, I think he may be referring to the Escuela de Perfección, but in that case he certainly exaggerates." (1)

Peralta is referring to the controversy that took place early in the 20th century over whether Alvarado was the original author of the Tratado breve or not, and Peer’s footnote contains five points:

  1. Ezquerra, according to Peralta, wrote a book called Camino de la vida espiritual.
  2. This book, again according to Peralta, was taken literally from Alvarado.
  3. Peers – who had an intimate acquaintance with the works of the 17th century mystics – could not find it.
  4. He thinks that Peralta is perhaps referring to the Escuela de perfección.
  5. But if he is, then he is exaggerating.


Let’s look at points two and five first. When we look at Ezquerra’s Escuela we find that it does, indeed, contain the Tratado breve, much like the Tratado appeared in Alvarado. So Ezquerra did take it either from Alvarado’s book or from a manuscript that contained that version of the Tratado. Peralta is not exaggerating. But is Peers correct when he thinks Peralta is referring to the Escuela, but mistakenly calls it the Camino de la vida espiritual? This brings us to point one.

We might be inclined to think that Peralta is, indeed, mistaken, but the very name he gives the unknown book or manuscript, Camino de la vida espiritual, makes us think of Tomás’ Camino espiritual. Is this simply a coincidence? Before we decide, it is worth going to Peralta’s original article and read his remarks about Ezquerra:

"...P. Pablo Ezquerra, Carmelite, master of novices in Zaragoza. His Teología mística, Camino de la vida espiritual, is very praised by the censors, and accordingly, he apparently enjoyed in his time great fame as a mystic. We have made a comparative study of his work with that of P. Antonio Alvarado, Benedictine, and what we found causes us true wonder and even astonishment. To say that the whole work is taken literally from that of Alvarado with some difference in the order and the disposition of the matter and chapters would not be to exaggerate. We haven’t seen such a lack of scruple in Planes or in Bretón or in Navarro because they appropriated the unedited or manuscript and P. Ezquerra the printed and reprinted. P. Alvarado could be changed from the accused to the accuser, and from the guilty party to the judge." (2) Peralta goes on to locate Ezquerra in the 18th century, which looks like a simple mistake.

What this adds to our knowledge is that, according to Peralta, Ezquerra wrote a Teología mística, Camino de la vida espiritual, which was praised by the censors. Does this mean that since it had the approbations of the censors Peralta was looking at a published book, or was he looking at a manuscript which was simply ready to be printed, and thus had the necessary approvals? We would imagine that it is a published book. Otherwise, Peralta would have told us. But the only book of Ezquerra that we know of that contains the Tratado breve is his Escuela de perfección.

Is Peralta mistaken after all – and here we come to points one and four – and by a slip of the pen wrote Camino de la vida espiritual in place of Escuela de perfección? The modern editor of Peralta’s Escuela, however, Rafael María López-Melús, O.Carm., tells us that Ezquerra did write a tratado completo de la teología mística:

"We have news of this treatise," he tells us, "only by way of Latassa. But he (Latassa) adds "...that it remained in the Library of the Novitiate of that monastery in whose door under a portrait is found the most complete eulogy of the merits of this author." (Biblioteca Antigua y Nueva, pp. 470-471.)

"We find it very strange that his beloved disciple, P. Blasco, would have deprived us of a notice that we would have been so grateful for. We have inquired about the possible location of this manuscript and we have been told: "Actually the location of this manuscript is unknown, for no catalogue of manuscripts talks of it. Perhaps Latassa took his reference from the index of the Library of Carmen whose manuscripts for the most part later perished." (Simeón María Serrano, O.Carm., investigator of the Archives and Libraries.)" (3)

This part of the trail seems to have gone cold unless some enterprising researcher could find some more information or the manuscript, itself, in some archive. Or unless Vicente de Peralta, O.M. Cap., left more information about this matter either in another of his published works or among his papers.

But what about point three, that is, the fact Peers could not find a work with the title Camino de la vida espiritual? In the Library of the University of Barcelona there is a manuscript called Camino de la vida espiritual, ms. 522, but since this part of the catalog was not published until 1958 and Peers died in 1952, he could not have known about it through this source. (4) The catalog describes the manuscript as having been written by a Benedictine abbot – making us think of Alvarado – and as divided into a Prologue and six books that treat of mortification, prayer in common, natural prayer, supernatural prayer which is contemplation and mystical theology, and the three ways. Unfortunately, the title page is missing, and so we don’t know its author. But the title, itself, is on the cover of the book. Further, the manuscript is listed as originating in the 18th century.

Could this manuscript have any connection with Ezquerra and the Tratado breve? Working from only a copy of the Prologue and the Table of Contents, the manuscript does not seem to contain the Tratado breve, but still, some of the chapter titles are suggestive, as we will see in a moment. The author in his Prologue mentions "masters of the spiritual life old and new," and authors from whom he is taking his teachings for the benefit of beginners and novices, and he lists among these sources: B.P. Ignacio de Loyola, Fray Luis de Granada, Fray Alonzo de Madrid, Subida del Monte Sion, Fray García de Cisneros, M(aestro) Diego Pérez, Fray Jerónimo Gracián, Humberto, P. Arias y la Santa Madre B. Teresa de Jesús.

The heading for Book IV, Chapter VII, reads: "Whether a man by his efforts can arrive at some grade of contemplation." Chapter VIII is called: "Concerning mystical theology." And Chapter IX: "Concerning intellectual contemplation." These titles are sufficiently intriguing so that it would be worthwhile to examine the whole manuscript in detail to see what sources the author uses.

What remains of this mystery until new information is turned up is whether Ezquerra was copying the Tratado breve from Alvarado’s book, or had he come across a manuscript of the Tratado breve, perhaps in the dust of the novitiate library in Zaragoza, the very town that Tomás de Jesús had fled from Spain so many years before. It appears that he is using or creating an abridged version of Alvarado’s Tratado breve that includes Book II, Chapter XXXVIII, and even before that. But apart from some mentions of Blessed John of the Cross put into the text to commemorate his beatification, it is an open question as to whether he was copying the book or some other manuscript.

In any event, just as Alvarado’s works were required reading among the Benedictine novices, Ezquerra’s were circulated far beyond Zaragoza, for we see him writing to Rome to his brother in religion, Luis Pérez de Castro in 1676, describing how he has sent copies of the book to Calced novice masters all over Spain. (5)

Antonio Panes

The third publishing event of 1675 was the appearance in Valencia of Antonio Panes’ La Escala mística y estimulo de amor divino. Panes was a Discalced Franciscan of the Province of San Juan Bautista in Valencia, a chronicler of its history that appeared in two volumes in 1665-66, and a novice master at San Juan de la Ribera in 1666. He also wrote an unpublished work on Francisco Jerónimo Simó. This puts him squarely in the current of spirituality in Valencia that we have already touched upon with Antonio Sobrino, and we will see again with Molinos.

It also makes us curious about his Escala mística. Will it be a work of acquired contemplation that is somehow connected with the Carmelite current that we are tracing? The book is rather rare, so when Ramón Robres Lluch, the historian of the spirituality of Valencia in the 17th century, came across a copy of it in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, he thought it might have been recalled by the Inquisition, and this idea was reinforced by the fact that the copy he did come across had been in the possession of the Holy Office, and came with an inscription written by someone, perhaps Panes himself, to no one less than Miguel Molinos. (6) But Robles had not found it in the Index of forbidden books, and it is not likely that it was ever there because it was published again in 1743 in Valencia with the approval of the Order, and with a dedication to the City of Granada, where Panes apparently had been born and grew up, by Gil Fabuel. Panes, however, died in 1676 before the turmoil surrounding Molinos began.

Melquiades Andrés Martín places this work in the general current of recollection, wide-spread in those days, especially in Valencia. (7) In his prologue Panes tells us that his book is divided into two parts: the Escala mística, and the poetry that comes under the heading of Estímulo de amor divino. It is the first part that interests us, and here he goes on to say – as so many did before him – it is not discourse and meditation he wants to speak about because there are many books about that, but rather, about how the soul has to exercise its powers and about the most difficult and delicate points of mystical theology, but in a way that would be succinct and clear to all those using the saints and the great doctors like St. Dionysius, St. Thomas, St. Bonaventure, etc.

At first glance the book appears quite inoffensive. But there are certain places that catch our attention. Chapter 4, for example, is called "Prayer is divided into three ways: and concerning the mode of knowing God affirmatively and negatively." After describing these three ways Panes tells us: "In order to arrive, then, at this happy end of the soul going up to the knowledge of God with natural light and industry aided by faith, they indicate two modes. The first they call affirmative: it is when some perfection or attribute is affirmed, which can be attributed to God like His goodness, His beauty, His wisdom or power… They call the second mode negative because it considers God as a being above every being." (8) Panes goes on to link the affirmative mode with meditation. But meditation is limited because it uses images, and therefore it is necessary to somehow get below this gross and material surface to a deeper level. We must reach a universal concept of the truths known, and in this way the understanding is placed in a passive disposition, which is the aptitude to receive divine light. Just how this negative way can be reconciled to the fact that at the beginning of the chapter Panes seems to be indicating that these two ways proceed from our natural light and industry remains unclear. All this reminds us of the Tratado breve, but this kind of language stemming from a sort of commentary on Dionysius and St. Thomas appears very wide-spread, and is not really the issue. What concerns us is when it is used as a way to understand John of the Cross, and so replaces his infused contemplation by a philosophical sort of contemplation now described as a way to go to God.

In Chapter 5 Panes tells us that there is a much more excellent way which does not make use of discourse and natural light. It is a knowledge exercised by unknowing, and without affirming or denying, which gives firm assent to the truth, an assent without change or transformation. This is contemplation which, according to St. Thomas, is a simple view of the eternal truth. Then Panes describes a transcendent act of faith beyond any image or natural mode of understanding by which we enter simply and blindly into the divine darkness by the divine obscurity of living faith. In describing it this way Panes leaves us with the impression that we have left all human activity behind. We should not strive to perceive God or taste Him (percibirle y gustarle), (9) for that would indicate we are not working with pure and denuded faith.

In Chapter 10 Panes contrasts universal acts to particular acts, and goes on to make a distinction, as well, between interrupted and continual acts. Naturally, it is towards the universal and continual acts that we ought to tend. "To exercise ourselves, then, in the active mode is when, with the acts of our natural virtue, aided by the common help of grace, we move to the knowledge and love of God. To exercise ourselves in a passive mode is when, with simple attention and a universal act in the light of faith… we dispose ourselves and adapt ourselves in order to receive the divine influence." (10) All this might be understood as a perfectly orthodox, yet perhaps fuzzy, exposition of the life of prayer, but there are enough points to give us pause, and if Juan de Santo Tomás had read this book, he would probably have raised some of the same objections against it that he raised against Rojas’ book. In just what way, he might ask, can we exercise continual and universal acts? In just what way can we abstract from the senses and imagination in this life?

Did Panes know John of the Cross? He cites him once, according to Robres, and in Chapter 8, on some dangers which present themselves in meditation, he gives a detailed analysis of the dangers of visions and revelations, and there he seems to be following the Ascent-Dark Night. He says, for example, we should not try to decide if they are good or bad, and concludes that "none of these exterior things are able to be God or His sanctifying grace." (11) This impression that he is following St. John is even stronger when Panes goes on:

"Experts lay down some signs." Later he will talk, as St. John does, of a bird held down by a delicate thread. (12)

Panes’ book, however, does not seem to have made much of an impression, and perhaps this and his death are what saved it from the holocaust of spiritual books that followed in the wake of Molinos’ condemnation. What it does do is give us one more indication of the kind of spiritual writing that abounded in those times, especially in the kinds of spiritual circles that gave birth to Miguel Molinos.

Miguel Molinos

The fourth publishing event of 1675 was to far outweigh the other three. Miguel de Molinos (1628-1696) published in Rome his Guía espiritual que desembaraza al alma y la cónduce por el interior camino para alcançar la perfecta contemplación y el rico tesoro de la interior paz, prefaced with lavish praise from various ecclesiastical authorities, including Fray Domingo de la Santíssima Trinidad, ex-general of the Discalced Carmelites, now residing in Rome at the monastery of San Pancrazio.

Molinos had spent the first part of his adult life in Valencia where we saw him before at the Church of San Andrés, the former home of Francisco Simó, and it was the duty to promote Simó’s beatification that was to bring him to Rome in 1663. Molinos was also a member of the spiritual fraternity, the Escuela de Cristo, which was connected with the fathers of the Oratory. This was an organization which, incidentally, had links with Juan de Palafox. In Rome Molinos joined the Escuela de Cristo and developed an extensive ministry of spiritual direction, and when his attempt to raise Simó to the altars failed, he stayed on. His Guía espiritual developed out of his work of spiritual direction, and such is the infamy that surrounds Molinos’ name as the chief heretic of the spiritual life that we expect his Spiritual Guide to depart markedly from the literature that precedes it. But we have only to open the book to see that it does not, for this is how the first advertencia, or admonition, at the head of Molinos’ book reads: "De dos modos se puede ir a Dios… Concerning the two ways of going to God: the first by meditation and discourse; the second by pure faith and contemplation. There are two ways to go to God: one by consideration and discourse, and the other by the purity of faith, indistinct knowledge, general and confused. The first is called meditation; the second, interior recollection or acquired contemplation." (13)

The second advertencia is called, "On what distinguishes meditation from contemplation," and the third, "On what distinguishes acquired and active contemplation from the infused and passive. And are laid down the signs by which it can be known when God desires the soul to pass from meditation to contemplation." The third advertencia begins: "There are two kinds of contemplation: one imperfect, active and acquired; the other infused and passive. The active (which has been discussed up until now) is that which can be attained with our effort aided by divine grace…" (14)

We are still very much in the world of acquired contemplation. Indeed, Molinos cites our old friend Antonio Rojas and his Vida del espíritu. (15) The signs for the passage from meditation to contemplation that Molinos gives are worth noting. The first is the inability to meditate – if it is not born of bodily indisposition, melancholy, etc. This is the sign of a true contemplative vocation when it persists for "a day, a month and many months." (16)

The second sign is that even though sensible consolation is lacking, the soul flees conversation and embraces solitude. The third sign is that the reading of spiritual books produces tedium because they don’t speak to the soul of the interior sweetness which is within it without it knowing it. The fourth sign is that even though the soul is deprived of discourse, it still finds itself with the firm resolve to persevere in prayer. In the fifth sign the soul will have self-knowledge, hate sin and esteem God.

We would have to read a great deal into the second and third signs in order to come anywhere near John’s third sign in the Ascent, which is the presence of infused contemplation. And Molinos, like his predecessors, is not talking about infused contemplation at all, but acquired contemplation.

It appears from early historical accounts that after Molinos had written a preliminary draft of his book in the form of a practice guide to contemplation, he then spent several years adding authorities to it before he allowed it to be published. (17) José Ignacio Tellechea, who published a critical edition of the Guide in 1976, presents his readers with a selection of passages that he feels that anyone acquainted with Molinos would not find strange. But they are not from Molinos at all, but from Pablo Ezquerra, and at least one of them comes from the part of Ezquerra’s Escuela de perfección where he is copying some source of the Tratado breve. (18) Tellechea also compares a passage in Molinos to one in Ezquerra, and shows how both are similar to a third in Pedro de Alcántara’s Tratado de oración y meditación. This, in turn, is not considered to be a work of Alcántara, but of Luis de Granada. (19) Molinos also makes use of the mystical theology falsely attributed to St. Bonaventure. This is a text that attracted Gracián, as we saw, and he is interested in a passage about how only a short time of meditation is necessary before beginning contemplation. But this was a passage used by Falconi and Ezquerra, as well. (20)

In short, Molinos drew on the rich theme of recollection that flourished in Valencia, and on Carmelite sources filtered through Falconi. And why wouldn’t he? The Spiritual Guide is not at all original. Even its more problematical features, like its insistence on acquired contemplation to the neglect of infused contemplation and the prolongation of a single act of contemplation so that it appears to become a pervasive state, can be found in Falconi whose Camino derecho was one of the strongest influences on the Guide. Molinos also cites Gregorio López and Francisca López, the latter according to Panes’ chronicles of the Discalced Franciscans.

Molinos’ book was an immediate best-seller and went through many editions, and his fame as a spiritual director seemed secure. But his life in Rome was being played out against a background of wide-spread interest in Italy in contemplative spirituality similar to the one that existed in Spain. (21) It would take us too far afield to look at the interplay in Italy between Church authorities, individual spiritual writers, and small spiritual groups, and it would be surprising if the overall picture differed markedly from what we have been seeing in Spain. It is, however, worth noting some of the events that led up to his condemnation.

Molinos’ ascendancy as a leading teacher on the spiritual life was not going to go unchallenged. In 1678 the Jesuit Gottardo Belluomo published a book on prayer that took Molinos to task without mentioning him. Molinos responded by writing a Defensa de la contemplación which for some reason remained in manuscript. In 1679 someone denounced Belluomo’s book to the Church authorities, and in February of 1680 we find Molinos writing to J.P. Olivas, the General of the Jesuits, trying to assure him of his esteem for Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, as well as to insist on the truth of his own teachings on contemplation. But this defense must not have made much of an impact because another Jesuit, Paolo Segneri, soon entered the fray with his Concordia tra la fatica e la quiete nell’orazione, which he published with the encouragement of Olivas. But Molinos was not without influential friends. Pier Mateo Petrucci, a priest of the Oratory, who had become the Bishop of Jesi, replied to Segneri with his Contemplazione mística aquisita without mentioning him by name, but talking about "il meditativo," the man of meditation. Petrucci’s book is standard fare from the point of view of the doctrine of acquired contemplation. He talks of the three signs: stopping discourse, remaining in "sweet nothing," and being lost in God without seeing or tasting. He has been influenced by reading Molinos’ Guide, but he was also conversant with Carmelite spirituality. Indeed, he was in correspondence with the Carmelites and wanted them in his diocese, and he read Quiroga’s Subida, and Tomás de Jesús and, further, was influenced by Juan Falconi.

The struggle widened. Jaime de Palafox, the Bishop of Palermo, in March of 1681 wrote a letter of praise for the Palermo edition of Molinos’ Guide, a book which he had recommended to the contemplative sisters of his diocese. Jaime Palafox was the nephew of Juan de Palafox whom we have met before, and he had strong ties, himself, with the Carmelites and had the Jesuits as his opponents, much like his uncle.

In August of that same year the Jesuit Dominico Ottalini wrote to his General: "The Jesuits have succeeded in making numerous enemies among the Discaled Carmelites… From their attitude against acquired contemplation it is inferred that among them high prayer is unknown." By November, Belluomo’s and Segneri’s books had been condemned, and we find Jaime Palafox, now the Archbishop of Seville, once again writing in favor of the Guide. And Molinos, sometime around this date, is writing a new defense, Scioglimento ad alcune obiettioni fate contra il libro della Guida Spirituale.

Of all the sources that Molinos made use of for his Guide, one is conspicuously absent, and that is John of the Cross. Obviously John of the Cross could not have been unknown to him, for Juan Falconi’s Carta a un religioso played an important role in Molinos’ Spiritual Guide and his Defensa. It is possible that Molinos had received a manuscript copy of the letter from Spain, along with the Camino derecho, and that he had played a role in its translation and publication in Italian. The early biographical sources about Molinos indicate that he read Falconi’s letters to his disciples and distributed copies of them. So it is entirely likely, as Eulogio Pacho suggests, that Molinos first discovered John of the Cross through Falconi. All the different texts that Falconi cites of John of the Cross in his letter find a place in Molinos’ Defensa. (22) The Defensa, itself, has survived in the form of a single manuscript in the Vatican Library, And it is well worth looking at its content and the subject matter of Molinos’ second defense, or Scioglimiento, which acts like a summary of it.

John of the Cross not only received the mystical tradition, but he imprinted upon it his own distinctive vocabulary. But every time we see him quoted or hear the particular echoes of his language we cannot immediately assume, as we have discussed, that he is being faithfully followed. Molinos writes with a certain spurious clarity and logic. He is a simplifier rather than a profound thinker, and when we come to his Defensa de la contemplación, which at first glance appears more erudite than his Guide, we read:

"There are two kinds of contemplation: one is ordinary, active and acquired, which is called prayer of faith and resignation; the other is extraordinary, supernatural, infused and passive... (that contemplation which is) imperfect and active, which is called of faith and of resignation, works by means of the faculties of the understanding, memory and will by means of universal acts of faith and resignation, and it can be taught with the grace of God..." (23) This active contemplation is what St. Dionysius taught, according to Molinos, as well as Augustine, Jerome and so forth, right down to Blessed Father Juan de la Cruz. And it is this active contemplation that is the sole matter (el único asunto) that Molinos is going to treat of in his Defensa.

We may ask just where did St. John talk about this active contemplation? And we are right back to those passages we have been studying all along. St. John's three signs, according to Molinos, are the way we know to pass from meditation to active or acquired contemplation. And Molinos paraphrases the three signs, but makes some significant alterations in doing so. Following the order found in the Ascent of Mt. Carmel he places as the first sign an inability to meditate, but it is the third sign that we have to examine with care. The soul "has an inclination to be quiet in silence with a loving and peaceful attention," and this is straight from John of the Cross, but Molinos adds, "with a universal act," and a little later he paraphrases this loving knowledge by calling it "this obscure and universal faith with silence and quietude (aquella obscura y universal fe con silencio y quietud)." (24)

In the next chapter he actually quotes long passages from the Ascent, for example, the one in which St. John writes, "This loving knowledge is hardly noticed for two reasons," and he quotes, as well, the place where John talks about how the end of meditation is to get some knowledge and love of God. But where St. John concludes this passage by saying, "De manera que luego, en poniendose delante de Dios, se pone en acto de noticia confusa, amorosa, pacifica y sosegada, en que está el alma viviendo sabiduria y amor y sabor," Molinos writes, "De manera que luego que se pone en la presencia de Dios, se pone en acto universal de fe y noticia confusa, amorosa, etc." (25) But what is this universal act of faith that Molinos is insisting upon? It is no different than what Falconi was talking about before him. All this has nothing to do with St. John's infused contemplation. Molinos repeats the words, but fails to discover their substance. This loving and universal knowledge of God in obscure faith that Molinos talks about is an active exercise of our faculties, as he clearly says in one of the first passages cited. It works by means of the faculties, "obra mediante las potencias." (26) If we don't have the desire to meditate and can apply ourselves to this kind of active faith, then according to Molinos it is a sign that God is raising us to contemplation. (27) "It appears to the soul in this new path that it doesn't do anything and that it is idle. And truly it is mistaken because the faculties of the understanding and will work within it with quietude, with universal and continuous acts." (28) These universal and continuous acts are contrasted with those which are particular and repeated.

But of course, we run into the same difficulties we have been seeing all along. Either we work with the faculties, according to John of the Cross, in particular and distinct acts, or we receive with them. Molinos is creating some imaginary middle ground. He is taking qualities that John is giving to infused contemplation and applying them to his acquired and active contemplation. He too narrowly conceives the nature of meditation and totally misconceives the nature of contemplation. "But this same path in its beginning is called meditation and afterwards affective and afterwards purgative, and next it passes to annihilation, perfection and union, which is called active contemplation." (29)

It upsets Molinos to hear someone say that contemplation doesn't last more than a half an hour. He asks, well, what is someone to do when that half hour is over? In short, he is engaged in the very real problem of the dark night of sense, and the answer that these people ought to meditate if God does not elevate them to infused contemplation does not please him. There are many kinds of prayer: meditation, affective prayer, purgative prayer, prayer of faith and resignation, or active and acquired contemplation, and after this comes the passive or infused prayer that doesn't last more than half an hour. Molinos’ solution is this "prayer of active and acquired contemplation which consists in faith and resignation in believing in conforming oneself with the divine will in which kind of prayer the servant of God is able to be for an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year and all his life." (30) As Molinos insists, "What can keep the soul from faith and resignation? What could be the cause for it not being able to exercise itself in these two perfect acts all its life?" (31) He is partially correct in this, but this has nothing to do with the kind of contemplation that John of the Cross is talking about.

When Molinos reads the mystics, and especially St. John, about the suspension of the faculties, he is forced by the very logic of his position to read him very selectively. "But the suspension that is talked about in the exercise of active and acquired contemplation is not the suspension of the faculties of the soul because the understanding is knowing God, the memory is recalling him and the will is employed in love, conformity and resignation, all of which is worked with quietude and suavity by means of universal acts because although it is true that the soul suspends distinct and particular acts in acquired contemplation, the universal acts are not suspended..." (32) "It is true that the soul suspends on its part images, species, discourses and distinct and particular acts, but it is in order to make an obscure and universal and more perfect act of faith in the presence of God with whom it is continually occupied." (33)

In his Scioglimento Molinos shows how tightly connected with John of the Cross are these objections to his Spiritual Guide. He lists these objections under four points:

  1. that he had applied the signs that Blessed John of the Cross gave for infused contemplation to acquired contemplation
  2. having said that the object of his book was acquired contemplation, he wrote, in part, about infused contemplation
  3. that he taught that acquired contemplation excluded all discursive operations, just like infused contemplation did
  4. that all that was necessary to arrive at contemplation was to cease meditating.

I believe that these objections did, in fact, puzzle Molinos. He says, for example, in defense against the first accusation, "...I say that despite the many times that I have read the works of this great mystic I have not been able to see such an opposition." (34) The first sign is an inability to meditate because we have drawn what we can through these means, reasons Molinos. Doesn't the very title of Chapter 13 of this second book of the Ascent talk about how the spiritual person ought to purify the intellect of imaginary forms and the discourse of imagination? Isn't this an active process? "Therefore... it seems clear that such impotence doesn't come from infused contemplation as such, and consequently it will not be a sign of infused contemplation." (35) Molinos goes on to cite St. John's passage about how every act of meditation leads to some kind of loving knowledge, and he fastens especially on the phrase "so that when they place themselves in prayer (Si que ponendosi in oratione (si noti questa parola))," and he comments, "The contemplation in which the soul can put itself in the beginning of prayer and that it is able to do whenever it wishes has to be precisely acquired..." (36) He supports this line of reasoning with Chapter 35 of the work of the Institutions attributed to Tauler and on Quiroga's Ascent of the Soul, and he quotes from Quiroga's second part of his Ascent: " the first part of the Ascent of the Soul are declared both the substance and the means of the divine contemplation that we are able to practice in our mode with the aids of the light of faith and other common aids of grace." (37) And Molinos has no hesitation in understanding Quiroga in this way, for the Carmelite who translated Quiroga's works into Italian, Padre Baldassaro di Sta. Catarina, he tells us, has stated the same thing in his introduction to this work.

It is one thing to talk about infused contemplation, but it is quite another thing, according to Molinos, to teach people to put themselves in it. John of the Cross talks about infused contemplation in some parts of the Ascent, "but he does not counsel someone to put himself in it; what he counsels is to put himself in the acquired and active which is that universal, confused and loving knowledge of God (noticia universale confusa ed amorosa di Dio) (which has been acquired by continual and repeated acts of meditation) quieting the mind from its discourses and sensible operations through forms, images, figures and distinct and particular species." (38) Infused contemplation can't have rules because it depends uniquely on God. Molinos returns again to support his arguments with Padre Baldassaro's Splendori riflessi and Quiroga's Ascent, Book 2, Ch. 14, where Quiroga asserts that "Mother Teresa was selected by God to be the grand mistress of infused contemplation, as the Blessed John was for the acquired." (39) Molinos creates a whole list of authors, some of whose names jump out at us: Antonio di Panes, Gio. Falconi, the Venerable dottore Rojas, and Navarro.

Molinos will agree that St. John is talking in places of infused contemplation, and even that in the midst of the acquired contemplation there is some kind of infused interior absorption, (40) but even these admissions do not make up for his wholesale misinterpretation of the passages from John of the Cross that he is quoting, and he is, of course, helped in these misinterpretations by his ability to find texts like the ones he cites from Quiroga.

In the manuscript of the Defensa someone - perhaps Molinos himself - has added some marginal notes about John of the Cross and pasted in a page (17A.v) which quotes from the Ascent, Book II, Chapter 12, which deals with the question of imagining God under any form. Is it possible that Molinos, having known John of the Cross through Falconi, had now begun to read him, himself, and to strengthen the references to him that appear in his Defensa?

But let’s return to our story. The Jesuits, far from retiring from the field after the condemnation of Segneri’s and Belluomo’s books, appear goaded to even greater efforts, and there is a new spate of strokes and counter strokes. In all of this we are faced with the same questions in a slightly different fashion that confronted us before. Are the Jesuits opposed to Molinos, and what is called "the new contemplation" because they are too wedded to the way of meditation? Or is it because they see in these writings on acquired contemplation a misinterpretation of the Church’s genuine mystical tradition? Or is it a mixture of both which, in its turn, is mixed with rivalries among the different religious orders?

Petrucci, for his part, thinks he is following Teresa of Avila, and his opponents, in a pamphlet that appears in 1684, turned to her writings to refute him by showing that for Teresa contemplation cannot be the outcome of our own efforts. (41) This is the very year when Tomás de Jesús’ collected works appear in Cologne. Petrucci imagines that he is following the Carmelite spirituality of St. Teresa and would be dumbfounded if told that the mysticism of the two great Carmelite founders differs markedly from the work of Tomás de Jesús and Quiroga.

On July 18, 1685 Molinos is arrested. What happened to tip the scales against him? It is difficult to say exactly because the process describing his trial has disappeared, perhaps destroyed to prevent it from falling into the hands of French troops when they were menacing Rome in 1777-79. But we do know that an enormous collection of letters, supposedly numbering some 12,000, and written to the people he was directing, was seized. Witnesses also came forward to describe his alleged lewd behavior. In 1687 Molinos was condemned and sentenced to prison for life, and he retracted his errors, which were summed up in 68 propositions in the papal bull Caelestis Pastor. But interestingly, none of these propositions were taken as direct quotes from the Spiritual Guide, though all of his writings were put on the Index. If evidence hadn’t existed pointing to Molinos’ immoral behavior, would his opponents have been able to have him condemned on the strength of the Spiritual Guide? It does not seem likely. Petrucci had been made a Cardinal in 1685, but this didn’t prevent propositions drawn from his writings being condemned in the same year. But his own retraction and punishment was to be much milder. Eventually he was restricted to his diocese.

Among the members of the Commission appointed by Innocent XI to examine the writings of Molinos and Petrucci was Calced Carmelite Luis Pérez de Castro whom we saw Pablo Ezquerra writing to. He knew Petrucci through the Bishop’s efforts to establish the Carmelites at Jesi, and he knew the writings of John of the Cross, and perhaps even the doctrine of the Tratado breve because it was in Ezquerra’s book. Therefore, it is not surprising that he would be a more nuanced and, at least in the case of Petrucci, a more sympathetic critic of acquired contemplation, and in his writings for the processes of Molinos and Petrucci he has recourse to John of the Cross, and on occasion to Nicolás de Jesús María’s Elucidatio, and even to Tomás de Jesús at least once. (42)

And among the 68 propositions of Molinos condemned, numbers 41 through 53 played a special role. They were taken from his own private writings as a spiritual director, which circulated among his directees, and were included by his own request, and they deal with diabolical temptations. Even in perfect souls, Molinos claimed, the devil can take control of the body, and without the mind being muddled, the hands and other members of the body can do things that would be immoral, but which cannot be imputed as sins because they are not voluntary. This can even happen between two people, and the same thing can happen in terms of blasphemy. These kinds of events are ways in which God perfects souls by making them grow in resignation, and they should not be inquieted about them. It is easy to see what kind of impression this would make on Molinos’ ecclesiastical judges, and it would not be surprising if it was these kinds of statements, coupled with the accusations that he lived them out, that led to Molinos’ condemnation. Further, it is easy to understand why at Molinos’ public retraction at the Church of Santa María sobra Minerva, the crowds shouted, "Fire! Fire!" to indicate their preference for his punishment.

But two important points ought not to be lost among the cries and condemnations. The propositions on diabolical temptations could shed light on Molinos’ personality in terms of the dynamics between his conscious and unconscious. And although Molinos embellishes these temptations with the gilding of theological self-justifications, they point to the existence of quasi-autonomous motions coming from the unconscious that deserve our careful attention. Further, and this is more to the point we are pursuing, we could ask whether there is a connection between these motions and the kind of acquired contemplation he promoted with its deliberate reduction of conscious activity. Where does this conscious energy go when it has been banished? This is not the place to go into these kinds of questions. I have looked at them in some detail in St. John of the Cross and Dr. C.G. Jung.

The second point is more in line with our story. It is unfortunate, as I mentioned before, that the issue of immorality played such an important role in Molinos’ condemnation. It would have been better for the subsequent history of Christian mysticism if the central issue had been Molinos’ Spiritual Guide and his various defenses of it. Then the question of acquired contemplation might have come into sharper focus. As it was, it was but one element in a much more complicated picture, and as the history of Christian spirituality subsequent to Molinos’ condemnation unfolds it is going to remain as contentious an issue as ever.

In Spain as early as the end of 1682 the Discalced Carmelite Antonio de Jesús María had been thinking of refuting Molinos’ Guide. He went on to write four volumes, one of which was called Antidote Against the Poison of Molinos, and none of which were printed. (43) It didn’t take long after Molinos’ arrest in July of 1685 before the local Inquisitions in Spain began to act. Zaragoza condemned the Guide that September. Jaime Palafox is not going to escape censure either. The Inquisition of Palermo writes to the Supreme Council in Madrid about the Guide and Palafox. Palafox had taken possession of the Archdiocese of Sevilla in the spring of 1685, and had written a pastoral letter for a new edition of the Guide. By that fall the Inquisition was seizing the edition, and a bitter struggle sprung up around the Archbishop. Palafox is pictured as standing with the Guide in one hand, and St. John’s Dark Night in the other, and declaring that they are twins. In a pastoral letter of November 1687 he rejects the errors of Molinos who had, he says, deceived him, but claims that his own teaching follows Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. The Jesuits, however, are still on duty, and one of them writes a Reflexiones sobre una carta pastoral, which wants the very notion of acquired contemplation to be rejected. Palafox turns to the Discalced Carmelites for help, and receives it from Gabriel de San José and Juan de la Anunciación.

Gabriel de San José

The efforts of Gabriel de San José (Sánchez Escudero) (1619?-1690) were undertaken at the end of his life, and have come down to us in the form of a book-length manuscript, BNM ms. 13430, called Compendio místico apologético which he dedicated to the Archbishop. Since the whole issue hinges on the legitimacy of the idea of acquired contemplation, Padre Gabriel is at pains to vindicate this traditional doctrine of the Order. He is upset that the author of the Reflexiones dares to affirm that John of the Cross never spoke of acquired contemplation, and that his signs of when to pass from meditation to contemplation refer to infused contemplation. For Padre Gabriel this is unreasonable because if infused contemplation doesn’t depend on our own initiative, then there is no point giving rules about it.

"It is so clear that our Holy Father taught this active contemplation acquired by our industry," he writes, "that nothing more is necessary than to read his words in order to see it…" (44) Then he goes on to cite the by now typical justification which is the passage where St. John talks about how many acts of loving knowledge in meditation leads to a habit of loving knowledge. For Padre Gabriel since the person praying has been actively acquiring loving knowledge in meditation, he or she will continue to do so when it comes to the confused and loving knowledge St. John is talking about in this passage in the Ascent: "At the moment it recollects itself in the presence of God, it enters upon an act of general, loving, peaceful and tranquil knowledge, drinking wisdom, love and delight." (Ascent, 2, 14, 2). Gabriel reasons that St. John says the soul enters upon (se pone) this act of loving and general knowledge, which is acquired contemplation, not that it is placed in it (la ponen) as if it were infused prayer. (45) But the point that St. John is making is that because the infused contemplation is being given, then the soul can recollect itself and enter into this loving and peaceful knowledge.

Padre Gabriel next amasses his Carmelite authorities, claiming that their testimony forms an unanswerable argument that St. John taught acquired contemplation. He cites Juan de Jesús María, Tomás de Jesús, Antonio del Espíritu Santo, José del Espíritu Santo, Quiroga and Felipe de la Santíssima Trinidad.

Juan de la Anunciación

In 1926 Florentio del Niño Jesús found a manuscript in a public market which his confrere Claudio de Jesús Crucificado soon published. It was the Consultatio et responsio de contemplatione acquisita of Juan de la Anunciación. (46) This work was another response to the anonymous Jesuit who had attacked the Carta pastoral of Jaime Palafox. Fr. Juan was a famous theologian and author of the Cursus theologicus of the Discalced College at Salamanca. This gained him the nickname Salamanticensis, and his prowess was such that he was called "the right eye of the Church," and when he died the Bishop of Salamanca is said to have exclaimed, "And who, now, will defend the Church from heretics?" (47)

In proper scholastic fashion he sets out to demolish his opponent. First he sets forth the assertions of this anonymous theologian: there is no kind of contemplation to be found between meditation and infused contemplation. Any contemplation that is not infused is a certain kind of meditation; the Fathers and doctors never taught active contemplation; John of the Cross never did, either; active contemplation pertains to the errors of the Quietists.

Then he amasses his authorities. Pride of place goes to Antonio Alvarado’s Arte de bien vivir where he has inserted the Tratado breve: "Duplex est via adeundi hanc mysticam theologiam, alia activa, alia passiva. There is a two-fold way of drawing near to this mystical theology, one active and the other passive." (48)

Alvarado is followed by Antonio de Molina, and Juan de Jesús María’s Theologia mystica, Tomás de Jesús’ De contemplatione divina, Andrés de Guadalupe, Quiroga’s Subida, Vallgornera, Antonio del Espíritu Santo, Luis de la Puente, Felipe de Santíssima Trinidad, Joseph Méndez, José del Espíritu Santo, Melchior de Villanueva, the anonymous author of the Breve práctica de la oración, Francisco Arias, Alvarez de Paz, Nicolás de Jesús María, Blasius Francus, and Pedro de Villalobes.

Quite a list, and I have skipped over two people who demand special attention. One is Juan de Lezcano whom we met at the end of Chapter 6 when Juan Arintero presented him as one of the first public critics of acquired contemplation. But here he is cited as in favor of it. (49)

The second the editor leaves unidentified. The text reads: "Andreas la Carra, in Theologia mystica," which is our old friend Inocencio de San Andrés in disguise. And Juan de la Anunciación feels it is enough to cite one of the chapter headings of this book where it speaks about the signs to pass from meditation to contemplation to show that its author is in favor of acquired contemplation. But it appears that he is citing the part of Inocencio’s book, Tract 3, Chapter 19, where Inocencio has transcribed Chapter 13 of John of the Cross’ Ascent. (50) Certainly, he reasons, it is better to believe so many doctors and theologians than the assertions of some unknown theologian.

He goes on to cite John of the Cross at length, especially in his Ascent of Mt. Carmel. For example, he quotes St. John's prologue to the Ascent, "Even though these souls have begun to walk along the road of virtue, and our Lord desires to place them in the dark night so they may move on to the divine union, they do not advance. Sometimes, the reason is, they do not want to enter the dark night or allow themselves to be placed in it..." (51) Fr. Juan takes this last phrase as an indication that St. John is going to speak of two kinds of contemplation because there are those who don't want to enter, a reference, he thinks, to acquired contemplation, and those who don't allow themselves to be placed, in which he sees a reference to infused contemplation.

Then he turns to Book 2, Ch. 13 on the signs and cites the title of the chapter, which in the edition he had before him reads, "Sets down the signs which the spiritual person may recognize in himself, in order that he may begin to detach the understanding from the imaginary forms and reasonings of meditation." From this he concludes that the business of the soul is to act in simple contemplation which takes place after imaginary forms and discursive meditations. With the actual heading of the chapter it would have been harder for him to come to this conclusion, for it reads, "The signs for recognizing in spiritual persons when they should discontinue discursive meditation and pass on to the state of contemplation." (52) Or another rendering, "Wherein are set down the signs which the spiritual person will find in himself whereby he will know at what season it behooves him to leave meditation and reasoning and pass to the state of contemplation." (53) Given this perspective he will see the Quietists at fault for acting like dead men in the time of contemplation, but John of the Cross, free of their errors because in the exercise of contemplation, he recommends, "excellent acts of intellect and will." (54) Chief among the acts must be counted St. John's advertence or attention to God. (55)

Juan de la Anunciación goes on at length to contrast the teaching of the Quietists to that of John of the Cross, and he ends his treatise with a standard statement of how he submits his thought to the judgment of the Church, and interestingly adds, although it may be pro forma, "I profess my lack of experience in those things which pertain to mystical theology." (56) He also responded to a book of Segneri written against Juan Palafox’s De la vida interior which the latter had entrusted to the Carmelites before his death with the instructions to print it if they saw fit. The ensuing struggle over the book lasted well into the next century before it was resolved in favor of the Carmelites in 1771. (57)

Between 1687-1690 many spiritual works were put on the Roman Index. They included Falconi’s Letter to a Spiritual Daughter, supposedly because a copy was found in Molinos’ library, and Rojas’ Vida del espíritu. In a letter from Sevilla on June 22, 1688, its Archbishop Adolfo Spínola wrote to Marcos de Ostos that the works of Falconi had been prohibited and that he had been informed that the works of John of the Cross were to be prohibited in the vulgar tongue, although this never happened. (58) On Nov. 12, 1688 the Holy Office reserved for itself the permission necessary for the publication of spiritual books, and this was a decree that was to remain in effect for the first decades of the next century.

In that same year someone denounced to Rome twenty-seven spiritual books as contaminated with the errors of Molinos. They included John of the Cross and Quiroga. Although the history surrounding this denunciation appears somewhat murky, it has been linked with the Capuchin Félix de Alamín who in 1695 was to publish Espejo de verdadera y falsa contemplación.

Félix de Alamín, however, exhibited great admiration in this book for John of the Cross, and realized that both John and Teresa speak in many places of the faculties of the soul not working. But this does not mean that the soul intentionally suspends its operations. Rather, it should be understood that when God raises the soul to supernatural contemplation, He, Himself suspends these operations by supernatural means, and obviously this is quite a different thing. (59) But in 1695 and again in 1700 Alamín, himself, is said to have denounced Quiroga’s Subida to the Spanish Inquisition. This attack was not to go unanswered by the Carmelites, especially Quentino di S. Carlo, who wrote a Delatio delationis which succeeded in having the Espejo condemned in 1709. (60) The Discalced Carmelite Cristóbal de San José who took part in this struggle later commented, perhaps with a bit of glee, that Alamín "incidit in foveam quam fecit," that is, he fell in the fire that he had made. The Jesuit Juan Casini, however, continued the battle against Quiroga’s Subida by trying to show the similarities between Quiroga’s book and the teachings of Molinos. In 1750 the Subida was finally condemned on the grounds that acquired contemplation could lead to the errors of the Quietists. But in 1771, after the Jesuits had been expelled from Spain, the condemnation was reversed. This debate also contained extraneous matters about whether the printed copy of the Subida conformed to the original manuscript. (61)

These interminable struggles in the aftermath of Molinos’ condemnation were to have a chilling effect on the mystical fervor that was so wide-spread during the 17th century. A night of mysticism is beginning that will last until the last part of the 19th century. There will continue to be genuine contemplatives, but wide-spread popular interest in contemplation will diminish. The fires of mysticism will not be extinguished, but they will smolder away underground, waiting for a new day, and buried with them will be the unresolved questions surrounding acquired contemplation.

A new kind of literature is born which no longer purports to show the sure and rapid way to scale the heights of contemplation but is devoted to distinguishing genuine contemplation from the errors of Quietism as codified in the 68 condemned propositions of Molinos. It is enough to list them: Francisco Posadas, Triunfos de la castidad contra la lujuria diabólica de Molinos, Cordova 1698, which deals with propositions 41-53; Pedro Sánchez, Quodlibeta divi Thomae… ad mysticas doctrinas applicata, Seville 1719; and Vincente Calatayud, Divus Thomas… spurcissimas tenebrae mysticam theologiam obscurae Molientes angelice dissipans, Valencia in 5 volumes between 1744-1753.

More interesting are the writings of the Franciscan Antonio Arbiol (died 1726) with his Desenganos místicos (1706) and his Mística fundamental del Cristo Señor nuestro explicada por el glorioso y beato padre San Juan de la Cruz (1723) that comments on the cautions of St. John. Arbiol admired John of the Cross, but I think an examination of his book would show that he admired active contemplation, as well. Molinos’ use of acquired contemplation did not mark a turning away from it. The Carmelites, as we have seen, still championed it. So many years had passed since Tomás’ sojourn at Batuecas, and so many talented men of the Order had approved it that it had long since become unthinkable that it could be wrong.

This time of decline could not have been easy on the Carmelites known for their mission of expounding the higher reaches of the life of prayer. In 1688, the Definitory General, led by Alonso de la Madre de Dios, resolved not to permit the publication of any books on mysticism and prayer because of the dangers of the time. (62) And in 1759 we find the General of the Order, Pablo de la Concepción, addressing to Pope Clement XIII a Lamento Teresianum in which he complains that their school has been labeled "an abominable plague on the Church."

If after the condemnation of Molinos we have seen how a whole genre of anti-Molinos literature sprang up, the 20th century, in its turn, has seen a re-evaluation of Molinos and of the so-called pre-Quietists, especially Falconi. We can find it in the work of men like Elías Gómez, José Tellecea, M. Andrés Martín, and Eulogio Pacho. They saw that if one were to carefully read the works of Molinos and Falconi, they are representative of a certain spiritual current of those times. We could say that they are simply exponents of the doctrine of acquired contemplation, and as far as this judgment goes, it is a corrective to former attitudes. Indeed, the only way we can understand the praise that gilded Molinos’ Spiritual Guide when it appeared in 1675 is by realizing that to even educated spiritual readers it did not appear as a departure from the flood of spiritual literature in the 17th century about the path to contemplation.

Eulogio Pacho takes a necessary further step, and shows how Molinos’ work had certain characteristics that distinguish it from the best spiritual writers of his time. His over-insistence on the way of acquired contemplation in relationship to both meditation and infused contemplation is one example, and his ideas on how the active acquired contemplation lasted until formally revoked is another. Much the same criticisms could be leveled against Falconi as E. Allison Peers has done. But in substance, and especially when it comes to acquired contemplation, as a simple and loving attentiveness Molinos, to Pacho’s mind, is teaching the same doctrine of John of the Cross and the early Carmelites. And there is a certain truth to this, as well, if we understand it to mean teaching a doctrine that is very close to how the early Carmelites understood John of the Cross. But it is important to take a third step and realize that John of the Cross never taught an active or acquired contemplation, and the doctrines of Falconi and Molinos are guilty not only of exaggeration, but suffer from fundamental structural flaws.



  1. E.A. Peers, Studies of the Spanish Mystics, Vol. III, p. 74, note 5.
  2. Vicente de Peralta, "Místicos Franciscanos" pp. 285-286.
  3. Rafael López-Melús, Escuela de perfección, p. 21.
  4. Francisco Miguel Rosell, Inventario General, Vol. II.
  5. Rafael López-Melús, Escuela de perfección, p. 64.
  6. Ramón Robres, "En torno de Miguel de Molinos," p. 424, 432. Panes’ book at the Vatican: Bibl. Apost. Vat. S. Offizio, 198.
  7. See the Panes section in Melquiades Andrés Martín, Los Recogidos.
  8. Antonio Panes, La escala mística, p. 32.
  9. Ibid., p. 40.
  10. Ibid., pp. 71-72; Jean Krynen, Saint Jean de la Croix..., p. 340, note 7 following Robres, "En torno..." p. 429, thinks that Panes is copying Quiroga, perhaps with this passage.
  11. Ibid., p. 62.
  12. Ibid., p. 140.
  13. Miguel de Molinos, Guía espiritual, Tellechea edition, p. 108.
  14. Ibid., p. 114.
  15. Ibid., p. 381ff.
  16. Ibid., p. 115.
  17. Ibid., p. 66.
  18. Ibid., p. 81.
  19. Louis Cognet, La Spiritualité Moderne, p. 32.
  20. Miguel de Molinos, Guía espiritual, Tellechea edition, pp. 389-390.
  21. For the history of Quietism in Spain and Italy, see Eulogio Pacho, "Quiétisme," in the Dictionnaire de spiritualité.
  22. Miguel de Molinos, Defensa de la contemplación, edition of Eulogio Pacho, p. 35.
  23. Ibid., p. 68.
  24. Ibid., p. 124.
  25. Ibid., p. 131.
  26. Ibid., p. 68.
  27. Ibid., p. 136.
  28. Ibid., p. 140.
  29. Ibid., p. 178.
  30. Ibid., p. 179.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ibid., p. 182.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Ibid., p. 282.
  35. Ibid.
  36. Ibid., p. 283.
  37. Ibid., p. 284.
  38. Ibid., pp. 284-285.
  39. Ibid., p. 286.
  40. Ibid., p. 279.
  41. "Pierre Matthieu Petrucci," DS, 2772.
  42. Pablo Garrido, "San Juan de la Cruz..." p. 93.
  43. Matías del Niño Jesús, "El P. Antonio de Jesús María..."
  44. Matías del Niño Jesús, "Una obra interesante..." p. 65
  45. Ibid., p. 66.
  46. Juan de la Anunciación, Consultatio et responsio.
  47. Ibid., p. 16.
  48. Ibid., p. 53
  49. Ibid., p. 56.
  50. Fortunado Antolín, "Inocencio de San Andrés..." p. 126.
  51. Ascent, Prologue, 3. K. p. 70.
  52. Ascent, Book 2, Chapter 13. K. p. 140.
  53. Ascent, Book 2, Chapter 13. P. p. 132.
  54. Juan de la Anunciación, Consultatio et responsio, p. 92.
  55. Ibid., p. 109.
  56. Ibid., p. 128.
  57. HCD, IX, p. 91.
  58. Elías Gómez, Juan de Falconi, p. 156.
  59. E.A. Peers, Studies of the Spanish Mystics, Vol. III, p. 139.
  60. Valentino di Santa María, "Una apologia..."
  61. Ibid., p. 434.
  62. HCD, IX, p. 78.





As the echoes of the Quietist controversies died down in the first decades of the 18th century, a long, dark night of the mystics began to set in. As Gabriel de Sainte-Marie-Magdeleine characterized it: "a wind of death blew on the whole second half of the eighteenth century until the end of the nineteenth century. Mystical theology gave no sign of life."

This decline is reflected in the frequency with which John of the Cross’ Collected Works appeared in Spanish:

In the period of mystical fervor: 1618, 1619, 1630, 1635, 1649, 1672, 1679, 1693, 1694, 1700, 1701, 1703.

Then the pace slows dramatically as the night takes hold: 1724, 1774, 1847, 1872.

After which the renewal of mystical theology begins: another edition in 1872, then 1883, 1906, 1906, 1912-1914, 1925, 1926, 1929-1931, and so forth.

Another example illustrates the same trend. The Jesuit Jean Pierre de Caussade, 1675-1751, saw his Instructions spirituels appear in 1741, but the meditation that made up his L’Abandon à providence divine passed secretly from hand to hand and did not appear until 1861. As tempting as it might be to skip over this period, and go straight to the 20th century, it was not a total black hole, and we should make some effort to bridge this gap.

Jean-Nicolas Grou

The Jesuit, Jean-Nicolas Grou (1731-1803) in his Manual For Interior Souls, knows of a prayer that he calls "the dark way of pure faith," (1) but this is not an acquired contemplation. "We cannot enter of ourselves upon this way," he tells us, and a little while later he writes: "...the chief sign by which we may know that God wishes to lead a soul into it is when that soul has no longer the same liberty of using its faculties in prayer that it formerly had; when it is able no longer to apply itself to a particular subject, to draw from it reflections and affections; but when it feels within itself, instead, a certain delicious peace which is above all expression, which takes the place of everything else and which forces it, so to speak, to keep itself in quiet and in silence." This passage contains the essential elements of St. John’s transition from meditation to contemplation.

Giovanni Battista Scaramelli

Another Jesuit, Giovanni Battista Scaramelli (1687-1752), wrote a Il direttorio mistico which appeared in Venice in 1754. It had been written by 1743 but had undergone revisions demanded by the censors. He makes use of the words acquired contemplation, but this contemplation is not truly acquired. It is infused. And according to Scaramelli it takes more than the habit of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be a contemplative. Their activation is necessary, as well, or otherwise every Christian would be a contemplative. Further, even though contemplation may appear to be born out of meditation, it is never, strictly speaking, the result of our own efforts. The words acquired contemplation in Scaramelli, Roland Dalbiez tells us in his masterful study on acquired contemplation, can only be used with a "limitation and restriction of terms." (2)

Dominicus Schram

The Benedictine Dominicus Schram in his Institutionis theologiae misticae of 1774 realizes "that the very word mystic arouses nausea and fear in many believers." (3) Following the Jesuit Manuel-Ignacio de la Reguera (1668-1747), he divides contemplation into ordinary and extraordinary, and while he says that one might call this ordinary contemplation acquired, he immediately restricts this term so as to make it virtually meaningless. It requires a "new grace," (4) and while it might be called natural in comparison to extraordinary contemplation, "nevertheless ordinary contemplation is essentially supernatural and infused." (5)

Alphonsus Liguori

The great moralist, St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) was not unaware of the debate over Quietism; in fact, his mother had been accused of being one. In his Praxis confessarii, a Practical Guide for Confessors, he talked about acquired contemplation, but he uses this term, not to designate a true contemplative prayer, but rather, one that can be genuinely acquired and which is identical to what we know as affective prayer. Following Segneri, he admits that this is an acquired contemplation in the sense that the practice of meditation can lead someone to grasp quickly and synthetically truths that were formerly laboriously sought after. But he cannot see any reason why this kind of contemplation should lead to a cessation of the acts of the will. Indeed, this kind of recollection of the intellect is the ideal climate for the exercise of the will.

All these authors found a way to resolve the thorny issue of acquired contemplation. St. Alphonsus, as we just saw, turns it into affective prayer, so it is contemplative only in a very general sense. Scaramelli and Schram make it into infused contemplation so it is not really acquired at all, and for Grou the dark way of faith is no different than infused contemplation.

José del Espíritu Santo

But let’s return to the Carmelites. We can look to José del Espíritu Santo, el Andalou (1667-1736) and his Cursus theologiae mistico-scholasticae, which appeared in six volumes between 1710 and 1740 and was still incomplete, for the culmination of the teaching of the Carmelite School on acquired contemplation. Since he was writing using the strict logical forms of scholastic debate we would expect his formulation of the doctrine of acquired contemplation to be particularly clear. But as Roland Dalbiez has shown in detail, he ends up contradicting himself. He claims in different places that acquired contemplation is both acquired and not acquired, and that it is, and is not, a contemplation. (6) He describes it as a contemplation we can do with our own efforts whenever we wish, but in order to avoid the problems that would arise if he claimed that a contemplative can always be in a state of contemplation and never have the need of meditation – a proposition that had already been condemned by Pope Innocent XII against Fenelón – he modified his view concerning the acquirability of this contemplation and states that what we can obtain by our own industry is not the same as saying we can do it whenever we want. (7)

He runs into similar difficulties when he tries to reconcile the commonly accepted opinion that contemplation comes about through an activation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that the contemplative is disposed to be moved in a higher way. But to distinguish acquired contemplation from infused contemplation, he says that the gifts operate in both, but in different ways. They operate fully in infused contemplation, while in acquired contemplation their activation is tempered by the human condition. He follows Quiroga in calling Teresa the mistress of infused contemplation and John the master of acquired contemplation, and he calls Tomás de Jesús the "prodigy of the century." The constant difficulties that José del Espíritu Santo fell into can serve as a fitting culmination to this first phase of the story of acquired contemplation.

Andrés de la Encarnación

There is only one person left to hear from on this matter, and that is the great Carmelite historian, Andrés de la Encarnación (1716-1795). In the 1750s he was given the job of preparing a new edition of the works of John of the Cross, as well as reorganizing the general archives of the Order. We have already met him hesitating about the attribution of the Tratado breve to John of the Cross, about which he finally arrived at a positive conclusion. "Also I change now my opinion that the work should be published as doubtful; because each day it seems to me more clearly that of the saint… Others, not us, ought to render a verdict about it." (8)

And others apparently attempted to come to a verdict, for we find in the inventory book of the general archives a notice about a commission that was established, in part, to examine the authenticity of the work. (9) Andrés’ edition of John of the Cross, which he worked upon so assiduously and in a more critical manner than his predecessors, was never published, but a large part of his preparatory work survived in the form of his Memorias historiales, and these manuscripts, which are to be found in the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid, have provided a rich trove of information for Carmelite scholars of the 20th century, and were finally published in 1993.

What did Andrés think about the idea of acquired contemplation? Given his enthusiasm for the Tratado breve, we would imagine that he strongly favored it, and in fact, his Memorias historiales show this to be true. He agrees with the opinion that Carmelites, according to their very vocation, are gravely obligated not only to meditation and discursive prayer, but to "acquired contemplation which, we will see, is that which our saint teaches us." (10) And this is an "amorosa atencion" towards God. (11) Andrés also cites approvingly Tomás de Jesús’ work in the context of acquired contemplation when talking about the ladder of contemplation which is made up of acquired, infused and seraphic contemplation, and which follows Tomás de Jesús who teaches it in his six books of De contemplatio divina. "And in the other mystical works of this author are to be found most useful and superb things for the end we are talking about." (12)

According to Andrés, John of the Cross is treating of a contemplación de fe adquirida, while Teresa treats of infused contemplation, and if there is any opposition between Teresa and other mystics, and John of the Cross, we must be sure not to do anything that would harm St. John’s doctrine of acquired contemplation. God gave John of the Cross this "most particular light and gift," (13) which phrase makes us think of Quiroga who is cited elsewhere in this section.

Andrés includes in his pleadings to his superiors for a new edition of St. John’s writings a similar request from José de Jesús María, a Definitor General written in Madrid in 1760, who finds a wonderful conformity between Teresa and John. Both guide us in the path of prayer by meditation and "both teach us acquired recollection either by means of meditation or by means of the contemplation they call acquired." (14) And both mention supernatural recollection, and say much more on the prayer of quiet. But for José de Jesús María, the three signs of John of the Cross "only serve for infused contemplation and not for an acquired contemplation." (15) This is a very grave and practical matter, according to Padre José, and ought to be the subject for some notes in the proposed edition. This particular point does not please Andrés who claims that for José de Jesús María this infused contemplation is not the regular infused contemplation given to many, but a more extraordinary one. (16) It appears, however, that this José de Jesús María would fall in the company of Agustín de San José in the 17th century and Jérome de la Mère de Dieu (1870-1954) in the 20th century as Discalced Carmelites who opposed the idea of acquired contemplation.


  1. John Grou, Manual for Interior Souls, p. 249.
  2. Roland Dalbiez, "La Controverse..." p. 131.
  3. Henri Daniel-Rops, The Church in the Eighteenth Century, p. 363.
  4. Dominicus Schram, Théologie Mystique, p. 505.
  5. Ibid., p. 506.
  6. Roland Dalbiez, "La Controverse..." p. 83.
  7. Ibid., p. 90.
  8. Simeón de la Sagrada Familia, Inventario..., p. 5.
  9. Andrés de la Encarnación, Memorias historiales, Vol. III, p. 19.
  10. Ibid., p. 120.
  11. Ibid., p. 20.
  12. Ibid., p. 31.
  13. Ibid., p. 43.
  14. Ibid., p. 413.
  15. Ibid., p. 420.
  16. Ibid., pp. 386, 389, 398. Ms. 1360 of the Library of the University of Barcelona is the catalog of the library of the Carmelite Monastery of San José in that city, and it dates from 1834, which is just before the suppression of the Order. It shows that the library contained both Alvarado’s Arte de bien vivir, as well as Juan Bretón’s book, as well. Ms. 1361, another catalog of the library, shows the presence of Quiroga’s Subida, and some of the works of Tomás de Jesús.



Part III