John of The Cross

1542-1591. Spanish mystic. Born Juan de Yepez y Alvarez in Old Castile, of a poor family of noble origin, he entered the Carmelite monastery at Medina del Campo in 1563. After studying theology at Salamanca, he was ordained (1567). Dissuaded by Teresa of Avila* from becoming a Carthusian, he introduced her reforms among the friars, joining the first of their reformed houses (Discalced*) at Duruelo. He then became master of the Carmelite College at Alcalá de Henares (1570-72) and confessor of the Convent of the Incarnation at Avila (1572- 77).

Imprisoned in 1577 in the Carmelite monastery at Toledo for his reforms (his general favored a more relaxed rule: Calced*), he wrote the beginning of The Spiritual Canticle, but the entire work derives from this experience. With his escape after nine months to the monastery of Calvario came the separation between Calced and Discalced. He and Teresa were joint founders of the Discalced Carmelites. He was rector of the college at Baeza (1579-81) and prior at Segovia from 1588. In 1581 he went to Granada and became acquainted with the Arabian mystics. Writing out of personal experience and as a student of Scripture and Thomism, he wrote three poems, with commentaries: The Dark Night of the Soul (on which The Ascent of Mount Carmel is a second commentary), The Spiritual Canticle, and The Living Flame of Love. In this order is spiritual progression, classically conceived, with his own mystical experience bursting out in the third poem. Distrusted by his superiors, he was removed from the friary at La Penuela to Ubeda, where he died from inhumane treatment. He was canonized in 1726 and made a “Doctor of the Church” in 1926.

See B. Frost, Saint John of the Cross (1937), and E.A. Peers, Handbook of the Life and Times of Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross (1954).