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St John of the Cross: 14th December

John of the Cross was born in Fontiveros, in Spain, in about 1542. He spent some time as a Carmelite friar before, in 1568, Saint Teresa of Ávila persuaded him to pioneer the reform of the Carmelite order. This was a difficult task and a dangerous one: he suffered imprisonment and severe punishment at the hands of the Church authorities. He died at the monastery of Ubeda in Andalusia on 14 December 1591: the monks there had initially treated him as the worst of sinners, but by the time he died they had recognised his sanctity and his funeral was the occasion of a great outburst of enthusiasm. His works include two major mystical poems – he is considered one of the great poets of the Spanish language – and detailed commentaries on them and the spiritual truths they convey. He was canonized in 1726 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1926.
He is important for queer Christians, especially gay men, for two reasons. First, because he is a great teacher of spirituality, and the cultivation of spiritual practice, by enabling a more direct experience of the divine, is an excellent way to immunize ourselves from toxic and misguided teaching on human sexuality. Second, and more interestingly, because his language at times uses imagery which is plainly homoerotic, and so easily usable by gay men in their own prayer.

Continue reading St John of the Cross: 14th December

St John of the Cross,14th Dec (NRC), 24th Nov (ORC),

St John of the Cross (1542-1591) is usually remembered on December 14th (in the new Roman calendar, and also in the CoE calendar), but the old Roman calendar had him on November 24th.

St. John, like other mystics such as St. Theresa of Avila, used the language of courtly love to describe his relationship with Christ. He also discussed, with rare candor, the sexual stimulation of prayer, the fact that mystics experience sexual arousal during prayer. With the male Christ of course, this amounts to a homoeroticism of prayer.

An extract from the Dark Night quite clearly draws on homoerotic imagery, and has a valuable place in spiritual practice for gay men:

“Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined
Beloved with lover,

Lover transformed in the Beloved!
Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping,

and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.
The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;

With his gentle hand
He caressed my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.
I remained, lost in oblivion;

My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.”

Select bibliography

Catholic Encyclopedia – entry on John of the Cross (available online)
St. John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul, trans. E. Allison Peers, 3rd ed. (Garden City NY: Image/Doubleday, 1959)
Rougement, Denis de, Love in the Western World, trans. Montgomery Belgion, rev. ed. (New York: Pantheon, 1956; pb New York: Harper, 1956), 159-64

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