Friday, May 29

Social Justice and the Principle of the Common Good

What is the “common good?” For some, this has been a rather tenuous and difficult term. The famous novelist and playwright Ayn Rand once said, “Throughout history, no tyrant ever rose to power except on the claim of representing ‘the common good.’ Napoleon ‘served the common good’ of France. Hitler [was] ‘serving the common good’ of Germany. Horrors which no man would dare consider for his own selfish sake are perpetrated with a clear conscience by ‘altruists’ who justify themselves by-the common good.”[1] The phrase “common good” has been misused and abused time and time again. But this negative connotation, this hiding behind a blanket term as a justification for injustice, is not the only definition one may find of the “common good,” and certainly not the one used in Catholic Social Thought.

Others may define the “common good” in relation to philosophy, politics, social implications and so forth - i.e., the popular conception of the common good as being a good share by the society or a community. Particularly in the United States, many people have become increasingly individualistic. But as Thomas Merton and others have said, no man is an island - we live in society, and rights are only common - or good is only common - if it is available to all. The United States tends to promote individualism - liberty and freedom for the individual. But the Church would say that it rejects extreme individualism in an effort to promote the common good.

It is not wrong to say that the individual is wrong to attain self-happiness or good for oneself, but rather, “A common good suggests that you and others are not simply isolated individuals pursuing isolated goals, but also that you and your neighbor are not simply cogs in a larger social collective. Rather, there is a shared good that belongs to everyone.”[2] There are several key concepts in Catholic Social Thought that would challenge modern political systems: the common good, solidarity, subsidiarity, and justice. This common good works against the molds of injustice, inequality, and alienation to foster a better common life for the people.

Catholic Social Thought and Common Good
In fact, Catholic Social Thought contends that seeking the common good is integral to our dignity as human beings. The question arises, then, about why it is integral to dignity. At a speech in 2004, Hilary Clinton said, “Many of you are well enough off that … the tax cuts may have helped you. We're saying that for America to get back on track, we're probably going to cut that short and not give it to you. We're going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good.”[3] This is a very strong statement to make, one which caused quite a bit of uproar across the United States. But as Pope John XIII once said, “The attainment of the common good is the sole reason for the existence of civil authorities.”[4] This can sometimes lead to unfairness, which may seem antithetical to the common good. Thus, in order to have a better grasp on this “common good,” it is necessary to explore what it means and how it is applied.

Essentially, the common good is making sure no one misses out. For a working definition of what the Church sees as the common good, we turn to Gaudium et Spes. This Vatican II document declared that the “The common good... [is] the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.”[5] In other words, the common good is intended to create human flourishing. The common good can be viewed in four ways: basic rights, respect for persons, interpersonal flourishing, and social integration. CST[6] sets forth critical principles for informing political discourse in policy making.[7] 

The notion of the common good has roots in both religious and secular traditions and teachings - CST, the Protestant social gospel, Judaism, Islam, as well as in the Constitution itself, which says that government should exist to promote “the general welfare” of the people.[8] One of the earliest references to the notion of the common good comes from Epistle of Barnabas 4:10, written between AD 80-120, "Do not live entirely isolated, having retreated into yourselves, as if you were already made upright; instead, gathering together for the same purpose, seek out what is profitable for the common good" (emphasis mine). We see this “common good” also present in St. Augustine’s City of God, as well as in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas - which became the basis for modern Catholic moral theology. When Pope Leo XIII released Rerum Novarum (1891) and began the modern Catholic Social Justice movement, this was again brought to the forefront of the social mission of the Church. This is further evidenced by some of the papal encyclicals, such as Pope John XIII’s Mater et Magistra (1961) and Pope John Paul II’s Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987).

Today, as aforementioned, although the Church sees individuals and groups as responsible for promoting the common good, it also recognizes the role of the state. It declares that “its whole raison d'etre is the realization of the common good in the temporal order... the duty to protect the rights of all its people, and particularly of its weaker members, the workers, women and children. It can never be right for the State to shirk its obligation of working actively for the betterment of the condition of the workingman.”[9] On the other hand, the state is also, one would argue, largely responsible for setting into motion “structures of sin.”[10] The role of the state in this must be recognized.

One example of these “structures of sin” from United States history would be that of racism. When slavery was abolished as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation, the structures in which people were viewed through the lens of racism were still in place. This is why, nearly one hundred years later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was still fighting against segregation and why we still fight against racial profiling and racist attitudes today. The structures of the past can and do effect the future, and we are each called as individuals and as communities to promote the common good and work against the “structures of sin” that have been put into place.

By dismantling these structures, effectively building bridges and not walls, so to speak, human flourishing can increase and not decrease. In the past, the Church has used images of a musical ensemble or sports teams, both of which lead to human flourishing. One may suggest the image of a Spring flower coming into full bloom. It is no longer sprouting, but it is shining forth - it has bloomed. The downside of this is that sometimes, forging laws on human flourishing can lead to intrusive political authority. These pitfalls can be avoided by recapturing the common good as a principle. Many Catholic leaders are attempting to find ways to pose questions in ways that can inform all parties as well as improve available policy options and choices available to both citizens and to policy makers.[11]

Now, one of the things that the common good has been criticized for is that it is - ironically - not “fair,” as seen in Hilary Clinton’s words concerning the common good. There are some who are paid higher wages, because they had access to higher education, and therefore must pay higher taxes to help those who are not able to contribute to society.[12] Yet it is precisely this kind of unfairness that the common good is working to eliminate, and one of the ways the Church continues to promote and advocate for these structures changes are through the three key social virtues of solidarity, subsidiarity and justice.

Solidarity, Subsidiarity and Justice
These social virtues of solidarity, subsidiarity and justice are central to the realization of a just political community that is working for the common good. What do these three terms mean in light of CST? We may define solidarity as: "The appropriate balancing of responsibilities and functions among the parts of a social order. It has its origin in the Catholic understanding of community, which perceives a community not as so many individuals connected by contracts, but as a corporate whole—a moral and cultural body that, like any body, is comprised of limbs and parts the differences of which contribute to the good of the whole. The ethic that pertains to the unity of the body is called solidarity. The ethic that pertains to the role of the parts is subsidiarity. And the good of the whole by which solidarity and subsidiarity are measured is called the common good. In the complete sense, this understanding is referred to as the Mystical Body of Christ. Romans 12:4-5 puts it this way. 'For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another.' But, Catholic teachings encourage us to promote such an understanding in all human associations. Hence, the Church argues that subsidiarity (like solidarity and common good) is an ethic to apply even to political governance."[13]

The principle of subsidiarity can apply to a variety of areas in life, one of which is private property. Today, state and public ownership of property is increasing.[14] This may be due to the higher demand of public authority to extend its activity into different spheres, but in this discussion or private and public property, the principle of subsidiarity must be borne in mind. There must be safeguards so that the State does not over-extend its ownership beyond the needs and demands of the common good, otherwise private property - private ownership as a whole - could be dissolved.[15]

The Church has spoken of solidarity as a duty, one which is not simply the desire to change but the will to incite and enact change, as well as a call to commitment and servitude. According to Mark’s gospel, those who wish to become great must become a servant, and those who wish to be first must be last – they must become a servant to all (Mark 10:43). But solidarity is also spoken of as a principle. This principle is intended to let us walk in “their” shoes in order to learn how to help others. The message of the gospel is transformative, and when we engage in social justice we not only attempt to avoid evil but overcome it entirely. It is concerned with building the kingdom of God on earth and through God’s love in our lives, loving our fellow brothers and sisters and bringing justice and love to all the nations.

This justice is seen as a social virtue insofar as it is seen as the remedy of injustice. Mater et Magistra spoke of this remedy, noting that the aim of humanity must be to “achieve in social justice a national and international juridical order, with its network of public and private institutions, in which all economic activity can be conducted not merely for private gain but also in the interests of the common good.”[16] On a theological level, we see God as just. In the Hebrew Bible, he establishes just laws in the form of the Ten Commandments, and in the New Testament, John the Baptist believed that Jesus was the fulfillment and enactor of justice itself. Therefore, in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament we find a consistent message of justice and the enactment of justice. Dr. King later defined just and unjust laws by contending that a just law is one which builds up the human personality, whereas an unjust law is one that tears down the human personality.[17] Out of this context, we began to consider social sin.

Social sin is responsible for the “structures of sin.” For example, we may purchase products which have actually been made by children in sweatshops or products that have been made with material gained from a brutal war – and by purchasing these products, we are also supporting these efforts. This is engaging in social sin. Purchasing chocolate that comes from child slaves and child laborers in the Ivory Coast is a social sin. The previously mentioned example of racism is another prominent example of social sin, as is the treatment of Native Americans in the colonial period.

Catholic teaching on social justice, then, is not an attempt at focusing on the individual at the cost of the entire community, but using the individual to help the entire community – specifically those who are in poor economic and social standing based on the dignity of the human person. In the Christian tradition, this comes down to a three-fold process: 1) taking the situation into consideration and observing it; 2) reflecting upon the Scriptures; 3) then acting out of love and social justice on behalf of other. In order to have these three social virtues, there must be a proper balance. Again, this necessary balance is also carried out by the State.

The common good makes demands on both the national and the international level. On the national level, it demands “employment of the greatest possible number of workers; care lest privileged classes arise, even among the workers; maintenance of equilibrium between wages and prices; the need to make goods and services accessible to the greatest number; elimination, or at least the restriction, of inequalities in the various branches of the economy—that is, between agriculture, industry and services; creation of a proper balance between economic expansion and the development of social services, especially through the activity of public authorities; the best possible adjustment of the means of production to the progress of science and technology; seeing to it that the benefits which make possible a more human way of life will be available not merely to the present generation but to the coming generations as well.”[18] On the international level, it demands “the avoidance of all forms of unfair competition between the economies of different countries; the fostering of mutual collaboration and good will; and effective co-operation in the development of economically less advanced communities. These demands of the common good, both on a national and a world level, must also be borne in mind when assessing the rate of return due as compensation to the company's management, and as interest or dividends to investors.”[19]

The Church, in its social mission, would argue that even a leadership role among nations “can only be justified by the possibility and willingness to contribute widely and generously to the common good.”[20] This is important for a number of reasons. If the “common good” is not important to the leader, then agriculture, industry and services will likely plummet. There are many people living in less developed areas, and each of these individuals must be treated with affirmation of dignity and respect for their person, so that they too may have a role in their own economic, social and cultural advancement.[21]

But the attitudes and “structures of sin” are only overcome if each person is committed to the good and the well-being of our neighbor. This “neighbor” includes everyone. This is also why the Church maintains that each nation must have a moral responsibility for other nations, which should lead to a deepening of international structures and relationships. These international relationships, largely as a result of modern globalization, could have the equality for all people as its foundation. This is why Pope John XIII wrote that “The economically weaker countries, or those still at subsistence level, must be enabled, with the assistance of other peoples and of the international community, to make a contribution of their own to the common good with their treasures of humanity and culture, which otherwise would be lost for ever.”[22]

An early church father, John Chrysostom (AD 347–407), once wrote, “This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good... for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for his neighbors.”[23] Chrysostom’s point is that the Church must live in solidarity, promote subsidiarity, and promote justice. By promoting justice, we are promoting peace, and by promoting these social virtues, we can hope to effectively promote the common good.

Application and Analysis
The common good as a concept is relatively easy to see as a positive. But when the common good is applied to a current issue, many are finding it difficult to always implement. There are a number of current issues and topics that tie in directly to the notion of the common good as outlined above - both on the local level and on the global level. But one example worth exploring concerns vaccines which have recently been seen as being required for the “common good” - and not all agree.

Some believe that when it comes to vaccinations, the common good takes away the freedom of choice. If the common good requires people to be vaccinated, this seemingly removes their "freedom." But this raises other questions - what about the rights of the children? Our votes help legislators to represent the demands of the people in determining and passing laws that protect the common good.[24] There are now laws which limit what parents can do with their children, so that they may not abuse their children, regardless of personal or religious beliefs. This is not a matter of the State "owning" children, but rather, the laws serves as an acknowledgment of the responsibility of each individual in protecting children from parents who would endanger them. A good amount of scientific research has been done that indicates that "parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated endanger their children as well as those around them. The vast majority of Americans believe these facts override parental rights."[25]

A recent example of the need for vaccinations is helpful here. As discussed by the Catholic Sun, a Catholic News Network, there was recently a nationwide measles outbreak which began in an amusement park in Southern California.[26] This has contributed to the debate concerning one’s social obligation to have themselves and their children vaccinated against diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the current outbreak has resulted in over 120 cases in 17 states this year and has brought the discussion once more to the forefront.[27] It is within this discussion that one begins to see the complexities of trying to promote the “common good” while also maintaining other moral responsibilities. 

The Catholic Church has raised a number of moral concerns about vaccinations over the years. There are many vaccinations which have been made with human cell lines derived from voluntarily aborted fetuses.[28] That has been the major point of contention with vaccinations. Another concern was the alleged link with Autism. Dr. Paul Braaton, the former president of the Catholic Medical Association, has recently said that “There are a lot of concerns regarding vaccines. Some of them may be overblown. The link with autism we now know came from some bad science and manipulated research out of England, but the problem is that the pharmaceutical companies didn’t adequately address these concerns as they came up.”[29] Braaton is referring to a 1998 study on children who refused to vaccinate their children against measles - the results of which have now been debunked, as he noted.[30] This is one of the major reasons for the hesitation on the part of many parents now, because of this study and others like it, causing the parents to not immunize their children.

Regarding the human cell lines in aborted fetuses, in 2005, the Pontifical Academy for Life released a study titled “Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared From Cells Derived From Aborted Human Fetuses” to help those struggling with the moral implications of getting such vaccines. Using these vaccines, it said, carries out “a form of very remote mediate material cooperation” with evil, but it noted that practicing Catholics are permitted to use these vaccines in the absence of ethical alternatives. This is one of the reasons why both Catholics have a responsibility to push for the creation of morally alternative vaccines. At the same time, the Pontifical Academy also said these families should not to sacrifice the common good of public health as well as the well-being of children and pregnant women simply because there is no substitute. Robert Saxer, the former executive vice president of the Catholic Medical Association, said that “the bottom line is that vaccines derived from abortions should mainly be avoided and used only when alternatives are unavailable. But there is really no reason why those alternatives should be unavailable. The pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the vaccines have the ability and know-how to produce versions of these vaccines which do not depend on cell lines from aborted fetuses... They should be pressured to develop those vaccines to meet the health needs of those who have religious and ethical objections to abortion.”[31]

The Catholic Medical Association has stated that they are not against vaccines, nor, it seems, is the Pontifical Academy for Life. The moral issue lies in the CST principle of human rights - specifically, the right to life. If on the one hand we are pro-life in regard to abortion but also proceed to consider the use of cells from aborted fetuses in making vaccinations to be moral, then there is an immoral double-standard at work. Vaccination itself is seen in CST as a moral good, as it is good for the “patients, and that it has benefited society greatly. We have a responsibility as moral agents to protect the common good and to immunize ourselves and our children against communicable disease.”[32] But the social doctrine of the Church would also address the immoral usage of the human cells. Cases and issues such as this help us to see the social and moral complexity behind the common good. But these discussions are also necessary - for increasing awareness of morality and immorality, for increasing concern for the common good, for defending human rights at all ages, and for fighting for justice, not injustice. This is what CST speaks to - all the while remembering that it must be done in love.

In the 1620, Francis Bacon, famous philosopher and scientist, wrote a work called the Instauratio Magna - the "Great Renewal". On the cover of this work was an image of a ship sailing beyond the Pillars of Hercules, known today as the Strait of Gibraltar. In antiquity, the Pillars of Hercules were seen as the edge of the world, and no one went beyond this threshold. This image was intended to call to mind the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus, which introduced the Europeans to new lands, to new peoples, and many other things. These discoveries - for Bacon - indicated what people could accomplish if they worked in the right way. His central message was “We can do this if we all just work together”.[33] This is the common good. Waging war against injustice is intended to promote human flourishing on all levels - social, religious, economic, political, mental, emotional, and so forth. Just as “Rome was not built in a day,” neither shall peace be built in a day. The common good of humanity is intended to bring about peace, and “peace is something that is built up day after day, in the pursuit of an order intended by God, which implies a more perfect form of justice among men."[34]

This justice is achieved by recognizing the dignity of all men and women and as a global society, working together for the common good of all. The Anglican Church has cited St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians as an inspiration that should bind believers and non-believers. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”[35] The Anglican Church, the Catholic Church and many others long for a better world that reflects St. Paul’s words. But one must not simply “think about these things,” but in order to have a better politics for a better nation, we need to act on these things.[36] The concept of the common good has taken on many definitions and many forms, and it is clear that it is not altogether straightforward. Moral issues rarely are. But the duty of not only Catholics but all people is to promote the common good of all, which may yet one day lead us together, as Bacon so aptly put it - to crossing the threshold together.

[1] Rand, Ayn. "The Only Path to Tommorow". Readers Digest, January 1944. 88-90. Print.
[2] Cloutier, David. “Modern Politics and Catholic Social Teaching” in The Heart of Catholic Social Teaching. 98. Print.
[3] "Hillary: We’ll Take Your Money for ‘common good’." WND, 29 June 2004. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.
[4] Pope John XIII. Pacem in Terris 54.
[5] Gaudium et Spes 26. 
[6] Catholic Social Thought or Catholic Social Tradition.
[7] "Reflections on the Common Good and Catholic Social Teaching." YouTube, 24 Dec. 2010. Web. 9 Mar. 2015.
[8] Wallis, Jim. "Whatever Happened to the "Common Good"?" TIME Society. TIME, 3 Apr. 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.
[9] Mater et Magistra: Christianity and Social Progress 20.
[10] Cloutier 103.
[11] “Reflections on the Common Good and Catholic Social Teaching." 
[12] Ibid.
[13] Schneck, Stephen. "What Is Subsidiarity?" Institute for Policy Research; Catholic Studies. The Catholic University of America, 2 June 2011. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.
[14] Mater et Magistra 117.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid. 37.
[17] In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963.
[18] Ibid., 79-81.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Sollicitudo Rei Socialis: The Social Concerns of the Church 3.23.
[21] Mater et Magistra 151.
[22] Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 5.39.
[23] Wallis.
[24] "Vaccines Required for Common Good." LancasterOnline. 15 Feb. 2015. Web. 10 Mar. 2015. 
[25] Ibid.
[26] Madden, Nate. "Catholics Urged to Remember 'common Good' in Vaccine Debate." The Catholic Sun. Catholic News Service, 13 Feb. 2015. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Ibid.
[29] Ibid.
[30] Ibid.
[31] Ibid.
[32] Ibid.
[33] Benington, Joel H. "The Birth of Science." How Science Really Works. 1st Ed. ed. St. Bonaventure: St. Bonaventure University, 2004. 31. Print.
[34] Gaudium et Spes 78.
[35] Philippians 4:8.
[36] Hutton, Will. "Don’t Condemn the Church. Who Else Argues for the Common Good?" The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 21 Feb. 2015. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.

Thursday, May 28

Galileo, the Church and the Heliocentric Affair

Galileo Galilei has been hailed as the father of modern astronomy and modern physics. But he is also famous for his infamous trail with the Catholic Church in 1633. The popular version of this affair is as follows: “Galileo, a scientist of highest rank, proved the theory advanced by Copernicus in the 16th century, namely that the sun is the center of the world around which the earth revolves annually while rotating on its axis. The Catholic Church, which held to the geocentric model wherein the earth is static, condemned Galileo as a heretic for his claim. He was then tortured, threatened with execution until he recanted, imprisoned for life, blinded and refused Catholic burial.”[1] But contrary to popular belief, a large amount of hagiography and other legends surround this incident, and the social, political, textual and scientific realities of the time reveal a much more complex issue.[2]

In an address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1992, Pope John Paul II expressed his hopes that "theologians, scholars, and historians... will study the Galileo case more deeply and, in frank recognition of wrongs from whatever side they come, [will] dispel the mistrust that still opposes, in many minds, a fruitful concord between science and faith... One might perhaps be surprised that... I am returning to the Galileo case. Has not this case long been shelved and have not the errors committed been recognized? That is certainly true."[3] But as is pointed out, incidents such as what happened with Galileo must be researched and remembered if we are to stop history from repeating itself. One would contend that a cursory look at what transpired between Galileo and the Catholic Church early in their relationship, the meeting with Cardinal Bellarmine in 1616, and the events leading up to his trial at the hands of the Holy Office in 1633 are worth reconsidering in light of scholarly research, scientific understanding and a look at the original documents themselves if we are to come to a fuller understanding of what actually occurred, moving beyond the legendary into reality.

The Life of Galileo Galilei
Born in the Italian city of Pisa in 1564, Galileo was raised as a Roman Catholic and was sent to a Jesuit monastery to study medicine. Four years in, he felt that he was called to be a monk, and began considering priesthood.[4] He joined the Vallumbrosan Order as a novice at age 14,[5] but a year later his father withdrew him from the Order, feeling that his son had a different calling. Moving into science and mathematics, by the time Galileo was 25, he had invented a hydrostatic balance, written an essay on gravity, and gained the attention of several theologians and scientists, including the Jesuit mathematician Christopher Clavius and the Marquise Guidubaldo del Monte, the brother of Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte.[6]

Throughout his life, Galileo fathered three illegitimate children - the eldest, Virginia, was born in Padua in 1600. Virginia went on to join the Sisters of St. Clare, and he had joined the Secular Franciscans.[7] Although a devout Catholic throughout his life, as evidenced by his writings, he refrained from marrying the mother of his children, and thus, bought a villa close to Virginia’s convent in 1617.[8] He did this because the illegitimacy of his daughter would necessitate a larger dowry than he desired to pay, thus, his girls were forced to stay in the convent for the remainder of their father’s lives.[9]

During his scientific career, he wrote a number of works including his Letter on Sunspots, the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, written in the style of a Platonic dialogue, the Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Sciences, as well as a number of letters to his critics and inquirers. It was several of these works, in which he held the heliocentric model of the solar system proposed in 1543 by Nicholas Copernicus to be true, that led to trouble with the larger scientific community and ultimately, the Catholic Church - in 1616 and again in 1633. The consequences of the latter led to his house arrest by the Holy Office until his death in 1642, in which he received viaticum (last rites) and was buried.[10]

Competing Models of the Universe
At the core of the Galileo affair, we find competing models of the universe. In antiquity, the Greek astronomer Ptolemy held a view now known as the geostatic view, claiming that the earth was motionless - and geocentric - that the center of the universe was the earth.[11] Prior to this, Greek philosopher Aristotle held a similar view. Aristotle had argued against the heliocentric (or geokinetic) view which placed the sun at the center, so that by the time of Galileo, most had accepted the geocentric view of the universe. Aristotle argued that if heliocentrism were true, one would observe parallax shifts in the position of the stars as the earth moved around the sun. Indeed, even when Galileo had eventually promoted heliocentrism, he could not disprove this notion, as the technology was not yet available to demonstrate a parallax shift. At this point, the evidence indicated that the stars were fixed in their positions and that the earth and stars did not move in space, only the sun, the moon and planets.[12] 

Consider the example of sunspots. Since sunspots are sometimes large enough to be seen by the human eye, sunspots had been seen through the centuries in Europe, the Near East and in China, and in 1607, Kepler mistook a sunspot for Mercury passing in front of the sun.[13] There had been early forms of telescopes for many centuries, but it was not until the Dutch had made a spyglass in 1608-1609 that telescopic discoveries could more easily be made. Thus, it is understandable as to why various discoveries and models of scientific thinking took longer to develop than others, given the lack of available technology at certain time periods.

Now, concerning models of the universe, it was the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus in 1543 who published his work On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, bringing back the heliocentric model once postulated by the pre-Socratic Greek thinker, Pythagoras.[14] Copernicus dedicated his work to to Pope Paul III, and asked a friend, Andreas Osiander, a Lutheran clergyman, to write a preface in which heliocentrism was presented as accounting for the movements of the planets more simply than geocentric model.[15] His idea was that the earth rotated on its own axis each day and annually revolved around the sun, which therefore meant that the earth was not motionless, and not the center of the universe.[16] It was here that Galileo stepped onto the scene, picking up the Copernican view of heliocentrism.

Notably, early on “in his lectures [Galileo] not only taught the old astronomy of Ptolemy, but denied Copernicus explicitly.”[17] It was only after Galileo became famous through his discoveries that he declared his Copernican view in print.[18] Although Galileo did not have proofs for his theory - as the first real proof was found 50-100 years later - he acted as if though he had proofs, but would not present them, as in his view, no one else was intelligent enough to understand them.[19] In fact, there were already parts of Galileo’s theory which could not be supported as they were already outdated by Kepler’s research.[20] Despite this, he refused to accept Kepler’s elliptical planetary orbits,[21] and in one of his works, the Dialogue, Salviati (Galileo's alter ego) dismisses Kepler's lunar tide theory.[22] Although he may not have had proof positive for his theory, the question remains - how did Galileo come to his conclusions? By using the aforementioned Dutch spyglass, he developed a telescope that enabled him to peer into the heavens. He discovered what seemed to him to be mountains and other features on the moon, spots on the sun, the rotation of the sun, phases of Venus, and what appeared to be four “moons” orbiting Jupiter.

While these discoveries made Galileo an instant celebrity throughout Europe, the majority of the academic establishment remained unconvinced by heliocentrism.[23] He believed that the fact that moons orbited Jupiter and that Venus went through phases showed that it orbited around the Sun and demonstrated that geocentrism was false. When examining these various observations, Galileo determined that the geocentric view of the universe was undermined, and sought to promote heliocentrism. Had he promoted it simply as a theory or a method to account for planetary motion, he likely would not have faced the challenges that he later did. But when Galileo began championing heliocentrism as a proven fact - despite the fact that there was not yet any conclusive proof - he ran into problems, and moved the debate from the scientific community into the theological community.[24]

Early Relationship with the Church
“Whatever they can really demonstrate to be true of physical nature we must show to be capable of reconciliation with our Scriptures; and whatever they assert in their treatises which is contrary to these Scriptures of ours, that is to the Catholic faith, we must either prove it as well as we can to be entirely false, or at all events we must, without hesitation, believe it to be so.” - St. Augustine[25]

As aforementioned, Galileo had a much more complex relationship with the Catholic Church than hagiographical accounts indicate. These various encounters with the Church are worth considering as a backdrop to his 1616 meeting with Bellarmine and his trial in 1633. It was previously noted that Galileo was a Secular Franciscan, had at one point been in formation within the Vallumbrosan Order (a Benedictine branch) - and also had a daughter in a Franciscan convent. Clearly, had a relationship with the Church from early on in his life. But later in his life, in 1611, after publishing his Messenger from the Stars, Fr. Christopher Clavius, the chief mathematician and astronomer at the Jesuit Collegio Romano wrote to Galileo to inform him that the astronomers at the college confirmed his discoveries.[26] As a result, wide-eyed and overjoyed, Galileo left for Rome with the expectation of convincing the Church of the Copernican theory, as he felt their findings would support his view. The Jesuits, many prelates, cardinals, and Pope Paul V greeted him, and admitted him into the Accademia dei Lincei whose common goal was to “fight Aristotelianism all the way.”[27] He said in his writings, “Everybody is showing me wonderful kindness, especially the Jesuit Fathers,” and following this visit, he returned to Florence encouraged.[28]

Two years later, in December 1613, the Grand Duchess Christina attended a breakfast at the Medici palace. Here, one of Galileo's former students, Benedictine monk Benedetto Castelli, was asked to explain the significance of the Galileo’s discoveries.[29] During this discourse, the Grand Duchess brought up the apparent contradiction with sacred Scripture, such as when the sun and the moon seemingly stand still over the valley of Ajalon (Joshua 10). Following this, Castelli wrote a letter to Galileo informing him of this conversation, so Galileo decided to write a response to the Duchess.[30] Now, the Council of Trent (1545-1563) had agreed that if the Church Fathers held a consensus on a topic, and was supported by the Scriptures, that settled the matter. At this point, the church leaders used passages from the Church Fathers as well as the works of Aristotle, Ptolemy, and St. Thomas Aquinas to conclude that heliocentrism was a dangerous and fallacious notion.[31] Thus, in his letters - particularly his letter to the Duchess Christina, Galileo decided to also appeal to such an authority. In his reply to the Duchess, with the help of the monk Castelli he found citations that would support his position. He cited St. Jerome, St. Augustine, Tertullian, the Sentences of Peter Lombard, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pseudo-Dionysius, as well as Ecclesiastes, Job, and Jeremiah. He also cited ancient Greek and Roman authorities such as Seneca, Plato, Pythagoras and others.

A further “tool” that Galileo utilized was the notion of phenomenological language, that is, the language of appearances. Today, we say that the sun rises, the sun sets, the “stars are out,” “the moon is out,” and so forth. But this earth-bound terminology does not express true scientific fact, nor is it intended to. The sun appears to rise and set, thus, we describe it by the language of appearances. Galileo used the example of Scripture speaking of God having feet, hands, a face, getting angry and other anthropomorphic qualities that were understood phenomenologically.[32] Now, the Church recognized such passages but during this time period, choosing to promote a personal interpretation of sacred Scripture was an intensely sensitive subject. The Church had just endured the Protestant Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, and one of the main disagreements with Protestants was over personal interpretation of the Bible.

At this point, it is pertinent to take a brief look at what Galileo actually wrote about Scripture and the Church, allowing Galileo to speak for himself: 

- “If these reflections, which are far from my own profession, should contain (besides errors) anything that may lead someone to advance a useful caution for the Holy Church in her deliberations about the Copernican system, then let it be accepted with whatever profit superiors will deem appropriate; if not, let my essay be torn up and burned, for I do not intend or pretend to gain from it any advantage that is not pious or Catholic[33] (emphasis mine). 
- “The motion of the earth and stability of the sun could never be against Faith or Holy Scripture...”[34] 
- “I have no other aim but the honor of the Holy Church and do not direct my small labors to any other goal.”[35] (emphasis mine).

This brief selection of quotes from Galileo’s own writings is sufficient insofar as it helps to show that in these and other writings, Galileo clearly attempted to reconcile heliocentrism with Scripture. He believed, at the point in which he had written this, that the Church was on his side. But the success he faced in Rome in 1611 with the Jesuits and the well-constructed scientific and theological letter to the Duchess did not last. Galileo continued to insist that the Copernican theory was proven, but would not put forth any evidence. Also, his “tide” evidence was discredited by Kepler’s lunar tide research, so the Church came to a place where they no longer took his theory seriously and saw it as a challenge to Scripture and to their authority, as well as science of the day.

Thus, on February 26, 1616, Pope Paul V sent the Jesuit Cardinal Bellarmine to speak with Galileo. He told Galileo that he could view Copernicus’s teachings in a hypothetical light, but could not teach it is a proven fact.[36] Since Galileo agreed to the wishes of Bellarmine and the Pope, there was no injunction against him, and he returned home still believing that he cold discuss the Copernican theories as an hypothesis.[37] But rumor grew that Galileo was brought before the Holy Office or the Inquisition and was forced to abjure his findings, so as a result, Bellarmine defended Galileo, saying: "We... have heard that Mr. Galileo Galilei is being slandered or alleged to have abjured in our hands and also to have been given salutary penances for this. Having been sought about the truth of the matter, we say that the above-mentioned Galileo has not abjured in our hands, or in the hands of others here in Rome, or anywhere else that we know, any opinion or doctrine of his; nor has he received any penances, salutary or otherwise. On the contrary, he has only been notified of the declaration made by the Holy Father and published by the Sacred Congregation of the Index, whose content is that the doctrine attributed to Copernicus (that the earth moves around the sun and the sun stands at the center of the world without moving from east to west) is contrary to Holy Scripture and therefore cannot he defended or held. In witness whereof we have written and signed this with our own hands, on this 26th day of May 1616."[38]

Bellarmine had not condemned or tortured Galileo, but brought him to a bit of a halt. But despite this initial halt to his growing passion and fierce writing, Galileo continued to hold and discuss Copernican theories, as Bellarmine indicated that he could. Unfortunately for Galileo, this initial halt to his teaching was not to be his last, nor the most damaging.

“In the Year of our Lord, 1633”: Trial and Error
For a while, Galileo’s relationship with the Catholic Church continued to stay in good favor. His works were not banned in the official Vatican Index of Banned Books - although the works of Copernicus were. Four years after the encounter with Bellarmine, Galileo’s friend, Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, actually wrote an ode to Galileo, titled “Adulatio Perniciosa”.[39] Further, about seven years after his encounter, Galileo published a book, Assayer, and dedicated to this friend Barberini, who became Pope Urban VII later that year.[40] Pope Urban VIII was fond of Assayer, and actually had it read out loud during some of his meals at the Vatican. The book examines the views of the Jesuit astronomer Orazio Grassi. Galileo disagreed with Grassi, but this did not concern the Pope, who agreed in 1624 to let Galileo hold the Copernican view “with the proviso that it should be ‘hypothetical,’”[41] as Pope Paul V had before him. During his stay in Rome in 1624, Galileo had six private audiences with his friend the Pope, who gave Galileo many gifts, including medals of gold and silver and as well as a pension for his son.[42] He also praised Galileo so much that he referred to him as his “beloved son.”[43] Galileo left Rome, as he had several years prior, believing that he could write about heliocentrism, as long as he noted that it was still hypothetical.[44]

But this freedom was not to last. A few years later, Galileo wrote the Dialogue on the Two World Systems, in which he used an argument which Pope Urban VIII had offered, putting it in the mouth of his character, Simplicio. Unfortunately, Galileo also portrayed Simplicio - as the name suggests - in a very foolish light. The Pope felt mocked and betrayed at how his friend could publicly disgrace him. This was the wrong move for Galileo, intentional or unintentional. He had mocked the very person he needed on his side, and made enemies of the Jesuits, who were once his major supporters. Why had Galileo written such a Dialogue? Galileo was not a very wealthy man, and during his earlier time at the university teaching mathematics, he received a very low salary, and also had to provide dowries for his sisters.[45] Later in life, when he became the chief philosopher and mathematician for the grand duke of Tuscany, he constantly had the need to prove himself, providing new evidences and each written work had to be better than the last.[46] The result was his Dialogue. Thus, the Pope had to decide what to do about his friend. At the time, the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) was going on between Catholics and Protestants. Some had been accusing the Pope of favoring Protestants and becoming a Protestant himself, which frustrated him.[47] This, coupled with his lack of support from the Duke of Tuscany, made the Pope feel as though he needed a scapegoat to reassert and reinforce his authority. Galileo ended up becoming this scapegoat.[48]

Galileo was called to Rome to answer to the Holy Office. On April 12, 1633 his trial began when the Commissary Vencenzo Maculano asked Galileo “Did you write the book Dialogue?” There were three scholars - Inchofer, Riccardi, and Oreggi - appointed by the Pope to review this book and their conclusion was that the author held and defended the Copernican theory. Interestingly, prior to this, four church censors had previously approved the book for publication and given it an imprimatur.[49] Now, at the first session of the trial, Galileo showed confidence. He did not feel he had anything to hide or worry about. But at the second session, a copy - not the original, with no signatures - of an injunction against Galileo from Fr. Segizzi written in 1616 was presented. This has been considered very suspicious to most scholars, possibly a forgery.[50] By this point, Segizzi was dead, as was Cardinal Bellarmine, and the Holy Office had simply “found” this document. There was no way to prove it was actually written by him. Galileo was shocked, and claimed that he had never received an injunction from Segizzi. Pope Urban VIII stated that he would not have encouraged Galileo in 1624 had he known of the injunction, as did Riccardi - who had given the work the imprimatur (approval).[51]

Bellarmine’s letter to Galileo said nothing of any kind of injunction against him, but was only given a monitum (warning) by Bellarmine in 1616.[52] Galileo thus said in his defense, “Lord Cardinal Bellarmine told me that Copernicus's opinion could be held suppositionally, as Copernicus himself had held it... he told me that otherwise, namely taken absolutely, the opinion could be neither held nor defended... I keep a certificate by Lord Cardinal Bellarmine himself... in which he says that Copernicus's opinion cannot be held or defended, being against Holy Scripture. I present a copy of this certificate, and here it is.”[53]

Despite his defense as well as his previous relationships with the Church, Galileo was asked to recant his findings, his Dialogue was banned and put on the Index of Banned Books, and he was asked to recite the seven penitential psalms once a week for three years, and was sentenced to house arrest.[54] Galileo returned to Florence, and took this as an opportunity to resume the work on mechanics he had put aside twenty years prior. This resulted in what is arguably his most important work, the Two New Sciences, published in 1638. Galileo combined mathematics and experimental science in a new way. Toward the end of his life he lost his eyesight, and died in 1642. Significantly, Galileo was still buried in the church of Santa Croce in Florence.

As is apparent, there were a number of complex factors at play in the Galileo affair. The hagiographical accounts of Galileo have been largely exaggerated, as evidenced by the trial records, the writings of Galileo himself, the letters of Cardinal Bellarmine, and an examination of the known facts. There still exists debate about certain aspects of the trial, such as the authenticity of the Segizzi injunction, but contrary to the popular account of the Galileo affair, the real struggle was not necessarily between religion and science, but between new science and old science. What the Church did not like was a challenge to its authority. As aforementioned, the theologians saw trouble coming from a single individual - in the two hundred years prior, they had already dealt with William Tyndale, John Wycliffe, John Knox, John Calvin, Thomas Muntzer - and all of those who were against the Catholic Church. The Church, therefore, had its guard up. The records from his trial show that when he was finally called to Rome, there was “no direct discussion and its many passages referring to astronomical matters, even though those were the foundation of the charges against him.”[55] More notably, already by the late 1600s, Jesuits were teaching Copernican astronomical theory in their missions to the East.[56] Galileo’s legacy lived on.

Aruthur Koestler, Hungarian author, once wrote of Galileo and his impact, “Galileo did not invent the telescope; nor the microscope; nor the thermometer; nor the pendulum clock. He did not discover the law of inertia; nor the parallelogram of forces or motions; nor the sun spots. He made no contribution to theoretical astronomy... and did not prove the truth of the Copernican system. He was not tortured by the Inquisition, did not languish in its dungeons, did not say ‘eppur si muove’; and he was not a martyr of science. What he did was to found the modern science of dynamics, which makes him rank among the men who shaped human destiny.”[57] The Galileo affair has been greatly misconstrued and misunderstood in popular culture. It has been cited as a polemic in science vs. religion debates, and although to some degree this is warranted, the complexity of this matter as well as Galileo’s history with the Church is often ignored. Therefore, one would conclude that what transpired was more of a result of the political, social, economic and scientific issues at play than a strictly religious affair. Moving forward, what happened between Galileo and the Catholic Church should continue to be studied and remembered, so that as we continue to grow as a global community, we do not repeat the mistakes of our past, but look forward to the future together.

Sources Consulted
Blackwell, Richard. Behinds the Scenes at Galileo’s Trial. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006. Print.

Custance, Arthur C. “The Medieval Synthesis and the Modern Fragmentation of Thought”. Grand Rapids: Science and Faith, The Doorway Papers VIII, 1978. 154. Print.

Daly, John S. Theological Status of Heliocentrism. 1997. 1. Web.

Decaen, Dr. Chris. "Dr. Chris Decaen Lecture: Galileo & The Church." Thomas Aquinas College. Thomas Aquinas College Board of Governors., 27 Aug. 2010. Web. 6 Mar. 2015.

Finocchiaro, Maurice A. The Galileo Affair. California: University of California Press, California Studies in the History of Science, 1989. Print.

Kinkel, John R. “The Galileo Affair: A Sociological Investigation into Religious Conflict”. 2nd ed. Rochester: Religious Studies Oakland University, 2010. Web.

Koestler, Arthur. The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe. London, 1959. 353. Print.

Lentini, Liza. "20 Things You Didn't Know About Galileo." Discover Magazine. Kalmbach Publishing, 2 July 2007. Web. 21 Mar. 2015. .

McMullin, Ernan. “Galileo on science and Scripture”. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. 271-347. Print.

Schirmaccher, Thomas. Legends about the Galileo Affair. Friedensallee: RVB International, 2001. 8-30. Print.

Winschel, Jason. “Galileo -Villain or Victim?”. The Angelus, October 2003. 9-39. Print.

"The Galileo Controversy." Catholic Answers. Web. 14 Mar. 2015.

[1]  Winschel, Jason. “Galileo -Villain or Victim?”. The Angelus, October 2003. 10. Print.
[2] Decaen, Dr. Chris. "Dr. Chris Decaen Lecture: Galileo & The Church." Thomas Aquinas College. Thomas Aquinas College Board of Governors., 27 Aug. 2010. Web. 6 Mar. 2015
[3] Ibid. .
[4] Lentini, Liza. "20 Things You Didn't Know About Galileo." Discover Magazine. Kalmbach Publishing, 2 July 2007. Web. 21 Mar. 2015. <>
[5] Winschel 11.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Galileo's Battle for the Heavens. NOVA. PBS, 2002. DVD.
[8] Lentini. 
[9] Ibid.
[10] Winschel 38.
[11] Finocchiaro, Maurice A. The Galileo AffairCalifornia: University of California Press, California Studies in the History of Science, 1989. 7. Print.
[12] "The Galileo Controversy." Catholic Answers. Web. 14 Mar. 2015. 
[13]  Blackwell, Richard. Behinds the Scenes at Galileo’s Trial. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006. 66. Print.
[14]  Finocchario 7.
[15]  Catholic Answers.
[16] Finocchario 15.
[17] Schirmaccher, Thomas. Legends about the Galileo Affair. Friedensallee: RVB International, 2001. 20. Print.
[18] Ibid., 21.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Ibid., 22.
[21] Winschel 14.
[22] Decean.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Catholic Answers.
[25] Quoted in Providentissimus Deus. Derived from The Great Encyclical Letters of Leo XIII. Rockford: TAN Books and Publishers, 1995. 294. Print.
[26] Winschel 14.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Ibid.
[29] McMullin, Ernan. “Galileo on science and Scripture”. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. 277. Print.
[30] Ibid.
[31] Kinkel, John R. “The Galileo Affair: A Sociological Investigation into Religious Conflict”. 2nd ed. Rochester: Religious Studies Oakland University, 2010. 18-19. Print.
[32] “[I] believe that Solomon, Moses, and all other sacred writers knew perfectly the constitution of the world, as they also knew that God has no hands, no feet, and no experience of anger, forgetfulness, or regret; nor will we ever doubt this. But we say what the Holy Fathers and in particular St. Augustine say about these matters, namely that the Holy Spirit inspired them to write what they wrote for various reasons.” from Galileo's Considerations on the Copernican Opinion (1615).
[33] Galileo's Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615). Letters and writings derived from Finocchario.
[34] Galileo's Considerations on the Copernican Opinion (1615). 
[35] Galileo to Monsignor Dini (23 March 1615).
[36] Kinkel 21.
[37] Ibid., 10.
[38] Finocchario 153.
[39] Kinkel 16.
[40] Ibid., 15-16.
[41] Ibid., 19-20.
[42] Winschel 36.
[43] Ibid.
[44] Ibid.
[45] Finnocchario 11.
[46] Ibid.
[47] Kinkel 33.
[48] Finocchario 12.
[49] Kinkel 23.
[50] Ibid.,26.
[51] Ibid., 42.
[52] Kinkel 28.
[53] The Later Inquisition ProceedingsGalileo's First Deposition (12 April 1633); derived from Finocchario 258-259.
[54] Kinkel 31.
[55] Blackwell, XI. 
[56] Winschel 39.
[57] Koestler, Arthur. The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe. London, 1959. 353. Print.

Tuesday, May 26

St. John of the Cross, Spiritual Aridity and the Dark Night

St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) was a Spanish mystic and Carmelite. After attempting to reform his Order to a more basic form of life, his fellow friars - feeling that his reform was not orthodox - beat him, and locked him in a small cell. Following his escape in August 1578, it was not long before St. John composed his well-known mystical poem, La Noche Oscura - The Dark Night.[1] Though only eight stanzas, the poem is pregnant with relational meaning as the soul seeks union with the Beloved. But the poem has also been interpreted a different way. There are many who speak of going through a period of darkness, despair, or depression. Those in the New Thought or New Age movement, spiritual seekers and even those within Catholicism speak of this period as their “dark night of the soul.” For these individuals, this is another phrase for spiritual dryness or spiritual aridity, often seen as a period of backsliding or a crisis of faith. For example, when 19th century Carmelite St. Thérèse of Lisieux began having doubts about the afterlife, she spoke to her Sisters about going through a dark night.[2]

The suggestion that is implicit in using this terminology to describe a period of crisis is that lapses in one’s faith are signposts of spiritual progress. But one would argue that St. John of the Cross was not discussing a crisis of faith - this notion would come more from existentialist Protestants, such as Soren Kierkegaard, instead of Catholic teaching. St. John would instead contend that lapses of faith move the individual away from God, not toward him. Yet this identification with spiritual aridity and the dark night continues. In more recent years, Mother Teresa wrote that she experienced spiritual aridity. With the help of her spiritual director, Mother Teresa came to view the darkness as the “spiritual side” of her ministry, and as a way of identifying with the suffering Christ:
“‘I have come to darkness,’ she wrote in one letter, ‘for I believe it is a part, a very, very small part, of Jesus’ darkness and pain on earth’... Kathryn Spink, her official biographer, wonders how pervasive this ‘dark night’ was in Mother Teresa’s life. In a letter, Spink wrote: ‘One only had to be with Mother for a while to know that the joy... was not skin-deep... watch how she drew in stature following prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and see how she was visibly energized by being among the people in whom she consistently saw Christ was to realize she was being constantly confirmed in what God was doing through her.”[3]

Thus, the identification of spiritual dryness or aridity and St. John’s dark night of the soul has continued. Moving forward, by exploring the pertinent areas of our saint’s life and by discussing the text of the poem itself, one would argue that we will come a deeper understanding of what was actually meant by the “dark night,” and see that the identification of spiritual aridity with the dark night is actually a fallacious move. Instead, the dark night of the soul has more to do with the purification and purgation of the spirit and of the senses, in which one can then find God. It is through the darkness that one can better recognize the light.

The Life of Juan de la Cruz
Born in 1542, Juan de Yepes y Alvarez was the child of a silk merchant, Gonzalo, and a poor woman, Catalina Alvarez. She was suspected of being of Moorish descent, and as a result, Gonzalo’s family disinherited him.[4] At the age of two, St. John lost his father, and after moving to Medina del Campo, Catalina began raising her three sons on her own. Some of the struggles which the family encountered were formative for St. John’s later mystical theology. At the age of 20, he worked in the local hospital as an orderly, caring for those with contagious and venereal diseases, including syphilis.[5][6] After befriending a Carmelite priest who was deeply impressed with St. John, the priest sponsored his time at the University of Salamanca, a Jesuit university, to study theology.[7] The only stipulation that the priest had given him was that he must enter the Carmelite Order.

Upon entering the Order, he took the name John of St. Matthias, and only later took the name Juan de la Cruz - John of the Cross.[8] In 1567, he was ordained a priest,[9] but after five years as a priest, he started to become disillusioned by the Order, and saw the clear need for reforms. He considered leaving the Carmelites and joining the Carthusians to devote himself to seclusion and contemplation - but this changed when he met St. Teresa of Avila, another Spanish mystic.[10] She was leading part of a reform movement within the Order - the Discalced (barefoot) Carmelites.[11] At the time, St. Teresa was 52 and St. John was 25.[12] Shortly after meeting her, St. John became St. Teresa’s confessor and spiritual director at her convent in Avila, Spain. However, since the Spanish Inquisition was focusing on those who sought spiritual change - largely as a result of the recent Protestant Reformation and the examples of Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli and others, St. Teresa was very cautious in her reforms.

Due to his close spiritual friendship with St. Teresa - often compared to St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi - St. John took up similar reforms within the Order. But in 1577, St. John’s attempts were noticed, and were not taken lightly. He was kidnapped and taken to a non-reformed monastery in Toledo.[13] For the next nine months, St. John was kept in a cell that measured six by ten feet, once used as a toilet,[14] aside from brief visits to the refectory, as the friars would bring him to be flogged during dinner.[15] St. John lived in solitary confinement and was only fed a little bread and water.[16] During the winter he was given no blankets or warm clothes, and during the summer, his rotting clothes hung to his withering body.[17] When he was near death, St. John orchestrated an escape and returned to the convent - although his roles in leadership were removed from him by the non-reformed friars. St. John went on to write a number of important works - including The Dark Night.

St. John would write poems on small scraps of paper, and often, we see that many of his commentaries bear the same titles as his poems.[18] Now, throughout their day-to-day lives, St. Teresa had the Sisters sing, and most of the time they sang St. John’s poetry.[19] The Sisters loved his poems, but often asked him to explain the meaning of the stanzas. As a result, St. John wrote two commentaries on his poem, the Ascent to Mount Carmel and The Dark Night of the Soul. On a related note, when St. John knew he was not going to see someone for a while, he quickly wrote down a phrase, maxim or aphorism he wanted them to contemplate until the next time he saw them. After his death, these sayings were gathered and collected into the Sayings of Light and Love, one of the most famous being, “In the evening of life, you will be examined in love.”[20]

Now, concerning mystical experiences, it is worth noting that St. John was appalled at those he felt were distracted by voices, visions, prophecies and such, as he felt that they would never be able to move beyond these experiences and find union with the Beloved. However, St. John himself experienced these various mystical phenomena, as he attributes his escape plan to a voice in his visions. He also had a vision that showed him the image he proceeded to draw on his hand of the crucified Jesus hanging forward on a cross - from the point of view of the Father. This was a very different kind of depiction of the crucifixion up to this point in Christian artwork, but was later picked up in the artwork of Salvador Dali.[21] Thus, although St. John seemingly frowned upon such mystical experiences, he also experienced them - and mentioned some of these at various places, such as his reference in the Ascent of Mount Carmel to the stigmata of St. Francis.

In 1591, St. John contracted a severe leg infection, and “dying before he even turned 50, this wonder of a man asked those around him on his deathbed to sing him his favorite song - the Song of Songs.”[22] Despite the challenges he faced in life, his vindication came in 1726 when he was canonized as a saint and then again two hundred years later, in 1926, when he was declared one of the Doctors of the Church.[23] In 1993, Pope John Paul II named St. John of the Cross the patron saint of Spanish poets and song writers, having written his doctoral dissertation on him.[24]

The Dark Night
On a dark night,
Inflamed by love-longing - 
O exquisite risk! - 
Undetected I slip away.
My house, at last, grown still.

Secure in darkness,
I climbed the secret ladder in disguise - 
O exquisite risk! - 
Concealed by the darkness.
My house, at last, grown still.

That sweet night: a secret.
Nobody saw me;
I did not see a thing.
No other light, no other guide
Than the one burning in my heart.

This light led the way
More clearly than in the risen sun
To where he was waiting for me
- The one I knew so intimately - 
In a place where no one could find us.

O night, that guided me!
O night, sweeter than sunrise!
O night, that joined lover with Beloved!
Lover transformed in Beloved!

Upon my blossoming breast,
Which I cultivated just for him,
He drifted into sleep,
And while I caressed him,
A cedar breeze touched the air. 

Wind blew down from the tower,
Parting the locks of his hair.
With his gentle hand
He wounded my neck
And all my senses were suspended.

I lost myself. Forgot myself.
I lay my face against the Beloved’s face.
Everything fell away and I left myself behind,
Abandoning my cares
Among the lilies, forgotten.
(Translated by Mirabai Starr)

Before examining the poem itself, it is pertinent to situate the poem within its own tradition and pick up on a few elements that are present within it. Beginning with the line, “On a dark night,” one is tempted to recall Italian poet Dante Alighieri’s opening to Canto I of his Inferno, “At the midpoint on the journey of life, I found myself in a dark forest, for the clear path was lost.” This common element of darkness is heavily present within the mystical tradition - in Dante, St. John of the Cross, and others. For St. John, this darkness arose largely out of his own experience. When writing the poem, he was recalling his imprisonment in the Carmelite monastery. John has now become Jonah, inside the belly of the fish. Being locked up - just as St. Francis of Assisi was centuries prior - in a small cell is very much like returning to the womb, a dark and cold environment where God grows the soul. It seems that God converted the most inactive time of St. John’s life into the most intense, experiential and moving period, making his theology deeply personal yet also detached.

St. John had coined the phrase “the dark night,” but was not the originator of the association between God and darkness. Theologians such as Gregory of Nyssa, Pseudo-Dionysius, Johannes Tauler, Jan van Ruysbroeck and others explored this relationship between God and darkness, inspired by a number of Scriptural passages.[25] In Scripture, we read of the darkness enveloping the primeval earth at its creation (Genesis 1:2), as God created darkness (Isaiah 45:7). According to Psalms, in a poetic sense, God "dwells in thick darkness" and makes darkness "his covering.” God utilizes darkness just as God utilizes light - but though God uses darkness, he is not himself darkness - as 1st John 1:5 says that "in Him there is no darkness at all." Darkness provides rest for mankind, it serves as a covering, it is what God used in the temple to approach men due to his unapproachable light, it was what covered the land of Egypt during the ninth plague,[26] it was how God approached Moses in at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19), and so forth. The association of God and darkness picked up by St. John of the Cross, therefore, has roots throughout Christian tradition.

But this is not the only element of tradition present in the poem. Consider the 14th century text, The Cloud of Unknowing, an anonymous Middle English work, which is seen as a spiritual guide on contemplative prayer. It suggests that the way to know God is to take God out of the box, to not limit God by our own understanding and surrender oneself to the realm of "unknowing." It draws on the mystical tradition of Pseudo-Dionysius and Christian Neo-Platonism, and prior to this, the theme of the Cloud had been in the Confessions of St. Augustine.[27] This work inspired a number of mystics - including John Scotus Eriugena, St. John of the Cross and others. Consider the line at the end of Dark Night, “I lost myself. I forgot myself.” St. John declares in one of his commentaries on this poem that to truly “reach union with the wisdom of God, a person must advance by unknowing rather than by knowing.”[28] The theme of unknowing was also later picked up by Thomas Merton, 20th century Trappist monk and writer, and others.

Merton is notable for a number of reasons, but he gave insight into the ideas and principles in the writings of St. John which speak of his doctrine of detachment from creatures to find mystical union. Although not specifically present in the poem, in St. John’s commentary, Ascent of Mount Carmel, the doctrine of detachment is “sometimes quoted word for word from Saint Thomas in the questions on beatitude. Practically the whole of The Ascent of Mount Carmel can be reduced to these pages of the Angelic Doctor.”[29] This is significant, as we see St. John having attended a Jesuit university for his degree in theology, but also having a grasp on Dominican writings. Thus, he is not only working out of the Carmelite tradition, but also the Dominican and Jesuit traditions.

It can be seen that St. John draws upon a rich tradition of Christian mysticism and is working within a great depth of spiritual wisdom and spiritual seekers. Since Origen (AD 253), the Song of Songs has been a staple of Christian mysticism. Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory the Great, William of Saint Thierry, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Teresa of Avila and others have used Song of Songs. St. John of the Cross also uses the Song of Songs, in keeping with his form of Bridal mysticism.[30] Further, he cites Pseudo-Dionysius a handful of times in his writings, making reference to his Mystical Theology.[31] This poem also fits within a long line of Christian poetry, which is also seen in the Eucharistic hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas and later, of the Wesley brother’s hymns.

In the poem itself, St. John points to a link between human love and divine love, and uses the imagery of marriage and eroticism to express the mystical union between God and man. Carmelite scholar Keith Egan wrote of the poem:
“’Noche oscura has an unmistakable erotic story line, it tells the story of an intense loving encounter between a woman and a man. A young woman leaves her home in night’s darkness. She is filled with deep, loving desires. Though it was dark, she confidently, departs from her home by a secret ladder. Her heart, burning with desire, is a better guide to her lover than the light of the noonday sun. She finds her love waiting for her, a lover she knows ever well. The night which guides her more lovely than the light of dawn and unites her with her lover so she is changed, transformed into her lover. Her lover sleeps on her flowering her breasts which she keeps for him alone. A breeze makes it way from what she calls fanning cedars. In their embrace, she parts his hair and with his lovely hand he wounds her neck. This embraces leaves her oblivious to herself. She forgets about everything as she reclines in ecstasy on her lover leaving all else forgotten among the lilies.”[32]

Eros here is essentially the capacity for desire, “movement to and attraction for the good and beautiful including sexual attraction but not limited to genital expression... [it is] a depiction of eros redeemed and is an example of the intimate connection between nature and grace, both of which point to glory.”[33] It is clear that the Lover and the Beloved, the “characters”of this mystical and theological love poem, are inflamed by the passionate desire for one another. The soul is feminine - the Lover, and God is masculine - the Beloved. “In the Spanish language, the soul, el alma, is also feminine... the pronoun ‘she’ is used throughout the text to identify the spiritual self in love with God.”[34] Consider the repeated lines in the poem: O exquisite risk! / My house, at last, grown still / O night... Each of these three lines speaks of a risk, a rest, and a renewal in the eve of the day. One can also see a number of themes - darkness, love, longing, desire, a journey, secrecy, a guiding light, forgetfulness, passion. Human love contains these various thematic elements, but even more so in the divine relationship. If the Trinity is a divine community of love, St. John seems to be saying, how much more so do we share in that community and communion? Union is implicit within the communion, and it is through this fulfillment of divine longing that the divine and human meet. It moves from communion to communing.

This is the idea that in the night of sense, the soul is stripped away of its perceptions of God, and in the night of spirit, all ideas of God are stripped away. In order to understand this stripping away of perceptions and ideas of God, we may turn to C.S. Lewis. In 1956, Anglican lay theologian C.S. Lewis married Helen Joy Davidman. After only four years of marriage Joy died of bonce cancer. Lewis was devastated, and proceeded to write a journal that later became published under the title of A Grief Observed in 1961. In it, Lewis notes that he is trying to keep himself from loving the idea of her - from only loving what he wanted to remember about her. When she was alive, she would be there to shatter the image he had created of her, whether he had mentally picked and chosen the good and positive things about her and only remembered that part of her - this is what he feared. He wanted to have her around to remind him of who she really was, and he hoped that he would never lose sight of that. In like manner, St. John is suggesting that we know God at birth, but we lose the true reality of God by building up perceptions and images. We have “lost” who God really is. Thus, to begin to come to a deeper understanding of who God is, one must go through the dark night.
The Greek philosopher Plato once said, “He whom love touches not walks in darkness.”[35] Although divorced from its Greek context, for our purposes we may say that St. John’s “dark night of the soul” was still a labor of love from God to man as noted by Plato. Although the phrase later became associated with spiritual aridity and spiritual dryness, the phrase originally referred to the night of senses in which the spirit was purged of its perceptions in order to reach union with the Beloved. We have also seen that this association between God and darkness is not only found in the Biblical tradition, but also in other medieval mystics. Further, the presence of bridal mysticism and eros in the Dark Night demonstrate that St. John was intentionally conveying a message not of backsliding or of spiritual aridity, but of a deep love between God and man. Although one may use the phrase to refer to such as period of darkness, this was not St. John’s original meaning. In the end, then, it is not we, but St. John of the Cross who has the last word, “The Dark Night is the inflowing of God into the soul, which purges it of its ignorances and imperfections, natural and spiritual, which is called by contemplatives infused contemplation... Herein God secretly teaches the soul and instructs it in perfection of love without its doing anything or understanding of what manner is that infused contemplation.”[36]

Sources Consulted
Bodo, Murray. Mystics: Ten Who Show Us the Ways of God. 1st ed. Cincinnati, Ohio: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2007. 96.

Carmody, Denise Lardner, and John Carmody. Mysticism: Holiness East and West. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. 215-216, 218, 296.

Egan, Keith. John of the Cross: A Mystic's Poetry. United States of America: University of Chicago, Lumen Christi Institute, 2013. Film.

Egan, Keith. "The Éros of the ‘Dark Night’." In Seeking the Seeker: Explorations in the Discipline of Spirituality: A Festschrift for Kees Waaijman on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday, 302. 1st ed. Leuven: Peeters, 2008.

Ellsberg, Robert. "St. John of the Cross." In All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time, 544. 1st ed. New York City, New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1998.

Fanning, Steven. "Spanish Mystics of the Golden Age." In Mystics of the Christian Tradition, 149-158. New York City: Routledge, 2001.

Hsia, R. Po-Chia. "New Religious Orders for Men." In The Cambridge History of Christianity: Reform and Expansion 1500-1660, 176-177. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Kavanaugh O.C.D., Kieran, and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D. "The Living Flame of Love by St. John of the Cross." In The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross. 2nd ed. Washington D.C.: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1979.

King, Ursula. Christian Mystics: Their Lives and Legacies throughout the Ages. Mahwah, New Jersey: HiddenSpring, 2001. 153-157.

Larkin, O.C.D., Ernest E. "Spiritual Poverty: The Message of John of the Cross." Emmanuel: The Magazine of Eucharistic Spirituality 90, no. 10 (1984): 575-80.

Martin, S.J., James. "A Saint's Dark Night." New York Times, August 29, 2007. Print.

Martin, S.J., James. "Share This Joy With All You Meet: Mother Teresa." In My Life with the Saints, 173. 1st ed. Chicago, Illinois: Loyola Press, 2006.

Merton, Thomas. The Ascent to Truth. 1st ed. New York City, New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1951. 329.

Peers, E. Allison. Ascent of Mount Carmel: A Masterpiece in the Literature of Mysticism by St. John of the Cross. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Image Books, 1958.

Schrock, Daniel P. The Dark Night: A Gift of God. 1st ed. Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 2009. 45.

Starr, Mirabai. Dark Night of the Soul: St. John of the Cross. 1st ed. New York City, New York: Riverhead Books, 2002. 4.

[1] The poem has variously been called Dark Night of the Soul or Dark Night. Part of the confusion arises due to his commentary on the poem bearing a similar title, but Keith Egan holds that the phrase “of the soul” is actually a later insertion by a copyist, and not actually St. John’s words. Instead, it was simply “noche oscura,” no “of the soul” (Egan, Keith. John of the Cross: A Mystic's Poetry. United States of America: University of Chicago, Lumen Christi Institute, 2013. Film.).
[2] Martin, S.J., James. "A Saint's Dark Night." New York Times, August 29, 2007. 
[3] Martin, S.J., James. "Share This Joy With All You Meet: Mother Teresa." In My Life with the Saints, 173. 1st ed. Chicago, Illinois: Loyola Press, 2006.
[4] Fanning, Steven. "Spanish Mystics of the Golden Age." In Mystics of the Christian Tradition, 149-158. New York City: Routledge, 2001.
[5]  Larkin, O.C.D., Ernest E. "Spiritual Poverty: The Message of John of the Cross." Emmanuel: The Magazine of Eucharistic Spirituality 90, no. 10 (1984): 575.
[6] Starr, Mirabai. Dark Night of the Soul: St. John of the Cross. 1st Ed. ed. New York City, New York: Riverhead Books, 2002. 4.
[7] Starr, Dark Night, 4.
[8] Ellsberg, Robert. "St. John of the Cross." In All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time, 544. 1st ed. New York City, New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1998. 
[9] Fanning , “Spanish Mystics”, 150.
[10] Merton, Thomas. The Ascent to Truth. 1st ed. New York City, New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1951. 329.
[11] The name Discalced Carmelites comes from the sandals its members wore instead of the shoes worn by the unreformed Calced Carmelites. Sandals became a symbol, but the new branch of Carmelites insisted on many other austere features of the original rule approved by Innocent IV in 1247” (Cambridge History of Christianity: Reform and Expansion 1500-1660; 176-177). 
[12] Ellsberg, All Saints, 545. 
[13] Ibid.
[14] Starr, Dark Night, 5.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Bodo, Murray. Mystics: Ten Who Show Us the Ways of God. 1st ed. Cincinnati, Ohio: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2007. 96.
[17] Starr, Dark Night, 5.
[18] King, Ursula. Christian Mystics: Their Lives and Legacies throughout the Ages. Mahwah, New Jersey: HiddenSpring, 2001. 153-157.
[19] Egan, A Mystic’s Poetry.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Fanning, “Spanish Mystics,” 155.
[22] Egan, A Mystic’s Poetry.
[23] Fanning, “Spanish Mystics”, 156.
[24] Egan, Keith. "The Éros of the ‘Dark Night’." In Seeking the Seeker: Explorations in the Discipline of Spirituality: A Festschrift for Kees Waaijman on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday, 302. 1st ed. Leuven: Peeters, 2008.
[25] Schrock, Daniel P. The Dark Night: A Gift of God. 1st ed. Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 2009. 45.
[26] Often seen as a polemic against the Egyptian sun god, Ra.
[27] Confessions IX.10.
[28] Ascent of Mount Carmel I.4.5.
[29] Merton, Ascent to Truth, 132.
[30] There are a number of images and words that appear be derived from the Song of Songs: “loving embrace, nighttime journey in search of the beloved, sense of mystery, burning desires, darkness to light, a loving hand, breast, hair, gentle hand, cool breeze, tower/turret, cedar tree, wound of love, lilies, union of lovers” (Egan, “Eros”, 314).
[31] Egan, “Eros”, 307.
[32] Ibid, 304-305.
[33] Ibid, 301.
[34] Starr, Dark Night, xx. 
[35] The Symposium, chapter seven.
[36] Dark Night of the Soul, Book 2.5. (Derived from Peers, E. Allison. Ascent of Mount Carmel: A Masterpiece in the Literature of Mysticism by St. John of the Cross. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Image Books, 1958.)