Page 8, 30th December 1938

30th December 1938
Page 8
Page 8, 30th December 1938 — ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS " SKIRTING HERESY "

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Organisations: College of the Reform
Locations: Madrid, Almodovar, Toledo, Alcala


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Fr. Martindale's Article In A Recent Issue Of The " Catholic Herald "

SIR,—The short life of St. John of the Cross by Fr. Martindale contains certain rather wild statements the cumulative effect of which is to give readers an unfortunate and misleading idea of the saint.

Thus, in describing the first foundation of reformed friars at Duruelo, Fr. Martindale says: "I forget whether it was now or later that, to Teresa's amusement, John furnished ' the new house with several hour-glasses to make sure that the religious duties should be punctually begun, but entirely forgot to provide mattresses—to which even the ' Reformed ' were entitled. Maybe it was in connection with this that she said that if God had hold of the little Saint by the one hand, she certainly had to hold the other."

Of this it may be said, to begin with, that in the story of the first wonderful days at Duruelo there is a great deal more worthy of note and more likely to interest and edify than this trivial incident of hour-glasses and mattresses. Incidentally, it was not St. John, but his venerable colleague, Fr, Antony, of Jesus, who made such curious collection. Now, this initial inaccuracy, taken along with St. Teresa's remark (which we query), helps to create the idea of a man living in the clouds and quite unable to cope with the ordinary affairs of organised religious life. It is the old, old story of the unfitness of the mystic for every-day existence.

We can readily admit St. John was no organiser or leader of men as was Jerome Grecian or " our great " Doris, but to deny him all administrative ability and to represent him, according to a popular convention, as a moon-struck or heaven-sick mystic is to run completely counter to known historic facts. The man who, still a student himself, was appointed Prefect of Students at Salamanca by the great Rubeo; who later was sent to organise and direct the first College of the Reform at Alcala de Henares; who throughout his life filled many highly responsible offices—Vicar Provincial, Prior, Definitor; who took so leading a part in the Chapters of Almodovar, Alcala, and Madrid, and in championing Anne of Jesus and the nuns against the encroachments of the Consulta, such a man cannot in justice be described as Ka Martindale describes John in the passage quoted. Even Nicholas Doria, former banker of Seville, great administrator but no friend of John's, had to admit that small as he was the saint was worth more than his weight in gold—and he was not speaking of moral worth merely. To quote the most recent life of St. John, written by Fr. Bruno, of the Paris Province of our Order: " John enjoyed both a moral and intellectual authority in the eyes of all his brethren. Not that he was a ruler; the Foundress only placed him third in that respect. ' If Gracium could not be elected Provincial, then Fr. Antony of Jesus should be nominated or Fr. John of the Cross.' But John was something better than an administrator; he was a man of great mentality, and the Mother was well aware of the need of penetrating the brethren with the same ideal from the very beginning, when each house was still going its own way. Thanks to him, the work was accomplished at Alcala, the great University town, even as it had been so humbly at Duruelo, Maneera, and Pastrana itself." And this is the man whom Fr. Martindale would have led about by St. Teresa.

When he comes to deal with the saint's escape from his Toledo prison, the reverend writer -barely touches on the miraculous nature of it but hurries on to paint St. John in ignoble guise indeed. Newman " chucked down " Satan to bell and no critic deems the phrase a dissonance but few will not be jarred when they read how Fr. Martindale sends the Doctor of Mysticism scuttling (like a frightened schoolboy) through the streets of Toledo to the inglorious refuge of a nun's infirmary " into which his pursuers had not the nerve to look."

If this were the truth, it would certainly be a deplorable anti-climax to the magnificent courage of the previous nine months. But it is not the truth, at least not the whole truth.

What is true is that St. John, after making good his escape with manifestly divine aid, found his way to the Monastery of the Carmelite nuns in the city. There he was received with joy. The good news of his escape penetrated even to the infirmary where Sister Anne of the Mother of God lay seriously ill. The sister expressed a wish to go to confession whereon St, John was introduced within the enclosure (where

otherwise he could not have gone) to satisfy her pious wish. While there his jailers arrived and, having searched the parlours and the church, withdrew baffled and empty-handed. This is the truth concerning this incident. It differs from Father Martindale's version of it.

That the writer did feel on insecure ground when relating it is clear from the parenthesis he inserts at this point: " You will find this written with probably more accuracy in the third chapter of my small book, On God's Holy Hills, Burns, Oates, and Washbourne."

Coming to deal with the saint's mystical teaching (to which, of course, in the space at his disposal, he could not give adequate treatment), he makes the astoninshing statement that " while he skirts a score of heresies he lapses into none." These are " wild and whirling words," especially when we recall he is dealing with one whose writings have been subjected to a two-fold vigorous scrutiny—once for the purpose of beatification and canonisation and once again and more recently when the claim to the Doctorate was under consideration. I think if St, John even skirted one heresy (not to speak of a score) he would scarcely have been awarded the plane he has in the Church to-day—not merely a saint whose virtues are proposed for our Imitation but a Doctor whose teachings are set before us for our instruction. In his own special sphere—the higher reaches of the spiritual way—it would be particularly dangerous to have for guide one whose writings were even remotely suspect of heterodox leanings. St. Teresa herself was delated to the Inquisition, but St. John, amid all his other trials and contradictions was at least spared being summoned before that formidable court, exceptionally vigilant though it was in his time and for such as he was reputed to be, mystic and visionary.

In conclusion, one may well regret that Fr. Martindale, on his own admission, has not had time to read properly even some slight part of the much that has been published these last few years on St. John of the Cross. He is so capable of rising to the heights of a great subject. FATHER LUKE, O.D.C. Carmelite Priory, 41, Kensington Church Street, W.8.

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