The Metaphysics of Mysticsm

a Commentary on the Mystical Philosophy of St. John of the Cross

By

Geoffrey K. Mondello

Dedicated to Mary, Mother of God

 

Download entire Manuscript (free) in Download Manuscript in PDF Format  PDF format or   Download Manuscript in Microsoft Word FormatMicrosoft Word 

Home
Preface to the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
Foreword to the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
An Introduction to the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
The Mystical Tradition and St. John of the Cross
The Presuppositions of the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
The Role of the Will in the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
The Role of Understanding in the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
The Role of Memory in the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
The Metaphysics of the Dark Night of the Soul
The Metaphysics of the Night of the Spirit
The Problem of Induction as Pseudo-Problematic
Prolepsis: Objections to the Mystical Experience
Being, Becoming, and Eternity
A Biography of St. John of the Cross
Epilogue to the Metaphysics of Mysticism

© Copyright 2011-2017 by Geoffrey K. Mondello. All rights reserved
author@johnofthecross.com


Foreword

 

In this short commentary on the two principle works of St. John of the Cross Ė the Ascent of Mount Carmel and the Dark Night of the Soul Ė we will, as I stated earlier, be primarily concerned with examining the possibilities of developing a coherent mystical epistemology, that is to say, a theory of knowledge relative to the mystical experience in which the rational elements of this unique experience will become explicit to us, and so enable us to usher at least some very crucial aspects of this phenomenon into the arena of rational discourse. Certainly, this will not make mystics of us. Indeed, this understanding itself is by no means propadeutic to the mystical experience, as we shall later see; that is to say, an understanding of the metaphysical principles underlying the mystical experience is not requisite in the way that, say, an understanding of the relation between rational numbers is presupposed in the exercise of pure mathematics. The mystic, unlike the mathematician, may in fact dispense with such an understanding altogether.

This type of understanding, however, is requisite to the inquiring mind, which is to say, to those of us standing, as it were, outside, peering in through the sometimes-obfuscated lens of rational inquiry. We can, however, only achieve this through carefully examining the various and sometimes involuted arguments which St. John articulates in the development of what must be understood as his mystical philosophy; a philosophy which only gradually, even reluctantly, emerges from the text. Our inquiry, then, essentially boils down to an examination of certain rational features of the mystical experience which lend themselves to the possibility of being so organized as to constitute something systematic enough to be incorporated into what we have come to understand as epistemology. And this, of course, presumes order, sense, meaning and logic. One surprising consequence of our analysis, in short, will be the disclosure of the mystical experience not as antipodal to reason (as some have supposed), but as profoundly consonant with it. However, this reason we seek in St. Johnís account is, we hasten to add, and for reasons that we shall later explain, implicit only; from the outset it often requires patient analysis, but the results will be no less, Ė in fact, all the more Ė compelling for the effort.

Given the broad and inevitable complexity of the issues involved, it appeared to me that the best way to proceed in this type of examination would be through an analysis of the central moments in the movement to mystical union as they logically occur in the two texts. Where there is logical or chronological order to begin with, it seemed to me best to construct an analysis parallel to the already existing continuum. Not only should this help us in a comparative analysis of the text, but it serves to constrain us to the text as well Ė while at the same time allowing us the necessary latitude to extrapolate from it in an attempt to construct an epistemological analysis of our own. In doing so we will find ourselves moving from an examination of those factors external to the mystical experience and generally spoken of in terms of predisposition, to those elements more or less explicitly involved in the actual mystical experience itself and in turn generally spoken of in terms of union. Our purpose, then, is to examine the normative, as well as the descriptive elements in St. Johnís account. To do this, it is vital for us to provide the often-isolated elements which occur in the text with a coherent epistemological framework. This in turn requires us to draw out the logical implications of his statements, examine their premises, however suppressed, elicit their conclusions, however latent, and in the end attempt to demonstrate the coherence, if any, which obtains between them.

A certain antagonism with the text is inevitable. These are fertile but not necessarily congenial grounds for purely philosophical inquiry. There are, for example, certain tacit assumptions, both theological and philosophical in nature, to which St. John often adverts; assumptions, more often than not, in the form of suppressed theses which, if we are at all to succeed in our examination, must be lifted from the text as so many copulas to the intelligibility or our account. We must endeavor, then, to show not merely that certain experiences or consequences follow any given moment in the account, but why they follow logically (that is to say, deductively, or necessarily) from the given moments. As we examine St. Johnís arguments in greater detail, we come to realize that it is not so much an antagonism that we contend with in the account as it is a recalcitrance encountered within the text itself: that certain later statements and arguments essentially derive from earlier statements and arguments is not always clear in the writings of St. John. It remains for us to attempt to render these connections explicit, to endeavor to demonstrate their logical coherence, and to organize them into something systematic if we hope to succeed in articulating an epistemology of mysticism Ė at least St. Johnís mysticism. The ultimate aim of this commentary, in the end, is to give philosophic form to St. Johnís arguments, in effect to develop a coherent philosophy of mysticism, especially in light of the epistemological dimensions suggested within it.

St. Johnís works can be divided into three logical moments: Predisposition, Transition, and Union. Part I of the Commentary, which I have entitled the Presuppositions is principally concerned with the moment of predisposition, that is to say, with the merely mechanical features of mysticism which the latter two moments presuppose. It forms the foundation upon which the mystical momentum builds and in virtue of which much of the subsequent mystical experience is explainable. Its principal feature, we will find, is the apophatic way, better known as the Via Negativa (the Way of Negation, or the Negative Way) in all its mechanical aspects upon which the entire metaphysical infrastructure of mysticism depends. Detailed discussion of this central feature in mystical philosophy is dealt with in Part II of this commentary where it will be examined in detail.

Working from the various principles elicited from St. Johnís foundational work, the Ascent of Mount Carmel, Part II, entitled the Metaphysics, is an attempt to relate the evolving mystical experiences to these principles (the via negativa, notions of participation, proximity, proportion, contrariety, etc.) in order to demonstrate the latter to be, in fact, the logical consequences of the former. It is an attempt to show that, given certain statements concerning the function of these principles, other statements about certain unique types of experience (essentially states-of-being) not just follow, but necessarily, that is to say, deductively, follow. But at the same time we must also come to terms with the limitations inherent in the kind of books St. John was writing; books addressing issues vital to a distinct group of readers (issues that we shall discuss later in Part II ). As a result, deductive relations which do in fact obtain between the various elements in his philosophy are often obscure to the casual reader. Suffice it to say at this point that St. John did not understand himself to be writing an enchiridion on mystical theology replete with deductive schematics to be later analyzed by, and subsequently vex, systematic theologians. Deductive relations do in fact exist, but because of this literary limitation, they must be elicited through careful reading if we are to arrive at that philosophic coherence we strive for in the works of St. John; a coherence that, in fact, is always latent, even in his most abstruse writings.

In the way of explanation, I should like to point out that I have omitted treatment of St. Johnís last two works Ė the Spiritual Canticle and the Living Flame of Love Ė not as an oversight, but simply because, for our own purposes, the pertinent material found in these two treatises derives from, and are largely more elaborate iterations of, the first two principal works in which all the elements in his philosophy are contained in much greater detail. As a final note, an addendum in the form of a prolepsis follows the commentary proper. Within it, various objections posed by skepticism, psychology, and orthodoxy, are briefly considered and answered in light of our examination. This, in turn, is followed by a brief biographical sketch, and an overview of the mystical tradition culminating in the thought of St. John.

_______________________________________

The abbreviations used in this commentary are as follows:

AMC : Ascent of Mount Carmel
DNS : Dark Night of the Soul
SC : Spiritual Canticle
LFL : Living Flame of Love
ST : Summa Theologica (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Documentary references are based upon the translation of St. Johnís works by E. Allison Peers: Ascent of Mount Carmel, Dark Night of the Soul, Living Flame of Love, and Spiritual Canticle, Image Books, Doubleday & Co., Garden City, NY, 1958, 1959, 1961, and 1962.

Scriptural references are from the  Biblia Sacra, Juxta Vulgatam Clementinam  Baronius Press Ltd., London, United Kingdom, Copyright 2008


Introduction

 

Download entire Manuscript (free) in Download Manuscript in PDF Format  PDF format or   Download Manuscript in Microsoft Word FormatMicrosoft Word 

Home
Preface to the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
Foreword to the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
An Introduction to the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
The Mystical Tradition and St. John of the Cross
The Presuppositions of the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
The Role of the Will in the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
The Role of Understanding in the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
The Role of Memory in the Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
The Metaphysics of the Dark Night of the Soul
The Metaphysics of the Night of the Spirit
The Problem of Induction as Pseudo-Problematic
Prolepsis: Objections to the Mystical Experience
Being, Becoming, and Eternity
A Biography of St. John of the Cross
Epilogue to the Metaphysics of Mysticism

© Copyright 2011-2017 by Geoffrey K. Mondello. All rights reserved
author@johnofthecross.com