ENVY AND SLOTH
This essay is the last of John of the Cross’s treatment of hidden sins in religious persons found in his book “The Dark Night of the Soul”.
Of Imperfections with Respect to Spiritual Envy and Sloth.
With respect likewise to the other two vices, which are spiritual envy and sloth, these beginners fail not to have many imperfections. For, with respect to envy, many of them are wont to experience movements of displeasure at the spiritual good of others, which cause them a certain sensible grief at being outstripped upon this road, so that they would prefer not to hear others praised; for they become displeased at others’ virtues and sometimes they cannot refrain from contradicting what is said in praise of them, depreciating it as far as they can; and their annoyance thereat grows because the same is not said of them, for they would fain be preferred in everything. All this is clean contrary to charity, which, as Saint Paul says, rejoices in goodness. And, if charity has any envy, it is a holy envy, comprising grief at not having the virtues of others, yet also joy because others have them, and delight when others outstrip us in the service of God, wherein we ourselves are so remiss.
2. With respect also to spiritual sloth, beginners are apt to be irked by the things that are most spiritual, from which they flee because these things are incompatible with sensible pleasure. For, as they are so much accustomed to sweetness in spiritual things, they are wearied by things in which they find no sweetness. If once they failed to find in prayer the satisfaction which their taste required (and after all it is well that God should take it from them to prove them), they would prefer not to return to it: sometimes they leave it; at other times they continue it unwillingly. And thus because of this sloth they abandon the way of perfection (which is the way of the negation of their will and pleasure for God’s sake) for the pleasure and sweetness of their own will, which they aim at satisfying in this way rather than the will of God.
3. And many of these would have God will that which they themselves will, and are fretful at having to will that which He wills, and find it repugnant to accommodate their will to that of God. Hence it happens to them that oftentimes they think that that wherein they find not their own will and pleasure is not the will of God; and that, on the other hand, when they themselves find satisfaction, God is satisfied. Thus they measure God by themselves and not themselves by God, acting quite contrarily to that which He Himself taught in the Gospel, saying: That he who should lose his will for His sake, the same should gain it; and he who should desire to gain it, the same should lose it.
4. These persons likewise find it irksome when they are commanded to do that wherein they take no pleasure. Because they aim at spiritual sweetness and consolation, they are too weak to have the fortitude and bear the trials of perfection. They resemble those who are softly nurtured and who run fretfully away from everything that is hard, and take offense at the Cross, wherein consist the delights of the spirit. The more spiritual a thing is, the more irksome they find it, for, as they seek to go about spiritual matters with complete freedom and according to the inclination of their will, it causes them great sorrow and repugnance to enter upon the narrow way, which, says Christ, is the way of life
5. Let it suffice here to have described these imperfections, among the many to be found in the lives of those that are in this first state of beginners, so that it may be seen how greatly they need God to set them in the state of proficients. This He does by bringing them into the dark night whereof we now speak; wherein He weans them from the breasts of these sweetnesses and pleasures, gives them pure aridities and inward darkness, takes from them all these irrelevances and puerilities, and by very different means causes them to win the virtues. For, however assiduously the beginner practices the mortification in himself of all these actions and passions of his, he can never completely succeed—very far from it—until God shall work it in him passively by means of the purgation of the said night. Of this I would fain speak in some way that may be profitable; may God, then, be pleased to give me His Divine light, because this is very needful in a night that is so dark and a matter that is so difficult to describe and to expound.
In these essays John has used the “7 deadly sins” to describe imperfections of beginner monks that persist despite their renunciation of sin and worldliness. Thus, the beginner monk enters the monastery, turning from carnal sins, and exercises the will to live according to God’s commands. Nevertheless certain “imperfections” are still present. These sins are often not recognized by the beginner because they are still “blind” to their faults. Sin is deceitful and the “heart is desperately wicked, who can know it”. Thus, even though the person may no longer (for example) lust in a carnal manner, they can still “spiritualize” this sin. Of course the spiritual directors may see the beginner’s sin. Likewise the fellow monks may find themselves irritated with the imperfect brother, though they might not be able to verbalize what they see like John has done for us.
So how do people get free of sins that they are not aware of? The answer, in general, is that God has to do what the person cannot do by will power alone. In particular the person has to be given a revelation of their sin, and the person has to be given a revelation of their righteousness. That is, they have to “see” who we are outside of Christ and who we are inside of Christ. Or, put another way, they have to realize that now, in Christ, they have a dual nature: the old nature and the new nature coexist within them. “Choice” is now possible since, as the beginner advances, he/she is able to turn from the old nature and turn to Jesus. This requires admitting sin and desiring to be freed from sin. It requires seeking God and asking for help. These in turn require humility and dependence on God. These relational aspects of Christianity, the ability to be led by God and to cooperate with God, allows for transformation.
There is nothing automatic or easy about transformation. Even though there is a great deal of warmth, comfort and peace given to those that seek God there is also difficulty. The depths of revelation, the exercise of faith in a faithful and forgiving God, the desperate and whole hearted desire to be transformed are all necessary. Furthermore, these movements toward God occur in a context of warfare and testing. Thus trials, suffering and breaking are all necessary for complete transformation.
Both the Protestant systems and the monastic systems emphasize the role of prayer and the role of service in the Kingdom as elements in this maturation, sanctification and transformation. As discussed in the essay meditation versus contemplation the role of “quiet time” has to go beyond mental understanding and making requests into spiritual perception and listening to God. Protestant charismatic and Pentecostal experiences, such as prophetic prayer ministry, are similar in that they too take the believer into personal interactions with the Holy Spirit that transcend the mind.