Hidden Sins in Religious Persons

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This essay is the sixth essay in the series on stage two of monastic purification.

As discussed in the essay on revelation of self that occurs when we see God the essence of the later stages of monastic purification involves a revelation of the sin nature that persists within us after we come to faith. In the early stages of purification a devoted believer is zealous to avoid sin and practice right living. These early stages of conformity to the word of God are marked by a conscious desire to obey God and please Him, to learn His ways and to be part of the body of Christ. Even though some people can pass through this stage without falling into legalism, pride and judgmentalism the normal course of sanctification leads through a stage marked by the spiritualization of sin. That is, a person begins in innocent zeal, but the “deceitfulness of sin” allows sin to hide in sheep’s clothing. Thus the believer can be blind to the operations of sin within them.

John of the cross has a long section at the beginning of his book “The Dark Night” that deals with the hidden sin of the religious. He points out that even after outward behavioral righteousness has been largely obtained in stage one of monastic purificationand even after a person begins to have a revelation of their sin nature, there is a need for a deeper spiritual purification. He reviews “the 7 deadly sins” to show how sin can hide in a believer who has not yet fully experienced the purification and illumination that comes with contemplation. He wants to open the eyes of the blind and thus he describes seven ways that sin can hide in the believer because the deceitfulness of sin has blinded the eyes of the traveler. Here is chapter one of his book:


Sets down the first line and begins to treat of the imperfections of beginners.

INTO this dark night souls begin to enter when God draws them forth from the state of beginners—which is the state of those that meditate on the spiritual road—and begins to set them in the state of progressives—which is that of those who are already contemplatives—to the end that, after passing through it, they may arrive at the state of the perfect, which is that of the Divine union of the soul with God. Wherefore, to the end that we may the better understand and explain what night is this through which the soul passes, and for what cause God sets it therein, it will be well here to touch first of all upon certain characteristics of beginners (which, although we treat them with all possible brevity, will not fail to be of service likewise to the beginners themselves), in order that, realizing the weakness of the state wherein they are, they may take courage, and may desire that God will bring them into this night, wherein the soul is strengthened and confirmed in the virtues, and made ready for the inestimable delights of the love of God. And, although we may tarry here for a time, it will not be for longer than is necessary, so that we may go on to speak at once of this dark night.

2. It must be known, then, that the soul, after it has been definitely converted to the service of God, is, as a rule, spiritually nurtured and caressed by God, even as is the tender child by its loving mother, who warms it with the heat of her bosom and nurtures it with sweet milk and soft and pleasant food, and carries it and caresses it in her arms; but, as the child grows bigger, the mother gradually ceases caressing it, and, hiding her tender love, puts bitter aloes upon her sweet breast, sets down the child from her arms and makes it walk upon its feet, so that it may lose the habits of a child and betake itself to more important and substantial occupations. The loving mother is like the grace of God, for, as soon as the soul is regenerated by its new warmth and fervour for the service of God, He treats it in the same way; He makes it to find spiritual milk, sweet and delectable, in all the things of God, without any labour of its own, and also great pleasure in spiritual exercises, for here God is giving to it the breast of His tender love, even as to a tender child.

3. Therefore, such a soul finds its delight in spending long periods—perchance whole nights—in prayer; penances are its pleasures; fasts its joys; and its consolations are to make use of the sacraments and to occupy itself in Divine things. In these things spiritual persons (though taking part in them with great efficacy and persistence and using and treating them with great care) often find themselves, spiritually speaking, very weak and imperfect. For since they are moved to these things and to these spiritual exercises by the consolation and pleasure that they find in them, and since, too, they have not been prepared for them by the practice of earnest striving in the virtues, they have many faults and imperfections with respect to these spiritual actions of theirs; for, after all, any man’s actions correspond to the habit of perfection attained by him. And, as these persons have not had the opportunity of acquiring the said habits of strength, they have necessarily to work like feebler children, feebly. In order that this may be seen more clearly, and likewise how much these beginners in the virtues lacks with respect to the works in which they so readily engage with the pleasure aforementioned, we shall describe it by reference to the seven capital sins, each in its turn, indicating some of the many imperfections which they have under each heading; wherein it will be clearly seen how like to children are these persons in all they do. And it will also be seen how many blessings the dark night of which we shall afterwards treat brings with it, since it cleanses the soul and purifies it from all these imperfections.

We look next at chapter 2 of his book in which he discusses the first hidden sin of the religious, which is the sin of hidden pride.