(c. 1542-1591)
San Juan de la Cruz, also known as St. John of the Cross, is arguably the preeminent author of mystical poetry and prose of the Western Christian tradi­tion. San Juan expressed with lyric intensity the sufferings and joys that accom­pany the spiritual journey to union with God in this life. On the basis of his three major poems alone, The Dark Night, The Spiritual Canticle, and The Living Flame of Love, he is acclaimed as one of the finest lyric poets of the Spanish language; his poetry was published posthumously in 1618.
Under the leadership of Teresa of Avila,* the founder of groups of reformed Carmelite nuns in Spain, San Juan initiated the reform of the Carmelite friars. He was imprisoned for nine months because of the conflicts that developed between the reformed Carmelites, who chose a stricter rule of religious life, and those who did not. Although his imprisonment was a traumatic experience, dur­ing it he composed his poem The Spiritual Canticle. A leader in the Teresian reform, San Juan became known for his life of prayer and his ability to guide others in their journey toward union with God. He wrote commentaries on his three major poems to describe the experiences encountered on the way. These treatises focus on contemplative spirituality, a spiritual path whose goal is mys­tical union or the direct unmediated experience of God.
Juan was an advocate of inner renewal and reform in the Catholic church, and his teaching became suspect when the church began to stress active piety and apostolic endeavors due to the Protestant Reformation and a general climate of religious unrest within Spain. He was declared a saint in 1726 and a doctor of the church in 1926. Juan de la Cruz's spiritual writings now are acknowledged as masterpieces of Western Christianity's mystical tradition.
God Speaks: The Life, Times, and Teaching ofSt. John ofthe Cross, 1991. Poems of St. John ofthe Cross, trans. K. Krabbenhoft, 1999.
Evelyn Toft

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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