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Insight to Dark Night, Insight to the Soul

For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our
hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (Cor
2 4:6)

Dark Night of the Soul is Christian mystic St. John of the Cross’ classic work, it
denotes the Passage of Purification for the Soul to be in ultimate union with God. While
other Christian mystics write about the light of bliss in their union in the love of God, St.
John’s usage of the wordings “Dark Night” and “darkness” does not necessarily suggest the
context of melancholy.
St. John surmises two principal kinds of night, active and passive dark nights of the
senses and the spirit, which spiritual persons call “purifications of the soul”. They are called
“nights”, for in both of them the soul journeys, as it were in darkness by night.
The Passage of Purification

From the theological point of view there is a true self that is made in the image of
God, and it is people’s vocation to realize it more fully. The true self is an integral part of the
spiritual life, rather than an impediment to it.1 In the broader dogmatic perspective, the
central Christian theme of salvation is to restore wholeness with God from the separated
state between man and God, due to man’s inherent imperfection (sin) after the Fall; in the
individual spiritual perspective, relieving the repression imposed by the False Self enables
the True Self to ascend and encounter God in his religious experience. In Lonergan terms,
“false self” parallels the human infancy stage of knowledge (“false” might not be read in the
ethical-moral context, but as the “non-true” self), through the operations of the conscious
subject, introduces one to a world mediated by meaning and motivated by value; “enabling
and cultivating the true-self” parallels the self-appropriation heightening of consciousness to
reach human authenticity. However, Lonergan does not deny “weakness” in the infancy
stage within the context of “false-self”.
Jung contends that man in his collective consciousness has always known God. The
Self’s (the psychic totality of the individual consciousness and unconsciousness which
comprises instincts, physiological and semi-physiological phenomena2) reaching out to Ego
(the centre of consciousness) is an appropriation of God’s act of Incarnation as Christ in His
reaching out to humanity, and Christ is the Symbol of the Self. As man searches for God,

1 Fraser Watts, Rebecca Nye, and Sara Savage, Psychology for Christian Ministry (New York: Routledge,
2002), p.16.

2 C. G. Jung, Psychology and Religion (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), p.502.
God searches for man. Christ’s coming to the world is to empathize fully with human
consciousness by Incarnation as human. Lonergan shares a similar concept of man’s natural
desire to understand God.3 There exists a natural desire to understand. Its range is set by the
adequate object of intellect. Its proper fulfillment is obtained by the reception of a form
proportionate to the object understood. This natural desire extends to understanding God.
Ontology of the Soul, Consciousness, and the Divine

Christian view of the soul is that the soul is the essence of the human, a creation by
God, and an extension of God (Genesis: God breathed His spirit of life into the human body
made of dust from the ground and human gained life at that moment). Watts in Theology
and Psychology gives a psychological definition of the soul: the soul is a qualitative aspect
of a person.4 The soul differentiates from consciousness in that there is a collective
consciousness in the human psyche, but there isn’t a ‘collective soul’. Soul is the
individuality accorded with the Ego and the Self; and to the Christian, with God. For the
paper’s discussion focusing on the individual, and not in collective existential terms, St.
John’s “soul” could be applied and understood ontologically as Lonergan’s
“consciousness”. Edith Stein’s “the inner being” is probably a more accommodative
bridging term.5
Grace of Infusion as Foundation to Consciousness and Knowing

‘Contemplation’ refers to the process of reflecting on knowledge, and within

Aquinas’ view this term on its own can be applied to two distinct things. One is meditation,
where the person studies and reflects on his subject and learns; the other is infused or
supernatural – in which the knowledge comes directly from God to inspire and inform the
person. It is called ‘infused’ because it is placed directly into union with the human intellect,
without that intellect having done anything to receive it. It is superior to reasoning, and
comes from ‘love’, that is a desire for union with God because it is God who places the
knowledge of himself into the human intellect.
St. John states that, “Contemplation…is the science of love. It is an infused and
loving knowledge of God.” 6 Infused contemplation is knowledge of God and his works

3 Bernard Lonergan, Collection (Montreal: Palm Publishers, 1967), p.87.

4 Fraser Watts, Theology and Psychology (Burlington: Ashgate, 2002), p.72.

5 Edith Stein, The Science of the Cross, trans. Hilda Graef (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1960), p.120.

St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, trans. E. Allison Peers (New York: Image Books, 1990), Book
II Ch. XVIII #5. Abbrev. Dark Night.

given by God directly to man, in order that man may direct himself to God via a clearer path
than the human reason can allow for. For Lonergan, revelation is the entry of divine
meaning into the human situation.7 Lonergan’s General Transcendental Knowledge
(knowing God by reason), and Special Transcendental Knowledge (knowledge of God that
eludes reason), correspond with St. John’s Natural Contemplation/Meditation and
Infused/Supernatural Contemplation. Lonergan affirms that grace is not an achievement of
our knowing and choosing, but the fruit of the love with which God gives himself to us. Out
of this love, this supreme meaningful reality, arises the knowing that is faith. “The infusion
of grace…is a change from one spontaneity to another,..placing his higher faculties in
subordination to God and his lower faculties in subordination to reason.” 8

Conversions in the Dark Night

The Soul’s operations and Lonergan’s “conscious operations” of Knowing
All contemplation is intellectual in nature, it is knowledge of God in man - whether it
is attained by man via study, or infused into man by God, to the attainment of the
transforming union in which the soul experiences to the fullest the presence and activity of
the Holy Spirit. Yet to reach that goal the soul must travel through the active and passive
dark nights of the senses and the spirit. Ascent of Mount Carmel describes the ‘active’ night
of the spirit, the human side of the process: what we can do to identify and interpret this
condition, the habits of the mind we must cultivate, the dangers we must avoid. The sequel
to Ascent, The Dark Night of the Soul, explains that the ‘passive’ night is the empirical level
of God’s purifying activity.
Since cognitional activities are multi-layered (re: Lonergan’s differentiation of
consciousness), Dark Night could be understood as the condition, the dimension in which
the ladders exist, where the ascending up the 10 ladder steps take place.9 Thus Jesus’
description of “My Father has many rooms..” could also mean one person who engages in
different rooms during his spiritual stages, and to accommodate the individual’s
differentiated consciousness, in Lonergan terms. According to St John, the soul has three

7 See Neil Omerod, Method, Meaning and Revelation (Lanham: University Press of America, 2000), p.163.

8 Lonergan, Grace and Freedom. Operative Grace in the Thoughts of St. Thomas Aquinas. Ed J. Patout Burns
(London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1971), p.57.

9 Dark Night, Book II Ch. XIX. Here St. John and Lonergan differ in that St. John’s intensive intimacy is
revealed in the ten ladder steps, and Lonergan mostly employs academic language.

operations: intellect, memory and will (or love).10 Lonergan’s conscious-heightening
encounters are respectively the intellectual conversion, moral conversion and religious
conversion. The discussion will follow St. John’s soul operations order in relating the two
theologians’ concepts.
Intellectual Conversion in Suffering
The elements of intellectual understanding corresponds to Lonergan’s Intellectual
How, although this night brings darkness to the spirit, it does so in order to illumine
it and give it light.

..3. And thus it is fitting that, if the understanding is to be united with that light and
become Divine in the state of perfection, it should first of all be purged and
annihilated as to its natural light, and, by means of this dark contemplation, be
brought actually into darkness. This darkness should continue for as long as is
needful in order to expel and annihilate the habit which the soul has long since
formed in its manner of understanding, and the Divine light and illumination will
then take its place.

And thus, inasmuch as that power of understanding which it had aforetime is natural, it
follows that the darkness which it here suffers is profound and horrible and most painful, for
this darkness, being felt in the deepest substance of the spirit, seems to be substantial
darkness. Similarly, since the affection of love which is to be given to it in the Divine union
of love is Divine, and therefore very spiritual, subtle and delicate, and very intimate,
transcending every affection and feeling of the will, and every desire thereof, it is fitting that,
in order that the will may be able to attain to this Divine affection and most lofty delight, and
to feel it and experience it through the union of love,...11

Describes how, as the fruit of these rigorous constraints, the soul finds itself with the
vehement passion of Divine love

This takes place to a great extent, as has already been said, in this dark purgation, for
God has so weaned all the inclinations and caused them to be so recollected that they
cannot find pleasure in anything they may wish. All this is done by God to the end
that, when He withdraws them and recollects them in Himself, the soul may have
more strength and fitness to receive this strong union of love of God, which He is
now beginning to give it through this purgative way, wherein the soul must love with
great strength and with all its desires and powers both of spirit and of sense..12

St. John’s approach is: From suffering we are aware of our own being from the
conscious operations: “to feel it and experience it through the union of love…, and that the
understanding is to be united with the Divine...” Should I add brackets to the 2nd quotation:
“wherein the soul must (judge and decide to) love with great strength and with all its desires
and powers both of spirit and of sense…”, we see Lonergan’s conscious elements in motion.

10 Kieran Kavanaugh, John of the Cross: Selected Writings (New York: Pauline Press, 1987), p.143
11 Dark Night, Book II, Chapter IX p. 119, 121.

12 Dark Night, Book II, Chapter X p. 132.

Memory, Experience as guidelines for Moral Conversion
According to Lonergan’s Law of the Cross, the Cross is the icon of dramatic
transformational grace and depth. Lonergan’s Law of the Cross articulates that the Cross is a
medium of transformation. The heart of Lonergan's understanding of the law of the cross is
the transformation of darkness into light. The law of the cross gives the new covenant the
basic law governing its economy of salvation: The power and wisdom of God are to be
discerned in Christ crucified, not in some new order in which no injustices are perpetrated on
the good,13 in the moral perspective. “Accordingly, an account of freedom has to turn to a
study of intellect and will….human courses of action emerge inasmuch as they are
understood by intelligent consciousness, evaluated by rational consciousness, and willed by
a rational self-consciousness”, “that imposition of further intelligible order is the work of
intelligence, of rational reflection, and of ethically guided will.14 (Recall Quotation 11 St.
John’s soul operations: intellect, memory and will.)
The two theologians share similar ideas. For St. John, although Darkness exists
because of the Fall, if darkness has to exist due to the unavoidable consequence of the Fall,
we can transpire ourselves from darkness, because in self-acknowledging, remembering our
experiences of dark inclinations, we still encounter hope in God’s consolation, we still
encounter the mystery of grace in God’s Salvation. The surrendering moment of
encountering intimate hope arising from the darkness, is Grace.
“Freedom…arises from in the order of spirit, of intelligent grasp, rationally
reflection, and morally guided will.”15 Lonergan’s Law of the Cross mediates freedom into
transformation: if there is no darkness, there is no transformation to Salvation and Grace; if
sin is there because of freewill/freedom, moral transformation from sin can also be realized
because of freedom.
Religious Conversion and Religious Experience of Will and Love
The purpose of the Incarnation was redemption. Redemption is a restoration of our
original capacity, the nature of pure innocence before the fall. In addition, redemption in the
boarder terms of Salvation, is an uplifting of our natural capacities and enabling us
empowering in our communion with God.

13 Thomas J. Farrell, Paul A. Soukup ed., Communication and Lonergan (Kansas City: Seed and Ward, 1993),
p. 324. Further see Lonergan, De Verbo Incarnato Ch. 4 and 5, particularly Art. 23 (Rome: Gregorian
University, 1961).
14 Lonergan, Insight, Ed. Frederick E. Crowe, Robert Doran (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1992), 2.6
Freedom [616-19] p.640, 642. By the connection, the notion of Dark Night is an articulation of freedom in its
exercise and realization, in Lonergan understanding.

15 Insight. p.642
As God-created beings, we have a vocation for communion (Jung: man in his nature
knows God; and Lonergan: man has natural desire to understand God), but it is beyond our
natural capacity. God uplifted us by grace into that communion. We are made into the
original likeness of God. Conformity to God does not mean conformity to the perceived
anthropomorphic image of God, nor does it mean a transformation into God-like substance..
Conformity to God is to be with God, be led by God, “For all who are led by the Spirit of
God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:14)
Religious conversion is fermented by religious love. When religious love enters the
horizon of a human being, the entire horizon is transformed. The self becomes a different
self, because the horizon within which all reality is considered has been radically altered.
Christian religious conversion experiences the salvation in Jesus Christ, the distinct
manifestation of the Divine through humanness in the incarnation. In experiencing the
darkness and light like Christ, we are imitating Christ; when we are imitating Christ, we are
in union with Christ in our Religious Experience.
Interiority-Shifts in the Conscious Operations during the Dark Night

The Divine is usually connected with images of light, love, wisdom (refer to the
themes of the Hebrew Bible books Genesis, Psalms and the Wisdom writings). According to
St. John, we climb up to darkness by the ladder of faith. In appropriating the soul as an
extension of God, interiority shift is the transition from consciousness of self to knowledge
of self.16
Interiority is the foundation of consciousness, reflectivity, and agency, which in turn
are the moving forces of the human person’s innate directionality toward the authenticity of
life, exemplified by an integrated life of prayer, worship, community, and self-giving
service. Critical appropriation of interiority is essential to discernment of one’s own and
others’ spiritual choices.17
To Lonergan, the ground of interiority is simply self-awareness in the midst of the
conscious operations. In understanding how the realms of meaning relate to each other:
common sense (undifferentiated consciousness), theory, scholarship, aesthetics, and
religious transcendence, one achieves this understanding by an interiority analysis of the
subjective conscious operations that intend objects i.e. differentiated consciousness.18

16 Consciousness refers to the experience of knowing in general consisting of both sensation and intellection,
while knowledge of the self is knowing the dynamic foundations of knowing.

17 Mary Frohlich, “Critical Interiority”, Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality, Vol. 7, No 1, Spring
2007, pp. 77-81.

Lonergan presents interiority as a science of consciousness;19 Edith Stein also
discusses consciousness in The Science of the Cross. For Lonergan, Experience is divided
into external and internal. External experience is the presence of objects to the subject
(sensation), while internal experience is the presence of the subject to itself (intention).
“When I know what I am doing when I am doing it”, one has consciously appropriated the
inner faculty of consciousness at work. Edith Stein also comments on the exterior and
interior of the soul: the exterior is the sensation towards objects rising from the depth; the
interior, the innermost being is where souls are called by grace and drawn to, and “enter into
themselves” – this is equivalent to Lonergan’s self-appropriation.
“If a man wishes to come after me, he must deny his very self, take up his cross, and
follow in my steps.” (Mark 8:34-35). In modern interpretation, we understand Christ requires
a transformation of the Self. There is a transcendence of the Old Self to the New Self after
the Nights passage: from preoccupation of particular mundane knowledge, matters, and idols
(not necessarily in the religious sense e.g. earthly pleasures) by their finite, superficial
services to God’s finite, fulfilled Truth, Love and Hope.20 Applying Lonergan terms,
interiority-shift occurs to a faithful person who willingly goes through the Night exercises
and passages, as one heightens the existential ways of experiencing, understanding, judging,
and deciding, moving towards the human authenticity of life. The state of perfection
corresponds with religious experience beyond religious conversion:

The reason for this is that, as the state of perfection, which consists in the perfect
love of God and contempt for self, cannot exist unless it have these two parts, which
are the knowledge of God and of oneself, the soul has of necessity to be practised
first in the one and then in the other, now being given to taste of the one—that is,
exaltation—and now being made to experience the other—that is, humiliation—until
it has acquired perfect habits; and then this ascending and descending will cease,
since the soul will have attained to God and become united with Him…

Psychic Conversion to articulate Purgatory

If illumination is mediated as knowledge, from infancy-ignorance to knowledge in
the Night passages, there is a cognitive reconstruction to mediate existential questions, and

18 See Eugene Webb, The Philosophers of Consciousness: Polanyi, Lonergan, Voegelin, Ricoeur, Girard,
Kierkegaard (Seattle: University of Washington, 1988), p.73 Interiority.

19 Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1971), pp. 327, 328. Also see
The Science of the Cross, p.119. Edith Stein is quoted to complement St. John of the Cross in the
Carnelite spirituality perspective.

20 David B. Perrin, For Love of the World (San Francisco: Catholic Scholars Press, 1997), pp.45-50, 74-91.

Purgatory is one of them. It is reasonable to assume that as a Catholic, Lonergan believes the
existence of Hell, Purgatory, the Devil…Lonergan and St. John differ that Lonergan does
not entertain the concepts in their physical presence in his theology, yet his theology does
reflect the analogical existence of suffering on Earth, tarnishes in the psyche, sin and
weakness in humanity that are certainly not attributed to God.21 In addition, “demons that are
[encountered] in the individual’s dwelling, imagination, or heart” 22 could be commonly
recognized. A soul that went through a Dark Night parallels to the heightening of
consciousness after conversions. Here Doran’s “psychic conversion” is a more
corresponding term supplementing the other three conversions established by Lonergan, in
articulating the state of the soul that undergoes purification from imperfectness. One of the
processes is Purgatory to help the soul in readiness to be in union with God.
….we can learn here incidentally in what manner souls are afflicted in purgatory. For
the fire would have no power over them, even though they came into contact with it,
if they had no imperfections for which to suffers. These are the material upon which
the fire of purgatory seizes; when that material is consumed there is naught else that
can burn. So here, when the imperfections are consumed, the affliction of the soul
ceases and its fruition remains. ….we shall learn here is the manner wherein the soul,
as it becomes purged and purified by means of this fire of love 23

Dark Night Book I Chapter 1-7 generally discusses the Imperfections of

Spiritual Pride, Greed, Lust, and Wrath... And Doran observes the distortion within
the human spirit:

For the psyche is the locus of the embodiment of inquiry, insight, reflection,
judgment, deliberation, and decision, just as it is the place of embodiment of
oppressive force from which we can be released by such intentional operations. …
Patterns of experience are either the distorted and alienated, or the integral and the
creative, embodiment of the human spirit.24

Doran does not physically describe the “sins”,25 yet we see the relationship
between the imperfections described by St. John as symptoms, or as consequence, of
distortion. Perhaps if we adopt a promising view to the Purgatory not as post-mortem
punishment, but as a tenure of healing by God’s grace, it then parallels Doran’s

21 Basic sin and moral evil. See Lonergan, Insight, p.689

22 Gary W. Moon, and David G. Benner Ed. Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls (Downer’s Grove, IL:
InterVarsity Press, 2004), p.59.

23 Dark Night, pp. 127-131. Book II, Chapter X. Quoted from p.129.

24 Robert Doran, Theology and the Dialectics of History (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1990), p.62, see
59-63. Psychic conversion could be considered as the “precursory zeroth” before the other three conversions
take place: “Psychic conversion affects the first level…..” p.59.
25 Robert Doran, What is Systematic Theology? (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 2005), p.185: “neglect in
the psyche and intentionality” forms basic sin.

“healing of the psyche” and the addressed benefits of re-constitution of intentionality,
accessing one’s symbolic system in apprehension of values in self-transcendence. .

Individual Horizons in the Wholeness

The notion of salvation by Christ is to restore the integrated wholeness since man’s
fall and separation from God.
The first night or purgation is of the sensual part of the soul, And this first night
pertains to beginners, occurring at the time when God begins to bring them into the
state of contemplation; in this night the spirit likewise has a part, as we shall say in
due course. And the second night, or purification, pertains to those who are already
proficient, occurring at the time when God desires to bring them to the state of union
with God.…Briefly, then, the soul means by this stanza that it went forth (being led
by God) for love of Him alone, enkindled in love of Him, upon a dark night,….

… And it was a happy chance that God should lead it into this night, from which
there came to it so much good; for of itself the soul would not have succeeded in
entering therein, because no man of himself can succeed in voiding himself of all his
desires in order to come to God.26

St John contemplates that darkness is an extension of light, darkness is a reflection of

light. The sun shines on the evil and the good, the rain showers upon the just and the unjust
(Matt 5:45). The light of the Divine permeates and shines through the darkness. God’s
boundless love can be mediated according to each person’s disposition; in Lonergan terms,
each individual’s unique psyche and horizons.27

Conclusion - The Duality of Dark Night

“…the Lord my God shall make my darkness to be light.” (Psalms 18:28)

“…when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me.” (Micah 7:8)

Both Lonergan’s and St. John’s Theological Method are summarized in this common
theme: In our faith, and by God’s grace, we ascend to the threshold reaching the bliss of
God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is
the gift of God.” (Eph 2:8) St. John of the Cross depicts the "dark night of the soul" as "an

26 St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, trans. E. Allison Peers (Garden City: Image Books, 1958),
pp. 104-105.
27 Robert Doran’s materials are categorically identified as Lonergan’s theological understanding for the
paper’s discussion. For Each person’s unique horizons - The experience of one's consciousness is always the
unique experience. Method, pp. 235 – 237.

inflowing of God into the soul, which purges it from its ignorance and imperfections,
habitual, natural, and spiritual."28 Through the Word, all life appeared on the earth, and in the
Word this life has its perfect fulfillment. Christ himself announcing that he was the light of
the world: “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become children of
light” (John 12:36). St Paul writes: “Walk always as children of light, for the fruit of light is
found in all that is good and right and true” (Eph 5:8-9).

Humans tend to see things in dualistic exclusive terms, either this or that, either true
or false. St. John of the Cross is ahead of the times, surpassing the ordinary human
pragmatic understanding of fragmentary dualistic relationships. In Lonergan’s notion of
transformation – from one polar point to the other, the notion of duality is implied, and also
resolved gracefully as St. John’s. The goal of life is to realize the Self. The self is an
archetype that represents the transcendence of all opposites, so that every aspect of one’s
personality is expressed equally. Self-realization, or Self-appropriation, is about reaching
that self-transcendence, attaining St. John’s non-dualistic notion of light and darkness. For
Lonergan, Religious Experience allows us to mediate possible dualistic
elements not as incongruous ones; but in our freedom we see the
dynamic revelation of the power and grace of God in transcending
beyond the faculty of reason.

Acknowledging the perspectives of evil and our weak nature, and in humility
reaching out and succumbing to the grace of God, is the very point of transcendence and
heightened consciousness of our lives, Lonergan and St. John complements each other in
their theological constructs. That we become better persons after the Night passages, we also
become better qualitative persons in reaching our human and Christian authenticity.

28 Dark Night, Book II Chapter V #1 p.100.