An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

John of the Cross

(1542-1591). Known as the Doctor of Mystical Theology, Juan de Yepes was born in Fontiveros, Spain. He joined the Carmelites in 1563 and took the name John of St. Matthias. John studied at the University of Salamanca, 1564-1568, and was ordained priest in 1567. In that same year he met Teresa of Avila and joined with her in the reform of the Carmelite Order. On Nov. 11, 1568, he changed his name to John of the Cross. John and Teresa restored the austere Carmelite Primitive Rule which stressed the contemplative life. The friars of this reformed order wore sandals and were soon referred to as Discalced (unshod, no shoes) Carmelites. Those who opposed the reform of the order imprisoned him. For nine months, John lived in a cell six feet by ten feet with very little light. While imprisoned he wrote some of his greatest poetry. He escaped in Aug. 1578 and spent the rest of his life as a leader of the order and a spiritual writer. His major writings were The Ascent of Mount Carmel, The Dark Night of the Soul, The Spiritual Canticle, and The Living Flame of Love. These writings stressed how one reaches perfection or union with God. John was beatified by Pope Clement X in 1675, canonized by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726, and named a Doctor of the Church in 1926. John is commemorated in the Roman Catholic Calendar of the church year on Dec. 14.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.