Detachment According to St. John of The Cross

I will speak briefly about the heavenly virtue of detachment and why it is so important to the development of the spiritual life.Most of these ideas come from Fr. Dubay's excellent work, Fire Within which delves into the writings of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. 

First I would like to begin with this short poem about detachment written by St. John of The Cross:

"Endeavor to be inclined always:not to the easiest, but to the most difficult;not to the most delightful, but to the harshest;not to the most gratifying, but to the less pleasant;not to the most, but to the least;not to the highest and most precious, but to lowest and most despised...and desire to enter for Christ into complete nudity, emptiness and poverty in everything in the world."
I know that these lines are stark and can seem impossible but the key two terms to remember is that St. John uses the word inclined not have to, and he writes about the methods of detachment; the result of letting go of the distractions that get in the way of true spiritual development.

So what is detachment?

Detachment is simply not attaching more importance to created things then they need.  For example having a
desire to drink water is not being attached to water it is a necessity.  Or having strong feeling after hearing a beautiful piece of music is not a sign of being attached.  All of these are legit as long as they have God as their end. With God as their end these can be a way to sanctity.  The trouble begins when these three criteria are met:

1) The activity or thing is diverted from the purpose God intends for it.  So for example if one is an athlete one begins to focus just on being successful and wealthy.  There is nothing wrong with wealth or success, but God's purpose is thwarted since wealth and success are not his primary means.  God's means are always holiness and sanctification through the athlete's talents.

2) Excess in use. I love smoking cigars.  It relaxes me and allows me to think clearly.  There is nothing wrong with this, but if I begin to smoke regularly, not in moderation I am crossing the line into unhealthy attachment since it is taking my focus away from God and putting it onto myself.

3) Making the attachment a means to an end.   Say that you are a business person.  It is alright to want to make a profit, to provide jobs, and to save for an retirement, but this all goes astray once one makes the business, profits the sole end of the business.  This is detrimental because it takes God out of the equation.

So what are some things that detachment isn't?

Detachment isn't indifference to passions
Detachment isn't callousness towards others
Detachment isn't isolationism 
Detachment isn't a running away from life.

In the end the virtue of detachment as preached by St. John and Teresa of Avila is life affirming.  It is a sure and easy way to happiness and peace.  The more practiced the more joy and peace the person will experience.  Detachment puts all created things in their proper Godly context.

"To reach satisfaction in all
desire its possession in nothing
To come to possess all
           desire the possession of nothing
To arrive at being all
   desire to be nothing...
          For to go from all to the all
           you must deny yourself of all in all...
In this nakedness the spirit finds
           its quietude and rest."


  1. Good to see you back on the blogg!!! Well done!


Post a Comment

Popular Posts