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Now Blogging Afresh at Ad Orientem 西儒 - The Western Confucian

Monday, September 22, 2003

St. John of the Cross

Yesterday, I started reading St. John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz): Alchemist of the Soul: His Life, His Poetry (Bilingual), His Prose, edited and translated by Antonio T. de Nicolas. I had never read anything by Saint John of the Cross, the Doctor of Mystical Theology, but having received recommendations in the writings of both Thomas Merton and His Holiness Pope John Paul II, I knew that I must read him.

I chose this book solely because it was a bilingual edition; I wanted to read his poems in the original as well. When the book arrived by mail, I was a bit put off by the Egyptian ankh that is the symbol of the publishing company and the alchemical symbol on the cover. I should have been more wary of the subtitle when I ordered the book.

My fears were confirmed when I read the editor/translator's introduction. I disparagingly labels Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, the monotheistic religions, as discontinuous systems, as opposed to the continuous pantheistic and polytheistic systems for which the author clearly has a pronounced bias, using a taxonomy taken from Sacred Discontent: The Bible and Western Tradition by Herbert N. Schneidau. He seems to imply that St. John was a closet pantheist working within a constraining Christianity.

But what really worried me was the editor/translator's admission that he had excised the theological portions of St. John's prose writings, in order to reach St. John's original purpose. To remove the theological writings from the saint designated as the Doctor of Mystical Theology by the Universal Church is nothing short of religious and academic censorship.

While the editor/translator goes to heroic lengths in his introduction to counter the bias against religion in academia, going as far to say, "In the name of freedom from religion we have lobotomized the human brain," and goes on to describe how we must read St. John of the Cross from his 16th Century worldview, he nevertheless shows a strong bias against the Christian tradition without which a saint cannot possibly be understood.

I will proceed with caution reading this book, focusing on the poems in the original Spanish and perhaps avoiding the censored prose writings altogether.