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Chretien and Lacoste on John of the Cross

The difference between Jean-Louis Chretien and Jean-Yves Lacoste comes out in one way by looking at their distinct readings of Heidegger.  See my earlier post: https://memoriadei.wordpress.com/2010/02/06/ways-to-be-theologically-heideggerian-french-edition/.  But one could also contrast them by noting their differing interpretations of John of the Cross. 

Lacoste takes John’s dark night as inspiration for his own account of the nocturnal character of liturgy.  When we pray, and place ourselves coram Deo, we do not thereby acquire automatic access to a luminous experience of the absolute, as though God were manifest in the light of day.  Rather, the act of prayer positions us in a mode of patient vigil, characterized by an as yet unverified anticipation of the parousia which is always eschatologically deferred.  For Lacoste, then, John becomes a figure of ascesis or distance with respect to the affect, the senses, and experience in general.     

By contrast, Chretien draws primarily on John’s spiritual canticle in an effort to show that the modes by which the call of God reaches us incorporates all the senses, including even the most basic sense of feeling which is coextensive with the body.  In John’s canticle, the height of mystic encounter involves a moment in which God and the creature “touch,” and Chretien takes this choice of language quite seriously.   The tacticle blends together with the visual and the auditory  in a synesthetic apprehension of the divine summons.  One receives God’s vocation with the ears, the eyes, and the very delicacy of bodily encounter.  Thus, Chretien’s appropriation of John would appear to be more mystical, or perhaps one should say communicative, than it is ascetical.

I suspect that John would discourage us from pretending to choose between the two.  The question becomes: how to think them together?

  1. April 16, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    Fascinating stuff, Andrew. Is Lacoste’s treatment of St. John in _Experience and the Absolute_?

    It would be interesting to compare these accounts with St. Edith Stein’s work on St. John (_The Science of the Cross_), which is, understandably, very phenomenological.

    Pax Christi,

  2. andrewlp
    April 17, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    It would be interesting to look at Edith Stein on John. Thanks for the tip.

    I suppose, to be perfectly exact, Lacoste does not so much offer an interpretation of John as he claims a certain degree of general indebtedness to him for his (Lacoste’s) focus on the night, which is arguably central to his account of liturgy (see Experience and the Absolute, pp. 2-3, 77-80, 145-9).

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