The extent and enormity of the disaster arising from joy in natural graces and beauty is patent, since on account of this joy we hear every day of many murders, lost reputations, insults, squandered fortunes, rivalries, quarrels, and of so many adulteries, rapes, and fornications, and of fallen saints so numerous that they are compared to the third part of the stars of heaven cast down to earth by the tail of the serpent (Rv. 12:4), to fine gold that has lost its beauty and luster in the mire, and to the illustrious and noble men of Zion clothed with the best gold, yet esteemed as broken clay jars (Lam. 4:1-2).
Where does this poisonous harm fail to reach? And who fails to drink little or much from the golden chalice of the Babylonian woman of the Apocalypse (Rv. 17:4)? The fact that she is seated on that large beast with seven heads and ten crowns signifies that there is hardly anyone of high rank or low, saint or sinner, who does not drink of her wine, subjecting the heart somewhat. For as is pointed out there, all the kings of the earth were inebriated with the wine of her prostitution (Rv. 17:2). She reaches out to all states, even to the supreme and illustrious state of the sanctuary and divine priesthood, by setting her abominable cup in the holy places, as Daniel asserts (Dn. 9:27), and she hardly leaves a strong person who has not drunk a small or large quantity of wine from her chalice, which is this kind of vain joy. As a result it is said that all the monarchs of the earth were inebriated by this wine, since so few will be found, no matter how holy, who have not been somewhat ravished and perplexed by this drink of joy and pleasure in natural beauty and graces.
It is worth remarking that the text says they were inebriated. No matter how small the amount of this wine of joy, it immediately takes hold on the heart and subdues it, producing obscurity in the reason, as happens with those who get drunk from wine. The life of the soul will be in danger if some antidote is not taken immediately, for spiritual weakness will augment and bring such evil on the soul that it will find itself a captive of its enemies, grinding at the mill like Samson with his eyes plucked out and the hair of his first strength cut. And afterward it will perhaps die the second death as he did together with his enemies (Jdgs. 16:19-31). This is the harm the drink of this joy will cause spiritually, as it did physically to Samson and as it does to many today. The enemies of the soul will come and say to it afterward what the Philistines said to Samson, to his great confusion: Were you not the one who snapped the knotted cords, broke the jaws of the lions, killed the thousand Philistines, pulled out the gates, and freed yourself from all your enemies?
Let us conclude, then, with necessary instructions for the prevention of this poison. As soon as the heart feels drawn by vain joy in natural goods, it should recall how dangerous and pernicious it is to rejoice in anything other than the service of God. One should consider how harmful it was for the angels to have rejoiced and grown complacent in their natural beauty and goods, since they thereby fell into the ugly abyss; and how many evils come on humans every day because of this very vanity. Therefore take courage and use in time the remedy suggested by the poet for those beginning to grow attached to this joy: “Hurry now in the beginning to apply the remedy, for when evils have had time to increase in the heart, medicine and remedies arrive late.” [Cf. The Imitation of Christ 1.13] Look not at wine, warns the Wise Man, when its color is scarlet and it shines in the glass; it enters smoothly but bites like a snake and spreads poison like the basilisk (Prov. 23:31-32).
Saint John of the Cross
The Ascent of Mount Carmel, III.22.3–6
John of the Cross, St. 1991, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Revised Edition, translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K and Rodriguez, O with revisions and introductions by Kavanaugh, K, ICS Publications, Washington DC.