Although spiritual persons cannot know naturally the thoughts of others or their interior state, they can know this clearly through supernatural enlightenment or through exterior indications. And though they can often be deceived in the knowledge deduced from these indications, they are more often correct in their surmise. But they must not put trust in knowledge acquired through either of these two ways, because, as we will point out the devil is a notorious and subtle meddler in this area. Consequently they should always renounce such knowledge.
We have an example and testimony in the Fourth Book of Kings of how spiritual persons, even when absent, can also possess knowledge of human deeds and events. When Gehazi, the servant of our Father Elisha, desired to hide the money received from Naaman, Elisha said: Nonne cor meum in praesenti erat, quando reversus est homo de curru suo in occursum tui? (Was not my heart perchance present when Naaman turned from his chariot and went to meet you?) [2 Kgs. 5:25-26]. This took place spiritually in such a way that [his] spirit beheld the event as if it had happened right before [him]. We find another proof of this in the same book where we read that Elisha told the king of Israel everything that the king of Syria discussed with his counselors in his private chamber, and thus these meetings bore no fruit. When the king of Syria realized that their decisions were no longer secret, he complained to his counselors: Why do you not tell me who among you is betraying me to the King of Israel? And then one of his counselors exclaimed: Nequaquam, domine mi rex, sed Elisha propheta, qui est in Israel indicat regi Israel omnia verba quaecumque locutus fueris in conclavi tuo (Not so, my lord king, but Elisha the prophet who is in Israel reveals to the king everything you say in your private chamber) [2 Kgs. 6:11-12].
These kinds of knowledge of things as well as the other kinds come to the soul passively, without it doing anything on its own. For it will happen that, while a person is distracted and inattentive, a keen understanding of what is being heard or read will be implanted in the spirit, an understanding far clearer than that conveyed through the sound of the words. And although sometimes individuals fail to grasp the sense of the words—as when expressed in Latin, a language unknown to them—this meaning is revealed without their understanding the words themselves.
We could expound a great deal on the deceptions the devil can and does cause with regard to this kind of knowledge and understanding, for his deceits are gross and singularly concealed. He can through suggestion ingrain many intellectual ideas so deeply in the soul that they will seem to be true; and if the soul is not humble and distrustful he will doubtless bring it to believe a thousand lies.
Saint John of the Cross
The Ascent of Mount Carmel: Book II, ch. 26, nos. 14–17
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.
Featured image: The Healing of Naaman is a stained glass panel in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London that come from the cloisters at Mariawald, a Cistercian abbey, c.1510–30. Photo credit: Father Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr (Some rights reserved).