exploratory mysticism in the new millenium

GIOVANNI BALLINI, Il sentiero mistico di Giovanni della Croce. Mistica esplorativa nel nuovo millennio, Nerbini Publisher, Florence, 2008, pp. 160.


"A mysticism for the third millennium", that's the expression that connects the two key elements of this work: on one hand, the doctrine of St. John of the Cross, on the other, the need to start from the doctrine of the Mystic Doctor in order to show to contemporary mankind new ways for the Spirit.

The aim of the text is to explain the crucial principles of the spirituality of St. John of the Cross to those Christians who are well-disposed towards new adventures of the spirit, in order to reach the "union with God".


- Presentation


This exploratory mysticism of St. John of the Cross is printed by our Istituto di Spiritualità "Santa Teresa di Gesù Bambino", thanks to whom the Carmelite family in Tuscany offers to the Christian people an apostolic activity corresponding to its own charisma of contemplative life and prayer.

The exploratory mysticism traced in these pages is, in fact, the fruit of the course given in 2001 in our Istituto di Spiritualità and it is the fulfilment of "Con Cristo in orazione sul Monte" (With Christ praying on the Mount) (Cellena 2007). It is an introduction to the diptych Ascent/Dark Night, in order to "give shape to the spiritual life" (Benedict XVI, Sc 80) which is bound to Christ, the ford and the sieve of the history, but which is also led and supported by the divine pedagogy.

This exploratory mysticism is therefore a Christological mysticism, an essential totalizing and radical proposal, which aims at supplying new dimensions in the spirit (2N 16,8), new ways of experience in the new millennium.


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- The "faith", a safe guide along the mystic path of St. John of the Cross


1. Il sentiero mistico [1], the title given to this work, starts a new proposal of research about the dyptich  "Subida del Monte Carmelo" and "Noche Oscura", combining two sentences by St. John of the Cross: "path of dark contemplation" (2S 7,13) and: "along new ways" (2N 16,8). In the original text in Spanish, the language of the Mystic Doctor, the two texts sound like this: "senda de oscura contemplación" (2S 7,13) and  "por nuevos caminos" (2N 16,8).


As a reflection on a sheet of water, this work, changing the perspective, pays attention not only to the 'noche oscura' that leads along the 'senda oscura' towards the "alta unión con Dios (N, prologue)", but also, with a greater intensity, to the 'senda oscura' that leads - en una noche oscura -  towards new dimensions of the life of the spirit, "por nuevos caminos no sabidos ni experimentados" (2N 16,8) by those who are looking for God: the " unión con Dios" (N, prologue).

That is to say: in front of the spring, the sheet of water, the "cristallina fuente" of the objective contents of the faith [2], that is, posed in front of the intelligence of the faith involved in the 'Noche Oscura', the dyptich Ascent/Dark Night, the theological reflection catches a glimpse of those "silvery appearances" of that faith along the 'Senda Oscura', the Mystic Path.

The perspective is certainly different: 'senda' instead of 'noche'. The end is the same: "unión con Dios"; the evangelical way of Christ is exactly the same: 'senda' as the 'noche' is the dark but safe and totalizing guide, towards that hope that Pope Benedict XVI calls the true "Hope", "The eternity in which  the totality embraces us and in which we embrace the totality" (Spe salvi, n.12).

The Decree Die vicesima (AAS 18/1926) with which the pope Pius XI declared St. John of the Cross Doctor of the Church, underlines that his works are "codex et schola", whose content is the "caelestis sapientia"  that reveals the "senda de perfección" (1S 13,10).


2. To expose this "senda de perfección" the rational method with the helicoidal movement is exploited, that, as St. Thomas of Aquin maintains commenting on Dionysius the Aeropagite (De Divinsi Nominibus, IV), is particularly suitable to express the functions of the contemplation starting from a revealed data: "Discursus autem rationis, quando autem est secundum illuminationes divinas, pertinet ad motum obliquum" (Summa teologiae, II-II, q.180, a. 6 ad 3um). We have to remember that we can recover this movement in Clement of Alexandria, who compares the spiritual ascent towards God with that "turning movement that goes, in a true ascent, towards the One who is" (Stromati, V, 14).

There are three areas - or theological knots - of the Christian mystery that, with "motum obliquum" [3] compose the structure of the mystic path and the mystery of the theological science that is contained in it:


  • Mistyc Theology, intuitive

                                    - "salir en la noche a buscar" (2N 24,4)

                                    - "pasar por la oscura noche" (S arg)


Doctrinal basis: the nature of the mystic path in the three terms of the search: "noche"; "infusión";  "contemplación".


  • Mystic dynamics, indicative      

                                    - "senda del alto Monte" (2S 7,3)

                                    - "subir y bajar" (2N 18,3)


Existential development: the mystic dynamics of the mystic path in the three elements that outline the way: pedagogy of God; "senda"; sesearcher of God.


  • Mystic in evolution, exploratory    

                                    - "nuevos caminos (2N 16,8)

                                    - "no tiene modo" (2 S 4,5)


in a theological act: the cult in the spirit which is in progress, by degrees, as new dimensions, through three exploratory criteria in relation the one with the other: "todo y nada"; "coordinated spirituality"; "theological attitude towards the nada"

As it can be noticed, this structure of  the mystic path as a rotatory - helicoidal progression that winds the 'Mount Carmel' of St. John of the Cross leads - as a high and clear vertical line - to the "musica callada" of the famous "nada" that are "doctrine" (1S 13,10-13) , totalizing fullness on God's initiative for the sons of the Church, who received from God the grace of having been placed "en la senda de este monte" (S, prologue 9).


3. This is the exploratory Mysticism in evolution, a "linear and teaching mystic, charged with meaning and detailed" (Card. Giovan Battista Re,Letter),  a Mystic of doctrinal research, that "climbs the Mount" (Father Saverio Canistrà, Review), a "dynamic-evolutionary" mystic of the experience (Father Roberto Fornara, Review); a  mystic "a modo de la fe" (CB prologue 2), traced in a catechetical and mystagogical form:

  • In a catechetical form because it helps stay with Jesus Christ: "it introduces into the comprehension of the reasons of our faith" [4]
  • In a mystagogical form because it assimilates us to the life of Christ: "it introduces us into the totality of the mystery of the salvation" [5] 


Il sentiero mistico is thus a first approach to the "caelestis sapientia" of St. John of the Cross,  the "Master in the Faith" [6].


[1]     for the synthesis of the book in Castilian language: GIOVANNI BALLINI, San Juan de la Cruz, buscador de Dios en el nuevo milenio, in Monte Carmelo 3/2010, Revista de Estudios carmelitanos, Burgos 2010, 485-520.

[2]     EULOGIO PACHO, San Giovanni della Croce, mistico e teologo, inVita cristiana ed esperienza mistica, Rome 1982, 319.

[3]     FEDERICO RUIZ, Le età della vita spirituale, in Tempo e vita spirituale, Rome 1971, 99.

[4]     BENEDICT XVI, Porta Fidei, Apostolic Letter, 11 October 2011, n.10.

[5]     BENEDICT XVI, Porta Fidei, Apostolic Letter, n.10.

[6]     JOHN PAUL II, Master in the Faith, Apostolic Letter, 14 December 1990; Karol Wojtyla, The doctrine of Faith in St. John of the Cross, Milan 2003.







The light behind the mountain

in a painting of Sebastiano Secante il Giovane

- 1568 -