St JOHN OF THE CROSS
(1542 – 1591)
If someone born blind were told about the nature of the colour white or yellow he
would understand absolutely nothing, no matter how much instruction he received. Since he never saw these colours, nor their like, he would not have the means to form a judgment about them. Only their names would be grasped since the names are perceptible through hearing; but never their form or image, because these colours were never seen by him.
Such is faith to the soul - it informs us of matters we have never seen or known, either in themselves or in their likenesses; in fact nothing like them exists. The light of natural knowledge does not show us the object of faith, since this object is unproportioned to any of the senses. Yet, we come to know it through hearing, by believing what faith teaches us, blinding our natural light and bringing it into submission. St Paul states: Fides ex audito [“Faith comes from hearing” Rom 10:17]. This amounts to saying that faith is not a knowledge derived from the senses, but an assent of the soul to what enters through hearing.
Faith, moreover, far exceeds what these examples teach us. Not only does it fail to produce knowledge and science, but, as we said, it deprives and blinds a person of any other knowledge or science by which he may judge it. Other knowledge is acquired by the light of the intellect, but not the knowledge that faith gives. Faith nullifies the light of the intellect, and if this light is not darkened, the knowledge of faith is lost. Accordingly, Isaiah said, “If you do not believe you will not understand,” that is, you will not have light (7:9).
Faith, manifestly, is a dark night for human beings, but in this very way it gives us light. The more darkness it brings upon us, the more light it sheds. For by blinding it illumines us....
Faith was foreshadowed in that cloud which separated the children of Israel, just before their entry into the Red Sea, from the Egyptians [Exod. 14:19-20]. Scripture says of the cloud: “There was a cloud and darkness, and it lit up the night.”
How wonderful it was - a cloud, dark in itself, could illumine the night! This was related to illustrate how faith, a dark and obscure cloud to us (also a night in that it blinds and deprives us of our natural light), illumines and pours light into the darkness of the soul by means of its own darkness.
The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk 2, ch. 3