St John of the Cross, Homoerotic Mystic

John of the Cross is important for queer Catholics for two reasons.  First, because he is a great teacher of spirituality, and the cultivation of spiritual practice, by enabling a more direct experience of the divine, is an excellent way to immunise ourselves from toxic and misguided teaching on human sexuality.  Second, and more interestingly, because his language at times uses imagery which is plainly homoerotic, and so easily usable by gay men in their own prayer.

St John of the Cross

From the Calendar of LGBT Saints:


St. John of the Cross was one of the great Spanish mystics, whose outstanding Dark Night of the Soul is still read by all interested in Catholic mysticism. He also wrote a series of intense religious canticles. St. John, like other mystics such as St. Theresa of Avila, used the language of courtly love to describe his relationship with Christ. He also discussed, with rare candor, the sexual stimulation of prayer, the fact that mystics experience sexual arousal during prayer. With the male Christ of course, this amounts to a homoeroticism of prayer. It must be said that St. John was not entirely happy with this aspect of prayer. He was beatified by Clement X in 1675, canonized by Benedict XIII in 1726, and declared a Doctor of Church Universal by Pius XI in 1926

Quoted at The Wild Reed:

(from ) On a Dark Night


“Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined
Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!

Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping,
and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand
He caressed my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.

I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.”

UPDATE ( 15th Dec)

By way of a comment to my original post above, I have some wonderful additional  insights to St John that are worth sharing.  The theologian Bill Lindsy, who blogs are Bilgrimage, had this to add:

I’d like to recommend the work of an openly gay Catholic theologian who is an expert in the life and theology of John.

Richard Hardy, who taught theology for many years at St. Paul’s in Ottawa and now lives in San Francisco, did a biography of John now long out of print, which recovers some fascinating aspects of John’s life that have implications, I believe, for LGBT Christians.

Richard notes that one of John’s formative experiences before he was a religious was working as a nurse in hospitals in Spain that treated, for the most part, people suffering from venereal diseases. Here, he had to learn lovingly to acknowledge and cherish the wounded flesh of sinful human beings.

And he learned from these years as a nurse of the value of cauterizing some wounds–a metaphor that became powerful in his spiritual theology, where the divine fire of God’s love cauterizes our spiritual wounds.