Escaping the Ego: St. John of the Cross and an Anatomy of the Self

A Wider Sunrise

st-john-of-the-cross1The most brilliant and illuminating discussion of the human self that I have ever read is in a a book by Denys Turner, The Darkness of God:Negativity in Christian Mysticism.* He draws from Aristotle and adds a bit of his own humor to explain St. John of the Cross on the subject. I want to share highlights of that discussion here.

We begin the spiritual life by building up our “ascetical self.” The beginner works hard at fasting, keeping vigil, works of charity, and all his various labors for Christ. This is a necessary step. He learns self-control, self-denial, and gains strength of will. But this is not the end of the journey. As the beginner builds up his ascetic self, he is still unable to conquer the ego. He creates an ever more spiritual egoism, but can not overcome pride through his ascetic labors. He is caught: trapped…

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About William Ockham

I am a father of two with eclectic interests in theology, philosophy and sports. I chose the pseudonym William Ockham in honor of his contributions to philosophy, specifically Occam's Razor, and its contributions to modern scientific theory. My blog ( explores Ignatian Spirituality and the intersection of faith, science and reason through the life and writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (pictured above).
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9 Responses to Escaping the Ego: St. John of the Cross and an Anatomy of the Self

  1. Geralyn says:

    Thanks for this, William. Very timely. 🙂

  2. Geralyn, thank you for the kind words. We are all talking to ourselves :-). I know it is therapeutic for me. I very much enjoy learning about your journey and the beautiful pictures you have been posting. I just wish you would send some of that warm summer weather out way. It has been very cold in the latitudes of the Upper Northern Hemisphere 🙂

    W. Ockham

  3. An excellent insight into my own struggle to let go of my egoism. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Lynda says:

    “…that we would be so filled with love that we no longer need our ego or care about having a separate identity from God.” Amen! That is my prayer every day as I pray “Take Lord and receive” – the Suscipe by Saint Ignatius. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Reblogged this on gigglinginthegutter and commented:
    Do we have to construct ego to move beyond it? What does the process of separation and re integration mean? I sense that this line of questioning cuts close to the bone of existence. This article is so interesting…

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