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Spiritual Backsliding


Beware of the spiritual harm caused by vanity and willful joy in created things


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- The first step in defeating an enemy is becoming aware of his existence -

(The following excerpts are taken from “The Ascent of Mount Carmel (1), by St. John of the Cross)

It is very important to keep in mind that just as through hard work, prayer and perseverance there is gradual growth in the spiritual life, there may also be gradual spiritual deterioration through carelessness and laxity.

 “There is nothing worthy of a person’s joy other than the service of God and the procurement of His honor and glory in all things.” – St. John of the Cross

 As St. John tells us, something very small can lead into great evils and destroy remarkable blessings.

 The harm that he refers to has its origin and root in the one principal harm embodied in wrongful joy in natural goods, and that is the Withdrawal from God.

 To what evils does this withdrawal entail? – The evils that manifest themselves as a consequence of seeking joy and pleasure in created things (including persons) rather than in the Creator.

 St. John cautions us to beware of becoming seduced into seeking joy and pleasure in natural objects, which include beauty, grace, elegance, bodily appearance and all other physical endowments.  The same applies to spiritual goods and attributes, which include intelligence, discretion and other talents belonging to the rational part of the human being.

 St. John cautions that if one does not turn one’s joy to God in all things, the resulting joy will always be something false and illusory.

 “Grace is deceitful and beauty vain; she who fears the Lord will be praised.” [King Solomon - Proverbs 31:30]

 Withdrawal from God through affections for objects or persons breeds every harm and evil in the soul.

 St. John writes, “The measure of the harm reflects the intensity of the joy and affection with which the will is joined to the creature, for in that proportion does it withdraw from God.”

This deterioration has four degrees, each worse than the other:

The First Degree: Backsliding: a blunting of the mind in relation to God.

“By the very fact that spiritual persons rejoice in something and give reign to the appetite in frivolous things, their relationship with God is darkened and their intellect clouded.”

The Second Degree: An increase in directing the will toward worldly things.

The consequences of this degree cause one to withdraw from spiritual exercises and the things of God…To lack satisfaction in these exercises because of the pleasure found elsewhere and in other things, causes a person to give oneself over to many imperfections, frivolities, joys and vain, selfish pleasures.”

When consummated, this second degree takes away entirely the spiritual practices to which individuals were accustomed, so all their mind and heart fix on the worldly.

The Third Degree: Complete abandonment of God

Individuals in this spiritual state no longer care about observing the laws of God, but attend primarily to worldly things, allowing themselves to fall into mortal sins.

Persons in this category are those who are so engrossed in the riches, affairs and pleasures of this world that they no longer care for fulfilling the obligations of God’s laws and commandments.

Their appetites for the physical and carnal become such that they can never be satisfied.  Consequently, for these persons, their inherent spiritual weakness allows them to give in to their passions to the point of being enslaved by them, and, thus, they fall into habitual sins in an effort to satisfy disordered desires, which by their very nature, are insatiable.

The Fourth Degree: Entirely forgetting and forfeiting the God who so loved them

A person’s memory, intellect and will(2) wander far away from God and so He is forgotten, as if He were not their God at all. 

…and departed from God his Savior.” [Deuteronomy 32:15]

The harms manifested by backsliding – Consequences of seeking joy and pleasure in created goods rather than in the Creator

The Warning Signs - Tepidity of Spirit

Tepidity of spirit is the direct outcome of each and every kind of joy that is not found in God.  St. John writes that, “fornication is a particular evil that follows directly from joy that is found solely in natural goods.”

St. John of the Cross notes that there are six principal indications and warning signs that directly ensue from seeking joy only in worldly things and pleasures.

Look for these signs to see whether or not you may be backsliding, as these behavioral characteristics are each a tacit indication of tepidity of spirit:

1) Vainglory, presumption, pride and disesteem of neighbor

2) Complacency, sensual delight and lust

3) Flattery, vain praises – feeding the ego

4) Reason and judgment of the spirit become very dull

5) Distraction of the mind with creatures and things rather than God

6) Spiritual tepidity and weakness

St. John says that by the time a person has reached the sixth warning sign, he has degenerated so far that his soul finds extreme tedium and sadness in anything Godly, even to the extent of abhorring them.

Refocus on God

For those who find themselves seeking joy, consolation, pleasure and satisfaction in earthly pleasures, you are looking in the wrong place and, thus, will never be satisfied.

Look to God alone who is your true Joy, Pleasure, Consolation and Satisfaction, and you will need nothing else.

Paul Rasavage




(1) Book 3: Chapters 20 through 22.

(2) St. Thomas Aquinas formulated that the human soul is comprised of three constituent components – the memory, the intellect and the will.






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