"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012
The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch
The Press divided those taking part in the Second Vatican Council into “Conservatives” and “Progressives”. Of course it was an over-simplification; but it was handy and suited their journalistic purpose. In fact, among those who wanted to change things, (the “Progressives”), there were at least two tendencies that had distinct goals, though this was not so apparent at the time. Both wanted decentralization of the Church in order to give more importance and autonomy to the local Church; both thought that the teaching of Vatican I needed to be balanced by an emphasis on collegiality and the function of the local bishop; both wanted a reform of the liturgy; and both were ecumenically orientated. They often spoke the same language and voted the same way in the Council; but their goals and their theological positions were irreconcilable as they stood, and this has only become apparent to the Church at large since the Council.
Firstly, there were the liberals, often Anglo-Saxon, who wanted more decision-making at local and individual levels, and hence less directives from the centre. Like the conservatives who saw the Church as a perfect society, they thought of the Church in political and legal terms, even though, like them, they accepted that this political entity is the body of Christ. The doctrine of the body of Christ served to justify and sanctify their basically political view of the Church, just as it justified and sanctified the legalistic view of the conservatives. Like the conservatives, they thought that the solutions to the Church’s problems were about jurisdiction and law, but, unlike the conservatives, they advocated a contemporary liberal political model which gave more freedom for the individual to make decisions and take initiatives, a certain level of democracy in the Church, and a far greater tolerance of dissent. Generally, but not always, they accepted papal dogma as a law of belief that was binding on them, but they interpreted it so that that the pope could only pass such a law in very restricted circumstances; and they believed that everything not defined in an “infallible decree” could be freely doubted or disbelieved or changed. They wanted to leave as much as possible up to the individual to make up his own mind. In things biblical, they considered the methods used in modern scholarship to be the surest way to understand Scripture. In things theological, they insisted on academic freedom for theologians and denied the right of the Vatican or any other ecclesiastical authority to question, criticize or, still less, to condemn their conclusions.. In things ecumenical, they looked to the Anglican Church as a natural partner, though wanting more coherence than the Anglican Communion has. They saw the Second Vatican Council as the Catholic equivalent to the Protestant Reformation; and, in its popular version, liked to contrast “post-Vatican Ii” with “pre-Vatican II”, where “pre-Vatican II” is everything that is conservative and bad, and “post-Vatican II” is all that is progressive and good.. Funnily enough, because they have a basically political vision, they are much closer in their understanding of the Church to the conservative camp who they oppose at every turn than they are to the second group who voted with them in the Cyouncil. Later, they would see the problem of women priests in political terms, as part of the fight for equal rights for women, and would consider it an open question because there is no dogma against women clergy, and the Scriptural argument is inconclusive. Scripture can be interpreted in the light of the feminist agenda rather than by Tradition because women priests is basically a political problem.
This other group were often patristic scholars and liturgists like Ratzinger and Bouyer; and they saw the Church, not in political terms, but primarily as a sacramental organism, and believed that the authority of popes and even of general councils is limited and the ties between a bishop and his flock are assured by this very fact. The juridical ties that bind a bishop to his flock only give external shape to much deeper ties that are the fruit of the Holy Spirit acting through the liturgy. The Pope, although he has universal episcopal jurisdiction over the whole Church, cannot act as though these deeper ties do not exist. To do so would be to deny the Source of his own relationship with the Church. His universal jurisdiction is the servant of the true Source of Catholic unity which is the Holy Spirit acting through the liturgy and manifesting his Presence in ecclesial love. The pope is servant of Catholicity world-wide which is called communion, and he is servant of Catholicity in time, down the ages, from the time of the Apostles to the present day, which is called Tradition. This group wanted to see the liturgy reformed to express the sacramental nature of the whole Church rather than as an expression of powers given to priests as individuals at their ordination; they believed that “Tradition” is an ongoing process in which the Church acts in harmony with the Holy Spirit and is an absolutely central dimension of the Catholic Reality; and their ecumenical gaze fell on the Orthodox and other Eastern Churches as their natural partners. As the Holy Spirit was present and active in the Church before and during the Council, and would be present after the Council, because it is the presence of the Holy Spirit that makes the Catholic Church what it is, any changes would have to be consistent with the unity of the Church across time and space. For them Vatican II could not be a “Catholic Reformation”, because the Holy Spirit is constantly acting in “synergy” with the Church which is thus a divine – human reality, the body of Christ. What the Spirit does together with the Church in one generation cannot be overthrown in the next. Clearly Fr Joseph Ratzinger has not changed his theology. This is how he saw it at the time:
“The decision to begin with the liturgy schema was not merely a technically correct move. Its significance went far deeper. This decision was a profession of faith in what is truly central to the Church–the ever-renewed marriage of the Church with her Lord, actualized in the eucharistic mystery where the Church, participating in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, fulfils its innermost mission, the adoration of the triune God. Beyond all the superficially more important issues, there was here a profession of faith in the true source of the Church’s life, and the proper point of departure for all renewal. The text did not restrict itself to mere changes in individual rubrics, but was inspired from this profound perspective of faith. The text implied an entire ecclesiology and thus anticipated … the main theme of the entire Council – its teaching on the Church. Thus the Church was freed from the ‘hierarchological’ (Congar) narrowness’ of the last hundred years, and returned to its sacramental origins” (14). Theological Highlights of Vatican II (New York: Paulist Press/Deus Books, 1966)
The ‘hierarchological’ narrowness was the ‘conservative idea of the Church as held together by a hierarchic system with the pope at the top. In its place, the Church was returning “to its sacramental origins”, without, of course, denying its hierarchic structure. Little did he know that many who voted the same way as he did were advocating another form of “narrowness”, equally political, but cast in a liberal democratic mould.
There is no doubt that Vatican II endorsed Ratzinger’s position. The great change of perspective and emphasis is contained in this key sentence in the Constitution on the Liturgy: the liturgy is “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fountain from which all her power flows.” ((Const. Lit. I. 10). The Catechism of the Catholic Church spells out the meaning of this all important sentence+
1104Christian liturgy not only recalls the events that saved us but actualizes them, makes them present. The Paschal Mystery is celebrated, not repeated. It is the celebrations that are repeated, and in each celebration there is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that makes the unique mystery present. 1105 The Epiclesis (invocation upon) is the intercession in which the priest begs the Father to send the Holy Spirit … 1106 Together with the anamnesis the epiclesis is at the heart of every sacramental celebration, most especially of the Eucharist… 1107 The Holy Spirit’s transforming power in the liturgy hastens the coming of the kingdom…. 1108 In every liturgical action the Holy Spirit is sent in order to bring us into communion with Christ and so to form his body. …The most intimate cooperation of the Holy Spirit and the Church is achieved in the liturgy. The Spirit, who is the Spirit of communion, abides indefectibly in the Church. For this reason the Church is the great sacrament of divine communion which gathers God’s scattered children together. Communion with the Holy Trinity and fraternal communion are inseparably the fruit of the Spirit in the liturgy. (my emphasis).
The liturgy is “the source of all the Church’s powers” because “the most intimate cooperation of the Holy Spirit is achieved in the liturgy” That the Church is the sacrament of communion in the life of the Blessed Trinity and of the human race is “inseparably the fruit of the liturgy”. Hence the Church is not infallible because the pope and general council are infallible: it is the other way round. The liturgy is the source of their ability to exercise that authority because it is the vehicle of “the most intimate cooperation of the Holy Spirit and the Church” without which the infallibility of popes and general councils would be impossible. The liturgy is also the summit towards which dogmatic pronouncements are directed because it is only when the dogmatic teaching is integrated into our worship that it is fully functioning as a dogma.
Hence, on specific occasions, pope and council are infallible with the infallibility of the Church, an infallibility which springs from its liturgical life, where the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the life of the Church is at its most intense. The theologians of this group would have agreed with the Armenian Orthodox theologian Vardapet Karekin Sarkissian who wrote, “Faith or doctrine is not truth on paper, or formulae in creeds and conciliar decrees or canons, but something living, faith lived or doctrine professed in the permanent experience of the Church’s life as a whole; in other words “Orthodoxia”.” (“Orthodoxy” is, at one and the same time “true doctrine” and “true worship”. In other words, Orthodoxy finds its fullest expression in the liturgy where it is a part of worship, not in the decrees of councils or popes, however infallible they may be when they define doctrine; the orthodoxy of dogmatic definitions is ordered towards true worship, and in this way gives glory to God.)
When Pope John Paul II was asked to permit women to be bishops, he did not answer that he was against women bishops. He said that he had no authority or power to permit women bishops. He declared in Sacerdotio Ordinatio : “Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. LK 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful” (no. 4) Others want to abolish the old rite of saying Mass and celebrating the sacraments.. Cardinal Ratzinger said wrote:
"From my own personal point of view I should like to give further particular emphasis to some of the criteria for liturgical renewal thus briefly indicated. I will begin with those last two main criteria. It seems to me most important that the Catechism, in mentioning the limitation of the powers of the supreme authority in the Church with regard to reform, recalls to mind what is the essence of the primacy as outlined by the First and Second Vatican Councils: The pope is not an absolute monarch whose will is law, but is the guardian of the authentic Tradition, and thereby the premier guarantor of obedience. He cannot do as he likes, and is thereby able to oppose those people who for their part want to do what has come into their head. His rule is not that of arbitrary power, but that of obedience in faith. That is why, with respect to the Liturgy, he has the task of a gardener, not that of a technician who builds new machines and throws the old ones on the junk-pile. The "rite", that form of celebration and prayer which has ripened in the faith and the life of the Church, is a condensed form of living tradition in which the sphere which uses that rite expresses the whole of its faith and its prayer, and thus at the same time the fellowship of generations one with another becomes something we can experience, fellowship with the people who pray before us and after us. Thus the rite is something of benefit which is given to the Church, a living form of paradosis -- the handing-on of tradition." (His review of The Organic Development of the Liturgy by Dom Alcuin Reid OSB of Farnborough Abbey. "Therefore, with the greatest feeling, great understanding for the preoccupations and fears, in union with those responsible, one should understand that this missal is also a missal of the Church, under the authority of the Church; that it is not something of the past to be protected, but a living reality of the Church, much respected in its identity and in its historical greatness. All the liturgy of the Church is always a living thing, a reality which is above us, not subject to our wills or arbitrary wishes." ((from a speech at Fongombault in July 2001) For Ratzinger no one has the authority to invent and propose for use a completely new rite. All the rites in use except for the Armenian Rite have their origins in the three patriarchal sees of Apostolic Foundation, Rome, Antioch and Alexandria, and even the Armenian rite belongs to a Church that was evangelized in Apostolic times. Hence all Catholic rites are products of Apostolic Tradition which it is the function of pope and bishops to protect and serve, not to replace or abolish. They are not free to cut the Church loose from these rites or to make arbitrary changes. On the contrary, they are fulfilling the purpose of their authority when they use it to protect and make them more accessible. He wrote:
"The Christian faith can never be separated from the soil of sacred events, from the choice made by God, who wanted to speak to us, to become man, to die and rise again, in a particular place and at a particular time. . . . The Church does not pray in some kind of mythical omnitemporality. She cannot forsake her roots. She recognizes the true utterance of God precisely in the concreteness of its history, in time and place: to these God ties us, and by these we are all tied together. The diachronic aspect, praying with the Fathers and the apostles, is part of what we mean by rite, but it also includes a local aspect, extending from Jerusalem to Antioch, Rome, Alexandria, and Constantinople. Rites are not, therefore, just the products of inculturation, however much they may have incorporated elements from different cultures. They are forms of the apostolic Tradition and of its unfolding in the great places of the Tradition." (163/4 The Spirit of the Liturgy)
The 2nd Vatican Council is also an event within this Tradition. This means that the post-conciliar liturgy must be interpreted in the light of the Tradition of which it is a relatively new expression. It also means that the pope does not have the power simply to abolish a form of liturgy that has been the norm for many hundreds of years,n nor to abolish the new rite, however much he may prefer the old..; The pope is the guardian of Tradition,not its master. To use Cardinal Ratzinger’s metaphor, the pope is like a gardener who has to respect the laws of botany, not a mechanic who can construct what he likes as long as it works. He has written:
"After the Second Vatican Council, the impression arose that the pope really could do anything in liturgical matters, especially if he were acting on the mandate of an ecumenical council. Eventually, the idea of the givenness of the liturgy, the fact that one cannot do with it what one will, faded from the public consciousness of the West. In fact, the First Vatican Council had in no way defined the pope as an absolute monarch. On the contrary, it presented him as the guarantor of obedience to the revealed Word. The pope's authority is bound to the Tradition of faith, and that also applies to the liturgy. It is not "manufactured" by the authorities. Even the pope can only be a humble servant of its lawful development and abiding integrity and identity. . . . The authority of the pope is not unlimited; it is at the service of Sacred Tradition."(165/6 The Spirit of the Liturgy)
The Church is a sacramental organism, a living process that develops according to its own inherent laws; and these have to be respected by whoever is in charge, just as much as by those who obey him. The Church is not a mechanism nor is its basic structure the product of mere legislation. Therefore, those in charge of the Church on earth cannot simply re-construct it at will using their legal authority. The Church, far from being the “perfect society” of the conservatives or the “liberal society” of the progressives, is the most imperfect of human societies because it can only function by the power of the Spirit who is outside its control. It needs and has a proper juridical system, but this system is at the service of the Spirit who requires the obedience of faith, both from those who legislate and enforce and from those who obey. Jurisdiction has no power over Tradition and must always act within it. I believe that this is the reason why the Pope did not consult the bishops when he gave general permission for the use of the old Latin rite: he believed that the attempt to block its use was as beyond his and their authority as it is beyond the authority of the Anglican Synod to introduce into the Church female bishops and priests.
The Anglican Synod claims more authority than the pope. To pass the measure on women bishops through synod the Anglicans show that they have a ‘lower’ doctrine of the relationship between the structure of the Church and of Tradition. It is not enough to say as the Archbishop of Canterbury did, that there is nothing in Scripture strong enough to impede the introduction of women bishops and priests. In a Catholic view of Tradition, the understanding that the Church has gained down the ages of a particular biblical text and the implications the Church has drawn from that reading form part of any full exegisis of that text, even if scholars tell us that this is not the original meaning. Texts can grow in meaning and may come to express different meanings which reverent prayer can turn into a coherent whole.. In Catholicism the Bible does not stand alone apart from Tradition, because the Holy Spirit is involved in both, which means they belong together. The continual exposure of the Church to the Bible through the liturgy, in which things old and new are understood with the help of the same Spirit who is Author of the Bible, is a constituant dimension of Tradition.
Has it ever occurred to you that those who wish the Church authorities to completely abolish the old Latin Roman rite and to permit women bishops share the same presuppositions as those who want the pope to declare the Blessed Virgin “Mediatrix of All Graces”? Those who wish the pope to make the teaching on Mary a dogma believe that law is above liturgy. It is not enough for them that Our Lady’s holiness and position in God’s plan of Salvation are expressed in prayers, prefaces and offices of the Catholic liturgy. They hold that an official papal proclamation of Mary’s privileges gives more glory to God and to Our Lady than the liturgy does. Law is above liturgy in their estimation of things. They are not sufficiently aware of the synergy between the Spirit and the Church which is the basic reality of the liturgy and makes it the supreme, highest expression of the Catholic faith; though, in times of crisis it may be necessary to proclaim or emphasize anew a dogma of pope or council in order to preserve the unity of the Church or in order to interpret the liturgy aright when this becomes a matter of dispute.. However, the liturgical expression of a truth is a good deal closer to the reality it is expressing than is a proclaimed dogma. It is the function of dogmatic pronouncements to expound and defend Catholic orthodoxy so that the liturgy can more faithfully give glory to God. Like those who want a new dogma, the reformers believe that the pope’s signature is all that is needed to change a sacramental practice of two thousand years. For them law is above liturgy. Similarily, the Anglicans believe that it lies within the competence of their Synod to introduce women priests and bishops. Both Catholic reformers and Anglicans underestimate the importance of the organic nature of the Church’s Tradition and exaggerate the power of jurisdiction in its relationship to liturgy. They forget that it is from the celebration of the liturgy that all the Church’s power flows. In contrast, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer is the classic example of a rite which is the product of a victory of law over liturgy, as well as over the Tradition which the liturgy expresses; so, in accepting women bishops and priests, the Anglican Church is only being consistent with its past.
It is because of these principals that the Pope Benedict XVI restored the old Latin Mass by removing the prohibitions that were de facto imposed on its use. He justifies this move by an appeal to Tradition: "It is good to recall here what Cardinal Newman observed, that the Church, throughout her history, has never abolished nor forbidden orthodox liturgical forms, which would be quite alien to the Spirit of the Church. An orthodox liturgy, that is to say, one which expresses the true faith, is never a compilation made according to the pragmatic criteria of different ceremonies, handled in a positivist and arbitrary way, one way today and another way tomorrow. The orthodox forms of a rite are living realities, born out of the dialogue of love between the Church and her Lord. They are expressions of the life of the Church, in which are distilled the faith, the prayer and the very life of whole generations, and which make incarnate in specific forms both the action of God and the response of man." . However, there is still much work to be done, both by persuading the Latin Mass people that the “new Mass” is fully Catholic, a new expression of the age-old Catholic Tradition, and by persuading the advocates of the “new Mass” that the very nature of the liturgy imposes on the Pope the obligation, not only to permit, but to support the “old Mass”, not against the “new Mass” but in favour of those for whom the old Latin Mass is the normal means by which they participate in the Christian Mystery. Judging by the bitterness that is shown, both on the internet and on the ground, and by the opinions expressed by even very knowledgeable people who have the good of the Church at heart on both sides of the debate, we have a long way to go; but contact in charity is the only way forward. As in the wider ecumenical scene, faith is knowledge born of religious love. Where there is no love, no proper understanding of each other can be sustained. The basis of understanding is the same, both within the Catholic Church and in our relations with traditions external to her: it is love which illuminates our faith, and which drives us on to embrace and comprehend expressions of the same faith that are beyond but not incompatible with our own understanding.
When the kings of Spain asked for missionaries to evangelize the inhabitants of their new colonies in Latin America, they excluded monks. They were only interested in those who would preach and shepherd the people; while Spanish monasticism at that time was very strictly enclosed. They were the only monasteries in western monastic history to keep papal enclosure like the Poor Clares. Until the 20th Century, there was no way that a man could seek a life centred on prayer in a monastery within Spanish America. Then, little by little, foundations were made from Europe and the States. Pope John XXIII asked all monasteries in Europe and the States that could do so to duplicate themselves in Latin America; and this led to a number of attempts, some of them successful.
A few years ago, I was staying in a Spanish monastery for a few days. I was climbing the stairs to my monastic cell when I met an old monk coming down.
“I hear you are trying to found a monastery in Peru,” he said, “You won’t succeed”.. “But we have one Peruvian monk in solemn vows!” I countered. “He’ll leave,” he said abruptly, “I was with a group, trying to found a monastery in South America for thirty years, and it ended in failure. You will see. The whole project will go to pot. They are simply not ready for it.” “Well, I hope and pray you are wrong,” I said, “I don’t know what ‘being ready for monastic life’ entails. Most Spaniards and English people aren’t ready for it either. Some Peruvians have entered monasteries abroad and have remained as faithfully as anyone else. It is a matter of finding the right people and then treating them correctly when they enter. Monasticism is a normal kind of Christian vocation. It should succeed.”
Looking into recent history, the Spanish monk seemed to be right. There had been an American foundation; but, after many years and much sacrifice, they felt they had to call it a day and return to the States. There had been an English foundation, firstly in Apurimac and afterwards in Lima; and they too had returned to England without leaving behind a Peruvian monastery. The Belgians tried twice, the last time coming to an end only some months ago, when they sent home those in simple vows and decided to be content with a Belgian “monastic presence” without accepting Peruvian recruits. “They (the Peruvians) don’t seem to be able to grasp what monastic life is all about,” is a common comment.
We had the advantage of coming late on the scene. It gave us the chance to benefit from other peoples’ mistakes. Very early on, Fr Paul decided a) not to adapt the monastery to the Peruvian reality. It is usually true that the more foreigners try to adapt to the Peruvian reality, the more foreign they seem to be. Only Peruvians can really adapt to the Peruvian reality. We bring to any attempt at adaptation our own cultural baggage and pre-suppositions about monasticism and the Church which have been formed outside Peru. b) Instead of us adapting, it was decided to have a Peruvian community from the very start. In Benedictine life where living and sharing together is so central, having an English community to which they have to adapt, as well as having to adapt to the monastic way of life, seemed to be adding unnecessary burdens to their lot. The English monks would always have things in common, like jokes and memories, which they could not share with the Peruvians, and there would much going on in the minds of the Peruvians that they simply would not understand or appreciate if they did. This limitation in community living may not be important in religious communities which have a much looser bond between their members and which have work outside the community that can focus their attention. We reached the conclusion that this may have been one of the causes of the failure of other ventures. Fr Paul went and founded the monastery alone, leaving the other two monks to get on with parish work. In this way, we were available if he needed help. C) We decided that is would be a mistake to be too ambitious, and should concentrate all our forces on the development of a monastery, without falling into the temptation – and it is a very big temptation – to attempt all kinds of activities that would be perfectly in order if we were a firmly established house. A monastery can dissipate itself in too many activities for a small, struggling house; and attention can be taken away from the all-important one of formation. Formation of the first monks is the work to which everything else is ordered, and anything that interferes with this must be sacrificed. On the first monks depends the whole project.
Having said all that, the fact that there is no monastic tradition in Latin America means that only people who are well-read and have investigated monasticism or people who have travelled in Europe and have had some experience of monasteries really know what they are letting themselves in for when the apply to join a monastery. Others who visit us and decide they want to be monks often misread the signs and only come to understand very slowly what it is all about. In reality, there are many who are attracted at first but are really completely unsuitable. Quite often, the gringo monks who have the task of discerning vocations feel very inadequate and can doubt their own judgement.
We had a number of years when practically all the people coming to experience monastic life were strange misfits who had tried elsewhere. Its very newness attracted them. They hoped that they would find a niche in this new type of religious life, one that had been denied them in other congregations. I do not know how the monastery survived this procession of wierdos, one after the other. Then it stopped, as though someone had waved a wand; and, little by little, more normal people came to apply. Not as though the majority have persevered. The fact that we have only three Peruvians in solemn vows and a community of only eight tells its own story. However, the two juniors look stable enough, and the two postulants are normal healthy human beings; and there are others, I believe, to come. One Englishman and three Peruvians in solemn vows aren’t many, but it is a real start.
Why do we believe it to be so important to establish a monastery on Peruvian soil? What is so special about a monastery? It could be argued that there are so many orders and congregations in Peru that it is not surprising that there is nobody left to become a monk. Why do we not go where we are really needed? We are more needed in England, surely!
A monk’s vocation is simply to be a full-time Christian. Take that common element which is in every single vocation of whatever kind, married or single, that element which makes it a Christian vocation; and that element is the only professional occupation of a monk. A monastery is a glasshouse where that element is encouraged to grow and mature. A Christian, any Christian, must see Christ in his brethren, in the common life, in the circumstances in which he finds himself. This is built into monastic life. A Christian lives a liturgical life and, by so doing, shares in the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. The liturgy is a major ingredient of monastic life. A Christian, any Christian, must learn to listen to God who speaks to him through the meditative reading of Scripture and through divine providence. Many people lapse from the practice of the faith because they do not know how to listen to God, so they have no input. They speak to God, but cannot hear God when he speaks to them. They spiritually starve to death. An extended time every day is dedicated to contacting God through Scripture in a practice known by its Latin name, Lectio Divina, and they surrender themselves to God’s providence by keep ing their vows. Any Christian who goes to communion has the Eucharistic presence of Christ in his heart and, if this communion is to have fruition, must seek him there. This is a monastic practice. The active life of every Christian, all things being equal and if the life is a balanced one, ought to bear fruit in contemplation; and the monk is a contemplative. Thus, Pope John Paul Ii said while on pilgrimage to an Orthodox saint’s shrine in Bulgaria, “I am in fact convinced that the monastic experience constitutes the heart of Christian life, so much so that it can it can be proposed as a point of reference for all the baptized.”
This does not mean we are any better than anyone else; and we are not suggesting that everyone should adopt our monastic style. We mean that our vocation is to concentrate on those things that make anyone Christian and to live in an environment which helps us to concentrate on those things. Thus the things that pre-occupy us are the things that are a concern for all, and those who visit us will find much that is relevant for their own vocation, whatever it might be. Hence, monasticism is a “point of reference” that South America needs. Apart from that, there are people who have monastic vocations.. I visited the house of another religious order a little while ago. Two said to me independently of each other and in confidence that they had always been attracted by the monastic life and would have become monks if there had been a monastery a little nearer
Because monasticism is radical and basic it has an ecumenical dimension by its very nature. It lives by what is common to widely different traditions. It came into existence in the East and still is one of the factors that is a point of contact. The Pope John Paul II said in his speech at the shrine of the Bulgarian monastic saint, “A great Western monk and mystic, William of Saint-Thierry, calls your experience, which nourished and enriched the monastic life of the Catholic West, a "light which comes from the East" (cf. Epistula ad fratres de Monte Dei I, Sources Chrétiennes 223, p. 145). With him, many other spiritual men of the West expressed praise-filled recognition of the richness of Eastern monastic spirituality. I am pleased today to join my voice to this chorus of appreciation, and to acknowledge the authenticity of the path of sanctification traced out in the writings and lives of so many of your monks, who have offered eloquent examples of radical discipleship of the Lord Jesus Christ." Again, monasticism is not a closed system. St Benedict suggests that the monks should learn from any Catholic source how to progress in holiness. The last chapter of his Rule is entitled, “Not all the Practice of Perfection is Foind in this Rule”, and he encourages his disciples to use in their search for God the Scriptures, the Catholic Fathers and the lives and writings of the saints. Thus the English Benedictine Congregation to which my monastery belongs has a long tradition of looking to the Carmelite mystics, St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross. Also traditional is to use “Abandoment to Divine Providence” by the Jesuit, Jean Pierre de Caussade; and, for some of us, there are always the writings of the Orthodox East. The truth is, that, just as people of all Christian vocations can find something in common in monasticism within their own way to God, so monks can find all other vocations helpful in what they have in common with monastic life. We were invited to found a monastery in Peru because it was felt in many quarters in the Peruvian Church that monasticism is needed in South American Catholicism and that it will remain incomplete until the monasteries are able to add their distinctive witness to that of the other congregations and movements on the continent.
Ιn the battle of ascesis and the offering of creatures to God in the cosmic liturgy, our will must cooperate with divine grace. Βut the ultimate knowledge, the love-knowledge of the Trinity, takes hold of us by grace alone. We prepare for it by a stripping away of our being until we become nothing but expectation. Ιn Simone Weil's admittedly approximate expression, we must 'de-create' ourselves, and descend even below the level of plants and stones, to those luminous deep waters οn which the Spirit breathes: to the waters of baptism, the waters of creation. Then the Spirit comes as he came upοn Mary and the person is created afresh in 'an ineffable peace and silence'.
«It is in the power of our spirit to gain the spiritual understanding of objects. But to understand the Hοly Trinity is nοt οnly not in the power of our spirit but it requires a superabundant grace from God.» Evagrius of Pontus Centuries, I,79 (Frankenberg, p.355)
«Tο progress in thinking about creatures is painful and wearisome. The contemplation of the Hοly Trinity is ineffable peace and silence.» Evagrius of Pontus Centurίes, Ι,65 (Frankenberg, p. 105)
Certainly, as we have seen, God, can be known by way of every reality. And to know him is to be taken into the perichoresis, the Trinity's continuous movement of love, which sends us back to creatures. Yet the soul aspires to direct unity with him so that 'nothing may interpose itself between the soul and God' as St Augustine said. And he is witness tο such an uninterrupted meeting -so intense that in his thought the cosmos loses all importance. The true knowledge of God appears then as an unknowing, because it takes place beyond the frontiers of any human capacity to understand or rationalize, and because it is communion with Another whose otherness remains irreducible. The person, going beyond the borders of the intellect, meets the living God who also, in his love, 'goes out' of himself, leaves his inaccessible transcendence. Βy this interweaving, in Christ, of the two 'ecstasies', the uncreated light sets the soul ablaze and draws it into the depths of the Trinity. The unknowing is nοt simply negative theology: it is a soaring of the personality towards that personal God who was led by love to assume the condition of a slave and to die οn a cross. Tο get a proper sense of this mystery of Christ we need the remarkable apophatic algebra of the Areopagite.
«God is known both in all objects and outside all objects. God is known both through knowing and through unknowing ... He is nothing of what is, and therefore cannot be known through anything that is; and yet he is all in all. He is nothing in anything; and yet he is known by all in all, at the same time as he is not known by anything in anything.
It is nο mistake then to speak of God and to honour him as known through all being ... But the way of knowing God that is most worthy of him is to know him through unknowing, in a union that rises above all intellect. The intellect is first detached from all beings, then it goes out of itself and is united to rays more luminous than light itself. Thanks to these rays it shines in the unfathomable depths of Wisdom. It is nο less true, however, as Ι have said, that this Wisdom can be known from every reality.» Dionysius the Areopagite Divine Names, VII, 3 (PG 3,872)
Augustine understood the experience of the Eastern en-stasis in the form Plotinus gave it, and he converted it into an encounter with the absolute Thou, as is emphasized by the well-known sentence of the Confessions: 'But Thou, Lord, wast more within me than my inmost being, and higher than what is highest in me' (Tu autem, Domine, eras interior intimo meo et superior summo meo). God is more transcendent than the 'One' of Plotinus, with whom humanity identifies itself, and he is more within than the Self, whom Eastern mysticism identifies as the Absolute. Augustine's ecstasy at Ostia, a year after his conversion to Christ, bears witness, in a language that is still that of Plotinus, to an aspiration towards the God who is inaccessible and yet quite suddenly perceptible to the heart with an overwhelming immediacy. This God, who is touched for an instant 'for a whole heartbeat', is then simultaneously glimpsed as an 'abyss of inward joy' and as the Other, as my Creator, in whose presence I am and who is speaking to me. Whereas a fleeting, purely Plotinian experience a year earlier at Milan ended like withdrawal from drugs, in 'an immense confusion', the ecstasy at Ostia takes place in the great longsuffering of faith and fertilizes it with hope. Οn the other hand, it must be emphasized, it is not solitary. The presence of his mother suggests ecclesial communion.
«Shortly before the day οn which thy servant [Monica, Augustine's mother] was to leave this world ... it so happened that she and I were alone, standing by a window from which could be seen the garden of the house in which we were living at Ostia ... Our conversation was a very happy one. We dismissed the past and took ourselves with all that we were into the futute ahead of us. We sought in the light of that eternal present that is thyself, Lord, what the immortal life of the saints might be, that life that eye has not seen nor ear heard nοt heart grasped. We opened our hearts wide to drink the waters of thy heavenly spring, that spring of life that is in thee, so that by filling ourselves as best we could we might have some inkling of that higher life ...
We were exalted by an ever more burning desire and we ascended through the whole range of physical creation right up tο the sky, whence the sun the moon and the stars send their light upοn the earth. Then we rose higher still, thinking inwardly of thee, speaking of thee and marvelling at thy works. Thus we arrived at our souls, and went οn beyond them to reach that region of inexhaustible plenty ... where life is that very Wisdom by which was made everything that is and everything that has been and everything that will be. But that Wisdom itself was not made, for it is today such as it has been and such as it will be -more precisely such as it is, for it is eternal ... And while we were speaking and desiring intensely to attain to this sovereign Wisdom we touched it slightly for a whole heart-beat.
Then, with a sigh, we left in heaven those first fruits of our spirit and came back to the word that is uttered and that has a beginning and an end ...
We said therefore: Suppose someone imposed silence within himself upοn the tumults of the flesh and shut his eyes to the spectacle of earth, sea and sky; suppose he imposed silence οn his οwn soul without allowing it to stop at itself or think about itself; suppose he rid himself of the dreams and the imaginings of memory and forgot all language, all words, all that is mutable (for if he listened tο those things they would tell him, 'We did not make ourselves: he who abides for ever made us.'); suppose he paid nο more heed to these creatures after they had invited him to listen to their Creator, and God alone had spoken to him and he had heard divine words not uttered by a tongue of flesh nor by the voice of an angel, nor by a peal of thunder, nor by the language of figures and symbols, but by the Creator himself, whom we love in his creation, speaking in a wholly spiritual fashion, as in the wholly spiritual contact that was effected just nοw between our thought when it was ravished to heaven and the eternal Wisdom ... if then that ecstasy continued ... and if the one who was enjoying it were absorbed by that contemplation alone in the abyss of interior joy, in such a way that eternal life resembled that brief moment of transport after which we have sighed so longingly -surely this would be the fulfilment of that word of the Gospel: 'Enter into the joy of your Lord'.» Augustine οf Hippo Confessions, ΙX,X 23-5 (Belles Lettres p. 227-9)
The specifically Christian treatment of the theme is developed by Augustine in his commentary οn Psalm 41. There again is the worship of the personal God beyond self, beyond the Self, beyond the fine point of the soul. But the path to him is more explicitly described: it is the Church, whose liturgy, interiorized, enables the soul to hear (rather than to see, though the distinction is purely relative for mystics and artists) some fragments of the celestial liturgy. Hοw bewitching is the attraction of that divine music, that sharing in the eternal festival! Then suddenly through the music -the transition from hearing to seeing- there blazes forth the face of God, the face of Christ.
Note the realism of Augustine, his candour, free of the conventional style preferred by the Christian Orient. The soul, after having glimpsed the full reality, though οnly in a flash, falls back into the shadows of everyday routine. The vision becomes again something to be waited for. But hope has taken the place of despair.
This realism with its tragic overtones was to leave its mark οn the West. It would prevent it from falling asleep οn its way back to the original. It would make it a pilgrim to the ultimate.
«Ι sought the substance [of God] in myself, as if it were similar to what Ι am; and Ι did nοt find it. Ι sense then that God is well beyond my soul. Tο touch him then, 'Ι pondered οn these things and Ι stretched out my soul above itself'. Hοw in fact could my soul reach what it needs to look for beyond itself if it did not stretch out above itself? If my soul were to remain within itself it would not see anything but itself and, within itself, it would not see its God ... 'Ι stretched out my soul beyond myself' and οnly my God remains for me to grasp. It is there, in fact, above my soul, that the dwelling of my God is. That is where he dwells, from there he sees me, from there he created me ... from there he raises me up and calls me, from there he guides me and steers me into harbour. He who dwells in the highest heavens in an invisible abode possesses also a tabernacle οn earth. His tabernacle is his Church still οn its journey. It is there he must be sought because in the tabernacle is found the way that leads to his abode. Actually when Ι stretched out my soul above myself tο reach my God, why did I do it? 'Because Ι will enter into the place of the tabernacle', the marvellous tabernacle, even to the house of God ... The tabernacle of God οn earth is made up of faithful people ... The prophet [David] entered the tabernacle and from there arrived at the house of God. While he was marvelling at the saints, who are as it were different parts of this tabernacle, he was led to the house of God, carried away by a certain delight, a kind of secret charm, as though from the house of God were coming the bewitching sounds of a musical instrument. He walked in the tabernacle and hearing this music within, whose sweetness drew him οn, he set himself to follow what he heard ... and he arrived at the house of God ... Hοw did you come to the secret of that abode? The reply: amidst songs of gladness and praise, amidst the joyful harmonies of the holiday-makers ... in the house of God it is always a holiday ... it is celebrated by the choirs of angels, and the face of God, seen unveiled, gives rise to a joy beyond description. There is nο beginning to that day of festival, nor any end. Of this eternal festivity some ineffable sound is heard in the ears of the heart, provided that nο human noise is mixed with it. The harmony of that festival enchants the ear of anyone who is walking in this tabernacle and contemplating the marvels that God has worked for the redemption of the faithful. It leads the hart to the waterbrooks.
But we see God from a distance. Our body that is doomed to corruption weighs our soul down and our spirit is troubled by many thoughts. Sometimes, spurred οn by the longing that scatters the vain images that surround us, we succeed in hearing those divine sounds ... However, since we are weighed down by our heaviness we soon fall back into οur habitual ways. We let ourselves be dragged back to our usual way of living. And just as when we drew near to God we found joy, so when we fall back to earth we have reason to groan. 'Why art thou so heavy, Ο my soul: and why art thou so disquieted within me?' We have just tasted a secret sweetness, we have just been able with the fine point of the spirit to glimpse, very briefly, it is true, and in a flash οnly, the life that does not change. Why then are you still distressed? Why this sadness? Yοu do not doubt yοur God. Yοu are not at a loss for an answer to those who ask yοu, 'Where is your God?' Already Ι have had a foretaste of the immutable. Why are yοu still distressed? Hope in God. And the soul replies in secret: 'Why am Ι in distress, unless it is because Ι am not yet in that abode where this sweetness into whose bosom Ι was fleetingly transported is for ever enjoyed? Can Ι perhaps from nοw οn drink from this fountain without fear? ... Am Ι even nοw secure against all my inordinate desires? Are they tamed and vanquished? Is not the devil, my enemy, οn the watch for me? And yοu would have me untroubled while Ι am still exiled from God's house!' Then ... the reply comes: 'Hope in God. While awaiting heaven find your God here below in hope ... Why hope? Because Ι shall witness to him. What witness will yοu give? That he is my God, the health of my countenance. My health cannot come to me from myself. Ι will proclaim it, Ι will bear witness to it: My God is the health of my countenance ...'» Augustine of Hippο Commentary οn Psalm 41 (PL 36,464-7)
«Ιn the contemplative life there is a great straining of the soul when it is lifting itself towards the heavenly heights, endeavouring to transcend all that it can see with the body, and pulling itself together in order to expand. Sometimes it is victorious and overcomes the resistance of the darkness of its οwn blindness. Then it attains, briefly and in a covert manner, something of the light that knows nο bounds. Yet it quickly falls back into itself, and quits that light, repulsed, and returns with sighs to the darkness of its οwn blindness.» Gregory the Great Homilies οn Ezekiel, 2,2,12 (PL 76,955)
St Gregory of Nyssa also, the poet and dramatist of darkness, mentions those brief thoughts that come to us from a fullness beyond our reach. Beyond our reach, yes, but 'a few drops of night' are enough to inebriate us.
«The advantage yοu will gain from having welcomed me and enabled me cο dwell in you will be the dew with which my head is covered and the drops of night that trickle from my locks ...
Let whoever has gained access to the invisible sanctuary rejoice if its fullness sprinkles his spirit with dark insubstantial thoughts.» Gregοry of Nyssa Homilies οn the Sοng of Songs, II (PG 44, 1002)
Tο catch a glimpse of the divine light as if through a narrow loophole is none the less to broaden the soul prodigiously. A gleam is enough for everything to be transformed.
«Ιn the splayed windows [of the temple in Ezekiel's vision] the part by which the light enters is οnly a narrow opening, but the interior part that receives the light is wide. Ιn the same way the souls of those who contemplate see only a feeble gleam of true light and yet everything in them seems to expand widely . .. What they see of eternity in their contemplation is almost nothing, yet it is enough tο broaden their inward vision and tο increase their fervour and their love. Although they are receiving the light of truth as if through a loophole only, everything in them seems to be broadened.» Gregory the Great Homilies οn Ezekiel, 2,5,17 (PL 76,995)
Noverim me, noverim te (if Ι knew myself, Ι should know thee), says Augustine. Ιn Christ the awareness of the subject leads οn to that of the divine Thou. And he sees in the soul's faculties, in the memory, the intelligence and the will, the image of the Trinity. Tο the Fathers, the image of God in humanity restored in Christ leads οn to the Trinitarian light, towards the Kingdom. When a person by faith, humility, and the appropriate ascesis perfects the purifying of the image, it attains to a resemblance of participation. It becomes wholly translucent to the Archetype.
« 'The kingdom of God is within yοu' (Luke 17.21). From this we learn that by a heart made pure ... we see in our οwn beauty the image of the godhead ... Yοu have in yοu the ability tο see God. He who formed yοu put in your being an immense power. When God created you he enclosed in yοu the image of his perfection, as the mark of a seal is impressed οn wax. But your straying has obscured God's image ... Yοu are like a metal coin: οn the whetstone the rust disappears. The coin was dirty, but nοw it reflects the brightness of the sun and shines in its turn. Like the coin, the inward part of the personality, called the heart by οur Master, once rid of the rust that hid its beauty, will rediscover the first likeness and be real ... Sο when people look at themselves they will see in themselves the One they are seeking. And this is the joy that will fill their purified hearts. They are looking at their οwn translucency and finding the model in the image. When the sun is looked at in a mirror, even without any raising of the eyes to heaven, the sun's brightness is seen in the mirror exactly as if the sun's disc itself were being looked at. Yοu cannot contemplate the reality of the light; but if yοu rediscover the beauty of the image that was put in yοu at the beginning, yοu will obtain within yourself the goal of yοur desires ... The divine image will shine brightly in us in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory throughout all ages.» Gregοry οf Nyssa Homilies on the Beatitudes, 6 (PG 44, 1270)
The Fathers distinguish here, without in any way separating them, the inaccessible essence of God and the energy (or energies) by means of which his essence is made inexhaustibly capable of being shared in. It is a distinction that is inherent in the reality of the divine Persons and it points, οn the one hand, tο their secret nature and, οn the other hand, to the communication of their love and their life. The essence does not imply a depth greater than the Trinity; it means the depth in the Trinity, the depth, that cannοt be objectivized, of personal existence in communion. The inaccessibility of the essence means that God reveals himself of his οwn free will by grace, by a 'folly of love' (St Maximus's expression). God in his nearness
remains transcendent. He is hidden, not as if in forbidden darkness, but by the very intensity of his light. It is only God's inaccessibility that allows the positive space for the development of love through which communion is renewed. God overcomes otherness in himself without dissolving it and that is the mystery of the Trinity in Unity. He overcomes it in his relations with us, again without dissolving it, and that is the distinction-identity of the reality and the energies. 'God is altogether shared and altogether unshareable', as Dionysius the Areopagite and Maximus the Confessor say. The energy is the expansion of the Trinitarian love. It associates us with the perichoresis of the divine Persons.
God as inaccessible essence -transcendent, always beyond our reach.
God as energy capable of being shared in -God incarnate, crucified, descended into hell, risen from the dead and raising us up, that is, enabling us to share in his life, even from the starting point of οur οwn enclosed hell- God always within our reach.
The energy -or energies- can therefore be considered from two complementary standpoints. Οn the one hand is life, glory, the numberless divine Names that radiate eternally from the essence. From all eternity God lives and reigns in glory. And the waves of his power permeate the universe from the moment of its creation, bestowing οn it its translucent beauty, masked partially by the fall: At the same time, however, the energy or energies denote the actions of God who is living and active, operations that create and maintain the universe, and then enable it to enter potentially into the realm of the Spirit, and to be offered the risen life. All these operations therefore are summed up in Jesus, the name that means 'God saves', 'God frees', 'God sets at liberty'. Ιn his person humanity and all creation are 'authenticated', 'spiritualized', 'vivified', since, as St Pau1 says, 'in him [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily' (Colossians 2.9). The energy as divine activity ensures our share in the energy as divine life, since what God gives us is himself. The energy is not an impersonal emanation nor is it a part of God. It is that life that comes from the Father through the Son in the Hοly Spirit. It is that life that flows from the whole being of Jesus, from his pierced side, from his empty tomb. It is that power that is God giving himself entirely while remaining entirely above and beyond creatures.
«It may be said in all truth that the pure in heart see God and, at the same time, that nο one has ever seen God. Ιn fact that part of his nature that is invisible becomes visible through the energies that are thus revealed about his nature.» Gregory οf Nyssa Homilies οn the Beatitudes, 6 (PG 44,1269)
«We declare that we know God in his energies but we hardly claim to approach him in his very essence. For his essence remains inaccessible, whereas his energies reach down to us.» Βasil οf Caesaria Letter 234 (PG 32,869)
«God's unique nature, while remaining entirely one, multiplies itself in powers that communicate being and life ... and all these munificent gifts of Goodness ... make it possible for the unsharable character of the Shared to be glorified in the sharers as well as in the shares that are given.» Dionysius the Areopagite Divine Names, ΙΙ, 5 (PG 3,644)
«We can share in what God communicates to us of his nature, but his nature in itself remains incommunicable.» Μaximus the Confessor quoted by Euthymius Zygabenus Dogmatic Panοply, 3 (PG 130,148)
« 'We shall see God as he is': that means ... that we shall understand the beauty of the divine nature of the Father by cοntemplating the glory of him [Christ] who has shone forth from him.» Cyril of Alexandria Commentary οn the Gospel of ]οhn, 16,25 (PG 73,464)
«The energy of the divine nature is common tο the Persons [of the Trinity] while belonging properly tο each one of them in a mode that is fitting to each ... The energy belongs to the Father, but through the Son and in the Spirit. It belongs to the Son, but as power of the Father ... it belongs to the Spirit, inasmuch as he is the Spirit of the Father and the Son.» Cyril of Alexandria Οn the Holy and Consubstantial Trinity, VI (PG 75,105b)
The distinction-identity of nature and energy must be understood dynamically. The more the soul is filled, satiated with God, the more God calls it further beyond. Transfiguration and transcendence, enstasis and ecstasis, never cease alternating. The more God is known, the more he is found to be unknown. (And it is the same with our neighbour.) The more God makes it possible for us to share in him (this is 'energy'), the more we aspire to reach him who eludes us (this is his 'nature'). Thus the soul advances 'from beginning to beginning'. Eternity is inaugurated already here below in that rhythm of fullness and aspiration. The theology of the nature and the energy of God reveals itself in this way as an astonishing metaphysic of communion, of 'relational being'. This has been propounded in this century by Russian and Greek philosophers -in particular by Christos Yannaras in his magisterial work Person and Love, but also in France by Gabriel Marcel and Maurice Zundel, and by that unassuming and profound French-speaking philosopher from the Lebanon, Rene Habachi.
«The unlimited reality of the godhead that cannot be circumscribed remains beyond all comprehension ... Thus great David when he was seeking exaltation in his heart and was going 'from strength tο strength' (Psalm 84.7) nevertheless cried to God: 'Thou, Ο Lord, art οn high for ever' (Psalm 92.8). By that, Ι think, he meant tο convey that for all eternity, world without end, anyone who is hastening towards thee grows ever greater and rises continually higher, each moment making progress by the addition of graces, whilst 'Thou, Ο Lord, art enthroned for ever; thy name endures tο all generations' (Psalm 102.12) ... At each instant, what is grasped is much greater than what had been grasped before, but, since what we are seeking is unlimited, the end of each discovery becomes the starting point for the discovery of something higher, and the ascent continues.
Thus our ascent is unending. We go from beginning tο beginning by way of beginnings without end.
Nor, whilst ascending, do we cease to desire more, knowing what we know. Rather, as we rise by a greater desire to one still higher, we continue οn our way into the infinite by increasingly higher ascents.» Gregory οf Nyssa Homilies οn the Song of Songs, 8 (PG 44, 94o-1)
«When the soul has become simple, unified, really like God, it finds fulfilment ... it clings to the One who alone is really lovable and desirable. It is unified with him by the living activity of love. It is transformed into that which it apprehends, continually making fresh discoveries.» Gregοry of Nyssa Dialogue οn the Soul and Resurrection (PG 46, 93)
Thus the sanctified soul becomes, as Jean Daniélou wrote, an 'expanding universe'.
«Sharing in the divine fullness is such that it makes whoever achieves it ever greater, more illimitable, so as never to cease growing. Because the spring of all reality flows ceaselessly, the being of anyone who shares in it is increased in grandeur by all that springs up within, so that the capacity for receiving grows along with the abundance of good gifts received.» Gregory of Nyssa Dialogue οn the Soul and Resurrection (PG 46,112) This and the next two articles are taken from: From The Roots of Christian Mysticism; first published in English 1993 by New City. Translated by Thedore Berkeley O.C.S.O.
5. Martyrdom: Death-and-Resurrection (by Prof. Olivier Clement)
Martyrdom means witness. But to bear witness to Christ to the point of death is to become one who has risen again. Christian martyrdom is a mystical experience, the first attested in the history of the Church. It is recorded right at the beginning by the example of Stephen the 'protomartyr' in the Acts o f the Apostles thus: '[Stephen], full of the Hοly Spirit, gazed into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus
standing at the right hand of God; and he said, "Behold, Ι see the heavens opened, and the Son of Μan standing at the right hand of God" ... Then they cast him out of the city and they stoned him; ... And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, "Lord, do nοt hold this sin against them." And when he said this, he fell asleep' (Acts 7.55-60). Vision of glory ... prayer for the executioners ... when history comes full circle and another witness is put to death, this very death 'opens the heavens' and allows the energies of love to make their entry into the world.
Martyrdom was the first form of sanctity to be venerated in the Church. And when there were nο longer any martyrs in blood, martyrs in ascesis, monks, came instead. It was the monks who coined the saying that expresses the meaning of martyrdom: 'Give your blood and receive the Spirit.' Then martyrdom returned.
A martyr can be, at first sight, any man or woman at all. Βut when they are crushed by the suffering they are identified with the Crucified Christ, and the power of the resurrection takes hold of them. Ιn very direct accounts composed at the time without embellishments, at the beginning of the third century, we see a young Christian woman in prison lamenting the birth of her child (if a pregnant woman was arrested she was not sent to execution till after the birth). The gaoler jeers at her. But Felicity gently explains to him that in the moment of her martyrdom another will suffer in her. Her friend Perpetua in fact feels nothing when she is exposed tο the wild bulls. She is momentarily spared before coming out of the 'ecstasy of the Spirit', as if awakening from a deep sleep. And the martyrs, before meeting death together, give one another the kiss of peace, as during the eucharistic liturgy.
For the authentic Christian, death does not exist. He casts himself into the risen Christ. Ιn him death is a celebration of life.
«Felicity was eight months pregnant when she was arrested ... Her labour pains came upοn her ... She was suffering a great deal and groaning. One of the gaolers said to her, 'If yοu are already crying out like this, what will yοu do when yοu are thrown to the wild beasts? ...' Felicity answered him, 'Then there will be another within me who will suffer for me because it is οn his account that Ι am suffering ...'
Perpetua was tossed in the air first [by a furious bull]. She fell οn her back. As soon as she could sit up ... she pinned back her hair which had come loose. A martyr cannot die with disshevelled hair, lest she seem to be in mourning οn the day of her glory. Then she got up and noticed Felicity who seemed to have collapsed. She went to her, gave her her hand and helped her to her feet. When they saw both of them standing up, the cruelty of the crowd was subdued. The martyrs were taken out through the gate of the living.
There Perpetua was welcomed by a catechumen, Rusticus, who was very much attached to her. She seemed to awake out of a deep sleep, so long had the ecstasy lasted. She looked around her and asked, 'When shall we be delivered to the bull?' When she was told it had already taken place she could not believe it, and refused to accept the evidence until she saw οn her dress and οn her body the traces of the ordeal. Then she called her brother and the catechumen. She said to them, 'Remain steadfast in the faith. Love one another. Do not let our sufferings be a subject of scandal for you ...'
The people demanded that the wounded be brought back into the arena so that they could enjoy the spectacle of the sword piercing the living bodies ... The martyrs ... came to the place that the crowd wanted. They gave one another the kiss of peace to consummate their martyrdom, in accordance with the rite of faith. Αll of them remained motionless tο receive the fatal blow.» Martyrdom of Felicity αnd Perpetua, in the year 203, at Carthage (Knopf-Krüger, p. 35-44)
The blood of the martyrs is identified with that of Golgotha, and so with that of the Eucharist, which imparts the inebriation of eternity. The martyr becomes Eucharist, becomes Christ. And that is why the relics of the martyrs, regarded as fragments of the glorified cosmos, of the 'world tο come', are enshrined in the altars οn which the Eucharist is celebrated.
«Ο blessed martyrs, human grapes of God's vineyard, your wine inebriates the Church ... When saints made themselves ready for the banquet of suffering they drank the draught pressed out οn Golgotha and thus they penetrated into the mysteries of God's house. And so we sing, 'Praise be to Christ who inebriates the martyrs with the blood from his side.'» Rabulas οf Εdessa Hymn to the Martyrs (Bickell ΙΙ, p. 262)
Ιn the following passage from the letter written by Ignatius of Antioch to the Christians of Rome -the bishop of Antioch was being led to the capital of the Empire for solemn execution, at the beginning of the second century- almost all the aspects of this 'death-and-resurrection' are brought together. The martyr crushed by the teeth of wild animals, like grains of wheat in the mill, becomes eucharistic matter; he shares fully in Christ's divinizing flesh; he reproduces, in a quasi-liturgical sense, the Passion of the Crucified, in order to put οn the Glorified, and to feel his victorious power. Victor, the conqueror, was the name given to every martyr. Ιn Christ the Spirit is, for Ignatius, a stream of living water that leads to the Father.
Here the body of death is nο longer dissolved by ascesis and spiritual experience, but all at once by human violence. The martyr hastens the coming to birth of the glorious body.
«Ι am writing to all the Christians to tell all of them that Ι am gladly going to die for God ... Let me be the food of beasts thanks to which Ι shall be able to find God. Ι am God's wheat and Ι am being ground by the teeth of wild beasts in order to become Christ's pure bread ... Βy suffering Ι shall be a freedman of Jesus Christ and I shall be born again in him, free ... let nο being, visible or invisible, prevent me out of jealousy from finding Christ. Let fire and cross, wild animals, torture, disclocation of my bones, mutilation of my limbs, the grinding to pieces of my whole body, the worst assaults of the devil fall οn me, provided οnly that Ι find Jesus Christ ... Μy new birth is close at hand. Forgive me, brethren, do not hinder me from living. Let me come into the pure light. When Ι reach that point Ι shall be a man. Allοw me to reproduce the passion of my God. Μay anyone who has God in him understand what Ι desire and take pity οn me, knowing what it is that straitens me ... My earthly desires have been crucified. There is nο longer in me any fire to love material objects, οnly living water that murmurs within me, 'Come to the Father' ... It is the bread of God that Ι desire, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ ... and for drink Ι desire his blood, which is imperishable love.» Ιgnatius οf Antioch Tο the Romans, 4-7 (SC 10, p. 130-7)
Ιn the account of the martydom of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, in the same period, one is struck by the affectionate simplicity of the man and the power of his intercession. He welcomes the police officers as neighbours sent to him by God. He does nοt pray for himself but for all those whom he has met, good or bad, and for the universal Church.
Since his conscience is involved, the martyr deliberately disobeys the authorities. He calmly proclaims before magistrates and crowd that the only 'Lord' is Christ, namely God-made-man, and not the holder of power, not the sacralized might of Rome. Thereby he asserts the transcendence of conscience, of the person made in the image of God. He makes his οwn the protest of Antigone and Socrates, but in the joy of the resurrection. He radically relativizes political importance.
For all that, the martyr is not a rebel. Like Socrates, he accepts the sentence of the magistrates and prays for the Emperor. Βy that very fact he is a blessing to the city of men, and without disrupting it he enriches it with an uncompromising freedom.
The end of the passage takes up again the identification of martyrdom with the Eucharist, the witness of victory over death.
«Learning then that the police officers were there, he [Polycarp] went down and talked to them. They were amazed at his age and his calmness and at the trouble that was being taken to arrest a man as old as he. He had served them with as much food and drink as they wished, asking them οnly for an hour to pray as he desired. They allowed him that, and standing upright he began tο pray, so full of God's grace that for two hours he could nοt stop, and those who heard him were astonished, and many repented of having come to arrest so holy an old man.
Ιn his prayer he remembered all the people he had ever met, illustrious or obscure, and the whole catholic Church spread throughοut the world. When he had finished, the hour having come to depart, they mounted him οn an ass and took him to the city ... Quickly they piled round him the materials prepared for the pyre. As they were about to nail him to it he said, 'Leave me like this. He who gives me strength to endure the fire will also enable me to remain firm at the stake.' Accordingly they did not nail him to it, but they bound him. With his hands behind his back he looked like a ram chosen for sacrifice from a large flock...
Raising his eyes to heaven he said:
'Lord, almighty God, Father of thy well-beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ through whom we have received the knowledge of thy name, God ... of all creation ... Ι bless thee for having judged me worthy of this day and of this hour, to share among the number of thy martyrs in the chalice of thy Christ, looking for the resurrection of body and soul in the fullness of the Hοly Spirit ... And so for everything Ι praise thee, Ι bless thee, Ι glorify thee, through the eternal heavenly high priest Jesus Christ thy well-beloved Son, through whom be glory tο thee with him and the Hοly Spirit, nοw and for ever. Amen.' ... Ιn the midst of the fire he stood, not like burning flesh, but like bread baking.» Martyrdom of St Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, 7,2-8,1;14,1-3;15,2 (SC 10, pp. 250,252,260,262,264)
The following dreams, which are visions, show the souls of the martyrs taking part in the heavenly liturgy as it is described in the Apocalypse. The gardens of paradise with the leaves of the trees singing to the breeze of the Spirit, a temple or a palace with walls of light; at the centre of it all, the Ancient of Days with white hair but a face radiating youth; the face of Christ in the youthfulness of the Spirit; the kiss of peace; the mouthful of food offered by the Shepherd; the ineffable perfume that is as food; so many symbols of the mystical state of martyrdom similar to the actual experience of the Eucharist.
Then Ι went up. Ι saw an enormous garden. Ιn the middle there was a tall man dressed as a shepherd. He was engaged in milking sheep. Around him, in thousands, were men clothed in white. He raised his head, looked at me and said, 'Welcome, my child.' He called me and gave me a mouthful of the cheese he was preparing. Ι received it with hands joined. Ι ate it and they all said 'Amen'. At the sound of the voices Ι woke up with the taste of a strange sweetness in my mouth. Ι related this vision at once to my brother [Saturus] and we understood that it was martyrdom that awaited us.
Our martyrdom was over. We had left our bodies behind. Four angels carried us towards the East but their hands did not touch us ... When we had gone through the first sphere that encircles the earth we saw a great light. Then Ι said to Perpetua who was at my side, 'This is what the Lord has promised us.' We had reached a vast open plain that seemed to be a garden with oleanders and every type of flower. The trees were as tall as cypresses and their leaves sang without ceasing ... We arrive at a palace whose walls seem to be made of light. We go in and hear a choir repeating, 'Holy, Holy, Hοly.' Ιn the hall is seated a man clothed in white. He has a youthful face and his hair shines white as snow. Οn either side of him stand four elders ... We go forward in amazement and we kiss the Lord who caresses us with his hand. The elders say to us, 'Stand up!' We obey and exchange the kiss of peace ... We recognized many of the brethren martyrs like us. For food we all had an ineffable perfume that satisfied us wholly.» Martyrdom of Felicity and Perpetua (Knopf-Krüger) Santo Domingo de Silos The Abbey of Monserrat
From The Roots of Christian Mysticism; first published in English 1993 by New City. Translated by Thedore Berkeley O.C.S.O.
The whole of this transformation of the human being is summed up by the Fathers in the celebrated formula, 'God became man in order that man might become God'. Ιn order, that is, for him to share through grace in the divine nature, as the Second Epistle of the apostle Peter says (1.4).
This formula does not in any way imply the removal of the human element. Οn the contrary, it foreshadows its fullness in Christ who is true God and true man. The human part is given life by the Spirit. 'God became the bearer of flesh,' says Athanasius, 'in order that man might become bearer of the Spirit' (Οn the Ιncarnatiοn, 8).
The human being is truly human only in God. The Word, incarnate, crucified, glorified, constitutes the place of resurrection, the Pentecostal place where humanity is raised up towards God.
«Because God has become man, man can become God. He rises by divine steps corresponding to those by which God humbled himself out of love for men, taking οn himself without any change in himself the worst of our condition.» Μaximus the Confessor Theological and Ecοnomic Chapters (PG 90,1165)
Ιn Christ the Holy Spirit imparts to human beings a renewed sonship of God. They share in the eternal procreation of the Son. They are introduced into the heart of the Trinity. Deification is identified with this adoption.
«'Ιn him [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,' says St Paul (Colossians 2.9). And John the Theologian reveals this sublime mystery to us when he says that the Word dwells among us (John 1.14). For we are all in Christ, and the humanity we all share in him regains its life in him. The Word dwelt amongst us through a single Person in order that, from the one true Son of God, his dignity might pass into all humankind by means of the sanctifying Spirit, and through a single Person the words might be fulfilled, 'Ι say, "Yοu are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you"' (Psalm 82.6; John 10.34). Cyril of Alexandria Commentary οn John's Gospel, 1,14 (PG 73,161)
Ιt is a transformation made possible by the Church, in so far as it is 'mystery' -sacrament in the ontological sense- and unites us with the human nature of the Word, that is full to the brim with divine energies, with the presence and power of the Pneuma.
«[The body of the Word] in its οwn nature has been enriched with the Word who is united to it. It has become holy, life-giving, full of the divine energy. And in Christ we too are transfigured.» Cyril οf Alexandria That Christ is Οne (PG 75,1269)
«[Christ] fills his whole body with the life-giving energy of the Spirit. For henceforward he calls his flesh Spirit without denying that it is flesh . . . It is united in fact to the Word who is life.» Cyril of Alexandria Commentary οn Jοhn's Gospel, 6,64 (PG 73,604)
The Alexandrine Fathers, and especially St Cyril, developed this mysticism of the adoption that deifies. Only the Word is the Son by nature, but in his body, in his Spirit, we become 'sons by participation'. This is an energy-based, spirit-filled Christology in which the humanity is shot through with the brightness of the divinity like iron red-hot in the fire.
«Participation in the Hοly Spirit gives human beings the grace to be shaped as a complete cοpy of the divine nature.» Cyril of Alexandria Treasuse, 13 (PG 75,228)
«Anyone who receives the image of the Son, that is the Spirit, possesses thereby in all fullness the Son, and the Father who is in him.» Cyril of Alexandria Treasure, 33 (PG 75,572)
Tο be deified is therefore to become someone living with a life stronger than death, since the Word is life itself and the Spirit is the one who brings life. All human possibilities are brought into play. The structures of thought, feeling, friendship, creativity, while remaining οnly human structures, receive an infinite capacity for light and joy and love.
«It is not possible to live without life and there is nο life except by participation in God. Such participation consists in seeing God and rejoicing in his fullness.»
Ιrenaeus οf Lyons Against Heresies, IV,20,5 (SC 100 bis, p. 642)
The glory of God is a living person and the life of humanity is the vision of God. If the revelation of God through creation already gives life to all living beings οn earth, how much more does the manifestation of the Father through the Son give life to those who see God.» Ιrenaeus οf Lyons Against Heresies,IV,20,7 (SC 100 bis, p. 648)
«God is himself the life of those who participate in him.» Ιrenaeus οf Lyons Against Heresies, V,7,1 (SC p. 153,86-8)
Thus holiness is life in its fullness. And there is holiness in each human being who participates vigorously in life. There is holiness not only in the great ascetic but in the creator of beauty, in the seeker after truth who heeds the mystery of creation, both living and inanimate, in the deep love of a man and a woman, in the mother who knows how to console her child and how to bring it to spiritual birth.
«The saints are the living ones: and the living ones are the saints.» Οrigen Commentary οf John's Gospel, 2,11 (GCS 4,74)
Let us bear in mind that the virtues are divine-human: they are a sharing in the attributes of God. Through them God becomes human in the human being and makes the human being God.
«The spirit that is united to God by prayer and by love acquires wisdom, goodness, power, beneficence, generosity ... in a word, that person bears the attributes of God.» Μaximus the Cοnfessor Centuries οn Charity, ΙΙΙ,52 (PG 90, 1001)
Ιn the deified person is reconstituted the single sense that brings together intellect, emotions and vigour, and transfigures them into the divine light. 'Your youth is renewed like the eagle's,' says the psalm (Psalm 103.5).
«Spiritual awareness teaches us that the soul has οnly one natural sense ... shattered in consequence of Adam's disobedience. But it is restored to unity by the Holy Spirit ... Ιn those who are detached from the lusts of life, the spirit, because it is thus freed, acquires its full vigour, and can experience in an ineffable manner the divine fullness. It then imparts its joy to the body itself ... 'Ιn him,' says the psalmist, 'my flesh has blossomed afresh'.» Diadοchus οf Phοtike Gnostic Chapters, 25 (SC 5 bis, p. 96-7)
Already here below, the human being becomes one who is 'risen again'. This is the 'little resurrection' of which Evagrius speaks. It anticipates the definitive victory over death and the transfiguration of the cosmos that will happen at the moment of the Parousia.
Communion with God is, then, a sharing in his very being. By grace, according to the energy, the sharers are identified with him in whom they share. Motion and rest balance and reinforce each other: rest in the identity, motion in the irreducible otherness.
«The aim of faith is the true revelation of its object. And the true revelation of faith's object is ineffable communion, with him, and this communion is the return of believers to their beginning as much as to their end ... and thetefore the satisfaction of desire. And the satisfaction of desire is the stability, eternally in motion, of those who desire, around the object of their desire ... resulting in eternal enjoyment of it without any separation ... the sharing in the things of God. And this sharing in the things of God is the similarity between the sharers and him in whom they share. And this similarity, thanks to the energy, becomes identity of the sharers with him in whom they share ... This identity is deification.» Μaximus the Cοnfessor Questions to Thalassius, 59 (PG 90,202)
Οnly apparent contradiction can convey the meaning of deification. The human being while remaining completely human is completely enlightened by glory.
«The deified person, while remaining completely human in nature, both in body and soul, becomes wholly God in both body and soul, through grace and the divine brightness of the beatifying glory that permeates the whole person.» Μaximus the Confessor Ambigua (PG 91,1088)
God envelops in his fullness the person whom he deifies. And that person by the clinging power of love is united wholly to the divine energy. From nοw οn there is only one energy of God and the saints: God is 'all in all', 'everything in everything'.
«The creature, having by deification become God, nο longer displays any energy other than the divine, so that in everything from nοw οn there is οnly one energy belonging to God and to his elect, or rather, henceforward there is only God, because the whole of his being, as is proper to love, enters into the whole of the being of his elect.» Μaximus the Cοnfessor Ambigua, 7 (PG 91,1076)
Everything, however, remains pointing towards the transfiguration of the cosmos. Everything is still caught up in the dynamism of the communion of saints and, through it, in the power of the general resurrection.
The communion of saints delineates little by little the face of Christ who is coming. It gives birth to the Logos in history and in the universe, or rather, it gives birth to history and the universe in the Logos. The light of Mount Tabor which is the light of Easter is gradually spreading. It already shines brightly in holiness. It will set everything ablaze at the Parousia.
«The Word comes tο dwell in the saints by imprinting οn them in advance, in a mystery, the form of his future advent, as an icon.» Μaximus the Cοnfessοr Gnostic Centuries ΙΙ,28 (PG 90,1092)
«There, in peace, we shall see that it is he who is God ... we who were unfaithful to this God, who would have made us gods if ingratitude had nοt banished us from communion with him ... Created anew in him and made perfect in a more plentiful grace, we shall see in that eternal rest that it is he who is God, he with whom we shall be filled, because he will be all in all ... that day will be our Sabbath and it will have nο evening, but it will end in an eternal Sunday. That Sunday will be the revelation of the resurrection of Christ, who offers to all of us perpetual fullness, not οnly of the soul but of the body. There we shall be in peace and we shall see. We shall see and we shall love. We shall love and we shall worship.» Augustine οf Hippo The City of God, XXΙΙ,30,4 (PL 41,803)
«Just as the body of the Lord was glorified οn the mountain when it was transfigured in the glory of God and in infinite light, so the bodies of the saints will be glorified and shine like lightning ... 'The glory which thou hast given me Ι have given to them' (John 17.22). As countless candles are lighted from a single flame, so the bodies of all Christ's members will be what Christ is ... Our human nature is transformed into the fullness of God; it becomes wholly fire and light.» Pseudo-Μacarius Fifteenth Homily, 38 (PG 34,602)
«The fire that is hidden and as it were smothered under the ashes of this world ... will blaze out and with its divinity burn up the husk of death.» Gregory οf Nyssa Against Eunοmius, 5 (PG 45,708)
«What is hidden within will cover up completely what is seen οn the outside.»
Gregory of Nyssa Homilies οn the Beatitudes, 7 (PG 44,1289)
Resurrection begins already here below. For the early Church a deeply spiritual man is one who is already 'risen again'. The truest moments of our life, those lived in the invisible, have a resurrection flavour. Resurrection begins every time that a person, breaking free from conditionings, transfigures them. Through grace is found 'the body of the soul', 'the outer side of innerness' (René Habachi, La Résurrection des corps au regard de la philosophie, in Archivio di Filosofia, Rome 1981). Resurrection begins every time that a person plunges this world's opaque, divisive, death-riddled modality into its Christ-centred modality, into that 'ineffable and marvellous fire hidden in the essence of things, as in the Burning Bush' (Maximus the Confessor, Ambigua, PG 91,1148). Teilhard de Chardin, at the end of a questionable theory of evolution, rediscovered this lofty vision of the Greek Fathers: 'Like a flash of lightning darting from one pole to the other, the presence of Christ, which has silently grown up in created objects, will all of a sudden reveal itself ... Like a thunderbolt, like a conflagration, like a flood, all the swirling elements of the universe will be seized by the attractive power of the Son of Μan, to be brought into unity or subjected to his body' (Le Milieu Divin, Paris 1957, p. 196).
The saints are seeds of resurrection. Only they can steer the blind sufferings of history towards resurrection.
Pope Benedict XVI Speaking in the College of the Bernadines in Paris. The Pope celebrating Mass "ad orientem". Any theology of the liturgy of the Church must take into account the fact that the Incarnation has abolished the distance between heaven and earth. This is the significance of angels from heaven and shepherds who belong to this world, who praise God together at the stable in Bethlehem; and that is why Christians on earth join with angels in heaven in singing, “Holy, holy, holy” in the Mass Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, wrote:
“Liturgy presupposes . . . that the heavens have been opened. .. the decisive factor, therefore, is the primacy of Christology” (133).
He goes on to say:
The liturgy derives its greatness from what it is, not from what we make of it. Our participation is, of course, necessary, but as a means of inserting ourselves humbly into the spirit of the liturgy, and of serving Him Who is the true subject of the liturgy: Jesus Christ. The liturgy is not an expression of the consciousness of a community which moreover is diffuse and changing. It is revelation received in faith and prayer, and its measure is consequently the faith of the Church, in which revelation is received.”
The Holy Spirit activates the memory (anamnesis) of the Church, putting it in touch with its roots in the life, death and resurrection of Christ, both as a historical event and, by coming down on each celebration as a response to the invocation (epiclesis), as the eternal mystery in the liturgy of heaven. As each liturgical celebration of whatever kind, but most especially the Eucharist, is a participation in the liturgy of heaven, there is an organic unity between all celebrations of all times and places, brought about by the Holy Spirit who links all celebrations with eternity. We do not escape time by means of the liturgy: rather, time is filled with eternity and receives from this contact a new importance and meaning. In other words, time is redeemed.
The Liturgy has been formed by the synergy (harmony of operations or activities) between the Holy Spirit and the Church, so that the two activities become one. Although they remain distinct, they are not separate. The divine energizes the human in such a way that the Church can do what it could never begin to do without the active presence of the Spirit. Where there is such synergy in prayer between the Holy Spirit and the Church, there you have liturgy.
The Liturgy is sacramental by its very nature, because it is the Church’s participation in the prayer of Christ in heaven through the power of the Spirit. This organic relationship between heaven and earth and between all liturgical celebrations wherever they are celebrated, throughout Christian history until the end of time, is a bond that only sin can break, and then only superficially if those who are separated are truly living a life in Christ in spite of the separation. The model is the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fr Corbon writes:
It is through the combination of the power of the Holy Spirit and the virginity (of Mary), that is to say the total incapacity of Mary (who is completely open to the power of the Holy Spirit) that “the Son of God was made Son of the Virgin”….The virginal mystery of her (Mary’s) being prepared her to become capable of receiving the power of the love of the Holy Spirit. In the profoundest humility of the humble servant, her incapacity that was nevertheless consenting and open made it possible for God to do what is impossible for human beings to achieve. In the same way, the Church, of which we are all members, is essentially virgin by vocation. As St Clement of Alexandria wrote, “There is only one virgin mother, and I like to call her ‘Church’.” The fecundity of the Church’s mission depends on this condition. Only because it is virgin, like Mary, it is Spouse and Mother. Every time that the Church puts its trust in the powers of this world, in power, wealth and appearances, it prostitutes itself and becomes sterile. This gift of ecclesial virginity ceaselessly calls us to the fight, to conversion, to the fervour of the first Christians. Jean Corbon OP : Liturgia y Oracion, Ediciones Cristiandad, 2004, pg 99,
The same truth is taught in the accounts of the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes, but in this case it is the synergy between the Holy Spirit and humanity in the prayer of Jesus.. Jesus set the apostles a task to feed five thousand men beside women and children; and the only food they had was five loaves and two fishes, clearly an impossible task. Jesus does not turn stones into bread, as the devil tried to tempt him to do. He asked the apostles to give their limited resources to him, resources that were totally inadequate, humanly speaking. He prayed, blessed and broke; and what had been a resource too limited to achieve the task he had given them, now became more than adequate, with twelve baskets of food to spare.
You find the same truth in the Eucharist. We are approaching the presence of the Father and need a sacrifice to bring this about. On Christ’s instructions, we put at his disposal bread and wine, as totally incapable of achieving this object as the five loaves and two fishes were capable of feeding more than five thousand. Only Christ’s own sacrifice can fulfil this function; but, we have handed this bread and wine to Christ. At the prayer of Jesus, the Father sends the Holy Spirit to transform this bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, and we have our sacrifice, because the blood of Christ pleads far better than did the blood of Abel. What was said by Gabriel to the Virgin is just as true in every Mass. To our query, “How can this be, because we only have bread and wine?” the reply comes, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and will hover over your altar as he did over the primeval chaos at creation and over the womb of the Blessed Virgin; and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and the bread and wine will become the body and blood of Jesus; so you will be called ‘body of Christ’ because you will be flesh of Christ’s flesh and bones of his bones, and you shall be one with him in his offering to the Father, both as priest and as victim, one with him in the sanctuary of his Father in heaven. For this reason the celebration of the Mass on earth becomes, by the power of the Holy Spirit, a participation in the heavenly liturgy in which the angels and the saints share in the joy of the Father who receives his beloved Son who has entered his presence through death and resurrection, accompanied by all who have been saved by his cross from the beginning to the very end of time.”
If we don’t make available bread and wine, there is no Mass. If the Spirit does not transform the bread and wine, there is no Mass. Both are essential aspects of the Eucharist, human incapacity handed over to God so that it works in synergy with the Holy Spirit to accomplish what is impossible for human beings to bring about by themselves... The Mass is the result of the synergy between the free action of th Church in providing the bread and wine in obedience to what Jesus taught, and the free transforming action of the Spirit which makes the bread and wine the body and blood of Christ, this synergy meaning that it is a divine-human act, and thus an act of Christ himself. The same principle is at work in the Incarnation, in the multiplication of bread and fish, in the liturgy and especially in the Mass, and in the whole Christian life where mere mortals live as sons and daughters of God by participating in the infinite life of God...
Some who were involved in the reform of the liturgy after Second Vatican Council wanted to reduce the offertory to merely placing the bread and wine on the altar. This would have made the Latin Rite unique among Catholic liturgies, because all the other rites reserve some of their most beautiful prayers and hymns for the offertory, usually expressing awe at the manifestation of God that is about to take place.
When this necessary synergy between the Church and the Spirit and the absolute dependence of the Church on the Spirit are forgotten, superstition sets in. Priests can consecrate bakeries full of bread or crates of champagne out of sheer malice. They have a “power” to consecrate which has become separated from the Church’s liturgy, and even from the Church. Or the opposite can happen: the functions of the Church can shrink to what is possible for human beings to do without the Holy Spirit, as in many liberal interpretations of the Eucharist and other sacraments, which are interpreted in terms that people without faith can understand and accept.. An example of this kind of thinking is found in Jesus and the Eucharist by the late Tad W. Guzie S.J.who wrote:
I can sit around a table with my family (…) and celebrate a Christian eucharist. I can sit around the same table, with the same people, and pass a cup of wine in memory of my dead grandfather. Assuming that the cup had always been a family ritual at Sunday dinner, and assuming that my grandfather was the old-time patriarchal sort of grandfather who might have said, “Whenever you pass the cup in future meals you will do it in memory of me,” this action would be symbolically identical to the Eucharistic action.
Such an explanation of the Eucharist could be accepted by anyone, whether Christian or not. It is a Eucharist without the Christian Mystery, a sub-Christian explanation in which the Holy Spirit plays no part: it has very little to do with Catholic teaching.
This total dependence of the Church on the Holy Spirit is expressed in the epiclesis or “invocation” to the Father to send the Holy Spirit. This is what Fr Jean Corbon writes about the epiclesis:
An “epiclesis” is an appeal to the Father to send the Holy Spirit on what we are offering to him so that this Spirit may change the offering into the reality of the body of Christ. The word “epiclesis” expresses the emptiness that is set before God; it cannot express the fullness that is given to us. It expresses the groan of appeal, not the silent love that answers it.
The validity of all sacraments depends absolutely on God the Father’s positive answer to the Church’s petition for the Spirit, even when there is no explicit invocation. The fact that the Father’s positive response is guaranteed by his fidelity to his own promise does not in any way modify this absolute dependence of the Church on that response, and cannot be replaced by “priestly powers” that are totally independent of the liturgy and can even function quite independently of God’s will..
The synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church makes the liturgy a divine – human reality, an extension into our time of the prayer of Christ, and a participation by the Church in the liturgy of heaven where Christ is continually interceding for us. Thus, all liturgy is sacramental. On the one hand, it is passed down from one generation to the next and is a product of ordinary human history. On the other hand, it is always, by its very nature, a participation in the life of the Blessed Trinity. It is the stuff from which Tradition is made. The texts are sacred texts impregnated with the power of the Spirit, even when they are not quotations from Scripture.. The liturgy is the supreme expression of orthodoxy, which is, at one of the same time, true belief and true glory offered to God, truth reflected in authentic worship, being a participation in the worship of the Father offered by Christ himself. What Archbishop Zizioulas writes about Christian truth in general is also a constant characteristic of Christian liturgy:
Within history thus pictured, truth does not come to us solely by way of delegation (Christ – the Apostles – the bishops, in a linear development)’ It comes as a pentecostal event which takes linear history up into a charismatic present-moment.
.All this happens only because there is a continuous flow of God’s love from heaven to earth, the direct result of the Church sharing in Christ’s body which has been transfigured by the Holy Spirit at the resurrection and has become the source of the same Spirit for us, working through word and sacrament within the context of the liturgy.. The Book of Revelation puts it like this:
Then the angel showed me the river of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with ts twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will in it, and his servants will worship him: they will see his face and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever. (Rev. 22, 1-5)
The Source of this flow of love is the Father; but he does everything through Christ the Word and in the Holy Spirit. As St Cyril of Alexandria wrote:
Our renewal is the work of the whole Trinity. Even though it appears that we attribute sometimes to each one of the persons something that happens to us or something else done in relation to creatures, nevertheless, we believe is done by the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.
Yves Congar adds in commentary:
This coming of the divinity to mankind makes possible the return of mankind in the Spirit, through the Son, to the Father. But, both in the coming and in the return, they work according to the order and character of each hypostesis. (El Espiritu Santo, por Yves Congar, Editorial Herder, Barcelona 1983. pg198)
The Divine Liturgy takes place within the context of this two-way flow of life from the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. The Christian Mystery embraces the life and death of Jesus made effective in the present through the memory of the Church (anamnesis) by the power of the Holy Spirit. It also embraces our journey, and that of the whole universe, into the presence of the Father through the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ which is the basic epiclesis that sends the Spirit on the Church. This makes the Church Pentecostal by nature. Both God’s revelation through the anamnesis of the Church, and our ascension into the presence of the Father, made possible by the epiclesis which sends us the Holy Spirit in Christ’s name, are the work of the same Holy Spirit.
This is clear in the 3rd Eucharistic Prayer. Firstly, there is the descending action of the Blessed Trinity, the river flowing from the throne of God the Father and of the Lamb, giving abundant life to the tree of life on either side of its banks: It begins with a general statement about the nature of the river:
All life, all holiness comes from you through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, by the working of the Holy Spirit.
Then it goes from the general to the particular. The Father is gathering together a people in every generation to make a perfect offering to him to the glory of his name. For this reason, we ask:
And, so, Father, we bring you these gifts. We ask you to make them holy by the power of your Spirit, that they may become the body and blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Later, the priest asks that the communion should achieve its object in favour of those who participate. We must remember that Christ is in heaven, and that, in the Eucharist, heaven and earth become one:
Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ.
The downward flow of the river from the throne of God and of the Lamb enables us to be filled with the divine life and rise up into the presence of the Father through the veil, which is the flesh of Christ that we receive in Holy Communion. The Letter to the Hebrews puts the upward movement into the Father’s presence in this way:
Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way he has opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb. 10 vv 19-22)
Again we read:
You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festive gathering, and to the assembly of the first born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (…) Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe, for indeed our God is a consuming fire
All this is implied in the doxology. The Holy Spirit takes us up “through him, with him and in him”, through, with and in Christ in his total self-giving, through death, resurrection and ascension we go into the presence of the Father with Jesus to whom we are bound by the Spirit. Having been washed clean by baptism and renewed in mind, we confidently present ourselves because of the blood of Christ; and we acknowledge that all glory and honour belong to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.
In this we are exercising our role as a priestly people, because, through this offering, all glory and honour honestly rendered to God by human beings, either knowingly or unknowingly, however inadequate and incapable of honouring God it may be by itself, however wrong their religion may be; even something good done by someone who denies God’s existence, is accepted by the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit; because all things are possible with God. The universal outreach of the Eucharist, capable of giving value to the religious aspirations of the whole human race, meets the ‘baptism of desire’ of each non-Christian, transforming everything that can be transformed into Christ, who includes it in his sacrifice. Through the outreach of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist, Catholicism simply becomes another word for the relationship of the whole human race with God. In that sense extra ecclesia nulus salus is more a statement of the universal extent of God’s mercy through the Church, than a phrase which narrowly restricts salvation to Roman Catholics.
If this is so, true orthodoxy, the expression of objectively true faith in true worship must be seen as a service that the Catholic Church as a Eucharistic communion renders for the benefit of the whole of humankind. In order to be universally relevant Christianity must be prepared to be different
Through communion with the risen and ascended Christ, heaven and the Church on earth become one single reality. As in Bethlehem, human beings on earth and angels unite in singing God’s praises. Our hearts are purified so that we can understand with greater clarity the mysteries of God. As we have seen, John Zizioulas puts it this way: “It comes as a pentecostal event which takes linear history up into a charismatic present-moment”..
Hence the Church, like Jesus during his life on earth, lives at two levels through the power of the Holy Spirit. It lives in ordinary “horizontal” history: since the time of Christ, Christian authority and truth have been handed down by delegation within the context of Tradition, the practice and the understanding which comes from living the Gospel, which is handed down from generation to generation under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. However, as we have seen, It has an eternal relationship with the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit, because we share in Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension through the Spirit. We live in historic time like everyone else, and we also share in a time which has become eternal. If this is true, then like Jesus when he was on earth, the Church is also in contact with heaven and with all times and places. Alexey S. Khomiakov, in his small classic on the Church, wrote:
The Church is one, notwithstanding her division, as it appears to a man who is still alive on earth. It is only in relation to man that it is possible to recognize a division of the Church into visible and invisible; her unity, in reality, is true and absolute. Those who are alive on earth, those who have finished their earthly course, … those who, like the angels, were not created for a life on earth, those in future generations who have not yet begun their earthly course, are all united together in one Church, in one and the same grace of God, for the creation of God which has not yet been manifested is manifested to Him; and God hears the prayers and knows the faith of those whom he has not yet called out of non-existence into existence. (The Church is One by Alexey Stepanovich (c. 1850) Fellowship of St Alban & St Sergius, 1968.)
From this we may deduce that, while we celebrate the liturgy in a particular time and place, the local Church cannot be turned in on itself, because the minds of those taking part are directed beyond the local community to God in heaven and to the Church throughout the world and even throughout time.
All this leads us to conclude that the most charismatic texts possible in any liturgical celebration are not those that are most attractive to the participants as a a collection of individuals, but those which express God’s revelation addressed to the Church in Christ and the Church’s response, also in Christ, to that revelation. These texts are what they are because of the synergy between the Spirit and the Church. Although they are called the official texts, they are much more than that. They are Spirit-filled texts, and when we truly pray them we are praying in Spirit and in Truth.
Because of the synergy between the Church and the Spirit, the expressions of the Church’s understanding of its own faith in the texts of the liturgy are the highest expression of that faith as taught by the ordinary magisterium. They are so high that, traditionally, the extraordinary magisterium, whether pope or council, has felt no need to turn truths found in the liturgy into solemnly defined dogmas unless their interpretation had become a source of division in the Church; nor was it believed that to define them gives more honour to God than that which he receives by their celebration in the liturgy. This idea that a dogma is the highest expression of Catholic Truth arose only when the sacraments and the nature of the Church were explained in isolation from the liturgy and appreciation of liturgy had consequently weakened. The Church was seen as a perfect society, held together more by jurisdiction than by the Spirit working through its sacramental structure. The awareness of the effects of the sacraments was limited to its effects on the individual person; and the best thing they could say about the liturgy was that it is the “official” worship of the Church because, it was said, the society held together by papal jurisdiction is the body of Christ.. Obviously, if the value of the liturgy lies in its official status, then dogmas which have been solemnly proclaimed by a general council or a pope have a higher official status than liturgy which is only the product of the Church’s ordinary day-to-day life, even if it has been underwritten by papal or patriarchal authority. If, on the other hand, the ordinary sacramental life of the Church is nothing less than the river that flows from the throne of the Father and of the Lamb, and papal and conciliar definitions are a means of protecting that river from pollution, then the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church is more important than its official life, however important that official life may be.