"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

Saturday 20 September 2008

St Antony the Abbot

The Hermits of Bethlehem

Founder of Christian monasticism. The chief source of information on St. Anthony is a Greek Life attributed to St. Athanasius, to be found in any edition of his works. A note of the controversy concerning this Life is given at the end of this article; here it will suffice to say that now it is received with practical unanimity by scholars as a substantially historical record, and as a probably authentic work of St. Athanasius. Valuable subsidiary information is supplied by secondary sources: the "Apophthegmata", chiefly those collected under Anthony's name (at the head of Cotelier's alphabetical collection, P.G. LXV, 7]); Cassian, especially Coll. II; Palladius, "Historica Lausiaca", 3,4,21,22 (ed. Butler). All this matter may probably be accepted as substantially authentic, whereas what is related concerning St. Anthony in "St. Jerome's Life of St. Paul the Hermit" cannot be used for historical purposes.

Anthony was born at Coma, near Heracleopolis Magna in Fayum, about the middle of the third century. He was the son of well-to-do parents, and on their death, in his twentieth year, he inherited their possessions. He had a desire to imitate the Life of the Apostles and the early Christians, and one day, on hearing in the church the Gospel words, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell all thou hast", he received them as spoken to himself, disposed of all his property and goods, and devoted himself exclusively to religious exercises. Long before this it had been usual for Christians to practice asceticism, abstainfrom marriage and exercising themselves in self-denial, fasting, prayer, and works of piety; but this they had done in the midst of their families, and without leaving house or home. Later on, in Egypt. such ascetics lived in huts, in the outskirts of the towns amd villaged, and thid was the common peactice about 270, when Anthony withdrew from the world. He began his career by practising the ascetical life in this fashion without leaving his native place. He used to visit the various ascetics, study their lives, and try to learn from each of them the virtue in which he seemed to excel. Then he took up his abode in one of the tombs, near his native village, and there it was that the Life records those strange conflicts with demons in the shape of wild beasts, who inflicted blows upon him, and sometimes left him nearly dead. After fifteen years of this life, at the age of thirty-five, Anthony determined to withdraw from the habitations of men and retire in absolute solitude. He crossed the Nile, and on a mountain near the east bank, then called Pispir, now Der el Memum, he found an old fort into which he shut himself, and lived there for twenty years without seeing the face of man, food being thrown to him over the wall. He was at times visited by pilgrims, whom he refused to see; but gradually a number of would-be disciples established themselves in caves and in huts around the mountain, Thus a colony of ascetics was formed, who begged Anthony to come forth and be their guide in the spiritual life. At length, about the year 305, he yielded to their importunities an emerged from his retreat, and, to the surprise of all, he appeared to be as when he had gone in, not emaciated, but vigorous in body and mind. For five or six years he devoted himself to the instruction and organization of the great body of monks that had grown up around him; but hen he once again withdrew into the inner desert that lay between the Nile and the Red Sea, near the shore of which he fixed his abode on a mountain where still stands the monastery that bears his name, Der Mar Antonios. Here he spent the last forty-five years of his life, in a seclusion, not so strict as Pispir, for he freely saw those who came to visit him, and he used to cross the desert to Pispir with considerable frequency. the Life says that on two occasions he went to Alexandria, once after he came forth from the fort at Pispir, to strengthen the Christian martyrs in the persecution of 311, and once at the close of his life (c. 350), to preach against the Arians. the Life says he dies at the age of a hundred and five, and St. Jerome places his death in 356-357. All the chronology is based on the hypothesis that this date and the figures in the Life are correct. At his own request his grave was kept secret by the two disciples who buried him, lest his body should become an object of reverence.

Of his writings, the most authentic formulation of his teaching is without doubt that which is contained in the various sayings and discourses put into his mouth in the Life, especially the long ascetic sermons (16-43) spoken on his coming forth from the fort at Pispir. It is an instruction on the duties of the spiritual life, in which the warfare with demons occupies the chief place. Though probably not an actual discourse spoken on any single occasion, it can hardly be a mere invention of the biographer, and doubtless reproduces St. Anthony's actual doctrine, brought together and co-ordinated. It is likely that many of the sayings attributed to him in the "Apophthegmata" really go back to him, and the same may be said of the stories told of him in Cassian and Palladius. There is a homogeneity about these records, and a certain dignity and spiritual elevation that seem to mark them with the stamp of truth, and to justify the belief that the picture they give us of St Anthony's personality, character, and teaching is essentially authentic. A different verdict has to be passed on the writings that go under his name, to be found in P.G., XL. The Sermons and twenty Epistles from the Arabic are by common consent pronounced wholly spurious. St Jerome (De Viris Ill., lxxxviii) knew seven epistles translated from the Coptic into Greek; the Greek appears to be lost, but a Latin version exists (ibid.), and Coptic fragments exist of three of these letters, agreeing closely with the Latin; they may be authentic, but it would be premature to decide. Better is the position of a Greek letter to Theodore, preserved in the "Epistola Ammonis ad Theophilum", sect. 20, and said to be a translation of a Coptic original; there seems to be no sufficient ground for doubting that it really was written by Anthony (see Butler, Lausiac History of Palladius, Part I,223). The authorities are agreed that St Anthony knew no Greek and spoke only Coptic. There exists a monastic Rule that bears St Anthony's name, preserved in Latin and Arabic forms (P.G., XL, 1065). While it cannot be received as having been actually composed by Anthony, it probably in large measure goes back to him, being for the most part made up out of the utterances attributed to him in the Life and the "Apophthegmata"; it contains, however, an element derived from the spuria and also from the "Pachomian Rules". It was compiled at an early date, and had a great vogue in Egypt the East. At this day it is the rule followed by the Uniat Monks of Syria and Armenia, of whom the Maronites, with sixty monasteries and 1,100 monks, are the most important; it is followed also by the scanty remnants of Coptic monachism.

It will be proper to define St. Anthony's place, and to explain his influence in the history of Christian monachism. He probably was not the first Christian hermit; it is more reasonable to believe that, however little historical St Jerome's "Vita Pauli" may be, some kernel o fact underlies the story (Butler, op. cit., Pat I, 231,232), but Paul's existence was wholly unknown unknown till long after Anthony has become the recognized leader of Christian hermits. Nor was St Anthony a great legislator and organizer of monks, like his younger contemporary Pachomius: for, though Pachomius's first foundations were probably some ten or fifteen years later than Anthony's coming forth from his retreat at Pispir, it cannot be shown that Pachomius was directly influenced by Anthony, indeed his institute ran on quite different lines. And yet it is abundantly evident that from the middle of the fourth century throughout Egypt, as elsewhere, and among the Pachomian monks themselves, St Anthony was looked upon as the founder and father of Christian monachism. This great position was no doubt due to his commanding personality and high character, qualities that stand out clearly in all the records of him that have come down. The best study of his character is Newman's in the "Church of the Fathers" (reprinted in "Historical Sketches"). The following is his estimate: "His doctrine surely was pure and unimpeachable; and his temper is high and heavenly, without cowardice, without gloom, without formality, without self-complacency. Superstition is abject and crouching, it is full of thoughts of guilt; it distrusts God, and dreads the powers of evil. Anthony at least had nothing of this, being full of confidence, divine peace, cheerfulness, and valorousness, be he (as some men may judge) ever so much an enthusiast" (op.cit., Anthony in Conflict). Full of enthusiasm he was, but it did not make him fanatical or morose; his urbanity and gentleness, his moderation and sense stand out in many of the stories related of him. Abbot Moses in Cassian (Coll. II) says he had heard Anthony maintaining that of all virtues discretion was the most essential for attaining perfection; and the little known story of Eulogius and the Cripple, preserved in the Lausiac History (xxi), illustrates the kind of advice and direction he gave to those who sought his guidance.

The monasticism established under St Anthony's direct influence became the norm in Northern Egypt, from Lycopolis (Asyut) to the Mediterranean. In contradistinction to the fully coenobitical system, established by Pachomius in the South, it continued to be of a semi-eremetical character, the monks living commonly in separate cells or huts, and coming together only occasionally for church services; they were left very much to their own devices, and the Life they lived was not a community life according to rule, as now understood (see Butler, op. cit., Part I, 233-238). This was the form of monastic life in the deserts of Nitria and Scete, as portrayed by Palladius and Cassian. Such groups of semi-independent hermitages were later on called Lauras, and have always existed in the East alongside of the Basilian monasteries; in the West St Anthony's monachism is in some measure represented by the Carthusians. Such was St Anthony's life and character, and such his role in Christian history. He is justly recognized as the father not only of monasticism, strictly so called, but of the technical religious life in every shape and form. Few names have exercised on the human race an influence more deep and lasting, more widespread, or on the whole more beneficent.

It remains to say a word on the controversy carried on during the present generation concerning St Anthony and the Life. In 1877 Weingarten denied the Athanasian authorship and the historical character of the Life, which he pronounced to be a mere romance; he held that up to 340 there were no Christian monk, and that therefore the dates of the "real" Anthony had to be shifted nearly a century. Some imitators in England went still further and questioned, even denied, that St Anthony had ever existed. To anyone conversant with the literature of monastic Egypt, the notion that the fictitious hero of a novel could ever have come to occupy Anthony's position position in monastic history can appear nothing less than a fantastic paradox. As a matter of fact these theories are abandoned on all hands; the Life is received as certainly historical in substances, and as probably by Athanasius, and the traditional account of monastic origins is reinstated in its great outlines. The episode is now chiefly of interest as a curious example of a theory that was broached and became the fashion, and then was completely abandoned, all within a single generation. (on the controversy see Butler, op.cit. Part I, 215-228, Part II, ix-xi).

Wednesday 17 September 2008

Pope Benedict exhorts Benedictines to proclaim the´primacy of God´and evangelise youth

Pontiff exhorts Benedictines to proclaim the 'primacy of God' and evangelize youth

Rome, September 22 (CNA).-Meeting with participants of the International Congress of the Benedictine Federation on Saturday, the Holy Father encouraged the group to announce "the primacy of God without compromise" and to continue evangelizing the youth by showing them the richness of the liturgy, of meditation and lectio divina.

The congress, which is held every four years in Rome, gives Benedictine abbots and superiors the opportunity to discuss how their charism applies to the current social and cultural context and how "to respond to the ever-new challenges this raises for bearing witness to the Gospel."

Addressing the Benedictine Federation, the Holy Father reminded them that "in a sacrilegious world, and in a time marked by a worrying culture of emptiness and of 'non sense,' you are called to announce the primacy of God without compromise, and to propose new paths of evangelization. "

This must be done, the Pontiff continued, by reaching out to the young people. The youth in our world need to be prepared to face "the many demands of society with constant reference to the evangelical message, which is always current, inexhaustible and enlivening," the Pope exclaimed. "Dedicate yourselves, then, with renewed apostolic ardor to the young, who are the future of the Church and of humanity.

"In order to build a 'new' Europe, we must begin with the new generations, offering them an intimate experience of the spiritual richness of the liturgy, of meditation, and of 'lectio divina'," he said.

The Pope continued by describing the "renowned Benedictine hospitality. "A community capable of truly fraternal life, fervently dedicated to liturgical prayer, study, and work, and cordially open to others who thirst for God, represents the best way to turn hearts, especially those of the young, to the monastic vocation and, in general, to a fruitful journey of faith."

Concluding his address, Pope Benedict turned to the Benedictine nuns and female religious and encouraged them not to lose heart, despite the lack of vocations in some parts of the world. "Faithfully persevering in your own vocations you bear witness with great effectiveness, also before the world, to your firm faith in the Lord of history, in Whose hands are the times and destinies of individuals, institutions and peoples." The Holy Father exhorted them to "Adopt the spiritual attitude of the Virgin Mary, who was content to be 'ancilla Domini', utterly compliant to the will of the Heavenly Father."

Friday 12 September 2008

Benedict XVI, Women Priests and the "Reform of the Reform"

The Press used to say that there were two parties in Vatican II, the "conservatives" and the "progressives". It was an oversimplification, but it served their journalistic purpose and helped the public to understand something of what was going on. In fact, the reality was more complex: the "progressives" were divided into at least two groups. However, both wanted liturgical reform; both wanted decentralization and a re=emphasis on the function of the bishop and the local church; both wanted less rigid controls from the centre, and both were ecumenical. This served to cover up real and important differences between them. Perhaps, Hans Kung can be used to give one party a human face, and Joseph Ratzinger can be used to represent the other.

The "liberals" belonged to the same tradition as the "conservatives". Like the conservatives they used political terms to describe the Church and saw it primarily as a legal entity, bound together by jurisdiction. The body of Christ on earth is a human society, and the relationship of its members is governed by the same forces that make any other human society work. In it, those who are empowered by ordination to preach the word and celebrate the sacraments can do so legitimately. They differed from the conservatives in that but they wanted a change in the balance of power away from the Vatican. This would give local churches more freedom to adapt the liturgy to their concrete pastoral situations. For the same reason, they wanted parishes and other pastoral groupings that are less than a diocese to have greater freedom from episcopal control to adapt to their situations. They interpreted dogmas as truths that have to be believed by the faithful, this obligation arising from the fact that the Holy Spirit keeps the pope or general council from error. They also believed that it is entirely up to the individual whether or not he accepts teachings of the Church not covered by dogmatic pronouncements. However, they complained of "creeping infallibility", which is the tendency of the Vatican to impose interpretations of teachings and insist on rules not covered by the Vatican I definition of Papal Infallibility. They wanted as much freedom as possible to exercise as many adaptations as possible, and they were seeking greater tolerance of dissent and a measure of democracy. They contine to interpret problems in political and pastoral terms: women priests are about equal opportunities for women and a solution to the grave lack of priests. Their natural ecumenical ally is the Anglican Communion.

The other grouping was chiefly made up of patristic scholars, liturgists and liturgical theologians. It differs from both "conservatives" and "liberals" in that it sees the legal structure of the Church as secondary to its liturgical structure. Of course, they were in the majority in drawing up the Constitution on the Liturgy in the 2nd Vatican Council, and it says:

"The liturgy is the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed, at the same time, it is the fountainfrom which all her power flows." (I. 10) The Catechism of the Catholic Church spells out the meaning of this sentence:

1108: In evry liturgical action the Holy Spiritis sent in order to bring us in communion with Christ and so to form his Body. The Holy Spirit is like the sap of the Father´s vine which bears fruit in its branches. The most intimate co=operation 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).

Hence, the Church is not infallible because the pope and council are infallible. The reverse is true. The power to make a dogmatic definition arises from the presence of the Spirit in the liturgy, and this definition does not completely fulfil its purpose until the doctrine is expressed in the liturgy. ("Orthodoxy" means, at one and the same time "true doctrine" and "true worship".) Moreover, the Church throughout the world is not one because it is united to the Pope: the reverse is true. The Church discovers its essential unity in the Eucharist and makes it work at a human level by communion with the papacy. Hence, Jurisdiction, whether of pope or bishops, has only a limited role in relation to the liturgy, because of the "intimate co=operation between the Holy Spirit and the Church" in the liturgy; and the Holy Spirit outranks the pope. In a way, the Church is the most imperfect of societies because the Holy Spirit makes it what it is, and the Spirit is outside its control, and both church authorities and those who obey them owe him a response of faith,

According to Pope Benedict, ecclesiastical authority can neither invent the liturgy for the Church nor abolish a rite that the Church has recognized as fully Catholic over many centuries. Nor can he radically re=structure the liturgy. It is not what the papacy is for. The liturgy is something given, the fruit of the harmony between the Holy Spirit and the Church Of the classical rites of the Church, Cardinal Ratzinger 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.

He has written that the function of Pope is that of a gardener who tends his plants while obeying the laws of botany. He is not a mechanic who can introduce new machines or re=construct old ones. He is as subject as any other Catholic to the same Apostolic Tradition of which these rites are the classical expression. He said

"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. Such rites can die, if those who have used them in a particular era should disappear, or if the life- situation of those same people should change.

The authority of the Church has the power to define and limit the use of such rites in different historical situations, but she never just purely and simply forbids them. Thus the Council ordered a reform of the liturgical books, but it did not prohibit the former books. The criterion which the Council established is both much larger and more demanding; it invites us all to self-criticism."

Hence the Papal authority does not make him free of Tradition of which he is a guardian. Unlike dogmas, liturgies can develop and may need reform from time to time, but their internal integrity must be respected because they are the classic means by which the faithful as a community participate in the Paschal Mystery and, as such, are the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church.

Considering the Spirit=filled authority of Tradition as expressed in the ordinary magisterium of the Church, especially in the liturgy, Pope Benedict teaches, as did John Paul II, that neither Pope nor Council has the authority to permit women priests or bishops. However much they may believe it to be a good idea, Tradition has ruled it out. In the liberal view of the Church, only dogmas compell agreement: everything else can be doubted or changed. In the sacramental view of the Church, the exercise of the ordinary magisterium in the celebration of the liturgy, is product of the synergy between the Spirit and the Church and, therefore, is as infallible as you can get.

The 1st Vatican Council decreed that the Pope has full episcopal authority over the whole Church, but, in their reply to certain criticisms of the dogma it was stated that this does not make the bishops simply assistents of the Pope. These two statements of the Council Fathers contradict one another, unless there is another factor which does not deny the universal episcopal jurisdiction of the Pope but which makes clear the role of the local bishop as it differs from that of Pope.

The Church is a sacramental entity, the body of Christ, The presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church is what binds the Church together in Christ; and this presence of the Spirit is made visible in ecclesial love, or fraternal love in Christ. As Fr Ceslaus Spicq OP used to say, it is love that makes the Church visible to the world, and lack of love makes it invisible. One of the Greek Fathers put it more strongly, "Orthodoxy without love is the religion of the devil." Thus, what really binds a bishop to his church is nothing less than the Holy Spirit, manifesting his presence in fraternal love. This is seen in the sacrament of confirmation, in which the bishop or his representative ´confirms´the new Christian by giving him the seal of the Holy Spirit with the gifts of the Spirit that the Christian must exercise in communion with the bishop. There is much in the Letters of St Ignatius of Antioch and in the writings of St Cyprian of Carthage on the relation between a bishop and the members of his flock. The relationship between patriarch and the bishops of his patriarchate may well be expressed very clearly in Canon Law, but this is not what binds the bishops together. What binds them together is the Holy Spirit acting through their ordination as bishops, expressing his presence in their fraternal love. St Augustine, in his debate with the Donatists, made "fraternal love" synonimous with "ecclesiastical communion". A person who excluded himself from ecclesiastical communion was putting himself outside the fraternal love which is not a mere sentiment but evidence of the presence of the Spirit. The Pope has universal episcopal jurisdiction over the whole Church and over every member of the Church, but this is not what binds the Pope to the whole Church nor the Church to him. Papal authority makes all other jurisdiction relative so that no church can identify itself completely with a nation, however Catholic that nation may be. The present Pope has a horror of welding together religion and nationalism because that was the goal of the Nazi Party in his own country. He agrees with these word of Origen, "Whoever delivers himself over to what is national, and in place of thinking and living humanly, thinks and lives in the confines of a nation, such a one places himself under the sway of his evil angel." Looking into history or modern events, it is apparent that nationalism, when supported by religion, can become diabolical, all the more diabolical if the religion is true. Papal jurisdiction is at the service of universal love, and exists, in part, to prevent any jurisdiction from becoming a block to a universal ecclesial love. St Ignatius of Antioch described the Church of Rome as "presiding in love". That is what the papacy is about, and one reason why it is not recognised by many churches that have kept their tradition intact is that there have been times in history when the love of the popes for the universal Church has not matched the universal jurisdiction the popes have claimed.

It is the function of jurisdiction in the Church to make ecclesial love workable and efficient by defining the field in which it has to operate, by providing means of communication and by attempting to remove obstacles to its exercise. It does this because this Christian form of love is an instrument of the Holy Spirit. The epi=centre of this activity is the Eucharist in which the sacrifice of Christ´s self=giving love for the Father and for us transforms the Church into the Body of Christ and thus into a sharer in his self=giving.

Clearly the liberal group look for their ecumenical allies in the Anglican Communion which was by law established, and whose liturgy, for all its beauty, is the classic example of the power of law over Tradition. The Anglican Church is being true to itself when it accepts that a vote in Synod has the authority to modify the constant and universal liturgical practice of the Catholic Church. In contrast, Pope Benedict holds strongly that the Catholic Church would be untrue to itself if it followed the same road. He denies he has the authority to do so; and he denies thathe has the authority to simply abolish the pre=vatican II Mass. That the Anglican Church and the Catholic Church have taken different paths is because they are different. Hence, before the question of women bishops and priests is resolved, there is a more basic question. Is the Church a divine=human entity as body of Christ, moulded by the Spirit and accepted as given by the faithful, including the Pope and bishops; or is its organization completely subject to human control and human law, exercised in Christ´s name by the competent authorities? "He that hears you hears me" will be interpreted as a legal statement by one group and as a sacramental and liturgical truth by the other. The legalistic tradition has a long history in the West, and it is this that the Pope is saying is not sufficiently profound. If you hold the liberal position, you will become closer to the Anglicans. If you hold the Pope´s position you will be closer to the Orthodox and Oriental Churches and to the Church Fathers. One thing is certain: you cannot answer the problem of women priests or the problem of the old Tridentine Mass in isolation from the deeper question.

Actually, conservatives and liberals share the same pre=suppositions. Has it occurred to you that those who advocate defining as a dogma "mary, Mediatrix of All Graces" and those who wish the Pope to abolish the old Mass have the same basic attitude towards the Papacy. Both believe that a simple papal signature will solve their problems. Those in favour of law over liturgy are not impressed by the fact thatthe doctrine of the mediation of Mary is celebrated in the liturgy, even though it is in the liturgy that the truth finds its place in giving glory to God. Their grasp of the liturgy as fruit of the synergy betyween the Spirit and the Church is weak, nor do they give sufficient notice to the organic relationship between truths of the faith. While some truths have to be believed in order for someone to take part meaningfully in Christian worship; but there are others which become known only through participation in Catholic worship. It is a mischief to turn one of the second group of truths into a compulsary belief, because this makes it impossible for people to discover these truths by participating in Catholic liturgy

Monday 8 September 2008

The Spirituality of Augustine Baker osb

Augustine Baker was born into a world in which the dissolution of the monasteries and the destruction of Catholic Wales and England were still living memories among older people. His parents were “Church papists” who conformed to the state religion while remaining Catholic at heart. There was no reason to mourn the passing of the monasteries which had dissolved into nothingness by the mere decree of a tyrannical king. No monks had fled abroad to re-found their communities, and few still tried to live a monastic life in England after the closure of their houses. The Carthusians were loyal to their vocation to a man, as were the reformed Franciscans and some Dominicans/ but the Benedictines and Cistercians simply faded into nothingness. Clearly, pre-reformation Benedictine monasticism was hollow and without substance, It had lost its way long before the monasteries ceased to be. The spirit had died, and Henry VIII had simply performed the funeral rites. This impression is confirmed by pre-Reformation works like “Piers Plowman” that expressed the view that genuine Christian life was to be found more outside the monastery than within, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales express a certain skepticism about monks and nuns. Moreover, many people, like Richard Rolle pursued a contemplative vocation outside the monastic establishment.

Hence, after his conversion in 1603 and his noviciate in the abbey of St Justina of Padua in 1605, Augustine Baker did not look to the mediaeval world to find his model for monastic life. He went back to the Desert Fathers and to St John Cassian; and to the mystical teaching of Dionysius the Areopagite. He read and understood the Rule of St Benedict in the light of this tradition. For him the goal of monastic life is constant prayer. The journey begins with meditation, and then goes on to “active contemplation” in the “Cloud of Forgetting”, in which the Christian leaves behind all created things and images and tries to pierce the block between himself and God with short, sharp prayers of inarticulate longing. Eventually, at the moment that God wills, the Christian is given the grace of “passive contemplation” which is the “discovery of the presence of God in the soul”. The Christian meets God in a “Cloud of Unknowing”. This meeting becomes more and more profound as he is purified by “desolations” which bring him to leave aside even his desires for experience of God and to rest in God alone. The goal is a complete harmony between his will and the will of God who is working in the soul. We are reminded of the doctrine of the Eastern Fathers about the synergy of the human will with the active presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart; this harmony being perfect love.

Like the Fathers of the Desert and the Celtic monks of old, Dom Augustine sought solitude. After his noviciate he returned to England for his health in 1606 and was professed in the following year. He received permission from his superiors to live in retirement.

He was sent by his superior to the house of Sir Nicholas Fortescue who was “Chamberlain of the Exchequer”. Here he read the writings of Spanish, German and mediaeval English mystics and received the gift of passive contemplation. In 1610 he returned to London and experienced a prolonged desolation. In 1613 he was ordained priest, not out of pastoral zeal, but because he thought ordination may deliver him from the desolation he experienced. In 1619 he joined the monastery of St Laurence, then in the Low Countries, now at Ampleforth, but he remained in England, first in Devon and then at Gray’s Inn where he put at the service of the English Congregation his now prodigious learning in a controversy with another monk who denied that the restored congregation had ever existed in mediaeval England. His work was published at Douai in 1626. Two years before, in 1624, he went to the new Benedictine convent at Cambrai, the community that is now at Stanbrook,

Dom Augustine found an ally in Dame Gertrude More, granddaughter of St Thomas More. He translated many classical works on contemplative prayer, wrote a commentary on The Cloud of Unknowing”. He also wrote a large amount of works of his own. Rowan Williams, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote of Augustine Baker’s work:

Perhaps what is most remarkable about Augustine Baker is the way he holds together so many diverse strands in the historyof Christian spirituality, He knows the Fathers, Cassian and the Rule; he is familiar with the mediaeval English treasures of the “Cloud” and Walter Hilton; he knows his way around Mount Carmel; and he can digest practical advice for meditation as well as anyone who has read the “Ignatian Exercises”. He must be one of the least ‘tribal’ of the great spiritual teachers; and this is rooted in his all-pervasive sense of the priority of ‘recollection’ and ‘introversion’.

Dom Augustine found the nuns willing pupils. This was his most productive time. Much of his teaching is contained in his own writings and also in the notes taken at his conferences by Dame Gertrude More and others.. He was probably happier than at any other time of his life, and it is as spiritual director of the Cambrai nuns that he is chiefly remembered. However, it was not to last. The official chaplain of the nuns was not happy with his teaching and, eventually, denounced it as unorthodox to the English Benedictine authorities. Dom Augustine’s teaching was overwhelmingly approved by the General Chapter of the English Benedictines in 1633. However, both priests were moved, and he took up residence in the monastery of St Gregory, Douai.

Then followed the longest period he ever spent as a ‘conventual’, five years. He lived as a recluse, rarely taking part in the Divine Office with the other members of the community or wearing the habit – he did not give much importance to externals. Instead he dedicated himself to prayer in his cell. Like the Fathers of the Desert and the Celtic monks of old, Dom Augustine sought solitude. He had written, “Now by the unanimous acknowledgement of all mystical writers, the only proper school of contemplation is solitude.” In this he had the support of the Prior of St Gregory’s, Dom Rudisind Barlow, who was one of those who emphasized that the purpose of the English Congregation is not the Mission in England but in monastic observance and community life. Dom Augustine immediately attracted a number of young monks and non-Benedictine religious who lived in the area, and he became their spiritual director.

However, this did not last either. There was a change of regimen in the congregation, and the new authorities did not take to Augustine Baker at all. Moreover, he had a row with Dom Rudisind, a row that was entirely his fault. He was moved once more. He was sent on the Mission in England. Old and frail, it was practically a death sentence. Now began a period of busy pastoral work, accomplished in great danger because, if caught, he would have been put to death. Paradoxically, this was the most spiritually fruitful time of his life. He received the gift of continuous prayer, so that his active apostolic life and his interior contemplative life became one. He died, probably of the Plague, in 1641.

We have seen in a previous article the “triplex bonum”, the three essential elements of monastic life in the Camaldolese tradition. They are fraternal community life, which unity in Christ; solitude and a one-to-one relationship with Christ; and martyrdom or the way of unrestricted love. Dom Augustine lived a very varied life and had to adjust these three dimensions to new circumstances several times, sometimes not all that successfully. However, in this last stage of his life, with martyrdom a very real possibility, with the continual challenge to put the spiritual good of others before his own, and a strong interior life that could withstand the dissipations of too much involvement in the world, his life on the Mission became the apex of his monastic life.

Like the Fathers of the Church, Dom Augustine regarded continuous prayer as the whole purpose of monastic life; but he did not reserve contemplation to monks and nuns alone. For St Symeon the New Theologian it is as connected with holy communion as baptism is connected with conversion. Dom Augustine wrote of the solitude that is a necessary condition for contemplation:

Now this so necessary solitude can be found more perfectly and permanently in a well-ordered religious state … yet it is not confined to that state but that, in the world also, and in a secular course of life, God has oft raised and guided many souls in these perfect ways, affording them even there as much solitude and as much internal freedom of spirit as he saw was necessary to bring them to a high degree of perfection.

Just as he believed that people can be called by God to contemplation in all walks of life, so he believed that a monk can pursue his goal in any conditions imposed on him by obedience. Being sent on the Mission was not unmonastic if the monk has sufficient spiritual maturity not to be diverted from his contemplative goal. Indeed his argument with Dom Rudisind was that life in a monastery can also be a distraction from contemplation in someone who is too concerned about the externals of monastic life. I believe that, if the teaching of Dom Augustine Baker is complemented by the teaching of P. Jean-Paul de Caussade SJ with his “Abandonment to Divine Providence” and his “Sacrament of the Present Moment”, and if this is set within the context of a sound understanding of the Liturgy and, hence, of the Church, then the English Benedictine Congregation will be seen to have a common goal, a coherent doctrine how to achieve it, and a flexibility to adapt the monastic observances to whatever circumstances may arise.

Wednesday 3 September 2008

The Community of St John

How did the Community of Saint John come into being ?

It all began at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, where several French students were studying with a Dominican Father, Father Marie-Dominique Philippe, a professor of philosophy. Some of these students, wanting to totally consecrate their lives to Christ, had asked Fr. Philippe to be their spiritual director.

During the summer of 1975, five of these students decided to meet regularly togethe with a priest from the diocese of Versailles (France). He was one of Fr. Philippe's former students and had been authorized by his bishop to return to Fribourg undertake studies toward a doctorate in theology. We then began to live a communal life with a rather extraordinary schedule for students: rising at 5:30 a.m., one hour of silent prayer in community, morning prayer, then Mass.... It was a good start to the day!

But how did you arrive in Lérins from Fribourg ?

In his search for an order that would be able to accept the brothers, Fr. Philippe did not immediately think of the Lérins Cistercians. He went first of all to his Dominican confreres, who agreed to accept the young men on an individual basis.

However, the small group (which numbered eleven in October, 1976) did not think they should have to be separated. Fr. Philippe then turned to the Canons of St. Bernard, who had a house in Fribourg.

Their response, which was ultimately negative, was conveyed to Fr. Philippe while he was in Lérins teaching a philosophy course.

The abbot, after conveying the message, asked : "Why not with us?" No one had thought of it ! Bishop Barthe, who was bishop of Fréjus-Toulon at that time, gave his consent and his encouragement, adding: "If I were younger, I would request admission to your community...".

How did the connection with Lérins influence the community ?

We became "quasi-regular oblates" of the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Lérins, meaning that the abbot was responsible for our entry into religious life and for the development of the community within the Church. He delegated responsibility for our spiritual and intellectual formation to Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe.

But the bond with Lérins especially enabled us to become rooted in monastic life. From this time on, brothers who entered the community would spend several months on the island of Saint-Honorat, where the abbey is located. This constituted their novitiate, supplemented by a period of solitude and prayer in the diocese of Gap with Father Emmanuel, a Benedictine monk from En Calcat.

What was Rome's attitude concerning the birth of this new community ?

The case was referred to Rome - that is, the Congregation for Religious - as early as 1976-77. First official recognition dates from April 27, 1978, when the Congregation for Religious allowed the Abbot of Lérins to proceed with the brothers' ties to the abbey "ad experimentum", that is, as an experiment carried out provisionally (for seven years), with the intention that the Community would eventually obtain its own statute.

It was then that we took the name "Community of Saint John". We also had to present a rule of life -this was drafted by Fr. Philippe, who was inspired particularly by the prayer of Christ in Chapter 17 of Saint John's Gospel- and the Constitutions, which describe the internal affairs of the Community.
Thus the essential bond with "Peter" was able to be rapidly established. It is found in the Rule of Life, which explicitly states that the "Brothers of Saint John will obey the Sovereign Pontiff as their highest superior".

Finally, why was this new community founded ?

You would have to ask the Holy Spirit! He is the only One who clearly understands.... But the characteristics of the Community appear quite distinctly: insistence, from the very beginning at Fribourg, on the search for the truth through philosophical and theological work; a life consecrated to God, emphasizing silent prayer in community and the Eucharist; the importance of communal life in intense fraternal charity.
Yet it is impossible to live all this without the discovery of a personal bond with the Virgin Mary whom we receive as our Mother, following the example of St. John (Jn. 19:27) : "And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they may also be consecrated in truth" (John 17:19).

"The brothers will live a life of silent interior prayer, brought to completion in the heart of Mary, the true milieu of their life of orison "

(Rule of Life)

St. Nicolas Cathedral, Fribourg

Did Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe reside with you ?

No, he continued living with his Dominican confreres. He was very busy with his teaching responsibilities and he only came to see us once a week for spiritual direction. He was also a bit hesitant to become associated with the "brothers". He did not consider himself to be mandated by the Church to take responsibility for a nascent religious community. His official duty was limited to teaching philosophy, which explains the care he had taken thus far in sending the young people who came to him back to their bishops or various religious congregations.

"Père Girard" at Fribourg, the brother's first home

Then why did he change his mind ?

The intervention of Marthe Robin was decisive. Fr. Philippe had known her since 1946 and had often preached retreats at Chateauneuf-de-Galaure. He presented his dilemma to her: some of his students wanted to form a little community and were seeking his help. Marthe replied quite simply that he couldn't refuse their request; he couldn't abandon them. Fr. Philippe accepted us, but there was no question as yet of founding a new religious community. Fr. Philippe initiated inquiries as to what religious order could accept us so that we might find a place in the Church. Thus began a year-long search. Fortunately, everything had been entrusted to God's Providence....
To make this desire for surrender concrete, we consecrated ourselves to Mary on December 8, 1975 at the end of a retreat preached by Fr. Philippe at the abbey of Lérins. This is the date of our birth, you might say.

The date and the place are important...

Yes, because the following year, the brothers were quite impressed to discover that Paul VI's apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi, which corresponds so well to what they wanted to live (to the extent that they drew a short rule of life from it), had been published in Rome on December 8, 1975.

Why did the Community leave Fribourg ?

When Fr. Philippe reached retirement age (70) for university teaching in 1982, the Community decided to settle in France. Most of the brothers were French and living conditions in Fribourg were becoming impractical : the Community was scattered among four houses, none of which was large enough to accommodate 80 brothers.

The difficulty lay in finding a place in France.
An order of contemplative Benedictine sisters (whose foundress and prioress was Fr. Philippe's sister) suggested the former minor seminary of Rimont in Burgundy, near Chalon-sur-Saône.

Notre-Dame de Rimont

And the bishop of Autun generously gave his consent to our establishment in his diocese. Then we still had to be able to move in. The building that the brothers discovered at Rimont required a lot of repairs, and everyone had to get down to work. Little by little, we were able to establish a true communal life which brought all the brothers of the Community together for the first time. However, in May of 1983, we had to open a new house due to the large number of admissions.

With the permission of the Archbishop of Lyon, part of the Community took up residence at Saint-Jodard--in the department of the Loire, near Roanne--where there was a former minor seminary (this was becoming a habit...). Since the beginning of the century, it had been owned by the goverment and had served, after various allocations, as a juvenile detention center.... The Community novitiate thus opened its doors in October, 1983.
The shortest route from Rimont to Saint-Jodard passes....through the heart of Christ: the city of the Sacred Heart, Paray-le-Monial, is actually halfway between the two houses.

When he discovered this, Fr. Philippe remembered what Marthe Robin had told him: "I don't know why Paray remains etched in my heart ; Father, never abandon Paray-le-Monial".
The members of the Community of Saint John want to live the evangelical counsels rooted in the three covenants revealed in the Gospel of Saint John :

The Covenant with Jesus in the Eucharist, the source of unity between silent adoration and the liturgical office. This liturgy seeks to be as close as possible to the monastic liturgy, but its celebration is lightened because of the demands of the apostolic life and so that more time be given to silent prayer.

The Covenant with Mary, mother and guardian of the growth of faith, hope, and love, and, as such, the divine milieu of the contemplative life. This convenant with Mary - "the disciple took her into his home" (Jn. 19:27) - is the foundation of the unity of fraternal charity lived in communal life.

The Convenant with Peter in the person of the Holy Father; a covenant of filial obedience to the successor of Peter and to the Bishops, in order to live faithfully and profoundly by the Church's living Tradition.

It is the spirit of the Family of Saint John which profoundly unites all of its members.

But there exists in this family different ways of living from Saint John's paternity while preserving the unity of heart and soul which characterized the first Christian communities (cf. Acts 4:32).

The Brothers

After a time of novitiate and formation (seven years), during which they endeavor to enter fully into the spirit of the family of Saint John, the Brothers live in small communities: priories.

The apostolic acitivity of these priories seeks to be the "irradiation" of the contemplative and religious life of the Brothers. Therefore, their first role is to be "oases" of spiritual hospitality and of search for and communication of the truth.

The Contemplative Sisters

Particularly "hidden in God" by Mary and in her, the contemplative sisters are, in the heart of the family of Saint John, guardians of its contemplative fervor. Living the Father's attraction in an ultimate way requires of them a silent, but joyful fraternal charity that bears wittness to the victory of love given by Jesus to all men.
More details ...

The Apostolic Sisters

The apostolic sisters are especially witnesses to the link between the fervor of fraternal charity and apostolic presence. They seek to realize a liturgical life that, with a certain beauty, may help the faithful to pray and to discover the presence of Mary in their midst. They cooperate in the apostolic life of the brothers, serving the Community and the Church.

The Laity

The fatherhood of Saint John also extends to Christians living in the world. In the footsteps of Saint John, they desire to live more intensely their bond of faith, hope, and love with Christ.

The Monastic Family of the Assumption and St Bruno


Saturday, 14 March 1998

To the Monastic Communities of Bethlehem,
the Assumption of the Virgin and St Bruno

1. As your communities meet in extraordinary assembly, I am pleased to extend a cordial greeting to you and to assure you of my fervent prayer on your behalf.

Your monastic family, in its two branches, intends to follow Christ by taking its inspiration from the spirituality of Eastern and Western monasticism, particularly from the wisdom of St Bruno. It is by attentive listening to the Gospel and by following the example of the Virgin Mary that you wish to give yourselves to God through a life of solitude, silence, prayer and contemplation. I encourage you to live fully your offering to the Lord in love for the Church and in fidelity to her laws, as well as in communion with the Successor of Peter and by maintaining trustful relations with the Bishops of the Dioceses where your communities have been established.

2. The Magisterium, particularly the Second Vatican Council, brought to light the central place of contemplative life in the Church: "Institutes completely devoted to contemplation ... will always have an honoured place in the Mystical Body of Christ, in which "all the members do not have the same function" (Rom 12:4)" (Perfectae caritatis, n. 7). I myself wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata: "Institutes completely devoted to contemplation, composed of either women or men, are for the Church a reason for pride and a source of heavenly graces. By their lives and mission, the members of these institutes imitate Christ in his prayer on the mountain, bear witness to God's lordship over history and anticipate the glory which is to come" (Vita consecrata, n. 8). Therefore I hope that by letting yourselves be transformed by the power of love, you will shine brightly among men as signs of God's holiness. Be faithful to following Jesus in the desert, in his solitary moments with the Father, in order to become worshipers in spirit and truth! People today look for ardent witnesses to the Gospel who will offer them places of spirituality where they can meet and adore the living God, and who will help them to give meaning to their lives.

By following the spirit of St Bruno in solitude and the silence of the desert, you will receive the gifts of peace and joy from the Lord: "There strong men can be recollected as often as they wish, abide within themselves, carefully cultivate the seeds of virtue and be happily nourished by the fruits of paradise. Here is acquired that eye by whose serene gaze the Bridegroom is wounded with love; that eye, pure and clean, by which God is seen" (St Bruno, Letter to Raoul le Verd).

3. At the centre of your consecrated life you wish to give an essential place to the Lord's Eucharist. By celebrating and contemplating this mystery in solitude, you unite yourselves to Jesus' offering to his Father, you commit yourselves to following him and you renounce everything that can hinder the acceptance of his love. By receiving his Body and Blood given as food, consecrated persons are particularly called to become faithful disciples in likeness to Christ, and they unite their unreserved "yes" to that of the Father's loving Son. Thus, by the total gift of their being, they join it to the memorial of the paschal sacrifice offered out of love for all humanity. And they joyfully remember that "frequent and prolonged adoration of Christ present in the Eucharist enables us in some way to relive Peter's experience at the Transfiguration: "It is well that we are here". In the celebration of the mystery of the Lord's Body and Blood, the unity and charity of those who have consecrated their lives to God are strengthened and increased" (Vita consecrata, n. 95). In profound harmony with the Eucharist, frequent recourse to the sacrament of Reconciliation, with the respect that it implies for the interior freedom of each individual, leads to the purification needed for making one's relationship with God ever more transparent and for growing in fidelity to the commitments made. May the daily meeting with Christ be for

each of you a constant call to holiness, in expectation of the Lord's return!

4. In the likeness of Mary and with her, continually listen to the Word of God, keeping it and pondering it day and night in your heart! This word, an inexhaustible source of spiritual life that sheds the light of Wisdom on human existence, will transform you and enable you to grow. Like the disciples at Emmaus, may you recognize the Risen One on your paths of solitude and say yourselves: "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?" (Lk 24:32). Familiarity with the Word of God, which nourishes contemplation, enables you to receive light for recognizing the Lord's ways through the signs of the times and for discerning God's designs. In fact, by seeking the will of the Father in order to fulfil it day after day, you are advancing on the paths of Jesus himself, the Son who became obedient to the point of giving his own life so that all might be saved. It is in this obedience that he fulfilled the mission he had received from his Father, who then raised him in glory.

5. St Bruno teaches you to love every human person, without distinction, as Jesus loved him. Your consecration to prayer and adoration also commits you to interceding for the Church and the world. It should be a witness to the Church's love for her Lord as well as a contribution to the growth of God's People. In this way you are sharing in the Church's mission, which is an essential duty for all institutes of consecrated life. The profession of the evangelical counsels makes consecrated persons totally free for the service of the Gospel. "Indeed, more than in external works, the mission consists in making Christ present to the world through personal witness. This is the challenge, this is the primary task of the consecrated life! The more consecrated persons allow themselves to be conformed to Christ, the more Christ is made present and active in the world for the salvation of all" (Vita consecrata, n. 72). Dear brothers and sisters, let Christ take hold of you in order to make your contribution to the sanctification of the world!

6. By your monastic profession, and particularly by the vows you take and the practice of asceticism, you wish to show in a radical way the primacy of God and of the good things to come. May this total gift of yourselves allow you to be transformed by God's grace and fully conformed to Christ, in fraternal communities where each individual can grow in the truth of his being!

For several years you have been drafting Constitutions for your two branches, in order to discern the call of the Spirit and answer it in obedience. Now that you are preparing to receive the decree of papal recognition for your communities, I encourage you to continue your reflection in a trusting dialogue with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, in order to give all your members a Rule of Life which commits them to living their vocation to holiness in inner peace and generous self-giving. The Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata, the fruit of the Synod of Bishops, will help you to reflect more deeply on the gift you have received from God and to put it at the service of the Church and her apostolic mission.

7. In this second year of preparation for celebrating the Great Jubilee, dedicated to the Holy Spirit and his sanctifying presence within the community of disciples, I ask you to keep watchful vigil among men and to become more and more involved in the new evangelization, in accordance with your own charism lived in communion with the Church. May this favourable time for prayer and adoration allow you further to discover the Spirit as "the One who builds the kingdom of God within the course of history and prepares its full manifestation in Jesus Christ, stirring people's hearts and quickening in our world the seeds of the full salvation which will come at the end of time" (Tertio millennio adveniente, n. 45). While entrusting you to the maternal protection of Our Lady of the Assumption and the intercession of St Bruno, I most cordially grant you my affectionate Apostolic Blessing.

The Biblical Basis for the Orthodox Teaching on 'Theosis@.

Biblical Basis of Theosis

The mystical theology of Orthodoxy with its central theme of theosis has been profoundly imprinted by the words of the Lord in John 10: 34: “Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?” This verse is echoed in Psalm 82:6—”Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.” But there are many biblical quotes, which can also be taken as bases for theosis, that have marked the Orthodox vision on Christianity and salvation. There are three—Gen. 1:26; 2 Peter 1:4, already quoted; and I John 3:2—that are extensively used by deification authors:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. (Gen. 1:26)

His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:3-4)

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (I John 3:2)

In the Genesis passage, we can see how men were created in the image and likeness of God, but also that they are charged with ruling creation. In this passage, there is already the implication that men are like little gods, by the grace of God. Yet, in Genesis 3, the Fall of man is also narrated causing man, as the eastern Fathers teach, to lose the likeness, only retaining the image. According to G. L. Bray, in “Deification,” from the Fathers’ perspective,

Christian life is best conceived as the restoration of the lost likeness to those who have been redeemed in Christ. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, who communicates to us the energies of God himself, so that we may become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). The energies of God radiate from his essence and share its nature; but it must be understood that the deified person retains his personal identity and is not absorbed into the essence of God, which remains for ever [sic] hidden from his eyes.[1]

Rakestraw, in “Becoming Like God: An Evangelical Doctrine of Theosis,” asserts that “Whether the focus is placed on the image or the likeness of God being restored, or whether one sees these terms as synonymous, the concept of the Christian’s reintegration into the life of God remains central in all understandings of theosis.” As commented, this reintegration is only possible thanks to the incarnation of the Logos.

In the Peter text we are given the promise to participate—literally to become sharers (koinonoi)—of the divine nature and escape the corruption of the world. Thus deification implies a participation in God. Moreover, according to Norman, in “Deification: the Content of Athanasian Serology,” for the Fathers, another clear reference to deification is I John 3:2, that exhorts to purity and echoes the theme of Christ’s imitation delineated in John’s Gospel (John 5:19 ff.), after having healed a man at the pool of Betsaida:

Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.

Jesus also says: “Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works” (John 14:10). The Father does not only indwelt Jesus but also men who keep the Father’s commandments: “And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us” (I John 3:23-24). It is love who binds men to God: “And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26).

Indeed, we do not only dwell in God, but God also dwells in His creatures and has given them a part of or share in His Spirit: “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:13). “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:4).The Father has bestowed upon us the gift of His Spirit, who is man’s companion. In the painful words of Job we hear: “For I am full of matter, the spirit within me constraineth me” (32:21).

It is also clear, as previously noted, that it is love that makes possible this dwelling: “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16). Thus, He is not far from us: “Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off?” (Jer 23:23). We, that do not lie in wickeness, are “of God”: “And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19). St. Paul says “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God , and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (I Corinthians 3:16). He also talks about the saving qualities of the indwelling Spirit: “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he that raised up Christ the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Romans 8:11). Referring to this Spirit, at the time of His death, Jesus says: “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost” (Luke 23:46). The Latin Father, Ambrose (340-397), in On the Holy Spirit (Book II, 55), interprets this “spirit” as the soul:

Therefore he referred the thunders to the words of the Lord, the sound of which went out into all the earth, and we understand the word “spirit” in this place of the soul, which He took endowed with reason and perfect; for Scripture often designates the soul of man by the word spirit, as you read: “Who creates the spirit of man within him.” So, too, the Lord signified His Soul by the word Spirit, when He said: “Into Thy hands I commend My Spirit.”

The implications of this expression is intriguing. It seems clear that His body saw no corruption. “But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption (Acts 1.3:37)” “He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption” (2: 31). Jesus says to His disciples: “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luke 24:39).

But when is this Spirit bestowed upon Christ? Whose model will we follow to reply to this question? If we read John, we find that the same Jesus says the following, with John’s comments, “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:38-39). Christ did not receive the Holy Spirit before His Baptism. Yet He was full of the Spirit upon His Baptism:

And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: (Matthew 3:16)

And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan , and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. (Luke 4:1)

Mysteriously, the Spirit of God is eternally (spatio-temporally transcendent) born in the divine essence, but He acts in time and space. For the Orthodox Church:

Creation is the work in time of the Blessed Trinity. The world is not self-created, neither has it existed from eternity, but it is the product of the wisdom, the power, and the will of the One God in Trinity. God the Father is the prime cause of creation and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit took part in creation, God the Son perfecting creation and God the Holy Spirit vivifying creation.” (“The Orthodox Faith”)

Indeed, the Holy Spirit is the “breath of life”. “All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils” (Job 27:3). “The spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life” (Job 33:4). “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen 2:7).

God is also all-encompassing:

For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: all things were created by him, and for him. And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. ( Col 1:16-17)

In the Book of Isaiah we hear: “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (57:15).

As we have seen in the Scriptures, the eternal God the Father, being all pervading, out of love, lives in us as we live in Him. He has granted us His Spirit, interpreted in Orthodoxy as the Holy Spirit, who acts upon the circuit of uncreated energies, deifying humanity. The term “circuit” appears in Job (22:14),—”thick clouds are a covering to him, that he seeth not; and he walketh in the circuit of heaven—and Psalm (19:6). “His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.” In these uncreated energies, the existential Father is personally and experientally present in time and space in the Spirit, that proceeds from Him and rests on the Son. For Orthodoxy, the Father is the eternal source of the Godhead, from Whom is begotten the Son eternally and also from Whom the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally. For Orthodoxy, through the Son’s incarnation and His restoration and final glorification of humanity, and His spiritual power, the Spirit adopts us as sons of God. We do not unite with God as an existential being, as a divine essence, but with His divine energies. We do not partake of the essence of divinity but of His energies, though the unifying characteristic of the Deity does not distinguish between “essence” and “energy.”

Knowledge of God also entails participation in the Divine and the attaining of Grace, as these bible quotes suggest:

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” how unsearchable are his judgements, and his ways past finding out! (Roman 11: 33)

For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:8)

But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. 2 (Peter 3:18)

Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:2)

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

He hath said, which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open. (Numbers 24:26)

There are also certain quotes related to the concept of God as a personality, the idea of God as a person/ality appears necessary as the union between man and God in His grace must be a personal communion. On this point Palamas remarks that it is an encounter of two persons, the former the humblest one; the latter the highest, a divine one. Our potential as perfecting persons is centered on the Father’s divine personality. In the book of Job, for example, we read that God is a person—”Will ye accept his person? will ye contend for God?” (Job 13:7-8). Job also says: “When men are cast down, then thou shalt say, there is lifting up; and he shall save the humble person” (Job 13:7-8). God is a personality, a personal being. “When we say that God is a personal being we mean that He is intelligent and free and distinct from the created universe. Personality as such expresses perfection …” (“The Nature and Attributes of God”). In contrast, man’s personality expresses imperfection. In Proverb, there is a similar reference to person in this sense: “It is not good to accept the person of the wicked, to overthrow the righteous in judgement (18:15). Thus a personality would be evil, with no possibility for salvation, as the divinization process also entails the progressive spiritualization of humankind, or a righteous, moral personality. Kallistos of Diokleia in “Person and Personality in Orthodox Teaching,” explains what the human person is “The human person is the hypostatic manifestation of the human essence, the realization of who a human being is as an individual: being, again, common in his essence but individual in his hypostasis or person, as St. Gregory Palamas affirms.”

Yet, in the same way as divinization must be personal—as it is the deification of the individual human person—, our progression also depends on our relationship and socializing with other persons: “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). The Fathers were of the opinion that we must be imitators of Christ. In this way we are unified as persons with Christ. Jesus says: “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11). He also states: “But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve” (Luke 22:26). Indeed “salvation is the realization of personhood in Christ” (“Person and Personality in Orthodox Teaching”).

Furthermore, in the New Testament, Christ is referred to as a personality, as being a personal being: “To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; (II Corinthians 2:10)” As in the case of God the Father, Jesus’ personality is not of the humble type like that of man but the “express image of His [God’s] person”:

[God] Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high: (To the Hebrews 1:3)

Yet, being the primal, infinite source of everything, God is also the center of all other types of material, impersonal energies.

And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven. (Deut. 4:19)

And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord GOD, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day: (Amos 8:9)

And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. (Rev. 21:23)

There are however other scriptural texts which provided Church Fathers and current Orthodox theologians with a basis for the doctrine of theosis. Some of them stressed Christ as the image of God and Christians as being renewed and restored in the likeness of God, while others viewed baptism as a carrier and the container of our union with Christ, Christ’s followers as partakers of His passion and, thus, as sharers of His glory; still others perceived our inheriting of eternal life as perpetual fellowship, a glorious body, and divine sonship with God (Rakestraw; Norman).

Ángel F. Sánchez Escobar

Monday 1 September 2008

Benedictine Oblates

August 12, 2004
Benedictine Oblates
Becoming a modern monk
Guest Article by Sheri Hostetler

Thanks to Kathleen Norris, being a Benedictine oblate is almost hip these days. Norris is the author of the critically received books Dakota: A Spiritual Geography and The Cloister Walk. Both tell the story of a literary New Yorker who moved to the Great Plains and found a spiritual life at—of all places—a Benedictine monastery. More than any other person since Thomas Merton, Norris has helped rekindle interest in monastic spirituality among the “thinking crowd.”

While I’d like to think that I became a Benedictine oblate before reading Norris (somehow I think it is morally superior to choose a path before it becomes popular), the truth is that her ruminations on the relevancy of Benedictine spirituality for contemporary life were formative in my own choice. I became an oblate of a small Benedictine community in Oakland, California, in 1999.

The Life of a Saint
So what is a Benedictine oblate? “Benedictine” does not, in this case, refer to the liqueur of the same name (although that liqueur is made by Benedictine monks in France). Rather, Benedictine means an association with the monastic order based on the teachings of St. Benedict, himself worthy of a separate column on this Web site. St. Benedict was born in 480 A.D., 70 years after the fall of Rome. He came from an educated, wealthy family but eventually left that life behind to pursue the spiritual life. Over time, his reputation as a holy man spread, disciples flocked to him, and he eventually established 12 small monasteries.

All monastic communities require some kind of “rule of life” that orders their common spiritual life together. In Benedict’s time, there were several monastic rules in circulation. The most popular one seems to have been a document called The Rule of the Master. Benedict drew from this rule, but with significant changes—mainly in spirit and tone. The Rule of the Master saw monastic communities as a group of individuals gathering around the feet of a sage (usually the abbot), to whom was given enormous power. Benedict, instead, emphasized the relationship of the monks to each other. He saw the monastery as a community of love and the abbot’s main job as tending to the well-being of this community. In addition, The Rule of the Master was harsh and unrelenting in its demands on the monks. Benedict’s rule was known for its moderation, its humanity.

Benedictines R Us
Benedict’s rule ended up having an enormous influence on Western civilization. At the time of Benedict’s death, his rule was one among many. However, within a century or two, the Rule of St. Benedict had become the norm for Western monasticism. And monasticism had, by this time, become the norm for what was left of Western civilization. Monasteries were, by the sixth century, the one vital institution left in the societal breakdown precipitated by the fall of Rome and the waves of “barbarian” invasions. Benedictine monasteries accumulated illuminated manuscripts and works of art, kept the light of learning and scholarship alive, and generally provided order and stability in a chaotic world. As the Benedictine scholar Esther de Waal writes, “To sketch the history of the Benedictines in the Middle Ages would be not only to write a history of the church, it would be to write a history of medieval society as well.” (From Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict, pg. 21.)

Although not as numerous as in their heyday, there are still today hundreds (if not thousands—I couldn’t find an exact number) of Benedictine monasteries around the world. What’s most interesting to me about contemporary Benedictine life, however, is the number of lay men and women who have found spiritual sustenance in the Benedictine rule and in the spirituality it expresses. The test of its popularity? Go to Amazon.com and type in “Benedictine spirituality.” You’ll get more than a dozen titles, most published quite recently (oddly enough, none of Norris’s books is included in that list).

Becoming an Oblate
Which brings me to the second word in the phrase “Benedictine oblate.” In the most general sense, an oblate is someone who makes an act of oblation. (That explains everything, right?) An oblation literally means “an offering.” So an oblate is someone who makes an offering of themselves—that is, someone who dedicates themselves to a spiritual life. More specifically, oblates are lay people who take an abbreviated form of monastic vows (called “promises”) and become associate members of a particular monastic community. The promises are considered to be for life and are not tied to that particular monastic community—so if you move, you are still an oblate, even if you have no regular contact with the monastic community in which you made your promises. No getting out of them that easily!

Oblate promises differ from community to community, but most of them (and this was certainly true of my own) will be based on the three vows taken by all Benedictine monks:

* Obedience. While obedience for monks certainly includes the idea of following the will of an abbot or one’s monastic community, it also means more generally attuning one’s spiritual ear to the voice of God in all people and situations and responding to that call. (In fact, the word obedience comes from the Latin root oboedire, which shares its roots with audire, to hear.)
* Stability. Stability refers to physical stability, meaning that a monk commits to life in a particular community and to not leaving when the going gets tough. However, for the oblate, stability is interpreted more generally as not only keeping one’s commitments in life but also committing to the deeper stability of one’s inner being, to a calmness and peace of mind.
* Conversatio Morum (or, in English, roughly “ongoing conversion”). Finally, the truly fun and scary promise of conversatio morum simply means that one (whether monk or oblate) commits to always being a pilgrim, to remaining ever open to change and transformation.

In addition to the above three ideas, oblate promises would also tend to include some language that says the oblate will follow the Rule of St. Benedict insofar as one’s station in life allows. Now, I confess that to simply sit down and read the Rule of St. Benedict leaves me a little cold. As with the Bible, I need modern scholars to help interpret the relevancy of this book for my life. Thankfully, there are many such books available. My favorite authors are the already-named Norris and de Waal, and also Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun and rabble-rouser. I’d recommend any of their books on the subject.

An Ancient Rule for Postmodern People
One of the things I appreciate most about Benedictine spirituality is its emphasis on moderation and balance. Nothing is to be taken to the extreme. For instance, it recognizes the need both for community and for solitude. As a person brought up in a relentlessly community-minded Anabaptist tradition, I have found this an important balance. I love my community; I also need holy solitude on a regular basis. And while Benedictine life is centered around prayer, it’s understood that this must be balanced by work (with a historic emphasis on manual work) and scholarship. Although this insight may seem rather self-evident, I have found it quite helpful in practice. When I feel out of balance, I ask myself, “What do you need, Soul? Do you need to go out in the garden and pull weeds; do you need to read a challenging book; or do you need to sit down and meditate?” The question is always helpful, and usually yields the answer I need.

It’s fascinating to me that contemporary men and women have a common bond with those first small monastic communities founded 1,500 years ago. Our lives couldn’t be more different, and yet both I (a married, Mennonite woman) and a celibate, Catholic monk of A.D. 600 have found a foundation for a vital spiritual life in the writings of St. Benedict. In a time when new spiritual fads abound, I find this kind of continuity and stability comforting…and possibly even hip. —Sheri Hostetler

Guest author Sheri Hostetler is the pastor of First Mennonite Church of San Francisco.

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