The monastic order is not an organization nor a campaign nor a sect. There is a unity, a family likeness among monasteries and monks and nuns; but it is not imposed from without nor is it brought about by social contacts among monastics. It is a unity brought about by our search for God in Christ. Indeed, we discover in Christ our unity with the whole Church, with the whole human race, even with the whole of creation; and in making our union with God in Christ our very profession, we begin to display a likeness to all others on the same quest.
St Peter Damian, writing for his own Camaldoli hermits in a treatise on "Dominus Vobiscum", explained why it is appropriate for hermits to say, "Dominus Vobiscum" and to make the reply, "Et cum Spiritu Tuo" when they are alone in their hermitages. He writes,
"Holy Church is one in all her members, and complete in each of them; her many members form a single whole in the unity of faith, and her many parts are united in each member by the bond ofcharity and the various gifts of grace, since all of these proceed from one source.....For indeed, although holy Church is divided in the multiplicity of her members, yet she is fused into unity by the fire of the Holy Spirit; and so even if she seems, as far as her situation in the world is concerned, to be scattered, yet the mystery of her inward unity can never be marred in its integrity. 'The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.' 3 This Spirit Is indeed without doubt both one and manifold; one in the essence of His greatness, and manifold in the diverse gifts of His grace, and He gives to holy Church, which He fills, this power: that all her parts shall form a single whole, and that each part shall contain the whole. This mystery of undivided unity was asked for by Truth Himself when He said to His Father concerning His disciples: *I do not pray for these alone, but for them also who shall believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us: that "the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me. And the glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.' If, therefore, those who believe in Christ are one, then wherever we find a member according to outward appearances, there, by the mystery of the sacrament, the whole body is present. And so whatever belongs to the whole applies in some measure to the part; so that there is no absurdity in one man saying by himself anything which the body of the Church as a whole may utter, and in the same way many may fittingly give voice to that which is properly said by one person. Hence, when we are all assembled together we can rightly say: "Bow down thine ear O Lord and hear me: for I am poor and needy. Preserve my soul, for I am holy."
"Book on the Dominus Vobiscum" by St Peter Damian.)
What St Peter Damian says about the presence of the whole Church in each hermit because he is in Christ and Christ is abiding in him, and because Christ is never separated from his members, also brings about a fundamental unity between all those who seek God because Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life, even if there is no physical or organizational contact between them. It is possible to see a close likeness between the Catholic Padre Pio and the Orthodox St Seraphim of Sarov, in spite of the differences in spirituality, culture and ecclesial allegiance, because both were filled with the same Spirit and manifested to those around them the same Christ, even if in different styles. If two saints, who were so far apart in so many ways and were even separated by schism, are fundamentally alike because they manifest the same Christ, it is also true that there is a family likeness between all who adopt the monastic vocation. It has been often remarked that even though the Benedictine Order does not form its component monasteries and congregations into a single corporate body, and there is such a great variety of observances and roles, from hermits to parish priests, so that such a corporate organization would be impossible; nevertheless, there is a family likeness between monks and nuns, between communities great and small; so that a monk or nun can feel at home in another monastery, even if it is very different from his or her own. The unity of the monastic order does not depend on any organizational links it has, horizontal links between monks and monasteries, but on their vertical relationship, brought about by the Holy Spirit, with Christ who stands before the Father. Any horizontal relationships depend on this vertical relationship that is maintained and strengthened by ther liturgical life.
Fr Timothy Ratcliffe O.P., when he was Master General of the Dominicans, was invited to give a talk on the monastic life to the Benedictine abbots of the world assembled in Rome. My favourite paragraph in his talk tells us what monasteries have in common. The activities of the monks and nuns may differ according to their circumstances and history; but any monastery worthy of the name is a place where they seek God, simply because God is God; and this only happens because God is seeking them. That is the true monastic drama, true on Mount Athos, true in Monserrat and even true in Pachacamac. That is what monasteries are for. He said:
If every monastery is a place where its members are seeking God because God is seeking
them, this manifests itself principally in the monastic liturgy, in whatever monastery, in whatever culture. It is centred entirely on God who is the object of their search, and manifests his holiness on earth because all the seeking is a sign of his presence. It is in God, in Christ who is in heaven, that monks find their unity, and it is from the centrality of God in their lives that gives monastic liturgy its particular atmosphere and shape, whatever the rite or liturgical tastes. Monastic liturgy reflects monastic priorities. Pope Benedict XVI said to the monks of Heiligenkreuz:
In this way, the monastic liturgy witnesses to the true priorities of any liturgy celebrated anywhere in the Church because monasteries live by the values that all Christians have in common. The horizontal links that bind monks together are rooted in the risen Christ and the vertical relationship they have with the Father through Him. In fact, this produces a far stronger relationship between monks and nuns than a relationship based on their feelings for each other which can vary from day to day.. What is true of monks and nuns is also more basically true of the relationship between local churches: the source of their unity is the risen Christ whose body they all are, each one and all together through the Eucharist.
The Christian life in general and the monastic life in particular have two interconnected components, distinct but never separated. The first is the activity of the Holy Spirit and the second is our own compliance and willingness to become instruments of the Holy Spirit. The power of the Holy Spirit and the "Behold the handmaid of the Lord" of Our Lady made the Incarnation possible; and without both components, Mary would never have been Mother of God. Without the Holy Spirit and our "Yes" of faith, we would never be monks or even Christians. Both components are needed. This "Yes" for Benedictines is refined and intensified by living out our vows of Stability, "Conversio morum" and Obedience, as explained in the above video. It is by obedience and hence our willingness to be changed that we seek God, whether in our prayer, in our work and in our community life; while "stability" gives us the context in which we are called to seek God. As seeking God implies living the "Behold the handmaid of the Lord" of the Blessed Virgin and the "Not my will but yours be done" of Jesus in Gethsemane, without any personal agenda of our own, this factor is responsible both for the variety of monastic observances according to the concrete circumstances and obedience to Providence of each monastery; and it is the secret behind the family likeness portrayed by monks and nuns of all shapes and sizes; and it is our connection with all other Christians.
Looking even wider, at the great variety of spiritualities that all reflect the face of Christ in the universal Church, we recognize that all this too is brought about by the Holy Spirit working through the loving obedience of human beings. The more we are in tune with the Holy Spirit, the more Christ lives in us, the more the Church is forming in our souls. We become focal points in God's plan for the salvation of the whole world. Thus it became possible for St Therese of Lisieux, an enclosed nun who died at the age of 24, to be patron saint of the Church's mission throughout the world, and Mary, Mother of God, while sharing in the sufferings of her Son, to became Mother of all the living.
In a previous post, we quoted Pope Benedict (then Cardinal Ratzinger) as saying:
The Church lives from this: from the fact that Christ is present in our hearts and it is there that Christ forms His Church. That is why the first word of the Church is Christ, and not herself. The Church is healthy to the extent that all her attention is focused on Him. The Second Vatican Council placed this concept masterfully at the pinnacle of its deliberations; the fundamental text on the Church begins with the words: "Lumen gentium cum sit Christus: "since Christ is the Light of the World ... the Church is a mirror of His glory; she reflects His splendour". If we want to understand the Second Vatican Council correctly, we must always go back to this opening statement..
Hence, when at Baptism we enter the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is also true that the Church enters us, because Christ enters us by the power of the same Spirit, and Christ cannot be separated from his Church, even though it "lives throughout the course of time". This is St Peter Damian's teaching. In cultivating the interior life, the monk is extending the boundaries of the Church no less than the missionery.
As the Camaldolese Fathers said, there are three "goods" in the Christian life There are two constant dimensions where we can meet Christ: (and the Church): a) solitude in our interior, the eucharistic presence of Christ who lives in the very depths of our being, in what is called our "heart"; and b) in the community. These two poles of the Christian life are interdependent: Christ in the community will not be a reality to us if Christ in our heart goes unheeded; and our consciousness of Christ within us will be shown to be authentic only if it leads us to recognize Christ without. The third good is not a constant dimension, even though it is a constant possibility. It is a gift from God working through his Providence: it is the opportunity to give our "all" to God. They called it "martyrdom", even though that is only one of the possible options. The centre of all three "goods" is the Eucharist where we share and participate in Christ's death and resurrection both as a community and in the depths of our own interior being.. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote:
The local church in its fullness, with bishop, clergy and people has its full liturgcal expression at the Chrism Mass on Maundy Thursday, the day when we remember the Church coming into being at the Last Supper. At every Mass, but especially at this Mass, the local community comes together to be the visible expression on earth of the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church". .
Every Mass is the visible manifestation of the whole Church and every sacrament is an act of the whole Church,and all liturgical prayer is the prayer of the whole Church, even when prayed by a monk in his hermitage, or by a local church that has been separated for over a thousand years by an ancient schism. This Church, united in the risen Christ by the Holy Spirit, was beautifully described by A. Khomiakov:
the Church—The Liturgy
The Church, even upon earth, lives, not an earthly human life, but a life of grace which is divine. Wherefore not only each of her members, but she herself as a whole, solemnly calls herselfHoly.Her visible manifestation is contained in the Sacraments, but her inward life in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, in faith, hope, and love. Oppressed and persecuted by enemies without, at times agitated and lacerated within by the evil passions of her children, she has been and ever will be preserved without wavering or change wherever the Sacraments and spiritual holiness are preserved. Never is she either disfigured or in need of reformation. She lives not under a law of bondage, but under a law of liberty. She neither acknowledges any authority over her, except her own, nor any tribunal, but the tribunal of faith (for reason does not comprehend her), and she expresses her love, her faith, and her hope in her prayers and rites, suggested to her by the Spirit of truth and by the grace of Christ. Wherefore her rites themselves, even if they are not unchangeable (for they are composed by the spirit of liberty and may be changed according to the judgment of the Church) can never, in any case, contain any, even the smallest, admixture of error or false doctrine. And the rites (of the Church) while they are unchanged are of obligation to the members of the Church; for in their observance is the joy of holy unity
It has been said that there are two classical ecclesiologies, patristic understandings of the Catholic Church. There is the eucharistic ecclesiology, associated with the name of St Ignatius of Antioch, and universal ecclesiology associated with the name of St Cyprian of Carthage. In this article we shall talk about eucharistic ecclesiology and leave the second for another post. Both are dimensions of the same Church; both are essential; but the second has its roots in the first. Hence, we shall not deal with dogmatic decrees of pope or council; nor shall we talk about jurisdiction. Both belong to the universal ecclesiology; but any explanation of them cannot go against the fundamentally eucharistic nature of the Church as described here.
St Ignatius of Antioch wrote:
Each one individually and all of you togetherare united in one and the same faith in Jesus Christ, Son of Man and Son of God, in obedience to the bishop in harmony, breaking one loaf of bread which is the medicine of immortality, an antidote to death that gives eternal life in Jesus Christ.
St Cyprian of Carthage also had the same doctrine of the Church when he wrote:
Thus the universal ecclesiology of St Cyprian is embedded in the same eucharistic theology as St Ignatius.The Church is the people in union with their bishop...Thus you must know that the bishop is in the Church and the Church is in the bishop.
Eucharistic ecclesiology sees each diocese as a manifestation of the universal Church, each is the "body of Christ". It is made up of the successor of the apostles, the bishop, with his clergy and people. The bishop has the apostolic mandate, and without him there is no church; and it follows that there is no Eucharist. In the words of Vatican II, the bishop makes the church "legitimate". The Pope explains this above. The priests have been ordained as his assistants and can celebrate in his name and under his authority. Every eucharistic celebration is the Church made present. The fullness of the Catholic Church is present and active in each celebration. Just as each consecrated host is Christ in his fullness, and all the hosts together are the same Christ, so each church is the body of Christ, and what each church is, so is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church throughout the world. Therefore the most basic relationship between local churches is one of identity: each church is Christ's body, just as each host is Christ's body.. Each church is what it is because of its relationship with Christ who is in heaven. Each church is what it is because of the synergy of the Holy Spirit and the Christian community; and this synergy, or harmony of operations in which the Christian community becomes an instrument of the Holy Spirit in manifesting Christ. It finds its primary expression in the liturgy. For this reason, the liturgy is "the source of all the Church's powers and the goal of all its activity". It follows that the Church's teaching authority and its capacity to understand and teach infallibly arises from the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church which is expressed in the liturgy. It arises in a context where the Church is not intent on itself but on God. I quote again the words of the Pope:
In the centuries before there was any general canon law, and, therefore, before any formulated system of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, in the time before general councils were called, and hence before dogmas were decreed, there was always the belief that all local churches should be identical in faith with one another and in the essential actions of faith , in church order and in the sacraments, and that christian from one church should feel at home in all the rest. It was also clear from the very beginning that there is such a thing as heresy and that local churches or important and influential members of them can fall away from what is common to all churches, either in faith or morals. When this happens due to human frailty and sin, how would churches and their members be sure that they were being faithful to the Catholic Church? St Irenaeus (d. circa 170ad) answered this question. He wrote:
Before we discuss the implications of this text, it is important to realize what it is NOT saying. It does not intend to support the universal jurisdiction of the pope, because there was no universal system of law as yet in which universal jurisdiction would make sense. Neither is it about the authority of the pope to proclaim infallibly dogmatic decrees because they had not yet been invented. The passage certainly has implications for our understanding of Vatican I and its dogmas concerning papal authority, but it is not directly about these dogmas. This is a passage about the ordinary magisterium, not the extraordinary magisterium.
For St Irenaeus, each church has what the other churches have. Each church has Tradition rooted in the public teaching of Jesus Christ and the Apostles and which is passed down from one generation to the next and is expressed in the Church's liturgy. Each church also has the charismata veritatis by which it understands the apostolic preaching Elsewhere it is clear that St Irenaeus taught that it is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church that gives it the key to understand the Scriptures. Without the Holy Spirit, the Bible is just a haphazard collection of texts which, like stones in a mosaic, can be put together to construct any picture you like. Only the Holy Spirit can open the key to the meaning of Scripture and thus make it the Word of God for us The liturgy expresses both the Word of God and the Church's understanding of it from the time of the Apostles to the present day. In a word the liturgy is Tradition, the primary expression of Apostolic Tradition that a local church has. Because it is the same Holy Spirit and the same Christ present in each church,.all churches understand the apostolic teaching in the same way; or, at least, they do not contradict one another.. When heresy enters and there is confusion, all can look to the Roman Church which is providentially preserved as a model church for the rest.
Thus, for St Irenaeus, the Church of Rome bears witness to all other churches They look at the Church of Rome and recognize their own faith in the faith of the Church of Rome The Pope does not impose on them something that is not part of the Tradition celebrated in their own liturgy. Truth has its own authority and is recognizable by churches and individuals who share in the same Spirit. They have to obey the Church of Rome, not in something foreign to them but because it is the faith of their local church as much as it is the faith of Rome. The problem arises when heresy, confusion or doubt clouds their vision. Obedience to Rome clarifies their understanding of their own faith. It is a service to them, not a restriction of their liberty; and, for this reason, St Gregory would later call the pope, "servant of the servants of God". In Christianity, obedience and liberty are dimensions of the same life, ,not at war with one another as in the world. Thus, St Ireneaus travelled to Rome in a delegation to ask the Pope to do something about the Montanist heresy in distant Phrygia, in modern Turkey, just before he became bishop..
The Church of Rome obtains this charism of bearing witness to the Truth from the celebration of its liturgy, especially in its celebration of the Eucharist. In a very special way, St Peter (and Paul) are members of this Roman local church because they gave witness by their blood in Rome, and the Roman Church always celebrates the Mass with its martyrs (Roman Canon). Hence, in the words of the Council of Chalcedon, Peter can speak through the mouth of the Pope. St Hyppolitus of Rome uses the same basic vocabulary as St Irenaeus, and, for him, it is in the.anaphora (eucharistic prayer) that the Church prays for and receives the Holy Spirit. In the epiclesis of his Eucharistic Prayer he writes:
We ask you to send your Holy Spirit on the oblation of Holy Church, bringing it in unity, and that you will give the fullness of the Holy Spirit to all who receive these gifts, for the confirmation of the faith in truth, so that we can praise you and glorify you through your servant (puer) Jesus Christ, through whom...(doxology)This is not "truth for truth's sake" but rather "truth for praise's sake" which is why the word "orthodox" can mean either "true teaching" or "true glory". The Church sustains its true belief in the course of its liturgical prayer, while offering "true glory" to God. Its infallibility is the fruit of its liturgical life which expresses the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church. Hence it is the fruit of the vertical relationship with God It receives this "orthodoxy" from the Father through the Spirit of Christ who asks for it in the Eucharist. . That is the basis of the Church's infallibility.. It is this sharing in the Holy Spirit that gives the Roman Church the ability to give witness to the truth in such a way that others must obey it; and it is the same Holy Spirit, working in the other churches, that enables them to see their own truth in the witness of the Roman Church. They can do it because each church is identical with the others in that each and all are the body of Christ,.. In the world-wide Church, each of its constituent parts are the same as the whole and identical to each other each is the body of Christ. Each bishop, as successor of the Apostles, presides over an act of the whole Church when he presides in the Eucharist as vicar of Christ. Because the Eucharist is one, the episcopate is one; and it is entirely according to the nature of the Church that one bishop can speak for all the bishops without imposing himself on them. From this point of view, it is perfectly alright to say that the Pope is "first among equals". Just as Peter was often the voice of the Apostles, so the Bishop of Rome is the voice of the bishops; as long as you remember that they and their churches are united together, not primarily by ecclesiastical bonds, but by their relationship to the risen Christ which is continally forged in the Eucharist.
It is clear that, at present, that this system has broken down as far as the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches are concerned. True, they celebrate the Christian Mystery in liturgies that have their roots in apostolic preaching and share in the Holy Spirit by which they understand this Mystery. True, each is the body of Christ because they eat the same bread and drink of the same cup. In this they are identical with the Church of Rome as each consecrated host in a ciborium is identical with every other. Every sacrament they celebrate is an act of the whole Church. Each eucharistic community is a manifestation of the one, true, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, the fullness of the faith. In the above video is a parish of the Assyrian Church of the East. It has, probably, the most ancient liturgy in use, in the Aramaic language, the language of Our Lord. It has been separated from Rome and Orthodoxy since the Council of Ephesus in the fifth century, yet both theologians from the Vatican and from the Orthodox recognize a family likeness. They are wholly orthodox on Christ, even though controversy on the Incarnation led to the schism. This is clear evidence of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit among them. The Vatican said of them
It is clear that the Assyrian Church's identity as a "true particular Church built upon orthodox faith and apostolic succession" does not depend on its horizontal relationships with other churches, even with the see of Rome, but on the vertical relationship with God in Christ, expressed in the liturgy, which they have celebrated since the time of the Apostles.
"The Catholic Church recognises the Assyrian Church of the East as a true particular Church, built upon orthodox faith and apostolic succession."
However, an important implication of this identity between the churches is that they ought to be able to recognize themselves in each other, and they don't. Due to historical events outside our control, we have had separate histories which have led to different priorities and even different theological languages; and, since long before the Great Schism, there has been no trust between East and West, no understanding of each other's positions and little love. Faith is knowledge based on love. Trust and love must be restored before there will be understanding. Only then will the Pope be able to bear witness to the Truth as St Irenaeus envisaged, not by imposition but by clarification.
The unity of the Church is of a very special kind because it has its source in the risen Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit and is brought about in the Eucharistic assembly. The ecumenical task must be tackled at several levels, but our eyes must never be taken off this central source of unity which is Christ. Monks and missionaries have much in common because both extend the boundaries of the Church; the monk by digging deep into his heart, the missionary by visiting foreign shores. There is also a strong link between monks and ecumenists. Both are seeking unity, the ecumenist among the followers of Christ, the monk within his heart. We began with St Peter Damian and the extraordinary links that hermits have with the whole Church. We will finish with a 20th Century monk, on spiritual ecumenism where the unity and coherence of Christianity is demonstrated in its unity within the soul. Thomas Merton wrote:
This passage places our quotation from St Peter Damian firmly into our quest for ecclesial unit within thisy. In this article we have been talking about eucharistic nature of the Church and the extraordinary unity that the Eucharist brings about. We have also talked about the ordinary function of the Holy See within this eucharistic unity. In my next article, perhaps in two or three weeks time, we will look at the world-wide view of the Church and how it functions. It too is a dimension based on the Eucharist and cannot be properly understood without referring to what we have written here. In the light of what we have already written we will look at the dogmas about papal authority.