"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

Monday 30 April 2012


my source for the video: OrthCath


I first read  "On the Incarnation" by St Athanasius when I was a junior monk; and, of course, I read the Introduction by C.S. Lewis because I knew that anything written by him is worth reading.   It so impressed me that I can never think of St Athanasius without thinking of C.S. Lewis as well.   I can think of nothing that will honour the saint on his feastday more than presenting this introduction to new readers.   Here it is. - Fr David

the source for the text: St Athanasius on the Incarnation

There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about "isms" and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.
Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o'clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why—the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed at some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity ("mere Christianity" as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, "But how could they have thought that?"—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

I myself was first led into reading the Christian classics, almost accidentally, as a result of my English studies. Some, such as Hooker, Herbert, Traherne, Taylor and Bunyan, I read because they are themselves great English writers; others, such as Boethius, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Dante, because they were "influences." George Macdonald I had found for myself at the age of sixteen and never wavered in my allegiance, though I tried for a long time to ignore his Christianity. They are, you will note, a mixed bag, representative of many Churches, climates and ages. And that brings me to yet another reason for reading them. The divisions of Christendom are undeniable and are by some of these writers most fiercely expressed. But if any man is tempted to think—as one might be tempted who read only con- temporaries—that "Christianity" is a word of so many meanings that it means nothing at all, he can learn beyond all doubt, by stepping out of his own century, that this is not so. Measured against the ages "mere Christianity" turns out to be no insipid interdenominational transparency, but something positive, self-consistent, and inexhaustible. I know it, indeed, to my cost. In the days when I still hated Christianity, I learned to recognise, like some all too familiar smell, that almost unvarying something which met me, now in Puritan Bunyan, now in Anglican Hooker, now in Thomist Dante. It was there (honeyed and floral) in Francois de Sales; it was there (grave and homely) in Spenser and Walton; it was there (grim but manful) in Pascal and Johnson; there again, with a mild, frightening, Paradisial flavour, in Vaughan and Boehme and Traherne. In the urban sobriety of the eighteenth century one was not safe—Law and Butler were two lions in the path. The supposed "Paganism" of the Elizabethans could not keep it out; it lay in wait where a man might have supposed himself safest, in the very centre of The Faerie Queene and the Arcadia. It was, of course, varied; and yet—after all—so unmistakably the same; recognisable, not to be evaded, the odour which is death to us until we allow it to become life:
an air that kills
From yon far country blows.

We are all rightly distressed, and ashamed also, at the divisions of Christendom. But those who have always lived within the Christian fold may be too easily dispirited by them. They are bad, but such people do not know what it looks like from without. Seen from there, what is left intact despite all the divisions, still appears (as it truly is) an immensely formidable unity. I know, for I saw it; and well our enemies know it. That unity any of us can find by going out of his own age. It is not enough, but it is more than you had thought till then. Once you are well soaked in it, if you then venture to speak, you will have an amusing experience. You will be thought a Papist when you are actually reproducing Bunyan, a Pantheist when you are quoting Aquinas, and so forth. For you have now got on to the great level viaduct which crosses the ages and which looks so high from the valleys, so low from the mountains, so narrow compared with the swamps, and so broad compared with the sheep-tracks.
The present book is something of an experiment. The translation is intended for the world at large, not only for theological students. If it succeeds, other translations of other great Christian books will presumably follow. In one sense, of course, it is not the first in the field. Translations of the Theologia Germanica, the Imitation, the Scale of Perfection, and the Revelations of Lady Julian of Norwich, are already on the market, and are very valuable, though some of them are not very scholarly. But it will be noticed that these are all books of devotion rather than of doctrine. Now the layman or amateur needs to be instructed as well as to be exhorted. In this age his need for knowledge is particularly pressing. Nor would I admit any sharp division between the two kinds of book. For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that "nothing happens" when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.

This is a good translation of a very great book. St. Athanasius has suffered in popular estimation from a certain sentence in the "Athanasian Creed." I will not labour the point that that work is not exactly a creed and was not by St. Athanasius, for I think it is a very fine piece of writing. The words "Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly" are the offence. They are commonly misunderstood. The operative word is keep; not acquire, or even believe, but keep. The author, in fact, is not talking about unbelievers, but about deserters, not about those who have never heard of Christ, nor even those who have misunderstood and refused to accept Him, but of those who having really understood and really believed, then allow themselves, under the sway of sloth or of fashion or any other invited confusion to be drawn away into sub-Christian modes of thought. They are a warning against the curious modern assumption that all changes of belief, however brought about, are necessarily exempt from blame. But this is not my immediate concern. I mention "the creed (commonly called) of St. Athanasius" only to get out of the reader's way what may have been a bogey and to put the true Athanasius in its place. His epitaph is Athanasius contra mundum, "Athanasius against the world." We are proud that our own country has more than once stood against the world. Athanasius did the same. He stood for the Trinitarian doctrine, "whole and undefiled," when it looked as if all the civilised world was slipping back from Christianity into the religion of Arius—into one of those "sensible" synthetic religions which are so strongly recommended today and which, then as now, included among their devotees many highly cultivated clergymen. It is his glory that he did not move with the times; it is his reward that he now remains when those times, as all times do, have moved away.

When I first opened his De Incarnatione I soon discovered by a very simple test that I was reading a masterpiece. I knew very little Christian Greek except that of the New Testament and I had expected difficulties. To my astonishment I found it almost as easy as Xenophon; and only a master mind could, in the fourth century, have written so deeply on such a subject with such classical simplicity. Every page I read confirmed this impression. His approach to the Miracles is badly needed today, for it is the final answer to those who object to them as "arbitrary and meaningless violations of the laws of Nature." They are here shown to be rather the re-telling in capital letters of the same message which Nature writes in her crabbed cursive hand; the very operations one would expect of Him who was so full of life that when He wished to die He had to "borrow death from others." The whole book, indeed, is a picture of the Tree of Life—a sappy and golden book, full of buoyancy and confidence. We cannot, I admit, appropriate all its confidence today. We cannot point to the high virtue of Christian living and the gay, almost mocking courage of Christian martyrdom, as a proof of our doctrines with quite that assurance which Athanasius takes as a matter of course. But whoever may be to blame for that it is not Athanasius.

The translator knows so much more Christian Greek than I that it would be out of place for me to praise her version. But it seems to me to be in the right tradition of English translation. I do not think the reader will find here any of that sawdusty quality which is so common in modern renderings from the ancient languages. That is as much as the English reader will notice; those who compare the version with the original will be able to estimate how much wit and talent is presupposed in such a choice, for example, as "these wiseacres" on the very first page.

icon by a monk of Pachacamac


The Divine Dilemma and Its Solution in the Incarnation—continued

When God the Almighty was making mankind through His own Word, He perceived that they, owing to the limitation of their nature, could not of themselves have any knowledge of their Artificer, the Incorporeal and Uncreated. He took pity on them, therefore, and did not leave them destitute of the knowledge of Himself, lest their very existence should prove purposeless. For of what use is existence to the creature if it cannot know its Maker? How could men be reasonable beings if they had no knowledge of the Word and Reason of the Father, through Whom they had received their being? They would be no better than the beasts, had they no knowledge save of earthly things; and why should God have made them at all, if He had not intended them to know Him? But, in fact, the good God has given them a share in His own Image, that is, in our Lord Jesus Christ, and has made even themselves after the same Image and Likeness. Why? Simply in order that through this gift of Godlikeness in themselves they may be able to perceive the Image Absolute, that is the Word Himself, and through Him to apprehend the Father; which knowledge of their Maker is for men the only really happy and blessed life.
But, as we have already seen, men, foolish as they are, thought little of the grace they had received, and turned away from God. They defiled their own soul so completely that they not only lost their apprehension of God, but invented for themselves other gods of various kinds. They fashioned idols for themselves in place of the truth and reverenced things that are not, rather than God Who is, as St. Paul says, "worshipping the creature rather than the Creator."[1] Moreover, and much worse, they transferred the honor which is due to God to material objects such as wood and stone, and also to man; and further even than that they went, as we said in our former book. Indeed, so impious were they that they worshipped evil spirits as gods in satisfaction of their lusts. They sacrificed brute beasts and immolated men, as the just due of these deities, thereby bringing themselves more and more under their insane control. Magic arts also were taught among them, oracles in sundry places led men astray, and the cause of everything in human life was traced to the stars as though nothing existed but that which could be seen. In a word, impiety and lawlessness were everywhere, and neither God nor His Word was known. Yet He had not hidden Himself from the sight of men nor given the knowledge of Himself in one way only; but rather He had unfolded it in many forms and by many ways.
(12) God knew the limitation of mankind, you see; and though the grace of being made in His Image was sufficient to give them knowledge of the Word and through Him of the Father, as a safeguard against their neglect of this grace, He provided the works of creation also as means by which the Maker might be known. Nor was this all. Man's neglect of the indwelling grace tends ever to increase; and against this further frailty also God made provision by giving them a law, and by sending prophets, men whom they knew. Thus, if they were tardy in looking up to heaven, they might still gain knowledge of their Maker from those close at hand; for men can learn directly about higher things from other men. Three ways thus lay open to them, by which they might obtain the knowledge of God. They could look up into the immensity of heaven, and by pondering the harmony of creation come to know its Ruler, the Word of the Father, Whose all-ruling providence makes known the Father to all. Or, if this was beyond them, they could converse with holy men, and through them learn to know God, the Artificer of all things, the Father of Christ, and to recognize the worship of idols as the negation of the truth and full of all impiety. Or else, in the third place, they could cease from lukewarmness and lead a good life merely by knowing the law. For the law was not given only for the Jews, nor was it solely for their sake that God sent the prophets, though it was to the Jews that they were sent and by the Jews that they were persecuted. The law and the prophets were a sacred school of the knowledge of God and the conduct of the spiritual life for the whole world.
So great, indeed, were the goodness and the love of God. Yet men, bowed down by the pleasures of the moment and by the frauds and illusions of the evil spirits, did not lift up their heads towards the truth. So burdened were they with their wickednesses that they seemed rather to be brute beasts than reasonable men, reflecting the very Likeness of the Word.
(13) What was God to do in face of this dehumanising of mankind, this universal hiding of the knowledge of Himself by the wiles of evil spirits? Was He to keep silence before so great a wrong and let men go on being thus deceived and kept in ignorance of Himself? If so, what was the use of having made them in His own Image originally? It would surely have been better for them always to have been brutes, rather than to revert to that condition when once they had shared the nature of the Word. Again, things being as they were, what was the use of their ever having had the knowledge of God? Surely it would have been better for God never to have bestowed it, than that men should subsequently be found unworthy to receive it. Similarly, what possible profit could it be to God Himself, Who made men, if when made they did not worship Him, but regarded others as their makers? This would be tantamount to His having made them for others and not for Himself. Even an earthly king, though he is only a man, does not allow lands that he has colonized to pass into other hands or to desert to other rulers, but sends letters and friends and even visits them himself to recall them to their allegiance, rather than allow His work to be undone. How much more, then, will God be patient and painstaking with His creatures, that they be not led astray from Him to the service of those that are not, and that all the more because such error means for them sheer ruin, and because it is not right that those who had once shared His Image should be destroyed.
What, then, was God to do? What else could He possibly do, being God, but renew His Image in mankind, so that through it men might once more come to know Him? And how could this be done save by the coming of the very Image Himself, our Savior Jesus Christ? Men could not have done it, for they are only made after the Image; nor could angels have done it, for they are not the images of God. The Word of God came in His own Person, because it was He alone, the Image of the Father Who could recreate man made after the Image.
In order to effect this re-creation, however, He had first to do away with death and corruption. Therefore He assumed a human body, in order that in it death might once for all be destroyed, and that men might be renewed according to the Image. The Image of the Father only was sufficient for this need. Here is an illustration to prove it.
(14) You know what happens when a portrait that has been painted on a panel becomes obliterated through external stains. The artist does not throw away the panel, but the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again, and then the likeness is re-drawn on the same material. Even so was it with the All-holy Son of God. He, the Image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself, and seek out His lost sheep, even as He says in the Gospel: "I came to seek and to save that which was lost.[2] This also explains His saying to the Jews: "Except a man be born anew . . ."[3] a He was not referring to a man's natural birth from his mother, as they thought, but to the re-birth and re-creation of the soul in the Image of God.
Nor was this the only thing which only the Word could do. When the madness of idolatry and irreligion filled the world and the knowledge of God was hidden, whose part was it to teach the world about the Father? Man's, would you say? But men cannot run everywhere over the world, nor would their words carry sufficient weight if they did, nor would they be, unaided, a match for the evil spirits. Moreover, since even the best of men were confused and blinded by evil, how could they convert the souls and minds of others? You cannot put straight in others what is warped in yourself. Perhaps you will say, then, that creation was enough to teach men about the Father. But if that had been so, such great evils would never have occurred. Creation was there all the time, but it did not prevent men from wallowing in error. Once more, then, it was the Word of God, Who sees all that is in man and moves all things in creation, Who alone could meet the needs of the situation. It was His part and His alone, Whose ordering of the universe reveals the Father, to renew the same teaching. But how was He to do it? By the same means as before, perhaps you will say, that is, through the works of creation. But this was proven insufficient. Men had neglected to consider the heavens before, and now they were looking in the opposite direction. Wherefore, in all naturalness and fitness. desiring to do good to men, as Man He dwells, taking to Himself a body like the rest; and through His actions done in that body, as it were on their own level, He teaches those who would not learn by other means to know Himself, the Word of God, and through Him the Father.
(15) He deals with them as a good teacher with his pupils, coming down to their level and using simple means. St. Paul says as much: "Because in the wisdom of God the world in its wisdom knew not God, God thought fit through the simplicity of the News proclaimed to save those who believe."[4] Men had turned from the contemplation of God above, and were looking for Him in the opposite direction, down among created things and things of sense. The Savior of us all, the Word of God, in His great love took to Himself a body and moved as Man among men, meeting their senses, so to speak, half way. He became Himself an object for the senses, so that those who were seeking God in sensible things might apprehend the Father through the works which He, the Word of God, did in the body. Human and human minded as men were, therefore, to whichever side they looked in the sensible world they found themselves taught the truth. Were they awe-stricken by creation? They beheld it confessing Christ as Lord. Did their minds tend to regard men as Gods? The uniqueness of the Savior's works marked Him, alone of men, as Son of God. Were they drawn to evil spirits? They saw them driven out by the Lord and learned that the Word of God alone was God and that the evil spirits were not gods at all. Were they inclined to hero-worship and the cult of the dead? Then the fact that the Savior had risen from the dead showed them how false these other deities were, and that the Word of the Father is the one true Lord, the Lord even of death. For this reason was He both born and manifested as Man, for this He died and rose, in order that, eclipsing by His works all other human deeds, He might recall men from all the paths of error to know the Father. As He says Himself, "I came to seek and to save that which was lost."[5]
(16) When, then, the minds of men had fallen finally to the level of sensible things, the Word submitted to appear in a body, in order that He, as Man, might center their senses on Himself, and convince them through His human acts that He Himself is not man only but also God, the Word and Wisdom of the true God. This is what Paul wants to tell us when he says: "That ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the length and breadth and height and depth, and to know the love of God that surpasses knowledge, so that ye may be filled unto all the fullness of God."[6] The Self- revealing of the Word is in every dimension—above, in creation; below, in the Incarnation; in the depth, in Hades; in the breadth, throughout the world. All things have been filled with the knowledge of God.
For this reason He did not offer the sacrifice on behalf of all immediately He came, for if He had surrendered His body to death and then raised it again at once He would have ceased to be an object of our senses. Instead of that, He stayed in His body and let Himself be seen in it, doing acts and giving signs which showed Him to be not only man, but also God the Word. There were thus two things which the Savior did for us by becoming Man. He banished death from us and made us anew; and, invisible and imperceptible as in Himself He is, He became visible through His works and revealed Himself as the Word of the Father, the Ruler and King of the whole creation.
(17) There is a paradox in this last statement which we must now examine. The Word was not hedged in by His body, nor did His presence in the body prevent His being present elsewhere as well. When He moved His body He did not cease also to direct the universe by His Mind and might. No. The marvelous truth is, that being the Word, so far from being Himself contained by anything, He actually contained all things Himself. In creation He is present everywhere, yet is distinct in being from it; ordering, directing, giving life to all, containing all, yet is He Himself the Uncontained, existing solely in His Father. As with the whole, so also is it with the part. Existing in a human body, to which He Himself gives life, He is still Source of life to all the universe, present in every part of it, yet outside the whole; and He is revealed both through the works of His body and through His activity in the world. It is, indeed, the function of soul to behold things that are outside the body, but it cannot energize or move them. A man cannot transport things from one place to another, for instance, merely by thinking about them; nor can you or I move the sun and the stars just by sitting at home and looking at them. With the Word of God in His human nature, however, it was otherwise. His body was for Him not a limitation, but an instrument, so that He was both in it and in all things, and outside all things, resting in the Father alone. At one and the same time—this is the wonder— as Man He was living a human life, and as Word He was sustaining the life of the universe, and as Son He was in constant union with the Father. Not even His birth from a virgin, therefore, changed Him in any way, nor was He defiled by being in the body. Rather, He sanctified the body by being in it. For His being in everything does not mean that He shares the nature of everything, only that He gives all things their being and sustains them in it. Just as the sun is not defiled by the contact of its rays with earthly objects, but rather enlightens and purifies them, so He Who made the sun is not defiled by being made known in a body, but rather the body is cleansed and quickened by His indwelling, "Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth."[7]
(18) You must understand, therefore, that when writers on this sacred theme speak of Him as eating and drinking and being born, they mean that the body, as a body, was born and sustained with the food proper to its nature; while God the Word, Who was united with it, was at the same time ordering the universe and revealing Himself through His bodily acts as not man only but God. Those acts are rightly said to be His acts, because the body which did them did indeed belong to Him and none other; moreover, it was right that they should be thus attributed to Him as Man, in order to show that His body was a real one and not merely an appearance. From such ordinary acts as being born and taking food, He was recognized as being actually present in the body; but by the extraordinary acts which He did through the body He proved Himself to be the Son of God. That is the meaning of His words to the unbelieving Jews: "If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not; but if I do, even if ye believe not Me, believe My works, that ye may know that the Father is in Me and I in the Father."
Invisible in Himself, He is known from the works of creation; so also, when His Godhead is veiled in human nature, His bodily acts still declare Him to be not man only, but the Power and Word of God. To speak authoritatively to evil spirits, for instance, and to drive them out, is not human but divine; and who could see-Him curing all the diseases to which mankind is prone, and still deem Him mere man and not also God? He cleansed lepers, He made the lame to walk, He opened the ears of the deaf and the eyes of the blind, there was no sickness or weakness that-He did not drive away. Even the most casual observer can see that these were acts of God. The healing of the man born blind, for instance, who but the Father and Artificer of man, the Controller of his whole being, could thus have restored the faculty denied at birth? He Who did thus must surely be Himself the Lord of birth. This is proved also at the outset of His becoming Man. He formed His own body from the virgin; and that is no small proof of His Godhead, since He Who made that was the Maker of all else. And would not anyone infer from the fact of that body being begotten of a virgin only, without human father, that He Who appeared in it was also the Maker and Lord of all beside?
Again, consider the miracle at Cana. Would not anyone who saw the substance of water transmuted into wine understand that He Who did it was the Lord and Maker of the water that He changed? It was for the same reason that He walked on the sea as on dry land—to prove to the onlookers that He had mastery over all. And the feeding of the multitude, when He made little into much, so that from five loaves five thousand mouths were filled—did not that prove Him none other than the very Lord Whose Mind is over all?



Sunday 29 April 2012

by Dom Prosper Gueranger

Of all the Seasons of the Liturgical Year, Easter-tide is by far the richest in mystery. We might even say that Easter is the summit of the Mystery of the sacred Liturgy. The Christian who is happy enough to enter, with his whole mind and heart, into the knowledge and the love of the Paschal Mystery, has reached the very centre of the supernatural life. Hence it is, that the Church uses every effort in order to effect this: what she has hitherto done, was all intended as a preparation for Easter. The holy longings of Advent, the sweet joys of Christmas, the severe truths of Septuagesima, the contrition and penance of Lent, the heart-rending sight of the Passion,- all were given us as preliminaries, as paths, to the sublime and glorious Paseh, which is now ours.

And that we might be convinced of the supreme importance of this Solemnity, God willed that the Christian Easter and Pentecost should be prepared by those of the Jewish Law:- a thousand five hundred years of typical beauty prefigured the reality: and that reality is ours!

During these days, then, we have brought before us the two great manifestations of God’s goodness towards mankind :—the Pasch of Israel, and the Christian Pasch; the Pentecost of Sinai, and the Pentecost of the Church. We shall have occasion to show how the ancient figures were fulfilled in the realities of the new Easter and Pentecost, and how the twilight of the Mosaic Law made way f~r the full lay of the Gospel; but we cannot resist the feeling of holy reverence, at the bare thought that the Solemnities we have now to celebrate are more than three thousand years old, and that they are to be renewed every year from this till the V~CC if the Angel shall be heard proclaiming: ‘Time shall be no more !‘~ The gates of eternity will then be thrown open.

‘Apoc.x.6. 2Coloss. i.i5. 3Pon~J7eaieRom. InDedkp.Eccles.
Eternity in Heaven is the true Pasch: hence, our Pasch, here on earth, is the Feast of feasts, the Solemnity of solemnities. The human race was dead; it was the victim of that sentence, wierehy it was condemned to lie mere dust in the tomb; the gates of life were shut against it. But see the Son of God rises from His grave and takes possession of eternal life. Nor is He the only one that is to die no more, for, as the Apostle teaches us, He is the. first-born from the dead.’~ The Church would, there- fore, have us consider ourselves as having already risen with our Jesus, and as having already taken possession of eternal life. The holy Fathers bid us look on these fifty days of Easter, as the image of our eternal happiness. They are days devoted exclusively to joy; every sort of sadness is forbidden; and the Church cannot speak to her divine Spouse without joining to her words that glorious cry of heaven, the Alleluia, wherewith, as the holy Liturgy says,3 the streets and squares of the heavenly Jerusalem resound without ceasing. We have been forbidden the use of this joyous word during the past nine weeks; it behoved us to die with Christ:- but now that we have risen together with Him, from the tomb, and that we are resolved to die no more that death, which kills the soul, and called our Redeemer to die on the Cross, we have a right to our Alleluia.

2 Cant. ii. 10, 13.
The Providence of God, who has established harmony between the visible world and the supernatural work of grace, willed that the Resurrection of our Lord should take place at that particular season of the year, when even nature herself seems to rise from the grave. The meadows give forth their verdure, the trees resume their foliage, the birds fill the air with their songs, and the sun, the type of our triumphant Jesus, pours out his floods of light on our earth made new by lovely Spring. At Christmas, the sun had little power, and his stay with us was short; it harmonized with the humble birth of our Emmanuel, who came among us in the midst of night, and shrouded in swaddling clothes ; but now, He is ‘as a giant that runs his way, and there is no one that can hide himself from his heat.’1 Speaking, in the Canticle, to the faithful soul, and inviting her to take her part in this new life which He is now un parting to every creature, our Lord Himself says:
‘Arise, my dove, and come! Winter is now past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers have appeared in our land. The voice of the turtle is heard. The fig-free hath put forth her green figs. The vines, in flower, yield their sweet smell. Arise thou, and come !‘2

In the preceding chapter, we explained why our Saviour chose the Sunday for His Resurrection, whereby He conquered death and proclaimed life to the world. It was on this favoured day of the week, that He had, four thousand years previously, created the light; by selecting it now for the commencement of the new life He graciously imparts to man, He would show us that Easter is the renewal of the entire creation. Not only is the anniversary of His glorious Resurrection to be, henceforward, the greatest of days, but every Sunday throughout the year is to be a sort of Easter, a holy and sacred day. The Synagogue, by God’s command, kept holy the Saturday, or the Sabbath, and this in honour of God’s resting after the six days of the creation; but the Church, the Spouse, is commanded to honour the Work of her Lord. She allows the Saturday to pass,- it is the day her Jesus rested in the Sepulchre: but, now that she is illumined with the brightness of the Resurrection, she devotes to the contemplation of His Work the first day of the week; it is the day of light, for on it He called forth material light, (which was the first manifestation of life upon chaos,) and on the same, He that is the ‘Brightness of the Father,’1 and ‘the Light of the world,’2 rose from the darkness of the tomb.

‘Ps. xviii. 6, 7.
‘Heb. i. S.
2 St. John, viii. 12.
Let, then, the week with its Sabbath pass by; what we Christians want is the eighth day, the day that is beyond the measure of time, the day of eternity, the day whose light is not intermittent or partial, but endless and unlimited. Thus speak the holy Fathers, when explaining the substitution of the Sunday for the Saturday. It was, indeed, right that man should keep, as the day of his weekly and ~iritual repose, that on which the Creator of the visible world had taken His divine rest; but it was a commemoration of the material creation only. The Eternal Word comes down in the world that He has created; He comes with the rays of His divinity clouded beneath the humble veil of our flesh; He comes to fulfil the figures of the first Covenant. Before abrogating the Sabbath, He would observe it, as He did every tittle of the Law; He would spend it as the day of rest, after the work of His Passion, in the silence of the Sepulchre: but, early on the eighth day, He rises to life, and the life is one of glory. ‘Let us,’ says the learned and pious Abbot Rupert, ‘leave the Jews to enjoy the ancient Sab bath, which is a memorial of the visible creation. They know not how to love or desire or merit aught but earthly things. ... They would not recog nize this world’s Creator as their King, because He said: “Blessed are the poor!” and, ‘Wo to the rich!” But our Sabbath has been transferred from the seventh to the eighth day, and the eighth is the first. And rightly was the seventh changed into the eighth, because we Christians put our joy in a better work than the creation of the world.
‘De Divinis Offieiis, Jib. vii. cap. xix.Let the lovers of the world keep a Sabbath for its creation: but our joy is in the salvation of the world, for our life, yea and our rest, is hidden with Christ in God.”
The mystery of the seventh followed by an eighth day, as the holy one, is again brought before us by the number of weeks, which form Eastertide. These weeks are seven; they form a week of weeks, and their morrow is again a Sunday, the Feast of the glorious Pentecost. These mysterious numbers,— which God Himself fixed, when He instituted the first Pentecost after the first Pasch,—were followed by the Apostles, when they regulated the Christian Easter, as we learn from St. Hilary of Poitiers, St. Isidore, Amalarius, Rabanus Maurus, and from all the ancient interpreters of the mysteries of the holy Liturgy. ‘If we multiply seven by seven,’ says St. Hilary, ‘We shall find that this holy Season is truly the Sabbath of sabbaths; but what completes it, and raises it to the plenitude of the Gospel, is the eighth day which follows, eighth and first both together in itself. The Apostles have given so sacred an in stitution to these seven weeks that, during then no one should kneel, or mar by fasting the spiritual joy of this long Feast. The same institution has been extended to each Sunday; for this day which follows the Saturday has become, by the application of the progress of the Gospel, the completion of the Saturday, and the day of feast and joy.”
‘Prologu.s ii~ P-alinos.
Thus, then, the whole Season of Easter is marked with the mystery expressed by each Sunday of the year. Sunday is to us the great day of our wed because beautified with the splendour of our Lord’ Resurrection, of which the creation of material ugh was but a type. We have already said that the institution was prefigured in the Old Law, although the Jewish people were not in any way aware of ii Their Pentecost fell on the fiftieth day after the Pasch it was the morrow of the seven weeks. Another figure of our Eastertide was the year of Jubilee which God bade Moses prescribe to his people. Each fiftieth year, the houses and lands that had been alienated during the preceding forty-nine, returned to their original owners; and those Israelites, who have been compelled by poverty to sell themselves a slaves, recovered their liberty. This year which was properly called the Sabbatical year was the sequel of the preceding seven weeks of years, and was thu the image of our eighth day, whereon the Son of Mary, by His Resurrection, redeemed us from the slavery of the tomb, and restored us to the inheritance of our immortality.
Heb. xii. 29.
The rites peculiar to Eastertide, in the present discipline of the Church, are two: the unceasing repetition of the Alleluia, of which we have a1ready spoken and the colour of the Vestments used for its two great solemnities, white for the first, and red for the second. White is appropriate to the Resurrection; it is the mystery of eternal light, which knows neither spot nor shadow; it is the mystery that produces in a faithful soul the sentiment of purity and joy. Pentecost, which gives us the Holy Spirit, the ‘consuming Fire,’1 is symbolized by the red vestments, which express the mystery of the Divine Paraclete coming down iii the form of fiery tongues upon them that were assembled in the Cenacle. With regard to the ancient usage of not kneeling during Paschal Time, we have already said, ti at there is a mere vestige of it now left in the Latin Liturgy.
The Saints’ Feasts, which were interrupted during Holy Week, are likewise excluded from the first eight days of Eastertide; but these ended, we shall have them in rich abundance, as a bright constellation of stars round the divine Sun of Justice, our Jesus. They will accompany us in our celebration of His admirable Ascension; but such is the grandeur of the mystery of Pentecost, that, from the eve of that day, they will be again interrupted until the expiration of Paschal Time.
The rites of the primitive Church with reference to the Neophytes, who were regenerated by Baptism on the night of Easter, are extremely interesting and instructive But as they are peculiar to the two Octaves of Easter and Pentecost, we will explain them as they are brought before us by the Liturgy of those days

Saturday 28 April 2012

[Irenikon] St. Basil and the Holy Spirit

St. Basil and Faith in the Holy Spirit
3rd Lenten Homily 
Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFMCap
March 23, 2012

1. Faith tends to reality

Philosopher Edmund Husserl summarized the program of his phenomenology in the motto: Zu den Sachen selbst!, to go to things themselves, to things as they are in reality, before their conceptualization and formulation. Another philosopher who came after him, Sartre, says that “words and with them the meaning of things and the ways of their use” are but “the tiny signs of recognition that men have traced on their surface”: one must go beyond them to have the unexpected revelation, which leaves one breathless, of the “existence” of things.[1]

Saint Thomas Aquinas formulated much earlier a similar principle in reference to things or to the objects of faith: “Fides non terminatur ad enunciabile, sed ad rem”: faith does not end in enunciations, but in reality.[2] The Fathers of the Church are unsurpassable models of this faith which does not stop at formulas, but which goes to reality. The Golden Age of the Fathers and Doctors having past, we witness almost immediately what a scholar of Patristic thought describes as “the triumph of formalism.”[3] Concepts and terms, such as substance, person, hypostasis, are analyzed and studied for themselves, without constant reference to the reality that the architects of the dogma tried to express with them.

Athanasius is, perhaps, the most exemplary case of a faith that is more concerned with the thing than with its enunciation. For some time, after the Council of Nicaea, he seemed to ignore the term homousios, consubstantial, although defending its contents tenaciously as we saw last time, namely the full divinity of the Son and his equality with the Father. He is quick also to accept terms that for him are equivalent, in order to make clear that his intention was to maintain firm the faith of Nicaea. Only in a second moment, when he realized that the term was the only one that left no way out for heresy, did he made ever greater use of it.

This fact is worth noticing because we know the damages caused to ecclesial communion from giving more importance to agreement on terms than to the contents of the faith. In recent years it has been possible to re-establish communion with some Eastern Churches, the so-called Monophysite or Nestorian, having recognized that their quarrel with the faith of Chalcedon was in the different meaning attributed to the terms ousia and hypostasis, and not with the substance of the doctrine. Also the agreement between the Catholic Church and the World Federation of Lutheran Churches on the subject of justification through faith, signed in 1998, showed that the secular quarrel on this point was more in the terms than in the reality. Once formulas are coined, they tend to fossilize, becoming banners and signs of membership, more than expressions of a lived faith.

2. Saint Basil and the Divinity of the Holy Spirit
Today we climb onto the shoulders of another giant, Saint Basil the Great (329-379), to scrutinize with him another reality of our faith, the Holy Spirit. We will see right away how he is also a model of faith that does not stop at formulas but goes to the reality.
On the divinity of the Holy Spirit, Basil does not say the first or the last word, that it, it is not with him that the debate opens or with him that it is closed. The one who opened the discourse on the ontological status of the Spirit was Saint Athanasius. Before him, the doctrine on the Paraclete remained in the shadow and one can also understand why: the position of the Holy Spirit in the divinity could not be defined before the Son’s was defined. Because of this, one was limited to repeat in the symbol of the faith: “and I believe in the Holy Spirit,” without other additions.

In the Letter to Serapion, Athanasius opened the debate that would lead to the definition of the divinity of the Holy Spirit in the Council of Constantinople of 381. He teaches that the Spirit is fully divine, consubstantial with the Father and the Son, that he does not belong to the world of creatures, but to that of the Creator and the proof, here as well, is that his contact sanctifies us, divinizes us, something he would be unable to do if he himself were not God.

I said that Basil does not even say the last word. He avoids applying to the Paraclete the title of “God” and that of “consubstantial.” He affirms clearly faith in the full divinity of the Spirit using equivalent expressions, such as equality with the Father and the Son in adoration (the isotimia), his homogeneity, and not heterogeneity, in relation to them. These are terms with which the divinity of the Holy Spirit was defined in the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople of 381 and which articulate the article of faith on the Holy Spirit that we still profess today in the Creed:
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life,who proceeds from the Father (and the Son).With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.He has spoken through the Prophets. 
Basil’s prudent attitude, meant to avoid distancing the opposing party of the Macedonians even more, drew the criticism of Gregory of Nazianz who places his friend among those who had enough courage to think that the Holy Spirit is God, but not enough to proclaim him such explicitly. Shattering any delay, he writes “Is the Spirit therefore God? Certainly! Is he consubstantial? Yes, if it is true that he is God.”[4]

Hence, if on the theology of the Holy Spirit, Basil does not say either the first or the last word, why should we choose him as our teacher of faith in the Paraclete? It is because Basil, as Athanasius before him, is more concerned with the “thing” than with its formulation, more concerned with the full divinity of the Spirit than with terms with which to express such faith. The thing, to express ourselves in the terms of Thomas Aquinas, is of greater interest to him than its enunciation. He transports us to what is central to the person and action of the Holy Spirit.

Basil’s is a concrete pneumatology, lived, not scholastically but “functionally” in the most positive sense of the term, and it is what renders him particularly timely and useful for us today. Because of the known question of the Filioque, pneumatology ended by restricting itself in the course of the centuries almost solely to the problem of the way of procession of the Holy Spirit: from the Father alone, as the Orientals say, or also from the Son (Filioque), as the Latins profess. Something of the concrete pneumatology of the Fathers has passed to the treatises on “the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit,” but limited to the ambit of personal sanctification and the contemplative life.

Vatican Council II initiated a renewal in this field, for example, when it moved the charisms from hagiography, that is, the life of the saints, to ecclesiology, that is, the life of the Church, speaking of them in Lumen Gentium.[5] However, it was just a beginning; there is still a long way to go to bring to light the action of the Holy Spirit in all the experience of the people of God. On the occasion of the 16th centenary of the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople of 381, Blessed John Paul II wrote an Apostolic Letter in which he said, among other things: “All the work of renewal of the Church that Vatican Council II so providentially proposed and initiated … cannot be realized except in the Holy Spirit, that is, with the help of the his light and his strength.”[6] We will see that Basil is, in fact, our guide on this path.

3. The Holy Spirit in the History of Salvation and in the Church
It is interesting to know the origin of his treatise on the Holy Spirit. It is curiously linked to the prayer of the Gloria Patri. During a liturgy, Basil pronounced the doxology sometimes in the form: “Glory be to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit,” at other times in the form: “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.” This second form brought more clearly to light than the first the equality of the three Persons, coordinating rather than subordinating them among themselves. In the overly heated climate of the discussions on the nature of the Holy Spirit, this sparked protests and Basil wrote his work to justify his operation; in practice, to defend against the Macedonian heretics the full divinity of the Holy Spirit.

However, we come immediately to the point for which, I said, Basil’s doctrine reveals itself as particularly timely: his capacity to bring to light the action of the Spirit in every moment of the history of salvation and in every sector of the life of the Church. He begins with the work of the Spirit in creation.

“In the creation of beings the first cause of all that comes into existence is the Father, the instrumental cause is the Son, and the perfecting cause is the Spirit. It is by the will of the Father that created spirits subsist; it is by the operative strength of the Son that they are led to being and it is by the presence of the Spirit that they attain perfection … If one tries to subtract the Spirit from creation, all things are confused and their life appears without law, without order, without any determination.”[7]

Saint Ambrose would take up this thought of Basil, bringing it to a thought-provoking conclusion. Referring to the first two verses of Genesis (“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep”) he observes:
“When the Spirit began to hover over it, creation did not yet have any beauty. Instead, when creation received the operation of the Spirit, it obtained all this splendor of beauty that makes it shine as ‘world.’”[8]

In other words, the Holy Spirit is he who makes creation pass from chaos to the cosmos, which makes of it something beautiful, ordered: a world that is “clean” (mundus), according to the original meaning of this word and of the Greek word cosmos. We now know that the creative action of God is not limited to the initial instant, as the deist and mechanistic view of the universe thought. God was not “once” but always a Creator. This means that the Holy Spirit is he who continually fashions the universe, the Church and every person to pass from chaos to cosmos, that is, from disorder to order, from confusion to harmony, from deformity to beauty, from oldness to newness. Not of course mechanically and all at once, but in the sense that he is at work in it and guides to an end its very evolution. He is the one who always “creates and renews the face of the earth” (cf. Psalm 104: 30).

This does not mean, Basil explained in the same text, that the Father created something imperfect and “chaotic” which was in need of corrections; it was simply the design and will of the Father to create through the Son and lead beings to perfection through the Spirit.

From creation the holy Doctors pass to illustrates the presence of the Spirit in the work of redemption:
“In regard to the plan for man’s salvation (oikonomia), the work of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, established according to the will of God, who could contest its fulfillment through the grace of the Spirit?”[9]

At this point, Basil abandons himself to a contemplation of the presence of the Spirit in the life of Jesus which is one of the most beautiful passages of his work and opens to pneumatology a field of research which only recently has begun to be taken into consideration again.[10] The Holy Spirit was already at work in the proclamation of the prophets and in the preparation for the coming of the Savior; it was by his power that the incarnation in Mary’s womb was realized; he was the chrism with which Jesus was anointed by God in baptism. Every work of Jesus was realized with the presence of the Spirit. He “was present when Jesus was tempted by the devil, when he worked miracles; the Spirit did not leave him when he rose from the dead, and on the day of Easter he poured the Spirit on the disciples (cf. John 20:22f.). The Paraclete was “the inseparable companion” of Jesus during his whole life.

From the life of Jesus, Saint Basil passes to illustrate the presence of the Spirit in the Church:
“Does not the organization of the Church make clear the incontestable work of the Spirit? He himself has given the Church, says Paul, in the first place the Apostles, then the prophets, then the teachers … This order is organized in keeping with the diversity of the gifts of the Spirit.”[11]

In the Anaphora that bears the name of Saint Basil, which our present Eucharistic Prayer IV has followed closely, the Holy Spirit has a central place.

The last description is concerned with the presence of the Paraclete in eschatology: “Also at the moment of the event of the awaited manifestation of the Lord of the heavens – writes Basil – the Holy Spirit will not be absent.” This moment will be, for the saved, the passage from the “first fruits to the full possession of the Spirit” and for the reprobates the definitive separation,between the soul and the Spirit.[12]

4. The Soul and the Spirit
However, Saint Basil does not stop at the action of the Spirit in the history of salvation and in the Church. As an ascetic and spiritual man, his main interest is in the action of the Spirit in the personal life of every Christian. Although not yet establishing the distinction and order of the three stages of the spiritual life that will become classic later on, he brings marvelously to light the action of the Holy Spirit in the purification of the soul from sin, in its illumination and divinization that he also calls “intimacy with God.”[13]

We can do no less than read the page in which, in continuous reference to Scripture, the Saint describes this action, and allow ourselves to be transported by his enthusiasm:
“The relationship of familiarity of the Spirit with the soul, is not a drawing close in space – as if one comes close, in fact, to the incorporeal corporally – but consists, rather, in the exclusion of the passions, which, as a consequence of their attraction for the flesh, enslave the soul and separate it from union with God. Purified from the filth of which it was riddled through sin and returned to its natural beauty, as if restoring to a royal image its old form through purification, only in this way is it possible to draw near to the Paraclete. In the blessed contemplation of the image, you will see the unspeakable beauty of the archetype. Through him hearts are raised, the weak are taken by the hand, those who are progressing reach perfection. He, illuminating those who have been purified from every stain, renders them spiritual through communion with him. And as limpid and transparent bodies, when a ray strikes them, become splendid themselves and reflect another ray, thus souls bearers of the Spirit are illumined by the Spirit; they themselves become fully spiritual and return grace to others. From here stems their foreknowledge of future things; understanding of mysteries; perception of hidden things; the distribution of charisms, heavenly citizenship; dance with the angels; endless joy; permanence in God, likeness to God; fulfillment of desires: becoming God.”[14]

It was not difficult for scholars to discover behind Basil’s text, images and concepts derived from Plotinus’ Enneads and to talk, in this connection, of an extraneous infiltration in the body of Christianity. In reality, it is an exquisitely biblical and Pauline topic that is expressed, as was right and proper, in familiar and meaningful terms for the culture of the time. At the base of everything, Basil does not put man’s action -- contemplation -- but the action of God and the imitation of Christ. We are poles apart from Plotinus’ vision and from every philosophy. For him, everything begins with Baptism which is a new birth. The decisive act is not at the end, but at the beginning of the journey:
“As in the double race of the stadiums, a stop and a rest separate the courses in the opposite sense, so also in the changing of life it seems necessary that a death come between the two lives to put an end to what preceded and to give a start to subsequent things. How is one able to descend into hell? By imitating the burial of Christ through Baptism.”[15]

The background is the same as Paul’s. In the sixth chapter of the Letter to the Romans, the Apostle speaks of the radical purification from sin that occurs in Baptism and in the eighth chapter he describes the battle that, sustained by the Spirit, the Christian must engage in for the rest of his life, against the desires of the flesh, to advance in the new life:
“Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. […] So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live” (Romans 8:5-13).

We should not be surprised if to illustrate the task described by Saint Paul, Basil made use of an image of Plotinus. It is at the origin of one of the most universal metaphors of the spiritual life and it speaks to us today no less than it did to the Christians of that time:
“Come now!, return to yourself and look; and if you still do not see yourself beautiful, imitate the author of a statue that must succeed in being beautiful: he in part chisels, in part levels; here he polishes, there he sharpens, until he has expressed a beautiful face in the statue. Similarly, you also must take away the superfluous, straighten that which is crooked, and, in the fury of purifying what is dark, make it become lucid and do not cease to torment your statue until the divine splendor of virtue shines before you.”[16]

If, as Leonardo da Vinci said, sculpture is the art of removing, the philosopher is right in comparing purification and holiness to sculpture. For the Christian, however, it is not about attaining an abstract beauty or building a beautiful statue, but about bringing to light and rendering ever more resplendent the image of God that sin tends continually to cover.

It is said that one day Michelangelo, strolling in a courtyard of Florence, saw a block of rough stone covered with dust and mud. He stopped suddenly to look at it, then, as if illuminated by a flash of lightning, said to those present: “An angel is hidden in this mass of stone. I want to bring him out!” And he began to work with his scalpel to give shape to the angel he had glimpsed. So it is with us. We are still masses of rough stone, with so much “dirt” and useless pieces on our back. God the Father looks at us and says: “Hidden in this piece of stone is the image of my Son; I want to bring it out, so that it will shine in eternity beside me in heaven!” And to do this he uses the scalpel of the cross, he prunes us. (cf. John 15:2).

The most generous not only endure the blows of the scalpel that come from outside, but they also collaborate because of all that has been given them, imposing on themselves little or great voluntary mortifications and breaking their old will. A desert Father said:
“If we wish to be completely liberated, let us learn to break our will and thus, little by little, with the help of God, we will advance and arrive at full liberation from the passions. It is possible to break one’s will ten times in a very brief time and I will tell you how. One is strolling and sees something; his thought says to him: ‘Look there!’ but he answers his thought: ‘No, I will not look!’ and he breaks his will.”[17]

This ancient Father gives other examples drawn from his monastic life. If someone is speaking badly of somebody, perhaps of the Superior, your old man tells you: “Take part also. Say what you know.” But you answer: “No!” And you mortify the old man” … But it is not difficult to lengthen the list with other acts of self-denial, according to the state in which one lives and the office one holds.

Hence, if we live complying with the desires of the flesh we are like the two famous “Bronzes of Riace,” at the moment in which they were rescued from the bottom of the sea, all covered with incrustations and barely recognizable as human figures. If we also wish to shine, as these two masterpieces after their restoration, Lent is the opportune time to get to work.

5. A “Spiritual” Mortification
There is a point in which the transformation of Plotinus’ ideal into a Christian ideal remained incomplete, or at least not very explicit. Saint Paul, we heard, says: “If through the Spirit you make the works of the body die, you will live.” The Spirit, hence, is not only the fruit of mortification but also that which makes it possible; it is not only at the end of the journey but also at the beginning. The Apostles did not receive the Spirit at Pentecost because they had become fervent; they became fervent because they had received the Spirit.

The three Cappadocian Fathers were essentially ascetics and monks. Basil, in particular, with his monastic Rules (Asceticon!), was one of the founders of Christian asceticism. This led him to emphasize strongly the importance of man’s effort. Gregory of Nyssa, brother and disciple of Basil, would write in this line:

“In the measure that you develop your struggles for piety, in this same measure is also developed the grandeur of the soul through these struggles and these efforts.”[18]

In the following generation, this vision of ascesis was taken up and developed by spiritual authors, such as John Cassian, but removed from the solid theological base that it had in Basil and Gregory of Nyssa. It is from this point – notes Bouyer – that Pelagianism, putting human effort before grace, got its start.”[19] However, this negative success cannot be imputed to Basil or the Cappadocians.

To conclude we return to the reason that renders Basil’s doctrine on the Holy Spirit perennially valid and today, I said, more than ever, timely and necessary: its concreteness and adherence to the life of the Church. We Latins have a privileged means to make our own and to transform into prayer this same type of pneumatology: the hymn of the Veni creator.

It is from beginning to end a praying contemplation of what the Spirit does concretely throughout the earth and in humanity as the creator Spirit; in the Church, as Spirit of sanctification (gift of God, living water, fire, love and spiritual unction) and as charismatic Spirit (multi-form in your gifts, finger of the right hand of God, who puts the word on lips); in the life of the individual believer, as light for the mind, love for the heart, healing for the body; as our ally in the fight against evil and guide in discerning the good.

Let us invoke him with the words of the first stanza, asking him to make our world and our soul pass from chaos to the cosmos, from dispersion to unity, from the ugliness of sin to the beauty of grace.
Veni, Creator Spiritus, 
O Spirit that quickens creation,
Mentes tuorum visita,
permeate your faithful in their innermost being
Imple superna gratia
pour the fullness of grace
Quae tu creasti pectora. 
into the hearts you created for yourself.

--- --- ---
[1] J.P. Sartre, La Nausea, Ital. trans., Milan 1984, p. 193 f.
[2] Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologica, II-IIae, q. 1, a. 2, ro 2.
[3] Cf. G. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought, London 1936, chapt. XIII (Ital. trans., Dio nel pensiero dei Padri, Bologna, il Mulino, 1969, pp. 273 ff).
[4] Gregory Nazianzen, Oratio 31, 5.10; cf. also Oratio 6: “Until when will we keep the lamp hidden under the bushel and not proclaim in a loud voice the full divinity of the Holy Spirit?”
[5] Cf. Lumen Gentium, 12.
[6] John Paul II. “To the Constantinopolitan Council I,” in AAS 73, 1981, p. 521.
[7] Basil, On the Holy Spirit, XVI, 38 (PG 32, 137B); Ital. Trans. By E. Cavalcanti, L’esperienza di Dio nei Padri Greci, Rome, 1984.
[8] Ambrose, On the Holy Spirit, II, 32.
[9] Basil, On the Holy Spirit, XVI, 39.
[10] J. D. G. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, London 1988.
[11] Basil, On the Holy Spirit, XVI, 39.
[12] Ibid. XVI, 40.
[13] Ibid., XIX, 49.
[14] Ibid., IX, 23.
[15] Ibid., XV, 35.
[16]Plotinus, Enneads I, 9 (Ital. trans. By V. Cilento, vol. I, Laterza, Bari 1973, p. 108).
[17] Doroteus of Gaza, Teachings 1,20 (SCh 92, p. 177).
[18] Gregory of Nyssa, De instituto christiano (ed. W. Jaeger, Two Rediscovered Works, Leida 1954, p. 46.
[19] L. Bouyer, La spiritualita dei Padri, Edizioni Dehoniane, Bologna 1968, p. 

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