"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

Thursday 31 January 2013

Spiritual Reflection addressed to Benedictine Communities

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is already a month since the end of the Congress of Abbots and the regular daily routine at Sant’Anselmo has begun. I want to fulfil my promise to the abbots and from time to time send not only a report about events at Sant’Anselmo and in the Confederation, but also some spiritual reflections.
In the context of ‘Sentire cum Ecclesia’, of thinking and feeling with the Church, I should like today to start with the most recent event in the Church, the Synod of Bishops on the theme of the 
New Evanglization, during with the Holy Father  proclaimed a Year of Faith. The participants at the synod have composed a message to the faithful in very vivid language. I hope that this will soon be translated into other languages so that it will be accessible to all.

At the begining of this message is the image of the Samaritan woman with Jesus at Jacob’s well. Finally, it is not she who gives Jesus water to drink, rather, he offers her water, but of a completely different, life-giving, kind. Our well is also the Word of the Good News. It is inexhaustible. We imbibe this water in prayerful reading; it transforms us and makes us witness for others. It permits us already to participate in eternal life.

New Evanglization begins with ourselves. We direct our lives completely according to God’s Word, we allow ourselves to be gripped my him, steeped in him and slowly changed so that it no longer we who live but Christ lives in us. This is a slow and difficult process. God has no easy job with us until he can fully give us the gift of his life. 

The approaching season of Advent is a welcome opportunity to reflect on the process of being formed in and by Christ and with this becoming truly human, an opportunity to start to walk this path with courage.This is the only way that we can give true testimony to Christ and his Gospel. This is applies to every one of us, not only personally as individuals but no less to our lives in community. The inner relationship with God that we foster becomes visible in the sincere, loving relationships we have with others. 

Our specifically Benedictine contribution to witness in the Church, - indeed our Benedictine responsibility - is to radiate as communities the love of Christ. ‘Evangelization’, say the Synodal Fathers, ‘is not the task of any one individual, but of the community of the Church as such.’ (n.8)For this transformation in Christ it is not enough simply to experience a rush of hearfelt emotion. 

God also gave us our reason in order better to explore the depths of the mysteries of the Faith. ‘Fides quaerens intellectum – Faith that seeks to understand,’ was the motto of St. Anselm, the patron of our university and college. This means to investigate the revealed mystery with all the capacities of a reason enlightened by faith. Faith must find its place in the human mind and in a university in the form of genuine scholarship and research. That is our goal here in Sant’Anselmo and that must be the goal of all formation and continuing formation  of our brothers and sisters. Our Faith embraces both our complete trust in God as well as our assent to what he has revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

It is not only a question of our own better understanding of ourfaith and a more authentic form of living, but also to become credible and competent partners in dialogue with the searching people of our time. In this we have learn to listen rather than to lecture. Many knock on the doors of our monasteries and guest-houses. They are looking for an answer to their problems or at least a person who can go a stretch of the way with them in understanding. Very often, spiritual and psychological needs are greater than material needs. We have a well from which we can draw a water we can offer 
to others.

At a time when the marketplace is crammed with those offering messages of various kinds, in some cases messages that attack or ridicule our Faith, it is not enough to cut ourselves off: we must involve ourselves wherever the opportunity presents itself in the debates in our various societies.

The Synodal Fathers speak again and again of  a dialogue which is needed on all fronts. This brings with it the risk that we may have no more success than  St. Paul in the Agora at Athens. But even there some found their way to the Faith. It is only through serious philosophical and theological studies, through an interest in and understanding of how our fellow human-beings think, that we acquire the competence necessary for this dialogue. It is also true that our contemporaries need to be addressed in a language they can understand and we will find this language only when we question ourselves and seek our answers from within our own lived Faith.

Like the Fathers of the Church, The Synodal Fathers speak of the grain of truth in other religions, Is it possible to discover similar grains of truth in our secularized environment, in the deisre for honesty and transparency, for justice and solidarity, in concern for and preservation of the natural environment in which future generations are going to have to live?

Dear brothers and sisters, in the New Evanglization we have a mighty task before us, and not just a task but a responsibility. We cannot and may not opt out of this world and withdraw to a comfortable cocooned existence. All of us, according to his or her vocation and manner of life, are challenged to bear witness to the Gospel and to proclaim in the words of St. Paul, ‘ Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel!’ (1 Cor 9.16). Mission is one of the essential marks of the Church.

I wish you God’s blessing in all your efforts, and remain with fraternal greetings,

+ Notker Wolf OSB
    Abbot Primate
 November, 2012




Wednesday 30 January 2013

THE TRUTH OF ORTHODOXY by Nikolai Berdyaev

I am publishing this article from one of the greatest Christian thinkers of the first half of the twentieth century. I am in full agreement with everything he says about Orthodoxy, except when he compares it with Catholicism.  That is because I am a Catholic and, obviously, I look on things from a different perspective.   For me, Catholicism in much more than the dominant trends in the understanding of the Church that Catholics normally portrayed  when Nikolai Berdyaev got to know it.   Like Orthodoxy, we draw from a Tradition that is much wider and deeper than anything that becomes the fashion in any particular age.   He was part of that immigration to France of Russian Orthodox theologians and thinkers which seemed to those who left Russia to be the result of a disaster in their homeland, but was an essential ingredient of Catholic renewal which began in Vatican II...Perhaps I should re-write that:  It is impossible to exaggerate the influence of these Russian Orthodox on people like de Lubac, Danielou, Bouyer and, later, on Joseph Ratzinger during the Council and Hans urs von Balthasar.   This means it is impossible to neglect their influence on the document about the nature of the Church and the constitution on the Liturgy; but they had no influence on how the Liturgical Renewal would be  implemented.   That is the problem that Pope Benedict XVI has been trying to solve.  

This article shows us the problem as is seen by this great Orthodox thinker.   In the video of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware speaking on Orthodox-Catholic relations, we will see the problem from the point of view of the Orthodox Church now in the modern world.   

There is a new factor in the equation that is turning the Catholic-Orthodox conversation from an argument into a dialogue in which no one is quite sure of the outcome: it is called "eucharistic ecclesiology", first formulated by Alexander Afanasyev, one of the Paris theologians and founder of the Liturgical Week which broke the ice between Catholic and Orthodox theologians.   In the words of the present pope, this theology accepts the Mass or Divine Liturgy as the very constitution of the Church from which all powers are derived and in relation to which all aspects and dimensions of the Church are best understood.   As both sides accept this as a basis for discussion, we are in truly new, or very ancient, territory. 

The Truth of Orthodoxy

by Nikolai A. Berdyaev

(In "Vestnik of the Russian West European Patriarchal Exarchate" - Paris 1952 The Editors consider it their duty to offer this as yet unpublished essay on the pages of the "Vestnik")

The Christian world doesn't know Orthodoxy too well. It only knows the external and for the most part, the negative features of the Orthodox Church and not the inner spiritual treasure. Orthodoxy was locked inside itself, it did not have the spirit of proselytism and did not reveal itself to the world. For the longest time Orthodoxy did not have such world-wide significance as did Catholicism and Protestantism. It remained apart form passionate religious battles for hundreds of years, for centuries it lived under the protection of large empires (Byzantium and Russia) and preserved its eternal truth from the destructive processes of world history. It is characteristic for Orthodoxy's religious nature that it was not sufficiently actualized nor exposed externally, it was not militant, and precisely because of this the heavenly truth of Christian revelation was not distorted so much. Orthodoxy is that form of Christianity which suffered the least distortion in its substance as a result of human history. The Orthodox Church had its moments of historical sin, for the most part in connection with its external dependence on the State, but the Church's teaching, her inner spiritual path was not subject to distortion. The Orthodox Church is primarily the Church of tradition, in contrast to the Catholic Church, which is the Church of authority, and to the Protestant Churches which are essentially churches of individual faith. The Orthodox Church was never subject to a single externally authoritarian organization and it unshakenly was held together by the strength of internal tradition and not by any external authority. Out of all forms of Christianity it is the Orthodox Church which remained more closely tied to early Christianity. The strength of internal tradition in the Church is the strength of spiritual experience and the continuity of the spiritual path, the power of superpersonal spiritual life in which every generation shakes off a consciousness of self-satisfaction and exclusiveness and is united with the spiritual life of all preceding generations up to the Apostles. In that tradition I have the same experience and the same authority as the Apostle Paul, the martyrs, the saints and the whole Christian world. In tradition my knowledge is not only personal but superpersonal and I live not in isolation but within the Body of Christ, within a single spiritual organism with all my brothers in Christ.

Orthodoxy is first of all, an orthodoxy of life and not an orthodoxy of indoctrination. For it, heretics are not so much those who confess a false doctrine but those who have a false spiritual life and go along a false spiritual path. Orthodoxy is before all else, not a doctrine, not an external organization, not an external norm of behavior but a spiritual life, a spiritual experience and a spiritual path. It sees the substance of Christianity in internal spiritual activity. Orthodoxy is less the normative form of Christianity (in the sense of a normative-rational logic and moral law) but is rather its more spiritual form. And this spirituality and hiddenness of Orthodoxy were not infrequently the sources of its external weakness. The external weakness and the insufficient development, the insufficiency of external activity and realization affects everyone, but her spiritual life, her spiritual treasures remained hidden and invisible. This is characteristic for the spiritual nature of the East, in contrast to the spiritual world of the West, which is always active and always visible but then, it not infrequently spiritually exhausts itself because of all that activity. In the non-Christian world of the East, India's spiritual life is especially hidden from outside eyes and is not actualized in history. This analogy could be carried through, although the spiritual nature of the Christian East is far different from the spiritual nature of India. Holiness in the Orthodox world, in contrast to holiness in the Catholic world, did not leave written monuments after itself, it remained hidden. But this is not yet the reason why it is difficult to judge Orthodox spiritual life from the outside. Orthodoxy did not have its Scholastic age, it experienced only the age of Patristics. And the Orthodox Church to this day relies on the Eastern teachers of the Church. The West sees this as a sign of Orthodoxy's backwardness, a dying out of creative life. But this fact can be given another interpretation: in Orthodoxy, Christianity has not been so rationalized as it had been rationalized in the West, in Catholicism where, with the help of Aristotle it saw everything through the eyes of Greek intellectualism. [In Orthodoxy] doctrine has never attained such a sacred significance and dogmas have not been so attached to mandatory intellectual theological teachings but they were understood primarily as mystical truths. We were less confined by the theological and philosophical interpretations of dogmas. Nineteenth century Russia experienced a genesis of creative Orthodox ideas [thinking] and these expressed more freedom and spiritual talent than did Catholic and even Protestant thought.

To the spiritual nature of Orthodoxy belongs the primordial and inviolable ontologism which first presented itself as the manifestation of Orthodox life and only then, of Orthodox thought. The Christian West went by ways of critical thought in which the subject was opposed to the object, and thus the organic whole of thinking and the organic connection with life was violated. The West is more capable of a complex unfolding of its thinking, its reflection and criticism, its precise intellectualism. But here was a violation of the connection between the one who knows and thinks and the primordial and original existence. Cognition came out of life and thinking, came out of existence. Cognition and thinking did not pass through the spiritual wholeness of the person, in the organic unity of all his strengths. The West accomplished great feats on this foundation but this resulted in the falling apart of the primordial ontologism of thinking, the thinking did not enter into the depth of substance. This resulted in Scholastic intellectualism, rationalism, empiricism and the extreme idealism of Western thought. On the Orthodox ground, thinking remained ontological, joined to existence, and this is evident throughout the whole of Russian religio-philosophic and theological thought of the XIX and XX centuries. Rationalism, legalism and all normatism is alien to Orthodoxy. The Orthodox Church is not defined in rational concepts, it is conceptualized only for those living within it, who are united to its spiritual experience.. The mystical types of Christianity are not subject to any kind of intellectual definitions, they do not have any juridical signs nor do they have rational signs. Genuine Orthodox theologizing is theologizing on the basis of spiritual experience. Orthodoxy almost completely lacks Scholastic manuals. Orthodoxy understands itself through Trinitarian religion; not with abstract monotheism but in concrete Trinitarianism. The life of the Holy Trinity is reflected in its spiritual life, its spiritual experience and its spiritual path. The Orthodox Liturgy begins with the words: "Blessed is the Kingdom, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Everything begins from above, from the Divine Triad, from the heights of the Essence, and not from the person and his soul. In Orthodox understanding it is the Divine Triad which descends and not the person who ascends. There is less of thisTrinitarian expression in Western Christianity, it is more Christocentric and anthropocentric. This difference is noted in Eastern and Western patristics where the first theologizes from the Divine Trinity and the second, from the human soul. Thus the East first of all proclaims the mysteries of Trinitarian dogmas and Christological dogmas. The West primarily teaches about Grace and free will and about the ecclesiastical organization. The West had greater wealth and a greater variety of ideas.

Orthodoxy is that Christianity wherein is a greater revelation of the Holy Spirit. Thus the Orthodox Church did not adopt the Filioque, which is seen as a subordination in the teaching about the Holy Spirit. The nature of the Holy Spirit is revealed not so much by dogmas and doctrines but by its action. The Holy Spirit is closer to us, it is more immanent in the world. The Holy Spirit acts directly upon the created world and transfigures creation. This teaching is revealed by the greatest of Russian saints, Seraphim of Sarov. Orthodoxy is not only Trinitarian in essence but it sees as the task of its earthly life, the transfiguration of the world in the image of the Trinity and have it become pneumatic [Grk. Spiritual] in essence.

I am speaking about the depths of mysteries in Orthodoxy and not of superficial trends in it. Pneumatologic [Grk. Spiritual] theology, the anticipation of a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the world arises easier on Orthodox soil. This is the remarkable particularity of Orthodoxy: on the one hand it is more conservative and traditional than Catholicism and Protestantism but, on the other hand, within the depth of Orthodoxy there is always a great expectation of a new religious manifestation in the world, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the coming of the New Jerusalem. Orthodoxy did not develop in history for nearly the whole millennium; evolution is a stranger to it but within it the possibility of religious creativity was concealed, which is held in reserve for a new, not yet achieved, historical epoch. This became evident in Russian religious trends of the XIX and XX centuries. Orthodoxy makes a more radical division between the Divine and the natural world, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar and does not accept those possible analogies which are frequently evident in Catholic theology. The Divine Energies act covertly in man and in the world. One cannot say about the created world that it is a god or is divine, nor can one say that it is outside the Divine. God and Divine life do not resemble the natural world or the natural life, one cannot make analogies here. God is eternal; natural life is limited and finite. But, Divine Energy is poured out upon the natural world, acts upon it and enlightens it. This is the Orthodox understanding of the Holy Spirit. Thomas Aquinas' teaching about the natural world, positing it in opposition to the supernatural world is, for the Orthodox, a form of secularizing the world. Orthodoxy is in principle pneumatological [Grk. Of the spirit] and in this is its distinction. Pneumatism is the final result of Trinitarianism. Grace is not the mediation between the supernatural and the natural; grace is the action of the Divine Energy on the created world, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the world. It is the Pneumatism of Orthodoxy which makes of it a more complete form of Christianity, revealing in it the predominance of New Testamental origins following those of the Old Testament. At its apex, Orthodoxy understands the purpose of life as the seeking and the attainment of the grace of the Holy Spirit, as a means of the spiritual transfiguration of creation. This understanding is essentially opposite of the legalistic understanding in which the Divine world and the supernatural world is the law and the norm for the created and natural world.

Orthodoxy is primarily liturgical. It informs and enlightens the people not so much by sermons and the teaching of norms and laws but by liturgical services themselves which give a foreshadowing of transfigured life. It likewise teaches the people through the examples of saints and instills the cult of holiness. But the images of saints are not normative; to them is granted the graceful enlightenment and transfiguration of creation by the action of the Holy Spirit. This, not being the normative type for Orthodoxy, makes it more difficult for the ways of human life, for history; it makes it less attractive for any kind of organization and for cultural creativity. The hidden mystery of the Holy Spirit's activity upon creation has not been actually realized by the ways of historical life. Characteristic for Orthodoxy is FREEDOM. This internal freedom may not be noticed from the outside but it is everywhere present. The idea of freedom as the foundation of Orthodoxy was developed in Russian religious thinking of the XIX and XX centuries. The admission of the freedom of conscience radically distinguishes the Orthodox Church from the Catholic Church. But the understanding of freedom in Orthodoxy is different from the understanding of freedom in Protestantism. In Protestantism, as in all Western thought, freedom is understood individualistically, as a personal right, preserved from encroachment on the part of any other person, and declaring it to be autonomous. Individualism is foreign to Orthodoxy, to it belongs a particular collectivism. A religious person and a religious collective are not incompatible with each other, as external friend to friend. The religious person is found within the religious collective and the religious collective is found within the religious person. Thus the religious collective does not become an external authority for the religious person, burdening the person externally with teaching and the law of life. The Church is not outside of religious persons, opposed to her. The Church is within them and they are within her. Thus the Church is not an authority. The Church is a grace-filled unity of love and freedom. Authoritativeness is incompatible with Orthodoxy because this form engenders a fracture between the religious collective and the religious person, between the Church and her members. There is no spiritual life without the freedom of conscience, there is not even a concept of the Church, since the Church does not tolerate slaves within her, but God wants only the free. But the authentic freedom of religious conscience, freedom of the spirit, is made evident not in an isolated autonomous personality, self-asserted in individualism but in a personality conscious of being in a superpersonal spiritual unity, in a unity with a spiritual organism, within the Body of Christ, i.e. the Church. My personal conscience is not placed outside and is not placed in opposition to the superpersonal conscience of the Church, it is revealed only within the Church's conscience. But, without an active spiritual deepening of my personal conscience, of my personal spiritual freedom, the life of the Church is not realized, since this life cannot be external to, nor be imposed upon, the person. Participation in the Church demands spiritual freedom, not only from the first entry into the Church, which Catholicism also recognizes, but throughout one's whole life. The Church's freedom with respect to the State was always precarious, but Orthodoxy always enjoyed freedom within the Church. In Orthodoxy freedom is organically linked with Sobornost', i.e. with the activity of the Holy Spirit upon the religious collective which has been with the Church not only during the times of the Ecumenical Councils, but at all times. Sobornost' in Orthodoxy, which is the life of the Church's people, never had any external juridical signs. Not even the Ecumenical Councils enjoyed indisputable external authority. The infallibility of authority was enjoyed only by the whole Church throughout her whole history, and the bearers and custodians of this authority were the whole people of the Church. The Ecumenical Councils enjoyed their authority not because they conformed with external juridical legal requirements but because the people of the Church, the whole Church recognized them as Ecumenical and genuine. Only that Ecumenical Council is genuine in which there was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit; the outpouring of the Holy Spirit has no external juridical criteria, it is discerned by the people of the Church in accordance with internal spiritual evidence. All this indicates a nonnormative nonjuridical character of the Orthodox Church. Along with this the Orthodox consciousness understands the Church more ontologically, i.e. it doesn't see the Church primarily as an organization and an establishment, not just a society of faithful, but as a spiritual, religious organism, the Mystical Body of Christ. Orthodoxy is more cosmic than Western Christianity. Neither Catholicism nor Protestantism sufficiently expresses the cosmic nature of the Church, as the Body of Christ. Western Christianity is primarily anthropological. But the Church is also the Christianized cosmos; within her, the whole created world is subject to the effect of the grace of the Holy Spirit. Christ's appearance has a cosmic, cosmogonic significance; it signifies somehow a new creation, a new day of the world's creation. The juridical understanding of redemption as a carrying out of a judicial process between God and man, is somewhat foreign to Orthodoxy. It is closer to an ontological and a cosmic understanding of the appearance of a new creation and a renewed mankind. The idea of Theosis was the central and correct idea, the Deification of man and of the whole created world. Salvation is that Deification. And the whole created world, the whole cosmos is subject to Deification. Salvation is the enlightenment and transfiguration of creation and not a juridical justification. Orthodoxy turns to the mystery of the RESURRECTION as the summit and the final aim of Christianity Thus the central feast in the life of the Orthodox Church is the feast of Pascha, Christ's Glorious Resurrection. The shining rays of the Resurrection permeates the Orthodox world. The feast of the Resurrection has an immeasurably greater significance in the Orthodox liturgy than in Catholicism where the apex is the feast of the Birth of Christ. In Catholicism we primarily meet the crucified Christ and in Orthodoxy - the Resurrected Christ. The way of the Cross is man's path but it leads man, along with the rest of the world, towards the Resurrection. The mystery of the Crucifixion may be hidden behind the mystery of the Resurrection. But the mystery of the Resurrection is the utmost mystery of Orthodoxy. The Resurrection mystery is not only for man, it is cosmic. The East is always more cosmic than the West. The West is anthropocentric; in this is its strength and meaning, but also its limitation. The spiritual basis of Orthodoxy engenders a desire for universal salvation. Salvation is understood not only as an individual one but a collective one, along with the whole world. Such words of Thomas Aquinas could not have emanated from Orthodoxy's bosom, who said that the righteous person in paradise will delight himself with the suffering of sinners in hell. Nor could Orthodoxy proclaim the teaching about predestination, not only in the extreme Calvinist form but in the form imagined by the Blessed Augustine. The greater part of Eastern teachers of the Church, from Clement of Alexandria to Maximus the Confessor, were supporters of Apokatastasis, of universal salvation and resurrection. And this is characteristic of (contemporary) Russian religious thought. Orthodox thought has never been suppressed by the idea of Divine justice and it never forgot the idea of Divine love. Chiefly - it did not define man from the point of view of Divine justice but from the idea of transfiguration and Deification of man and cosmos.

Finally, the final and most important feature of Orthodoxy is its eschatological consciousness. The early Christian eschatology, the anticipation of Christ's second appearance and the coming of the Resurrection, was to a greater extent, preserved in Orthodoxy. Orthodox eschatology means a lesser attachment to the world and earthly life and a greater turning towards heaven and eternity, i.e. to the Kingdom of God. In Western Christianity, the actualization of Christianity in the paths of history, the turning towards earthly efficiency and earthly organization resulted in the obscuring of the eschatological mystery, the mystery of Christ's second coming. In Orthodoxy, primarily as a result of its lesser historical activity, the great eschatological anticipation was preserved. The apocalyptic side of Christianity had less of an expression in the Western forms of Christianity. In the East, in Orthodoxy, especially in Russian Orthodoxy, there were apocalyptic tendencies, the anticipation of new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Orthodoxy, being a more traditional, a more conservative form of Christianity, while preserving the ancient truths, allowed for the possibility of a greater religious innovation, not innovations of human thought which is so prominent in the West, but innovations of the religious transfiguration of life.The primacy of the fulness of life over the differentialized culture was always especially characteristic for Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy did not see such a great culture which arose on the grounds of Catholicism and Protestantism. Perhaps this is so because Orthodoxy is turned towards the Kingdom of God which will come not as a consequence of historical evolution, but as a result of the mystical transfiguration of the world. It is not evolution but transfiguration which is characteristic for Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy cannot be known through surviving theological tracts; it is made known through the life of the Church and the Church's people, it is least of all expressed in understanding. But, Orthodoxy must come out from its condition of being shut up and isolated, it must actualize its hidden spiritual treasures. Only then will it attain worldwide meaning. The recognition of Orthodoxy's exclusive spiritual significance as a more pure form of Christianity must not engender self-satisfaction within it and lead to a rejection of the meaning of Western Christianity. On the contrary, we must aquaint ourselves with Western Christianity and learn many things from it. We must strive towards Christian unity. Orthodoxy is a good basis for Christian unity. But Orthodoxy suffered less from secularization and thus can contribute an immeasurable amount towards the Christianization of the world. The Christianization of the world must not mean a secularization of Christianity. Christianity can not be isolated from the world and it continues to move within it, without separation, and while remaining in the world it must be the conqueror of the world and not be conquered by it.

From the editors:

Being a loyal son of the Orthodox Church, N.A.Berdyaev remained an independent thinker in his philosophical creativity, which he himself repeatedly pointed out. For this reason his testimony about the Truth of Orthodoxy is that much more valuable for us, being unencumbered with the conventional and frequently lifeless language of "scholastic theology."

Translated from the Russian by A.S. III

Of course, we see Catholic theology as anything but lifeless.

Tuesday 29 January 2013


So bound up is the life of St. Thomas Aquinas with the thirteenth century that the year in which the century reached its mid-point, 1250, was likewise the mid-point of Thomas' life, though he was only twenty-five years old at the time and still sitting at the feet of Albertus Magnus as a student in the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Cologne. The thirteenth century has been called the  specifically "Occidental" century. The significance of this epithet has not always been completely clarified, but in a certain sense I too accept the term. I would even assert that the special quality of "Occidentality" was ultimately forged in that very century, and by Thomas Aquinas himself. It depends, however, on what we understand by "OccidentaIity." We shall have more to say on this matter.

There exists the romantic notion that the thirteenth century was an era of harmonious balance, of stable order, and of the free flowering of Christianity. Especially in the realm of thought, this was not so. The Louvain historian Fernand van Steenberghen speaks of the thirteenth century as a time of "crisis of Christian intelligence"; [1] and Gilson comments: "Anybody could see that a crisis was brewing." [2]

What, in concrete terms, was the situation? First of all we must point out that Christianity, already besieged by Islam for centuries, threatened by the mounted hordes of Asiatics (1241 is the year of the battle with the Mongols at Liegnitz)—that this Christianity of the thirteenth century had been drastically reminded of how small a body it was within a vast non-Christian world. It was learning its own limits in the most forceful way, and those limits were not only territorial. Around 1253 or 1254 the court of the Great Khan in Karakorum, in the heart of Asia, was the scene of a disputation of two French mendicant friars with Mohammedans and Buddhists. Whether we can conclude that these friars represented a "universal mission sent forth out of disillusionment with the old Christianity," [3] is more than questionable. But be this as it may, Christianity saw itself subjected to a grave challenge, and not only from the areas beyond its territorial limits.

For a long time the Arab world, which had thrust itself into old Europe, had been impressing Christians not only with its military and political might but also with its philosophy and science. Through translations from the Arabic into Latin, Arab philosophy and Arab science had become firmly established in the heart of Christendom—at the University of Paris, for example. Looking into the matter more closely, of course, we are struck by the fact that Arab philosophy and science were not Islamic by origin and character. Rather, classical ratio, epitomized by Aristotle, had by such strangely involved routes come to penetrate the intellectual world of Christian Europe. But in the beginning, at any rate, it was felt as something alien, new, dangerous, "pagan."

During this same period, thirteenth-century Christendom was being shaken politically from top to bottom. Internal upheavals of every sort were brewing. Christendom was entering upon the age "in which it would cease to be a theocratic unity," [4] and would, in fact, never be so again. In 1214 a national king (as such) for the first time won a victory over the Emperor (as such) at the Battle of Bouvines. During this same period the first religious wars within Christendom flared up, to be waged with inconceivable cruelty on both sides. Such was the effect of these conflicts that all of southern France and northern Italy seemed for decades to be lost once and for all to the corpus of Christendom. Old monasticism, which was invoked as a spiritual counterforce, seems (as an institution, that is to say, seen as a whole) to have become impotent, in spite of all heroic efforts to reform it (Cluny, Cîteaux, etc.). And as far as the bishops were concerned—and here, too, of course, we are making a sweeping statement—an eminent Dominican prior of Louvain, who incidentally may have been a fellow pupil of St. Thomas under Albertus Magnus in Cologne, wrote the following significant homily: In 1248 it happened at Paris that a cleric was to preach before a synod of bishops; and while he was considering what he should say, the devil appeared to him. "Tell them this alone," the devil said. "The princes of infernal darkness offer the princes of the Church their greetings. We thank them heartily for leading their charges to us and commend the fact that due to their negligence almost the entire world is succumbing to darkness." [5]

But of course it could not be that Christianity should passively succumb to these developments. Thirteenth-century Christianity rose In Its own defense, and in a most energetic fashion. Not only were great cathedrals built in that century; It saw also the founding of the first universities. The universities undertook, among other things, the task of assimilating classical ideas and philosophy, and to a large extent accomplished this task.

There was also the whole matter of the "mendicant orders," which represented one of the most creative responses of Christianity. These new associations quite unexpectedly allied !hemselves with the institution of the university. The most important university teachers of the century, in Paris as well as in Oxford, were all monks of the mendicant orders. All in all, nothing seemed to be "finished"; everything had entered a state of flux. AIbertus Magnus voiced this bold sense of futurity in the words: Scientiae demonstrativae non omnes factae sunt, sed plures restant adhuc inveniendae; most of what exists in the realm of knowledge remains still to be discovered. [6]


The mendicant orders took the lead in moving out into the world beyond the frontiers of Christianity. Shortly after the middle of the century, while Thomas was writing his Summa Against the Pagans, addressed to the mahumetistae et pagani, [7] the Dominicans were founding the first Christian schools for teaching the Arabic language. I have already spoken of the disputation between the mendicant friars and the sages of Eastern faiths in Karakorum. Toward the end of the century a Franciscan translated the New Testament and the Psalms into Mongolian and presented this translation to the Great Khan. He was the same Neapolitan, John of Monte Corvino, who built a church alongside the Imperial Palace in Peking and who became the first Archbishop of Peking.

This mere listing of a few events, facts, and elements should make it clear that the era was anything but a harmonious one. There is little reason for wishing for a return to those times—aside from the fact that such wishes are in themselves foolish.

Nevertheless, it may be said that in terms of the history of thought this thirteenth century, for all its polyphonic character, did attain something like harmony and "classical fullness." At least this was so for a period of three or four decades. Gilson speaks of a kind of "serenity." [8] And although that moment in time is of course gone and cannot ever again be summoned back, it appears to have left its traces upon the memory of Western Christianity, so that it is recalled as something paradigmatic and exemplary, a kind of ideal spirit of an age which men long to see realized once more, although under changed conditions and therefore, of course, in some altogether new cast.

Now as it happens, the work of Thomas Aquinas falls into that brief historical moment. Perhaps it may be said that his work embodies that moment. Such, at any rate, is the sense in which St. Thomas' achievement has been understood in the Christian world for almost seven hundred years; such are the terms in which it has repeatedly been evaluated. Not by all, to be sure (Luther called Thomas "the greatest chatterbox" among the scholastic theologians [9]); but the voices of approbation and reverence have always predominated. And even aside from his written work, his personal destiny and the events of his life unite virtually all the elements of that highly contradictory century in a kind of "existential" synthesis. We shall now speak of these matters at greater length, and in detail.

First of all, a few remarks regarding books.

The best introduction to the spirit of St. Thomas is, to my mind, the small book by G. K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas. [10] This is not a scholarly work in the proper sense of the word; it might be called journalistic—for which reason I am somewhat chary about recommending it. Maisie Ward, co-owner of the British-American publishing firm which publishes the book, writes in her biography of Chesterton [11] that at the time her house published it, she was seized by a slight anxiety. However, she goes on to say, Étienne Gilson read it and commented: "Chesterton makes one despair. I have been studying St. Thomas all my life and I could never have written such a book." Still troubled by the ambiguity of this comment, Maisie Ward asked Gilson once more for his verdict on the Chesterton book. This time he expressed himself in unmistakable terms: "I consider it as being, without possible comparison, the best book ever written on St. Thomas. . . . Everybody will no doubt admit that it is a 'clever' book, but the few readers who have spent twenty or thirty years in studying St. Thomas Aquinas, and who, perhaps, have themselves published two or three volumes on the subject, cannot fail to perceive that the so-called 'wit' of Chesterton has put their scholarship to shame. . . . He has said all that which they were more or less clumsily attempting to express in academic formulas." Thus Gilson. I think this praise somewhat exaggerated; but at any rate I need feel no great embarrassment about recommending an "unscholarly" book. 


[1] Fernand van Steenberghen, Le XIIIe siècle. In Forest, van Steenberghen, and de Gandillac, Le Mouvement doctrinal du Xle au XIVe siècle. Fliche-Martin, Histoire de l'Eglise vol. 13 (Paris, 1951), p. 303.

[2] Etienne Gilson, History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages (London and New York, 1955), p. 325.

[3] Friedrich Reer, Europäische Geistesgeschichte (Stuttgart, 1953), p.147.

[4] Marie-Dominique Chenu, Introduction à l'etude de St. Thomas d'Aquin (Paris—Montreal, 1950), p. 13.

[5] Gustav Schnürer, Kirche und Kultur im Mittelalter (Paderborn, 1926), II, p. 441.

[6] Liber primus Posteriorum Analyticorum, tract. 1, cap. 1 Opera Omnia. Ed. A. Borgnet (Paris, 1890), tom. 2, p. 3.

[7] C. G. 1,2.

[8] Gilson, History, p. 325.

[9] Joseph Lortz, Die Reformation in Deutschland (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1939), I, p. 352.

[10] Heidelberg, 1956.

[11] Maisie Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton (New York, 1943), p. 620. 

Editor's note: Pieper's book was originally published in English in 1962 by Pantheon Books. The Ignatius Press edition was published in 1991. 

Monday 28 January 2013


Here is the hundred-word Latin text of this bright gem of eremitical spirituality, recorded about 1006 twenty years before Romuald ’ s death by Saint Bruno of Querfurt in his Life of the Five Brothers. It was as reported to him by one of those martyrs named John, who, like Bruno, knew Romuald well.

Et hanc brevem regulam a magistro Romualdo accepit, quam custodire in vita ipse multum sollicitus fuit:

1. Sede in cella quasi in paradiso;

2. proice post tergum de memoria totum mundum,

3. cautus ad cogitationes, quasi bonus piscator ad pisces.

4. Una via est in psalmis; hanc ne dimittas. Si non potes omnia, qui venisti fervore novicio, nunc in hoc, nunc in illo loco psallere in spiritu et intelligere mente stude, et cum ceperis vagare legendo, ne desistas, sed festina intelligendo emendare;

5. pone te ante omnia in presentia Dei cum timore et tremore, quasi qui stat in conspectu imperatoris;

6. destrue te totum,

7. et sede quasi pullus, contentus ad gratiam Dei, qui, nisi mater donet, nec sa­pit nec habet quod comedat.

And he received this brief rule from Master Romuald, which he was very careful to practice throughout his life:

1. Sit in the cell as in paradise;

2. cast all memory of the world behind you;

3. cautiously watching your thoughts, as a good fisher watches the fish.

4. In the Psalms there is one way. Do not abandon it. If you who have come with the fervor of a novice cannot understand everything, strive to recite with understanding of spirit and mind, now here, now there, and when you begin to wander while reading, do not stop, but hasten to correct yourself by concentrating.

5. Above all, place yourself in the presence of God with fear and trembling, like someone who stands in the sight of the emperor;

6. destroy yourself completely,

7. and sit like a chick, content with the grace of God, for unless its mother gives it something, it tastes nothing and has nothing to eat.

In summary, Saint Romuald ’ s seven-step Brief Rule for novice-hermits comprises a surprisingly rich set of exercises for training in contemplation which succinctly cover the following topics:

(1) posture, place, solitude, inner peace, and joy;

(2) detachment and liberation for concentration;

(3) self-observation and analysis for purity of mind and heart;

(4) attentively praying the Psalms as seeds of meditation;

(5) reverent, compunctious practice of the presence of God;

(6) intensive ascetical inner overcoming of faults;

(7) childlike humility and receptivity to grace.

If this summary strikes the reader as rather modern and up-to-date, there is a simple explanation: the basic process of the inner Christian reform as lived and transmitted by Anthony, Romuald, Francis, and Charles de Foucauld is a permanent fixture, like the death and resurrection of Christ, which does not change with passing trends in spirituality.

By radiantly living and teaching the powerful principles of his Brief Rule, Saint Romuald made a major contribution to the spiritual health of the Church in the West, because he renewed in it that essential element of its inner life: the contemplative, semi-eremitical small community. Today his sons are continuing to make that healing gift to the House and People of God.


To Rev. Fr Guido Innocenzo Gargano, Superior of the Monastery of San Gregorio al Celio

Today’s Feast of St Peter Damian offers me the pleasant opportunity to address a cordial greeting to all the members of the worthy Camaldolese Order, as well as to those who admire and are inspired by the figure and work of this great Gospel witness. He was one of the protagonists of Medieval Church history and undoubtedly the most prolific writer of the 11th century.

The 1,000th anniversary of his birth is an especially appropriate occasion to examine closely the aspects characterizing his multifacetted personality as scholar, hermit and man of the Church, but especially as a person in love with Christ.

In his life, St Peter Damian was proof of a successful synthesis of hermitic and pastoral activity. As a hermit, he embodied that Gospel radicalism and unreserved love for Christ, so well expressed in the Rule of St Benedict: “Prefer nothing, absolutely nothing, to the love of Christ”.

As a man of the Church, he worked with farsighted wisdom and when necessary also made hard and courageous decisions. The whole of his human and spiritual life was played out in the tension between his life as a hermit and his ecclesiastical duty.

St Peter Damian was above all a hermit, indeed, the last theoretician of the hermitic life in the Latin Church exactly at the time of the East-West schism. In his interesting work entitled The Life of Blessed Romuald, he left us one of the most significant fruits of the monastic experience of the undivided Church. For him, the hermitic life was a strong call to rally all Christians to the primacy of Christ and his lordship.

It is an invitation to discover Christ’s love for the Church, starting from his relationship with the Father; a love that the hermit must in turn nourish with, for and in Christ, in regard to the entire People of God. St Peter Damian felt the presence of the universal Church in the hermitic life so strongly that he wrote in his ecclesiological treatise entitled Dominus Vobiscum that the Church is at the same time one in all and all in each one of her members.

This great holy hermit was also an eminent man of the Church who made himself available to move from the hermitage to go wherever his presence might be required in order to mediate between contending parties, were they Churchmen, monks or simple faithful.

Although he was radically focused on the unum necessarium, he did not shirk the practical demands that love for the Church imposed upon him. He was impelled by his desire that the Ecclesial Community always show itself as a holy and immaculate Bride ready for her heavenly Bridegroom, and expressed with a lively ars oratoria his sincere and disinterested zeal for the Church’s holiness.

Yet, after each ecclesial mission he would return to the peace of the hermitage at Fonte Avellana and, free from all ambition, he even reached the point of definitively renouncing the dignity of Cardinal so as not to distance himself from his hermitic solitude, the cell of his hidden existence in Christ.

Lastly, St Peter Damien was the soul of the “Riforma gregoriana”, which marked the passage from the first to the second millennium and whose heart and driving force was St Gregory VII. It was, in fact, a matter of the application of institutional decisions of a theological,disciplinary and spiritual character which permitted a greater libertas Ecclesiae in the second millennium. They restored the breath of great theology with reference to the Fathers of the Church and in particular, to St Augustine, St Jerome and St Gregory the Great. With his pen and his words he addressed all: he asked his brother hermits for the courage of a radical self-giving to the Lord which would as closely as possible resemble martyrdom; he demanded of the Pope, Bishops and ecclesiastics a high level of evangelical detachment from honours and privileges in carrying out their ecclesial functions; he reminded priests of the highest ideal of their mission that they were to exercise by cultivating purity of morals and true personal poverty.

In an age marked by forms of particularism and uncertainties because it was bereft of a unifying principle, Peter Damien, aware of his own limitations -- he liked to define himself as peccator monachus -- passed on to his contemporaries the knowledge that only through a constant harmonious tension between the two fundamental poles of life -- solitude and communion -- can an effective Christian witness develop. Does not this teaching also apply to our times? I gladly express the hope that the celebration of the Millennium of his birth may not only contribute to rediscovering the timeliness and depth of his thought and action, but may also be an appropriate opportunity for a personal and communitarian spiritual renewal, starting constantly from Jesus Christ, “the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Heb 13:8).

I assure a remembrance in prayer for you and for all the Camaldolese Monk Hermits to whom I send a special Apostolic Blessing, gladly extending it to all those who share their spirituality.

From the Vatican, 20 February 2007

© Copyright 2007 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

We will now analyze Blessed Paul Giustiniani’s doctrine on prayer. The hermit’s principal ideal, aim, or task is continual prayer (Lk 18:1), that is, constant union with God. There is no fixed time for mental prayer in the eremitic life, unlike other religious institutes, because prayer is to be unceasing, a kind of spiritual equivalent to breathing. How can one enter into this prayer? Blessed Paul takes up again the doctrine (then attributed to Saint Bernard) of Guigo II the Carthusian. This commonly-accepted monastic approach to prayer, called lectio divina or divine reading , can be explained as a ladder (Guigo’s Scala Claustralium) of four rungs: (1) lectio (reading), (2) meditatio (meditation), (3) oratio (prayer), and (4) contemplatio (contemplation).

(1) Lectio, as the initial and fundamental element (Coronese Constitutions 31), gives the entire procedure of four steps its name analogically. This reading is called divine because its object is divine revelation, the Word of God heard in faith. One seeks this Word either in the Bible (also heard read in its entirety each year in the liturgy) or in some other devout book faithfully echoing Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture.

(2) Meditatio or meditation is a careful thinking over of what has been read and focuses on very definite dogmatic and moral considerations . One needs an appreciation of the basic standards of interpreting Scripture and of its various senses. Meditation can also legitimately pass beyond what has just been read to other points gleaned outside the time of private prayer.

(3) Oratio makes use of the truths and sentiments found by meditation in any of an infinite multitude of possible acts of affective prayer. Ejaculatory prayer formulas could be used at this stage, such as the invocation of the name of Jesus as practiced in the Eastern Church, which Eastern practice would reinforce in the body by the fingering of beads, bows, and the like. Even though prayer most narrowly defined means asking God for something, yet its wider and widest senses, namely the ascent of the mind to God and colloquy with God, are equally relevant and ought not be neglected. Blessed Paul says he prayed, in the first place, by confession of his misery and unworthiness; then by adoration, confession (of praise), thanksgiving, invocation, awaiting, and desire. These acts of prayer agree with the more compact typology of 1 Tim 2:1: supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings.

(4) Contemplatio or contemplation moves from the many acts of the previous step to a single act. Beginners may achieve this level seldom and but briefly. The starting point of contemplation will later be called the prayer of simplicity by Bishop Bossuet and subsequent theologians. In order to enter into this state, Giustiniani bids us to be empty for and towards God, vacare Deo (cf. the English cognates vacuum and vacation ), disencumbered of all attachment to creatures and expectant like the hungry chick of Saint Romuald’s Brief Rule. This is the adoring silence of apophatism, which eventually can give birth to annihilation, an ecstatic absorption in God, and Blessed Paul’s experience of these resembles that of other mystics. Saint John of the Cross tells us (Ascent II 24:9): . . . God . . . is incomprehensible and above all, and therefore it befits us to go to God by the negation of all. And Aquinas (cited by Maritain, The Degrees of Knowledge V:23) summarizes thus Pseudo-Dionysius’ interpretation of Ex 20:21: At the end of our knowledge, we know God precisely as unknown.

To ascend through these stages is to proceed from a solid grounding of the mind in truth to a more precious exercise of the will in hope and love, for character is in the will, not in the intellect (Archbishop Sheen, quoted in Reeves’biography, p.144). The effort this ascent requires must not be stinted, because, through the practice of the seven gifts, the divine movement of actual grace, which is the soul of prayer, comes to be received no longer violently, but connaturally.

The foregoing analysis will help us understand better Blessed Paul’s distinctive teaching on methodless prayer. The famous four grades elaborated by Guigo II, noted by both Blessed Paul and the redactors of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and just expounded do not constitute a method in the strict sense. They are, rather, moments in a movement of interiorization of the Word of God. And yet Giustiniani does admit of what Leclercq calls the method of prior asceticism , that is, of remote and proximate preparation for prayer. Remote preparation is living a holy life, which detaches the mind from worldly preoccupations and disposes it for that ascent to God which is, as we have seen, prayer’s broader definition. This remote preparation includes the practice of the virtues, liturgical worship, and discipline of the senses (the Camaldolese trinomium is solitude, silence, and fasting). Proximate preparation comprises the first two rungs of Guigo’s ladder, reading and meditation. Now beyond such somewhat methodical remote and proximate preparation, we must climb up to the third and even, if possible, to the fourth rung. At this point, Giustiniani’s counsel to eschew method comes fully into force, and with evident wisdom. Human planning and effort have served their purpose and run their course. They must now give place to the subtle groanings of the Spirit (Rom 8:26-27). His influence must be sought reverently and clung to tranquilly for as long as it lasts. If Blessed Paul requires a daily half hour of stillness in prayer, with a reverent and vigilant posture and in a sacred place, this is to assure that our own actions are not so unremitting as to block the Spirit’s initiatives. We should allow Him to lead us either to multiply acts of prayer, or to ascend to contemplation, or even to return to reading and meditation. And normally He will provide us with some word to hold fast patiently in our hearts (Lk 8:15), as Mary did (Lk 2:19, 51), to sustain what the Holy Fathers call the remembrance of God. The mouth of the just shall meditate wisdom. . . . (Ps 36 (37):30; cf. Ps 1:2 and Jos 1:8).

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Sunday 27 January 2013


God is a Lover who hungers to be loved in return. Burning with this vision of faith, Catherine Doherty challenged Christians of her day to live a radical Gospel life and to recognize God’s image in every human being. 

 Young Catherine Kolyschkine She was a pioneer among North American Catholic laity in implementing the Church’s social doctrine in the face of Communism, economic and racial injustice, secularism and apathy. At the same time she insisted that those engaged in social action be rooted in prayer and that they incarnate their faith into every aspect of ordinary life. 

Catherine was a bridge between the Christian East and West. Baptized Orthodox and later becoming Roman Catholic, her spiritual heritage drew upon both of these traditions. Catherine Kolyschkine was born in Nizhny-Novgorod, Russia, on August 15, 1896 to wealthy and deeply Christian parents. Raised in a devout aristocratic family, she grew up knowing that Christ lives in the poor, and that ordinary life is meant to be holy. Her father’s work enabled the family to travel extensively in Catherine’s youth. 

At the age of 15, she married her cousin, Boris de Hueck. Soon, the turmoil of World War I sent them both to the Russian front: Boris as an engineer, Catherine as a nurse. The Russian Revolution destroyed the world they knew. Many of their family members were killed, and they themselves narrowly escaped death at the hands of the Bolsheviks. 

The Revolution marked Catherine for life. She saw it as the tragic consequence of a Christian society’s failure to incarnate its faith. All her life she cried out against the hypocrisy of those who professed to follow Christ, while failing to serve him in others. Catherine and Boris became refugees, fleeing first to England, and then in 1921, to Canada, where their son George was born. In the following years she experienced grinding poverty as she laboured to support her ailing husband and child. After years of painful struggle, her marriage to Boris fell apart; later her marriage was annulled by the Church. 

 Catherine, Baroness Catherine’s talent as a speaker was discovered by an agent from a lecture bureau. She began travelling across North America, and became a successful lecturer. Once again she became wealthy—but she was not at peace. The words of Christ pursued her relentlessly: “Sell all you possess, and come, follow Me.” On October 15, 1930 Catherine renewed a promise she had made to God during her ordeal in the revolution, and gave her life to Him. She marked this as the day of the beginning of her Apostolate. With the blessing of Archbishop Neil McNeil of Toronto, Catherine sold all her possessions and provided for her son, George. 

In the early 1930’s she went to live a hidden life in the slums of Toronto, desiring to console her beloved Lord as a lay apostle by being one with his poor. The lay apostolate was still in its infancy in the 1930’s. Dorothy Day, another pioneer in this field, was among the few who understood and supported what Catherine was trying to do. Catherine searched for direction, prompted by an inner conviction that she must preach the Gospel with her life. As she implemented this radical Gospel way of life, young men and women came to join her. They called themselves Friendship House, and lived the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi.

 In the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930’s, the members of Friendship House responded to the needs of the time. They begged for food and clothing to share with those in need and offered hospitality of the heart to all. They also tried to fight the rising tide of Communism, through lectures, classes, and the distribution of a newspaper called “The Social Forum”, based on the great social encyclicals of the Church. 

Misunderstanding and calumny plagued Catherine all of her life. False but persistent rumours about her and the working of Friendship House forced its closing in 1936. Catherine left Toronto, feeling her work had failed. Through the seeming failure and great disappointments, she heard the voice of Christ beckoning her to share His suffering. Soon after she left Toronto, Father John LaFarge, S.J., a well-known Civil Rights Movement leader in the U.S., invited Catherine to open a Friendship House in Harlem. In February, 1938, she accepted his request, and soon the Harlem Friendship House was bursting with activity. Catherine saw the beauty of the Black people and was horrified by the injustices being done to them. She travelled the country decrying racial discrimination against Blacks. In the midst of widespread rejection and persecution, she found support from Cardinal Patrick Hayes and Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York. In Harlem, a small community formed around her, but again, her work ended in failure. Divisions developed among the staff of Friendship House and in January, 1947, they out-voted Catherine on points she considered essential to the apostolate. Seeing this as a rejection of her vision of Friendship House, she stepped down as Director General. 

 Eddie Doherty and Catherine. 

On May 17, 1947, Catherine came to Combermere, Ontario, Canada, with her second husband, American journalist Eddie Doherty, whom she had married in 1943. Catherine was shattered by the rejection of Friendship House and thought she had come to Ontario to retire. Instead, the most fruitful and lasting phase of her apostolic life was about to begin. As she was recovering from the trauma, Catherine began to serve those in need in the Combermere area, first as a nurse and then through neighbourly services. She and Eddie also established a newspaper, Restoration, and eventually began a training centre for the Catholic lay apostolate. 

 At a summer school of Catholic Action that Catherine organized in 1950, Fr. John Callahan came to teach. He was to become Catherine and Eddie’s spiritual director and the first priest member of Madonna House. Under his guidance, in February 1951, they made an act of consecration to Jesus through Mary, according to St. Louis de Montfort. Mary, Mother of the Church, became guide to their lives and to their apostolate. Catherine’s lifelong passion to console Christ in others propelled her forward. Again young men and women asked to join her. Graces abounded. In October 1951, Catherine attended the first Lay Congress in Rome. The Papal Secretary, Msgr. Montini (later to become Pope Paul VI) encouraged Catherine and her followers to consider making a permanent commitment.

 Pope John Paul II and Catherine Doherty 
On April 7, 1954, those living in Combermere voted to embrace a permanent vocation with promises of poverty, chastity and obedience, and the community of Madonna House was established. The following year, Catherine and Eddie took a promise of chastity and lived celibate lives thereafter. From these offerings, an explosion of life took place and Madonna House grew. On June 8, 1960, Bishop William Smith of Pembroke offered the Church’s approval to the fledgling community at the blessing of the statue of Our Lady of Combermere. 

 Catherine had a faith vision for the restoration of the Church and our modern culture at a time when the de-Christianization of the Western world was already well advanced. She brought the spiritual intuitions of the Christian East to North America. Lay men and women as well as priests came to Madonna House to live the life of a Christian family: the life of Nazareth. They begged for what they needed and gave the rest away. At the invitation of bishops, they opened houses in rural areas and cities in North and South America, Europe, Russia, Africa, and the West Indies. Catherine’s vision was immense, encompassing farming, carpentry, cooking and laundry, theology and philosophy, science, the fine arts, and drama. “Nothing is foreign to the Apostolate, except sin… The primary work of the Apostolate is to love one another… If we implement this law of love, if we clothe it with our flesh, we shall become a light to the world,” she said, “for the essence of our Apostolate is love—love for God poured out abundantly for others.” 

 In response to the deepening dilemmas of the Western world, Catherine offered the spirituality of her Russian past. She introduced the concept of poustinia, which was totally unknown in the West in the 1960’s, but has since become recognized in much of the world. Poustinia is the Russian word for “desert,” which in its spiritual context is a place where a person meets God through solitude, prayer and fasting. Catherine’s vision and practical way of living the Gospel in ordinary life became recognized as a remedy to the depersonalizing effects of modern technology. 

In response to the rampant individualism of our century, she called Madonna House to sobornost, a Russian word meaning deep unity of heart and mind in the Holy Trinity—a unity beyond purely human capacity. 

 Catherine de Hueck Doherty died on December 14, 1985, after a long illness. She left behind a spiritual family of more than 200 members, and foundations around the world. She left to the Church, which she loved passionately, a spiritual heritage that is a beacon for this new century. The following is taken from a Letter to Madonna House Family:
 “We need to be poor! Let us live an ordinary life, but, beloved, let us live it with a passionate love for God. Become a mystery. Stretch one hand out to God, the other to your neighbour. Be cruciform. … Christ’s cross will be our revolution and it will be a revolution of love!”

 Catherine and the Russian Religious Renaissance
Catherine: Cause Newsletter #19 — Fall 2011
From the Postulator’s desk of Father Robert Wild
Catherine Doherty by a Russian shrine
The Communist Revolution in Russia was of such enormous consequence that other important events happening in Russia in the latter part of the 19th and the early part of the 20th century have gone relatively unnoticed. In this very brief account of Catherine’s relationship to what has been called the Russian Religious Renaissance (RRR) I will spare you references and many quotations—one exception to this will be some quotes from Nicholas Zernov’s The Russian Religious Renaissance—and simply say that my presentation is based on the work of scholars and that the facts related here are fairly widely known to those studying in this field.

After what was called the Golden Age in Russian art and philosophy exemplified by such well-known writers as Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Khomyakov, there followed what has been called the Silver Age, a spiritual and cultural movement of even greater intensity. There was an explosion of novels, poetry, music, philosophy, and “religious philosophy,” this latter being a mix of philosophy, theology, and spirituality. When the Communists took over, a number of the most brilliant members of this Silver Age were exiled by Lenin. Their expulsion has been called “an unsolved mystery. It is possible that in this unusual decision flickered the last spark [in Lenin] of suppressed humanism.” Some scholars speculate they were not executed or sent to camps because in their early periods they dabbled in Marxism, and so contributed in some way to the final advent of Communism. But these intelligentsia, in the early part of their thinking careers, quickly saw the many enormous economic, philosophical, and religious flaws in Marxism. They helped the Marxist movement a little, but not much, and not for long.

Some of the most brilliant of the philosophers and theologians—Sergius Bulgakov, Nicholas Berdyaev, S.L. Frank, and Vladimir Lossky—made their way to Paris where they were either directly or indirectly involved in establishing the Theological Institute of St. Sergius. Names more familiar to North Americans who were not born in Russia are Alexander Schmemann (Estonia) and John Meyendorff (Paris). They were educated at St. Sergius and brought some of its Russian treasures to North America via St. Vladimir Seminary in New York City. Scholars are now saying that the full flowering of the Silver Age, begun in Russia but displaced by the revolution, really occurred outside of Russia, as a consequence of an open contact with the western intellectual traditions, and because they now had the complete freedom to write and express their creative ideas. For the purposes of this article it is significant that historians called this a religious and not a philosophical, cultural, or artistic renaissance. To repeat: this was a flowering of the Silver Age outside of Russia.

RRR refers mostly to intellectuals who taught and wrote in the areas of theology, philosophy, history, sociology, law, and art. Understandably, its history and scope is limited to those of the Russian Orthodox Church. In bibliographies some works of spirituality are included, but the main thrust of literally hundreds of books and articles (mostly in Russian) are centered on the concerns of the intelligentsia in Russia before their expulsion.

The main point of this brief article is that those exiles who developed Russian spirituality but who had converted to the Catholic Church should be equally included in the RRR. The contributions of Catherine and others who became Catholics may not be completely Russian because of their new allegiance. However, there were Russian Catholics before the revolution, and Russian Catholicism should be considered as part of Russia’s contribution to the modern Christian world. My emphasis will be on recognized participants in the RRR in the area of spirituality, in which sphere Catherine should be included. I will simply mention some of the more well known of this Renaissance of Russian spirituality outside of Russia; they are listed in Zernov as part of the RRR.

The real inspiration for this article—for making a plea that Catherine be included in the RRR which flowered outside of Russia—came as a result of my visit to the Oriental Institute in Rome. It was one of the remarks of the vice-rector, Fr. Constantin Simon, S.J., that convinced me that Catherine, though a member of the Catholic Church, should be included among those who have brought the treasures of Russia to the West.

Fr. Constantin had just finished writing the history of the Russian Catholic Church and was very familiar with Catherine. He said that Catherine’s writings had done more to bring Russian spirituality to the West than all the writings of the intellectuals. (This was his opinion, of course, and many will think it is exaggerated.) But this convinced me that Catherine and those who brought Russian spirituality to the West, even though they were not Orthodox, should also be considered as part of the RRR.

Zernov includes examples of Russian spirituality in the RRR, and I wish Catherine to be included in this group. The ones mentioned here were also part of Catherine’s spiritual development.

Spirituality in the Silver Age

Staretz Silouan
Staretz Silouan was from Russia, although his spirituality flourished in the Russian monastery of St. Panteleimon on Mt. Athos in Greece. Still, this is the West, and his spirituality grew in a garden free from the influences of the Soviet Union. Through the publication of his writings (The Undistorted Image) we have benefited by an authentic expression of Russian spirituality. It was one of Catherine’s favorite books, and she often read from it publicly and commented on it.

We owe the publication of Silouan’s works to another religious genius, Archimandrite Sofrony. Also from Russia (b.1896) he travelled to Paris and thence to Athos and became a disciple of Silouan. Later he developed his own unique form of Russian spirituality by establishing the monastery of St. John the Baptist near Maldon, Essex, England. I had the privilege of meeting him there; and after his death some other members of our Madonna House community also visited. One of the new aspects of his spirituality—and therefore of the Russian spiritual renaissance—is that St. John’s is a community of both men and women, a great departure from Orthodox monasticism; it may still be unique in the Orthodox world. Needless to say, such a monastic existence is a very appealing development of Russian spirituality to members of Madonna House who live in a community of women and men. This form of community life-styles is, I believe, one of the legitimate developments of Russian spirituality in the RRR, and forms a kinship between Catherine and Sofrony.

Another fairly well known propagator of Russian spirituality was Archbishop Anthony Bloom of England. His writings (Living Prayer, Learning to Pray) were also among Catherine’s favorites.

Some westerners were greatly influenced by these displaced Russians in Paris. The Benedictine Fr. Lev Gillet (publishing under the nom de plume of a Monk of the Eastern Church) made the modern classic, The Way of the Pilgrim, popular in the West. 

Elisabeth Behr Sigel, probably less well known, converted from Lutheranism to Russian Orthodoxy, and contributed to an understanding of Russian'

Orthodoxy in the West.

Maria Skobtsova

But perhaps the person closest to Catherine in both life-style and writings is Mother Maria Skobtsova. Because of her background in poetry, literature, politics (she was the first woman mayor of a small Russian town), and theology, she is described by Zernov as “the most original personality among the Christian leaders of the intelligentsia.” She was a married woman, a mother, who became an Orthodox nun “in the world” in Paris. She had an extraordinary love for the poor, as did Catherine. She died in a concentration camp for harboring Jews. She has recently been canonized by the Russian Church. Some people have already started working on a comparison of her spirituality with Catherine’s, because they are very, very similar. If you have never read any of her writings, I highly recommend them.

Catherine and Vladimir Soloviev

Many consider Vladimir Soloviev the greatest Russian philosopher/theologian of all time. Although he died in Russia in 1900, and was not part of the RRR outside of Russia, he is considered the creative genius and inspiration of the Silver Age. Thinkers such as Bulgakov, Berdyaev, Lossky, and others were inspired by his genius and built upon, and continued, his legacy. We can find, therefore, in his writings, the great themes that were developed in the RRR. The writings and teachings of Soloviev is one of the great documented links between Catherine and the RRR.

Vladimir Soloviev
Her father used to read Soloviev to them as children; and she said publicly once that she was a “product of Soloviev.” She certainly read some of his writings; she had his whole collection of letters in her possession—of course, in Russian. His ideas became the themes of the RRR, and Catherine developed, lived, and wrote about these themes in her own unique way, adding to the riches of the RRR in the West. And so I will simply state some of these topics. (They were the interests also of the theologian who is considered Soloviev’s greatest heir, Sergius Bulgakov.)

Since many of my present readers are familiar with Catherine’s writings, I will now just briefly allude to some of the main themes of her teachings, and indicate how they were also the concerns of the Silver Age, and thus of the RRR.

“Godmanhood” and Ecumenism
One of the first public and major presentations of Soloviev’s thought, attended by Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy—and probably also Catherine’s father—was entitled Lectures on Godmanhood, his word for the unity of the human race in Christ. Christ was not a theory but an absolute fact of history. Soloviev’s whole teaching was built on the fact of our world history—the Incarnation of God. Catherine longed for this unity. Her body of teaching is a profound guide of how each individual can contribute to the growth of this Godmanhood.

It has been said that the question that preoccupied the Russians during the period of the Silver Age was, “How is society to be organized?” Almost every piece of Russian art, poetry, or even music of the Silver Age made some reference to “the people” and their social problems. The Tsarists, the secular humanists, the Marxists, all had their theories. The little village of Madonna House in Combermere is Catherine’s answer to this central problem of the Silver Age, or of any age. The teaching that forms our community of love flowed from many sources, but Catherine’s Russian roots are the primary fountainhead.

It is widely known that ecumenism is not Orthodoxy’s strong suit. As an ecumenist in the late 19th century, Soloviev was far in advance of his Orthodox confreres. He believed in the development of doctrine around the same time that Blessed Cardinal Newman was writing his own treatise by that title. Neither is Orthodoxy particularly known for its approval of the development of doctrine. But Soloviev pointed out that the history of the Church includes the bible, tradition and the Holy Spirit, who is always active and working to make scripture and tradition relevant and understandable, “like the householder who brings out of his storehouse thing new and old” (Matt.13:52). The Holy Spirit is the origin of newness, and thus there is always development in doctrine and in the Church.

Applying this notion of development to Catherine, she had a great devotion to the Holy Spirit. Thus, she did not simply pass on Russian spirituality as it was handed down from past ages. She was extremely creative in uniting doctrine, her experience, and listening to the movements of the Holy Spirit. Her teaching is, therefore, very unique, distinctive, and a good example of the development of spirituality. Just as it was Newman’s study of the development of doctrine that brought him into the Catholic Church, so it brought Soloviev to study the history of the Church.

He presented his findings of the history of the Church in his book Russia and the Universal Church. His conclusion was so revolutionary—I would say prophetic!—that it had to be published outside of Russia. What was his conclusion? That the whole Church must have a head, and that historically this was the bishop of Rome. He called the Pope the “wonder-working icon of Christian unity”, and this in the last quarter of the 19th century in Orthodox Russia! Needless to say, this was not popular with the Orthodoxy of his day. It is debatable whether or not he became a Catholic. Probably he simply saw his recognition of the papacy as a necessary complement to his Orthodox faith. But no doubt his writings influenced Catherine to enter the Catholic Church in a formal way without, as far as I can discover, any really traumatic break with her religious past.

Love and Judaism
Vladimir Soloviev (portrait, 1885)

Soloviev, in delivering his Lectures on Godmanhood, probably astonished everyone at the beginning by saying that he agreed with those who found modern Christianity irrelevant! He said Christianity was practiced in his day in some kind of separate compartment of life; it did not influence the whole of life as it should. This was one of Catherine’s constant themes also: that nothing in life is outside the sphere of the Gospel. From my study of her life and writings I believe she got this vision from Soloviev.

Soloviev’s book, The Meaning of Love, was considered by the great psychiatrist Karl Stern to be the best book on love ever written. As is well known, love was everything for Catherine, and this theme permeates all of Soloviev’s writings. Besides often speaking of God’s love for us and ours for him, and of our loving others, Catherine often emphasized that we must love ourselves as well. Soloviev wrote: “Failure to recognize one’s own absolute significance is equivalent to a denial of human worth; this is a basic error and the origin of all unbelief. If one is so faint-hearted that he is powerless even to believe in himself, how can he believe in anything else?”

Soloviev lost his teaching position in Moscow for some of his revolutionary and prophetic ideas. Among them was that anti-Semitism is contrary to the Gospel. There was a great deal of anti-Semitism in Russia, even more than in Germany. “Pogrom” is a Russian word. Soloviev simply pointed out that Jesus was Jewish, and that most of the first Christians were Jewish. And more than 100 years before Pope Benedict would say clearly, once and for all, that only a handful of the Jewish elders can be held responsible for the death of Jesus, Soloviev was teaching this as well: there is no theological or biblical support for the doctrine that all the Jews, as a people, are responsible for the death of Christ. If anything, we are all responsible.

Catherine often told us of how her father used to invite Jewish people to their home. When she asked him about this he said he was following the teaching of a very great man. When Catherine asked him who that man was, he said Soloviev. Catherine always had a great love for the Jews, and often, along with Pope John XXIII, reminded us of our Jewish spiritual roots. (It is more accurate to say we are spiritually Jewish (a religion), than Semites (a race).

As a real prophet, Soloviev was calling for the union of Orthodoxy and Catholicism before anyone else seriously entertained the hope. His vision of Godmanhood required the unity of the churches. (He pointed out that the Orthodox churches were not united either.) He even had an audience with Pope Leo XIII who, of course, had the same desire, but said it would require a miracle to be achieved at that time.

The founders of the St. Sergius Institute continued to work for this unity. Sergius Bulgakov, especially, was involved in the early deliberations of the World Council of Churches, and many of the members of the RRR were deeply committed to Church unity. Again, this was not a priority of Orthodoxy in Russia but a result of Soloviev’s vision, and of the contact of the Russian émigrés with the West; it was a prominent feature of the RRR.

Here again Catherine shows her solidarity with the RRR and can rightly be considered a part of this movement. All her life, in a variety of ways, she worked for, prayed for, hoped for the unity of Christendom, and most of all for the reunion of Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Madonna House tries to live and breathe with both lungs of the Church, as famously articulated by Bl. John Paul II. In this also she is part of the best movements of the RRR, not academically, but, in her own way, by a living personal union with both of these great traditions.

Of course, I have not read very much of recent literature regarding the RRR. But, except for Fr. Constantin mentioned above, I have never read of Catherine being included in this flowering of the Silver Age outside of Russia. I think the main cause may simply be that she is simply unknown in most academic circles. And her having become a Catholic may dampen interest.

The Silver Age as Renaissance and Flowering
Scholars (Catherine Evtuhov) ask: “Why was the religious theme so pervasive and insistent at a time that social historians, quite rightly, tell us was an age of industrialization, urbanization, modernization, and revolution?” Several answers are given. I choose the one most applicable to Catherine and which is an authentic part of the renaissance as distinguished from a flowering: “Ernst Troeltsch considered the Eastern Church to have remained ‘genuinely medieval’ into the twentieth century, for it retained the Middle Ages’ ‘unity of civilization which combined the sacred and the secular, the natural and the supernatural, the State and the Church.’” The intelligentsia (continues Evtuhov) “understood that reform in the church could hold the key to reform in society as a whole.”

Russians go to the root of things. Their own revolt against the isms of the 20th century “took them all the way, and ended up with modernist philosophy that was also deeply religious.” They were still grafted on to “a tree whose roots went deep into the soil still fed by the living waters of Eastern Orthodoxy.” (Zernov) It led them back to the medieval vision of Church and society. In their writings they sought to purify both government and church of whatever was contrary to true freedom and the correct idea of person. But they retained the vision of the Church’s overarching place in morals, culture, and thought.

When Catherine came to the West the secularization of society was very far advanced. She must have experienced a real culture shock at the lack of the presence of the Church and religion in society. Religion was very compartmentalized, as Soloviev said. Unlike most of the intelligentsia in their early periods, she probably never lost the medieval vision that they had to resurrect—give re-birth to—in their minds and thinking. And she found this vision also in the Catholic Church, even though its permeation of society also had much to be desired. But this medieval vision was part of Catherine’s vision for the fulfillment of Godmanhood in society. And Madonna House—though on a small scale—is the incarnation of this vision: it deeply links her spiritually and ideologically to the RRR.

My final point is that we may need an additional term to describe these émigrés of Russia who made contributions to the West in the areas of theology, philosophy, spirituality, art, and culture.

In this article I have been using a word that I think is also appropriate to this movement in a complementary way. Besides the word renaissance, which implies the rebirth of something from the past (like the rebirth of the classics in the West), what strikes me as also appropriate is the word flowering. Russia is a relatively new Christian people: the gospel was brought there almost 1,000 years later than it came to Greece, Rome, and Western Europe. And just as the 13th century in the West is often called the greatest of the centuries—the flowering of the fruits of a thousand years of Christianity with cathedrals, music, the visual arts, theology and philosophy—so Russia entered its greatest Christian century in the 20th. But it was not only through a renaissance but also through a long-awaited flowering of 1,000 years of Christianity.

Soloviev, Bulgakov, Bloom, Lossky, Evdokimov, Saint Maria Skobtsova, Schmemann, and Meyendorff are not only part of a Russian renaissance but, as with Catherine, they are a flowering of a Russian expression of the Gospel, and probably the high point of that flowering. As it took Christianity in the West 1,000 years to achieve the 13th century, likewise, after 1,000 years, the Russian spirit finally exploded in a flowering of creativity. We cannot know what other immense treasures would have been brought forth if some kind of Christian sanity had prevailed in 1917, and if these geniuses had been allowed to bloom on their native soil. However, such blossoming could not be stopped. The Russians who left Russia carried their immense treasure with them, the seeds of their whole history. And it was providentially forced to grow outside of Russia only because of the revolution.

It should also be emphasized that this flowering was as much a result of the Russian spirit itself as of its contact with the West and Western Christianity. Even in the Silver Age still within Russia, scholars attribute much of its fruitfulness to its contact with Western art and philosophy in the 19th century. This flowering is part of that incarnation of the Godmanhood Soloviev so well described and longed for. He taught that it could not be achieved without the union of the churches and the cross-fertilization of the truths of other cultures. And if the final union has not yet happened, there has been at least a significant union of minds and hearts—as in Catherine—of the best of the Russians with the best of the West. Madonna House is one of the authentic incarnations of the vision that inspired the members of the RRR. I think Soloviev would be pleased with what has happened in the minds and hearts of those involved in the RRR; and he would be pleased as well with Catherine and Madonna House.

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