Our Life in Christ and Mary
We began by reviewing biblical and gnostic Christian Spiritualities and a common thread emerged. Both kinds of spiritualities - one from semitic culture and the other from hellenic culture - are built around an imitation of Christ that is made possible by an experience of him: Jesus of Nazareth, the Risen One, the Logos. We could claim that Christian spiritualities are build around the idea that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Spiritual Theology: Biblical and Early Church Spirituality
Biblical Spirituality - a life changing encounter with the Word of God
Spiritual experience is understood as an encounter with the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, risen from the dead, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s presence in creation and salvation history, the incarnation of the Word, the Community and its teachings, Scripture and Tradition, the sacraments and especially the Eucharistic banquet, the divine indwelling and prayer, and the desire for his return in glory were all means by which early Christians encountered the Word of God in a transformative way. All were called to take up their Cross and follow in the footsteps of the crucified God, imitating the pattern of self-emptying love revealed in God’s Word. The Christ, the apostles and the sacred authors used different kinds of anthropologies and cosmologies that, while appearing primitive to the hellenic society, were culturally current for both the Jews living in the Land, those in the diaspora, and the God-fearers (Gentiles who believed in the Lord God). At the heart of this spirituality was a cry for mercy, a humble and filial bold petition to the Father, through which alone opened up the possibility of following Christ’s teaching and following his example as handed on by the apostles.
Gnostic Christian Spirituality - the pursuit of true spiritual knowledge
Because of how they worked out philosophical questions surrounding ‘the one and the many’, Greeks tended to look at concrete particulars as lesser realities. As the Gospel was received by Greek culture, the historical concrete experience of Christ revealed in the scriptures became understood as something not really involving ‘lesser realities’ but actually transcendentals of truth and goodness. Thus, there was a shift from devotion to the Risen One from Nazareth to a devotion to the eternal Word of the Father who is Thought-Reason of God, true Relation (ratio), and Rational Truth. With this shift in devotion, there was a shift in the practice of prayer where petitionary prayer is subordinated in importance to contemplation, a beholding of the Truth who is Christ.
Clement of Alexandria
Stages of Perfection – mansions of the soul:
Holy Fear, Faith, Hope (stages of ordinary faith) and Love (the stage of gnostic faith)
Gnostic Faith or Perfect Faith is characterized by contemplation, obedience to precepts, and the instruction of good men.
The summit of gnosis is
1) contemplation - the beholding of God – and so he understands prayer in terms of contemplation
2) charity - love establishes or roots gnosis, true spiritual knowledge
Spiritual maturity consists in realizing a rational life. Irrational passions and desires are the chief threats to realizing this maturity.
The fruit of mature charity is a peace and unity of soul that Clement calls "B"2,4" (from which our English word apathy derives). This is a disposition of soul towards a healthy detachment from created goods so that desires for ‘things’ and the passions do not distract from Reason, the Logos. The insight is that being detached from the things of the world makes the soul holy, ‘sets the soul apart,’ frees it from distractions and other efforts that dissipate its energy. By a holy indifference the soul has more energy to attend to God, to contemplate and enjoy union with him. The Word can only be contemplated by rational souls, souls who live in relation (ratio) to the truth rather than living by irrational passions. As irrational movements are eliminated, the pathos of Christ’s self-emptying love takes over the soul. With this movement of love, the saints are logikos, rational - beings in relation to the Word, to Reason.
Origen - disciple of Clement sees growth not so much in terms of the acquisition of various dispositions of soul, like apatheia, but more in terms of the ultimate end of the divine economy, perfect unity with the Holy Trinity realized even in this life by a deifying participation in God’s life opened up through Christ. Imitation of Christ and participation in his mystery are the keys to growth. Thus, some of the hellenic prejudice against the body and the material world is put in better perspective. Origen originates the idea of prayer being the rising of the mind to God so that it is possible to pray without ceasing if in all your activities you are continually aware of God. It could be said that he sees contemplation and prayer as essentially the same activities. This way of looking at prayer is different from the biblical inclination to see prayer in terms of petition, an asking for the blessing of God.
-imitate Christ, fight against self by detachment from the world and consistent examination of self
-imitate Christ who battled against the devil and overcome his deceptions.
Perfect -through participation in the Word are formed in wisdom, are divinized by contemplation of the Trinity that union with Christ makes possible. This union is termed a mystical marriage, meaning a total mutual possession of God and the soul, a communion of wills in love.
Christ is the way, the truth and the life:
How can this be if Christ’s life and death are in the past? The 16th Century reformer Cardinal Berulle (and after him the many inheritors of the French School of Spirituality) started explain that what Jesus of Nazareth did in time redounds to the divine Person of the Word forever, or in other words, because the hypostatic union of the human and divine natures in Christ divinize every human action of the Son of God, the events of his human life remain as eternal states to which we have access. Thus, the power of the Messiah’s saving actions in history continues in mystery and it is available through faith in the Risen One who at the Right hand of the Father continues to sanctify us. This power is opened up to us in faith because of the infinite merits of his life, passion and death, and by means of this powerful grace we identify with Christ just as Christ has identified with us. On this basis, Christ’s proclamation that he is the way, the truth and the life can be explained.
Christ the Way “The life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me.” (Gal. 2:20)
Only to the degree that we are configured to Christ, participate in his mystery by imitation, do we have access to the Father, our beatitude. This is why Origen insisted on moving beyond the contemplative gnosis of Clement of Alexandria to actual imitation of the Logos. Preoccupation with imitating Christ becomes the mainstay of the Desert Fathers and Monasticism in the East. How do we attain this imitation of Christ? Not by simply following his moral example, but by truly encountering him. Gregory of Nanzianzen explains, “I must be buried with Christ, rise with him, inherit heaven with him, become son of God, become God ... this is what is the great mystery for us; this is what God incarnate is for us.” (Christian Spirituality, p. 46)
To truly encounter Christ includes radically following him to the point of joining him. Thus, the counter cultural witness of Antony of the Desert begins with a radical response to the very dynamism of Christ’s person that calls out through the Scriptures and the Liturgy, “Go, sell all you have” and “Come, follow me.” Joining Christ is incorporation and this begins with Baptism. But this encounter is manifold: although principally sacramental and liturgical, it is also personal, interpersonal, scriptural, and ecclesial - all of these are powerful dimension of the experience Christ. This is why Jordan Aumann teaches that all conclusions pertaining to Christian spirituality flow from the dogma of our incorporation in Christ. He calls this “the basis of our sanctification and the very substance of our spiritual life.” (Spiritual Theology, p. 53)
Christ the Truth Gaudiem et Spes #22
As we advance in prayer, Gregory of Nyssa explains that there is a transformation in our knowing. In doing so, he advances a teaching set forth by Evagrius Ponticus. Namely, since the battle for the heart is waged in the mind, in the mind logismoi (fantasy) must be put to death so that the logoi (the true ideas) can be contemplated. What they are getting at is that we normally live in a myth, an imagined worldview, that helps us navigate through life (e.g. the two car garage of the American Dream). This fantasy is not the truth and we can only live if we are transformed to know the truth. We might call this transformation a pilgrimage from the senses to the intellect and from the intellect to the heart. In his Life of Moses as well as Homily XI on the Song of Songs, St. Gregory describes three progressive stages of encountering Christ - the burning bush which represents the cosmos through which God’s glory shines without destroying it (this gives us the sense that there is something more to life than the myth we are living in), the cloud covers what can be known through the senses to prepare the soul for what is hidden from the senses (here we let go of what we think we understand about God’s plan for us and abandon the comfort of this life’s fantasies), the darkness shrouding Mt. Sinai, the very sanctuary of God in which the human way of knowing gives way to a divine knowledge, theognosis, true theology(we are enveloped in the mystery of God’s love that surpasses understanding). (Spirituality, p. 49)
A. Reveals the Truths about Man
Primarily, the exemplary cause of our divine sonship
Secondarily, the exemplary cause of our holiness
B. Reveals the Truth about the Father
The Desert Fathers and Origen
Teacher of Truth from the Father
All his words are from the Father - the authority of his word
All his words lead to the Father - the content of his word
Christ the Life - We introduced this theme and will come back to it in our next lecture.
A. As meritorious Cause - he obtained the life of the Spirit for us (instrumentality),
B. As Efficient Cause - the very source of the life of grace (kenosis), and
C. As Head of the Mystical Body - communicates grace to the members through his perfection (kenosis) and power (apophasis).
The Role of Our Lady- We will also review this as part of Catholic spirituality in our next lecture, although it is the proper subject matter of a separate course.