Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Introduction to Spiritual Theology - lecture notes

The Nature and Scope of Spiritual Theology

Spiritual theology is that part of theology that, proceeding from the truths of divine revelation and the religious experience of individual persons, defines the nature of the supernatural life, formulates directives for its growth and development, and explains the process by which souls advance from the beginning of the spiritual life to its full perfection.  (Jordan Aumann, Spiritual Theology, p. 22)

History
Spiritual theology seeks the connection between the articles of the faith, the perfection of the Christian life, and a kind of knowledge called “mystical,” a kind of knowledge arrived at through an ecclesial and personal encounter with the Living God.   In this sense, it is a part of the science of theology which attempts to bring the mutual relationship of mystical and theological wisdom into rational consciousness and discourse.

After the great scholastics revived interest in a disciplined pursuit of these questions, one of the earliest pioneers of this study was Jean Gerson, Chancellor of the University of Paris.  He believed that the knowledge which flowed from Christ's presence in the soul or mystical knowledge could not be a direct object of theological research, yet at the same time he acknowledged its importance for the Christian life and attempted to elucidate those parts of the Christian life he believed could be studied. 

He did not assume, as is oftentimes presumed today, that the inability of human reason to understand or manipulate something rendered it outside the range of the truth.  He did not equate fact with truth or product with knowledge.  Like the scholastics, he was the inheritor of a tradition of thinking in being is the object of knoweldge and truth is the adequation of the mind to reality: veritas est ens.  As St. Thomas Aquinas explains, "all that is, is true." 

For Gerson, truth includes un-demonstable mystical knowledge of divine goodnesss arrived at in contemplation.  He considers mystical contemplation in terms of the transformation of the affections toward the goodens of God.  Although the cause of this mysticism is ineffable (a special work of grace), the effects and the fruits of it can be explored.  Furthermore, (and this is important) he also understood that contemplatives were subject to grave error if they were not rooted in a pure understanding of sacred doctrine.  In other words, mystical theology does not replace but rather requires scientific theology. (See Jordan Aumann, Christian Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition, San Francisco: Ignatius Press (1985) 168-173, chapter 7.)

From the 16th to the 20th centuries, spiritual theology became divided between what was called “ascetical” theology and “mystical” theology. Ascetical theology had more a moral element and concerned the day to day discipline of the Christian life and the ordinary life of grace. Mystical theology tended toward a theology of prayer and contemplation as well as speculative considerations of the mysteries of the faith in relation to extraordinary mystical phenomenon.  Twentieth century theologians began to question the wisdom of separating these areas of study. They also became concerned that this kind of theology was not considered ‘academic’ or ‘scholarly’ or in any other sense a serious field of knowledge.   Yet the attempt to demonstrate the validity of spiritual theology as a science has created a diversity of opinion as to whether the field should be considered a dogmatic or moral branch of theology.  

The 20th century pioneers of this field, mostly Thomists, began an apologetic to establish the field as a legitimate science with its own object and appropriate method of research. At the same time, theologians coming from the Ressourcement schools also became aware that this branch of theology should not be separated from other theological efforts: these other branches needed reference to spiritual theology if they were to remain with the stream of the tradition of the Church. Spiritual theologians, especially those out of the Thomistic and Ressourcement schools, see that research in spiritual theology is vital to the life and mission of the Church because if it is forgotten, the very raison d’etre of the Church is at risk. As one of the pioneers of the twentieth century renewal of this field, Fr. Juan Arintero, explains: “We must examine and consider attentively the hidden and mysterious development of the inner life of the Church. This consideration is fundamental and the most important of all, because this inner life and the exigencies of this vital process are the course of the Church’s development in doctrine and organization.”  (Introduction, Mystical Evolution.)

Object
Spiritual theology is a disciplined exploration of the spiritual life of the Church and is especially concerned with mystical knowledge, a kind of knowing that results from encountering Christ.   This kind of knowledge is “mystical” insofar as it involves a union with the mystery of Christ through the holy mysteries unto union with the Holy Trinity.   It is a contemplative knowledge that anticipates the ultimate end of the Divine Economy, the perfect unity of creatures with the Holy Trinity in which the fulfillment of all desire is realized – that eternal beatific vision of inexhaustible and exceeding Love.  We are aiming at true theological wisdom, a wisdom that ought to inform all the various branches of theology.
                In summary, the direct object of spiritual theology is the encounter of the Holy Trinity in the contemplation of the Church.   In this sense, spiritual theology corresponds with what the ancients called theology or mystical theology.  Namely, a participated knowing of the ineffable inner life of the Trinity by grace. 
In itself, this knowledge is beyond the ability of human speech to fully communicate. But the truth bearing statements of our faith, the articles of our faith, bear the truth of this knowledge above all.  Theologians and mystics struggle to articulate it.  Garrigou-Lagrange observes, “The mystics … explain the hyperbole and antithesis to which they have recourse in order to draw us from our somnolence and to try to make us glimpse the elevation of divine things.” He goes on to conclude, “No one can know the true meaning of the language of the spiritual writers if he is unable to explain it theologically; and, on the other hand, no one can know the sublimity of theology if he is ignorant of its relation to mysticism.” Three Ages of the Spiritual Life, trans. Sr. Timothea Doyle, OP, London: Herder (1948) pp 16 and 20.

Method
Like every science, the study of sacred doctrine in general and spiritual theology specifically has a method proportionate to the wisdom to which it aspires.  The method for this science includes prayer, polemics, ressourcement, the wisdom of the saints, inductively providing insight into the spiritual life, deducing conclusions about different expressions of the spiritual life from the application of sacred doctrine.  A brief consideration of each of these elements of method in spiritual theology might be helpful.

1. Prayer
From ancient times, the goal of theological study has been this wisdom, especially as it is produced by the mystical operation of this Gift of the Spirit in the Christian life.  One studied theology to be a saint.  As the branches of theology became atomized, first from philosophy and then from one another, theological wisdom, which had been a unifying principle for the study of sacred doctrine, came to be neglected, more and more.  As a result, the unity of life and study was shattered.  It became possible to be a theologian without regard for personal sanctity.  The contemporary pursuit of spiritual theology puts contemplation at the heart of its endeavor.   The theologian must not only talk about prayer, the study of this wisdom must pray.   Accordingly, the study of spiritual theology demands that theology and prayer should go hand in hand:

Prayer and theology are inseparable.  True theology is the adoration offered by the intellect.  The intellect clarifies the movement of prayer, but only prayer can give it the fervor of the Spirit.  Theology is light, prayer is fire.  Their union expresses the union of the intellect and the heart.  But it is the intellect that must 'repose' in the heart, and theology must transcend it in love.  Olivier Clement, Roots of Christian Mysticism, p. 183

2. Polemics
The tendency in spiritual theology in most schools is to generalize religious experience found in manifold spiritualities, especially non-Christian spiritualities, to arrive at principles common to them all.  It is assumed that the mystical knowledge acquired through the faith of the Church is commensurate with changes in consciousness achieved in non-Christian meditation techniques.  This effort often obscures the uniqueness of the Christian claim and the very purpose of prayer itself.   While other religions attempt to attain the absolute by method, Christianity claims that no method is sufficient.  Union with God is possible only because God himself makes it so.  Spiritual theology bears relation to sacred doctrine or revealed truth.  It asserts the possibility of a real relationship between God and man because of Christ’s passion and death.   By Christ’s redemptive work, the Gift of the Holy Spirit is given as an actual possession through grace and by grace raises the soul so that it might participate in the very life of God.  To protect this character of the faith of the Church, spiritual theology can engage in a polemic in relation to other spiritualities to distinguish itself and its claims. 

3. Ressourcement
                Spiritual theology draws from both Scripture and Tradition to define the perfection of the Christian life, principles and spiritual counsels for the Church today.   To accomplish this, it must have recourse patristic and medieval theological sources.  These sources not only are authoritative for the effort, but later developments can only be properly understood against this fuller context of the Church’s experience of the Lord.

4. The Wisdom of the Saints
Spiritual principles and counsels are found in the lives of the saints.  But the saints do not always articulate these with great precision or even exemplify them in a way that is universally accessible.  Think the example of a stigmatist who bears in his body an extraordinary mystical grace for the building up of the Church, but he does so not because everyone should aspire to receive the same grace.  The task of spiritual theology is to provide a more precise understanding of their counsels and descriptions of the spiritual life without compromising the accuracy of their insights and modes of expression.
Here, the careful art of hagiography becomes vital for spiritual theology.  The writings of the saints are generally commensurate with their lives of holiness.  The witness of their lives generally shed light on what they articulated as important for the spiritual life.   Therefore, a spiritual theologian needs to understand the life history of the saints he utilizes in order to provide the proper theological context for the counsels and descriptions a saint might provide.  A good history of the life of a saint will actually integrate the development of his spiritual writing with his growth in holiness

5. Integration of Deductive and Inductive methodologies
Garrigou-Lagrange argues that following only an inductive approach to the theological sources and the saints does not allow clarity or precision or conclusions.  Likewise, limiting oneself to only a deductive approach will limit the understanding not only the saints or other theological sources being considered, but also obscures the understanding of definitions, principles and counsels themselves.  Spiritual theology seeks to integrate both efforts.  In the writings of the saints and the mystics, how they approach principles and counsels must be closely attended to.  Their descriptions of these, even if hyperbolic, are often more accurate than what can be expressed with theological precision.  At the same time, the meaning of these counsels remains obscured and subject to misunderstanding if only a inductive method is followed.  Thus, the wisdom of individual saints is weighed against the broader tradition to deduce more precisely the principles their writings and witness contain.

Context
There are some who agree with this and then conclude that theological reflection is reducible to the merely subjective.   They assume that the experiential knowledge being sought is an intuitively affective kind of science which in different ways makes people feel better about themselves.  By its nature, such knowledge does not admit of a disciplined study unless approach out of the psychological science.  In itself it is impenetrably private and inaccessible to reason.  Thus, in many seminaries and spirituality centers, a serious disciplined pursuit of spiritual theology is replaced by therapeutic meditation and group sharing: spiritual exercises my colleague Fr. Gawronski calls, mere mental hygiene.  Because of this, the faithful are constantly subject to the the popularized versions of the latest spiritual trends, trends that are irrational either because their pre-critical psychology or uncritical theology – whether it be Transcendental Meditation, Eneagram, or more recently Reiki.  John of the Cross’s concept of spiritual gluttony might apply – religious experience is reduced to a consumable good.  The result is confusion over Catholic identity and a lack of confidence in the power of the Cross and Catholic teaching.
In reaction to this, especially among young conservative seminarians, prosaic forms of piety rooted in sentimentality spring up.  While the restoration of novenas and other devotionals can be extremely edifying, failure to understand the nature of these in relation to the growth of charity in the life of prayer can be devastating, as John of the Cross often points out in his works.  The spiritual life is reduced to vocal recitations, a merely magical sense of the faith, a certain narrowness regarding holiness (St. John of the Cross’s spiritual pride) and a lack of confidence in the mercy of God.
The point is that today, more and more, the spiritual life has become regarded as something intrinsically irrational.  This trend is due largely to the failure to form men trained as spiritual experts, intellectually vibrant with spiritual principles and counsels that a sound study of spiritual theology can yield.  The task is to provide a disciplined study of this field so that irrational approaches to the spiritual life might be avoided and a better informed spirituality might develop for priests, religious and the lay faithful.

The Nature and Scope of Spiritual Theology

To define spiritual theology as a theological discipline, we should begin by calling to mind the competing definitions of theology in general.  For Anselm it is faith seeking understanding.  For St. Thomas, it is the study of God and all things in relation to God.  The kind of knowing it yields, or at least ought to yield, is a participation in God’s knowledge of himself.  For this reason all theology ought to have a spiritual character no matter the branch or particular discipline taken up.  From ancient times, the goal of theology has been wisdom, especially the mystical operation of this Gift of the Spirit in the Christian life. 

There are some who agree with this and then conclude that theological reflection is reducible to the merely subjective.   This is because they understand the wisdom attained by prayer to be reducible to the sum total of psychological functions which prayer and contemplation involve.  They assume that the experiential knowledge being sought is an intuitively affective kind of science which in different ways makes people feel better about themselves.  Such a view is unable to break away from the merely subjective and is constantly haunted by the tendency to mistake one’s experience of one’s own ego with God.  In fact, a purely psychological approach to prayer cannot adequately distinguish experiences of God from experiences with oneself – because to judge experience one must go beyond what is merely experiential. 

In many seminaries and spirituality centers, a serious disciplined pursuit of spiritual theology is replaced by therapeutic meditation and group sharing, in a whole class of so called spiritual exercises my colleague Fr. Gawronski calls, mere mental hygiene.  Static matrix are sometimes proposed where students plot their own spiritual experience against the poles of positive and negative, cataphatic and apophatic.  Sometimes students and professors mistake the ability to articulate certain ideas about spiritual experiences with the wisdom that comes from God.  A self-sufficient attitude emerges in which one believes oneself as having mastered prayer because a technique and the jargon around it have been acquired.   There are no objective principles in such discussions.  A propose vocabulary is used to explain a proposed experience.  A form of Gnostic jargon – whether psychological, charismatic, evangelical – is contrived to describe psychological experiences.  Those who use the jargon are believed to have had the experiences it describes.   To be sure, these experiences may real – but is the way they are understood accurate?  Without understanding personal experience as something which plays out on a far greater reality, a standard that stands above my own experience, how do I know what I am experiencing is real?  Such approaches to the spiritual life are ultimately unsatisfactory because the encounter with God is thought to be exhausted in terms of explanations of those spiritual experiences that can be talked about, the experiences that live only at the surface of the psyche. 

In reaction to this, especially among young conservative seminarians, external forms of piety sometimes rooted in sentimentality spring up.  They want something deeper than that which can be ferreted out in a group discussion about how one feels after practicing a prayer method.  They turn to more traditional and vocal forms of prayer.  While the restoration of novenas and other devotionals can be extremely edifying, failure to understand the nature of these in relation to the growth of charity in the life of prayer can be devastating, as John of the Cross often points out in his works.  The point is that today, more and more, the spiritual life has become regarded as something intrinsically irrational.  This trend is due largely to the failure to form men trained as spiritual experts, intellectually vibrant with spiritual principles and counsels that a sound study of spiritual theology can yield.

Spiritual theology, although sometimes healing to study, is not primarily affective or intuitive – although a certain creative intuition is requisite for its development.  Spiritual theology, as an object of study and a discipline, is rooted in an objective ecclesial experience of the Holy Spirit.   The discipline of spiritual theology has been called the queen of the theological sciences.   This is because its specific object is simpler than all other branches of theology.   But because of the simplicity of its object, spiritual theology is also the most difficult to adequate define.  It concerns a kind of knowledge called “mystical,” a knowledge arrived at through an ecclesial and personal encounter with the Living God.  The problem is that this kind of knowledge is super-conceptual, more accurately conveyed by means of description than definition. 

At the same time, the descriptions of this kind of knowledge lack precision, its truth difficult to judge or discern.  Because of this difficulty, some believe it is impossible to bring this to bear on the theological enterprise.   Yet, the object of spiritual theology sheds essential light on both speculative and practical theological efforts.  Those in both branches are aware that there is an essential connection with spiritual theology, but each sees spiritual theology in relation to its own sphere.  That is why there is a diversity of opinion as to whether this branch of theology is best seen as part of morals or dogmatics.  The dispute probably is analogous to that physicists have had on whether physical light is a particle or a wave.  Just as physical light is simpler than both particles and waves, the knowledge studied in spiritual theology acts different according to either the speculative or practical questions put to it.   . 


The object of spiritual theology is the encounter of the Holy Trinity in the contemplation of the Church.   In this sense, it corresponds with what the ancients called theology.  Namely, a participated knowing of the ineffable inner life of the Trinity by grace.  This kind of knowledge is “mystical” insofar as it involves a union with the mystery of Christ through the holy mysteries unto union with the Holy Trinity.   It is a contemplative knowledge that anticipates the ultimate end of the Divine Economy, the perfect unity of creatures with the Holy Trinity in which the fulfillment of all desire is realized – that eternal beatific vision of inexhaustible and exceeding Love.  This science is vital to the life and mission of the Church because if it is forgotten, the very raison d’etre is at risk. Juan Arintero explains: “We must examine and consider attentively the hidden and mysterious development of the inner life of the Church.  This consideration is fundamental and the most important of all, because that inner life and the exigencies of the vital process are the course of the Church’s development in doctrine and organization.”
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To come to this knowledge, over and above revealed truth and reason’s efforts to understand it, the experiential is necessary.  Confirming this approach, Juan Arintero, the father of the 20th Century Dominican school of Spiritual Theology at Salamanca and the Angelicum in Rome, explains what ‘mystical’ means:

“Mystical” means the same as “hidden.”  The mystical life is the mysterious life of the grace of Jesus Christ in faithful souls who, dead to themselves, live hidden with Him in God.  More properly it is the interior life which just souls experience when, animated and possessed by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, they receive more and more perfectly, and sometimes clearly perceive, His divine impulses, delightful or painful, whereby they grow in union and conformity with Him who is their head until they become transformed in Him.”

A working definition for spiritual theology might be articulated as follows:


Spiritual theology is that part of theology that, proceeding from the truths of divine revelation and the religious experience of individual persons, defines the nature of the supernatural life, formulates directives for its growth and development, and explains the process by which souls advance from the beginning of the spiritual life to its full perfection. (Jordan Aumann, Spiritual Theology, p 22)

            What is the definition of spirituality and how is Christian perfection related to it?

Spirituality refers to the spiritual life, the life of the spirit.  It takes up the question about how to thrive as a human being.   All serious spiritualities take up three fundamental human experiences – the desire for the infinite, angst at existence, and fear of death.  There are three paradoxes in this – that a finite being should yearn for the infinite, that an existing being should be uncomfortable with existence, and that a finite, contingent being is a afraid of its own contingency.   We find in us a passion to go beyond our own nature or for union with something beyond our nature.  At the same time, we are not at ease with our existence.  We carry this sense that things are not the way they ought to be.   Some is out of kilter.   Finally, we are haunted by a fear of death, a fear of suffering and personal disintegration – physical, psychological, spiritual.  We have an instinct for self-preservation which is not at peace with the realization that the “self” to be preserved, no matter what we do, will inevitably perish.  Any true spirituality tries to answer the question: Why should we live and thrive, if in the end it is but folly to have tried to do so?   
                In Christian spirituality, the spiritual life is in itself supernatural and is ordered to supernatural union with God.  This means that this life comes from God who is both the object and principle of all theology.   In Christian spirituality God is revealed as the object of desire.   Sin is revealed as the source of our restlessness.  Death is revealed as the consequence of sin.  The supernatural spiritual life of the Christian is ordered to overcoming the power of sin and death through the restoration of union with God.   Since this life comes from God in the order of a gift, it is called grace. Insofar as this gift makes the soul itself holy, it is called sanctifying.  Insofar as it is given for the building up of the holiness of others, it is gratuitous.   Insofar as it is given existentially in the present moment, it is actual.   Insofar as it inclines the faculties of the soul to exist in a new way and act with ease in a certain manner, it is habitual.  Insofar as it requires the soul’s activity for its effect, it is cooperative.  Insofar as it is under the impetus of the Holy Spirit, it is operative.  Sanctifying grace effects substantial union with God.  Grace in the faculties effects psychological union with God.  Graces that enable or cause action lead to actual union with God. 


1.       Are there objective principles on which the spiritual life is based in the Catholic Tradition? 
There are objective causes of the spiritual life.  Spiritual theology identifies, describes and reflects on the consequence of this principles.  In doing so, it proceeds scientifically, building on a body of knowledge. 

The first is God himself.   The reason why we yearn for God is that we are made in his image, he is our archetype to which our whole existence is oriented.  We can only thrive as we move toward him.  What is more, however, the One God is in movement toward us.  He is Love – divine eros.  And this movement toward us causes our movement toward Him.  

Another principle is the law of sin.  Only Christianity identifies original and personal sin as the cause of the angst we have over our own existence.  Because humanity is in a state of having resisted God, it has a sense that its existence is not the way it ought to be.  Because of sin, each person is subject to futility and death: all that is good, noble and true about each of us is diminished and perishable.  We fear this dissolution because it destroys the very purpose by which we thrive.  

There is also the principle of grace which is sewn over the laws of nature and sin, restoring and perfecting the image and likeness of God in our existence, and overcoming and conquering sin and death.   Grace is the source of human perfection, the beginning of a new kind of existence by which human nature realizes its desire for union with God.  It is a pure gift given by God himself so that his desire for man might reach fruition.

2.       Why does Spiritual Theology articulate counsels for the spiritual life?
Since the object of spiritual theology is the spiritual life, articulating and evaluating spiritual counsels is an important art.  The spiritual life in the Catholic Tradition is ordered to the perfection of charity in the life of grace.  This implies the spiritual theology also gives an account of progress in the spiritual life as well as the supernatural organism – the unfolding of the life of grace within the soul.   In the wisdom of St. Thomas, this requires a grasp of the mystical operations of the gifts of the Spirit as the perfect the infused virtues.  Insight into these questions requires grounding in theological anthropology, psychology and the divisions of grace. 
There is a careful balance to be maintained in all this.  On the one hand, a vision of the whole or wisdom concerning the spiritual life and the ability to articulate it is necessary if proper distinctions are to be made so that counsels might be more clearly understood.  On the other hand, respect for the descriptions provided by the mystics is necessary because they penetrate this wisdom more deeply and extensively.  Even if their ability to articulate what they see is not precise, their understanding and descriptions are much more accurate than the discipline of spiritual theology can achieve. 
In other words, important counsels are found in the lives of the saints.  But the saints do not always articulate these with great precision.  The task of spiritual theology is to provide a more precise understanding of their counsels and descriptions of the spiritual life without compromising the accuracy of their insights and modes of expression.
Here, the careful art of hagiography becomes vital for spiritual theology.  The writings of the saints are generally commensurate with their lives of holiness.  The witness of their lives generally shed light on what they articulated as important for the spiritual life.   Therefore, a spiritual theologian needs to understand the life history of the saints he utilizes in order to provide the proper theological context for the counsels and descriptions a saint might provide.  A good history of the life of a saint will actually integrate the development of his spiritual writing with his growth in holiness.

                4. Jesus, The Holy Bible and the Seven Great Doctors of the Spiritual Life
A. How is Jesus the Life, the Truth and the Way for Christian perfection?
St Thomas “Beatitude constitutes mans ultimate perfection” see I-II q 3 a 2 and 4; I, q 26
Christ is the efficient cause, meritorious cause, and mystical head of the spiritual life: That is life in union with Christ by which we enter into beatitude.
Remember the reasons for the Incarnation – (1) for our salvation and reconciliation to God, (2) to reveal Father’s love, (3) to provide example of obedience and a model for holiness, and (4)to deify humanity.  (See the CCC #457-460)  The purposes are achieved through both visible and spiritual missions (see ST I,43) in the mystery of the Church. The Coming of Christ established his mystical Body. 

Jesus is the Way: In is by virtue of our incorporation into that body that we experience that Jesus is the means of holiness.  As members of his mystical body, Christians find in Jesus the Way to the Father.   We are saved and reconciled to God through our living faith in Him.  The doctrine of parrhesia is key here – namely, that as members of his mystical body we hold fast to Christ Jesus by a living faith.  He is our holiness. 
Jesus is the Truth: Through his mystical Body he communicates himself to us.  In this way he is the Truth which we incorporate into our lives.  The doctrine of the exemplarity of Christ through whose example the truth about God’s love is revealed and the truth of about the human person is made manifest.  In this we have a model to imitate, and our ability to imitate Him is given to us by Him.
Jesus is the Life.  As head of the mystical body and by his work of redemption, Christ is the efficient and meritorious principle of the spiritual life.  By imparting his Holy Spirit to us, he establishes us in:
Order   (hierarchy – we have a place in the mystical body of Christ under his headship.)
Perfection (full of grace – He is our perfection and source of beatitude)
Power (The spiritual life advances with reliance on the Lord, it all comes from him)
How do we receive Christ in this way?  Through the sacraments and living faith.  It a unique way through the Eucharist.   Because of Christ, Christian spirituality and its perfection seeks the glory of God as its ultimate end and sanctification is the proximate end.  Incorporation in Christ is the only way of attaining both ends.  Everything depends on living the mystery of Christ with ever increasing intensity because Christian spirituality is nothing other than an intimate participation in the mystery of Christ.
In this context we know that Christ commanded us to be perfect in this life.  Given our sinfulness is this really possible?  To answer this question we must consider the nature of Christian perfection.   Perfection is the condition of being completed or finished without excess or defect – the end of a process, a totality and plenitude, a fullness of being – sense these words have many meanings depending whether we are speaking about specific or a totality of acts, the term perfection is analogous.
Perfection is absolute and relative
 – Absolute perfection is found only in God, creatures are relatively perfect (in relation to him)
– Relative perfection can be:
(1)essential (a perfection of the very substance of the soul),
(2)operative (a perfection of the psychological actions of a soul),
This is transitory in the life, permanent in the life to come.
(3) final (a permanent state, the beatific vision), instrumental, primary
(pertaining directly to charity)  and secondary (pertaining to other virtues formed by charity).
In Christian perfection, it consists primarily, but not exclusively in charity, in charity friendship love of God.  Essentially sanctifying grace and operatively charity either in itself or through other virtues.  The acts of other virtues attain to a secondary perfection that serves the union with God that charity establishes.  Instrumental perfection is expressed through the evangelical councils – they are instruments that aid in the pursuit of perfection.
St. Thomas explains that Christian perfection consists especially in charity because charity  alone unites us with God while the other virtues initiate or prepare for this union.  (See Summa II-II, 184 a 1.)  How do we attain this perfect love – is it really possible in this life?  (See Summa II-II, 184, a. 2) Not in terms of the object loved, that is God, we can’t love God perfectly as he deserves – this is absolute perfection possible only to him.  Not in terms of the lover, that is the soul in relation to God, we can’t always have our affections turned toward him – this is a final perfection possible only in the beatific vision.  However, on the part of the lover in relation to things impeding a perfect love, perfect love is possible in two ways:
1)      By removing anything contrary to charity like mortal sin
2)      By removing any desire that hinders one’s affection for God – these would not be sinful desires, but desires for otherwise good things that distract us from loving God.

                What then is Christian perfection, the object of this study? St Thomas “Beatitude constitutes mans ultimate perfection” see I-II q 3 a 2 and 4; I, q 26
Christ is the efficient cause, meritorious cause, and mystical head of the spiritual life: That is life in union with Christ by which we enter into beatitude.  The glory of God is the ultimate end, our sanctification is the proximate end and incorporation in Christ is the only way of attaining both ends.  Everything depends on living the mystery of Christ with ever increasing intensity because Christian spirituality is nothing other than an intimate participation in the mystery of Christ.   In this context we know that Christ commanded us to be perfect in this life.  Given our sinfulness is this really possible?  To answer this question we must consider the nature of Christian perfection.
Perfection is the condition of being completed or finished without excess or defect – the end of a process, a totality and plenitude, a fullness of being – sense these words have many meanings depending whether we are speaking about specific or a totality of acts, the term perfection is analogous.
Perfection is absolute and relative – absolute perfection is found only in God, creatures are relatively perfect (in relation to him) .  Relative Perfection can be considered under the following aspects:
(1)essential (a perfection of the very substance of the soul);  (2)operative (a perfection of the psychological actions of a soul transitory in the life, permanent in the life to come); (3) final (a permanent state, the beatific vision), instrumental, primary (pertaining directly to charity)  and secondary (pertaining to other virtues formed by charity).
St. Thomas explains that Christian perfection consists especially in charity because charity alone unites us with God while the other virtues initiate or prepare for this union.  Summa II-II, 184 a 1.  This means that Christian perfection consists primarily, but not exclusively, in charity, that is friendship love of God.  Another way of saying this is that Christian perfection is essentially sanctifying grace and operatively charity either in itself or through other virtues.  The acts of other virtues attain to a secondary perfection that serves the union with God that charity establishes.  Instrumental perfection is expressed through the evangelical councils – they are instruments that aid in the pursuit of perfection.  
How do we attain this perfect love – is it really possible in this life?  Summa II-II, 184, a. 2  Not in terms of the object loved, that is God, we can’t love God perfectly as he deserves – this is absolute perfection possible only to him.  Not in terms of the lover, that is the soul in relation to God, we can’t always have our affections turned toward him – this is a final perfection possible only in the beatific vision.
However, on the part of the lover in relation to things impeding a perfect love, perfect love is possible in two ways:
By removing anything contrary to charity like mortal sin
By removing any desire that hinders one’s affection for God – these would not be sinful desires, but desires for otherwise good things that distract us from loving God.

                To continue this discussion, it must be observed that Spiritual theology needs to be distinguished from pre-critical reflection on spirituality.  Pious reflections on spiritual experiences are not always disciplined, organized or precise.  Sometimes they might not even be accurate.  The discovery, analysis and synthesis of insights logically arranged with a certain precision of expression characterize theological research.  Pious reflection is theological to the degree that it does this, but reflection does not have to be disciplined.  It does not need to discover, analyze or synthesize anything.  It can be arranged without regard for logic or precision of expression.  Reflection explores connections by musing intuition.  Sometimes it can more accurately describe a spiritual experience than any theology, precisely because of the imprecision of expression and relaxation of logic it allows.  However, because not all intuitive connections we imagine are actually true, pious reflection frustrates a clearer understanding of the spiritual life.  Spiritual theology, because it is focused in a disciplined and precise way on the end of the spiritual life and all things that lead to that end, offers greater clarity into the spiritual life and experiences that pious reflection seeks to express.
                Spiritual theology can be distinguished from other theological sciences because of its object.  Like dogmatic theology, articles of the faith comprise the scope of spiritual theology.  To study spiritual theology one needs a good working knowledge of dogmatic theology:  Christology, Soteriology, Pneumentology, Mariology, Ecclesiology, and Eschatology.  All these branches of theology concern God’s work in as it is visible in history but also as it invisible in the soul.  Spiritual theology looks more specifically at God’s spiritual work in the soul.  To properly understand this assertion, we must bear in mind that God’s work in the soul is always in some sense ecclesial.  This is because the human soul is relational – it lives in a matrix of relationships and cannot be extracted from this web without doing violence to its very nature.  Another way to say this might be that from the standpoint of the dogmatic disciplines, spiritual theology seeks what can be understood about what the Lord is doing in the hearts of men. 

                But spiritual theology is not only speculative like these branches of theology; it is also practical like moral theology.  Whereas dogmatic theology explores revealed truth for its own sake, moral theology seeks to understand how one should live in light of this revelation.  Spiritual theology takes up specifically all those questions about life related too growth in holiness.   Some in fact would rather that it be considered as part of moral theology.  But the scope of moral theology is much broader than that of spiritual theology.  Moral theology studies the whole Christian life from the standpoint of doing what is right and avoiding what is evil for the glory of God by means of grace.   Spiritual theology studies primarily those aspects of the Christian life by which union with God can be increased and brought to perfection – it seeks reasons for maintaining the discipline of the Christian life, for taking up one’s cross and following the Lord.

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