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Contemporary Monasticism

April 7, 2008

The Margins of a Spiritual Wilderness

We stand at the dawn of a dysfunctional transitional time in which Westerners seem able to express their doubts but not yet their sustaining beliefs; their lack of belief in the way things are but not yet their commitment to change.

Along the margins of the mountain ranges of North America, where unmanageable fortifications and regal satellites of rock surrender to low plains, lies a series of lesser ridges. They are known as the ‘outer range’, and winding through these barren lowlands is what the Native Indians call ‘The Trail’ – the pilgrimage to go beyond the here and now, and on toward the colonies of heaven. To many indigenous cultures ‘the trail’ is widely regarded as the most precious gift we have, and during the autumn of 1994 I remember sitting in the bar of a small town due south of the Adirondack Mountains with an old Indian. That night he told me the story of the ‘coal holders’.

As the seasons changed, when winter would eventually arrive, the tribe would have to move camp. Each tribe would designate coal carriers, and as the fire burned low, when the time came to move on, someone would have to carry the last hot coal to start the next fire at the new campsite. The old man explained that the community needed this fire to cook with, to sleep near, but most importantly this fire was the place of communication. It was the sacred place of storytelling, of dance and song. In short it was the heart of community. For many a weary pilgrim today it may feel like the fire has gone out completely. For those spiritual refugees who have connected to something they know to be true but no longer know where to go to explore and develop that connection our current spiritual climate may seem very cold.

We stand at the dawn of a dysfunctional transitional time in which Westerners seem able to express their doubts but not yet their sustaining beliefs; their lack of belief in the way things are but not yet their commitment to change. Our world is beginning to groan and toil for something beyond the inadequate patterns it has experienced and knows. Humanity is tired and longing for a life liberated by a spirituality that offers hope and gives rise to a world of justice and peace. Our common task, it seems, is to discover a new way of being human. It is this new way of being which intrigues me. I find it unfortunate that ‘church’ has become a by-word for the hypocritical and the insipid. Is it possible that a place can be found where spiritual refugees are able to be heard, can believe and belong without conforming in some way to an institution which makes us feel fraudulent, masking who we really are?

Bonhoeffer’s Monastery Without Walls
More than fifty years ago Dietrich Bonhoeffer predicted that the renewal of the Western church would come from a new monasticism whose only connection to traditional monasticism would be Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). New conceptions of church have been a central component of contemporary Protestant mission in the West. This plurality of ideas has led to many different types of church communities. These changes appear to have risen from the conviction that traditional churches are themselves a problem. Many have come to believe that, if the Christian faith is to become a viable alternative within a post-modern culture, then the form of the community of faith must journey towards the blurred edges of the post-evangelical mood and be re-evaluated and reformed. It is a genuine practical concern about the possible manifestations of Bonhoeffer’s new monasticism that has led me to ask: can, in this macro-cultural context, a contemporary monastic movement bring about the kind of reformation of our incarnational religion that will enable Christian people of the West both to relate their faith to the world, and also form, in a micro-cultural context, the kind of community which allows them to explore that faith fully and so bring rest for their souls?

Ronald Roheiser prudently observes that, ‘we, the children of Western culture, post-modern, adult children of the enlightenment, struggle with practical atheism. Our churches are emptying and, more and more, the sense of God is slipping from our ordinary lives.’ An observation I concur with and one that saddens me, as I always get the idea that Jesus is more interested in the ordinariness of our at times mundane difficult existence than anything else. Bonhoeffer seems to be suggesting a return to ‘camp side community’ where the coal carriers of today become the embodiment of the Sermon on the Mount. To push the analogy a little further it may be that in the imperishability of salt we have a guarantee of the permanence of the divine community – that community being a new monastic order. Historical and sociological insights urge theologians to look hard at situations where church praxis is worked out. Ideas in isolation are not enough. Theology needs to be seen in relation to the events which will eventually shape it. Bonhoeffer’s theology is best understood as an account of the continuity of God’s identity interpreted through the identity of Christ – which would then inform the Christian identity through the Sermon on the Mount. Christ then lives in and works through the new monastic community, so demonstrating a Christological pattern of human relationship that affirms the intrinsic value of integrity and faithfulness.

Some scholars say that Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship can be read as theological manuals on Christian community. There are complimentary themes of meditation and immediacy that originate in Bonhoeffer’s work. He suggests that the ‘disciple community does not shake off sorrow as though it were no concern of its own, but willingly bears it.’ The elucidation of such propositions occurs in the way Bonhoeffer develops his doctrine of community. He suggests that when salt loses its flavour it in fact ceases to be salt, suggesting that judgement hangs over the Christian community depending upon whether or not it seasons the world. It would seem that at this moment in history we need the coal carriers more than ever – illusions don’t keep us warm at night.

The new monastic life must embrace both the need for community as the essence of an authentic spiritual journey and the importance and freedom of individual interpretations of that journey. Those wishing to communicate and build relationship with a post-Christian culture need to implement this with some urgency. Only a dying minority have an interest in mediocre uniformity. Many are tired of those who would espouse theoretical knowledge, what is longed for is a sharing of a practical knowledge of how to live as an individual who is part of and co-responsible for a community. Bonhoeffer states that, ‘the community which is the subject of the Beatitudes is the community of the crucified.’ Contemporary missiology is concerned with amalgamating strands – restoring those broken and embracing those which survive. Scholars such as Lesslie Newbigin and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were some of the last voices of modernity who believed community was key to living fully. Mike Riddell and Dave Andrews are two of the first voices giving perceptive insights of how we embrace and build community from within the complexities of post-modernity. At some point we must ask the question; does anything connect across this paradigm shift? I suspect authentic and lasting renewal comes not from a Pentecost experience, but from moments immersed with the fragrance of Gethsemane and Calvary.

In other words the Enlightenment (modernity) was the old paradigm; just maybe the new monasticism (post-modernity) could be the new. A principle central to the ideas of post-modern monasteries without walls was an equally essential aspect of any historical monastic order, namely solitude. Solitude is something post-modern people crave but struggle to find. Jesus often retreated to be alone, to find privacy and nourish his soul – to that place where God mystically and tenderly exposes our weakness and nourishes and sustains us. Thomas Merton describes this mystical solitude as contemplation and I believe that this contemplation (solitude) is a helpful eschatological vision to manifest a simplicity that will assist in building an authentic community of faith.

Vows of the Contemporary
Matt Rees believes that this simplicity will come from three ‘essentials’ of the contemporary monastic – community, rule and vows. These ‘essentials’ require the development of shared rhythms, resources and hospitality. Vows of poverty, chastity and obedience have long been a part of the monastic life. A new monasticism needs to re-establish the meaning of the vows through contemporary expression, e.g. vows of generous justice, reckless love and unconditional listening. One should not abandon traditional vows but reinterpret them in ways which will make sense in the post-Christian world.

The ‘Sermon on the Mount’ commits us to live simply, to be committed to ecological stewardship, and to have a deep concern for the poor and marginalised. Bonhoeffer believed that vows give a framework to counter the excessive individualism that permeates our culture, so enabling something Tom Sine calls, ‘the future of God through creative community,’ where our lives, energy and resources are poured outwardly to re-establish a new age of economic justice, a life source for the broken, and rest for the weary. Realisation and experience are vital for the bare bones of this idea to find some flesh, for there too many weary pilgrims asking the question, ‘where can I go?’ For what it’s worth, I would call for the re-shaping of local churches and for small groups to grow around contemporary hermits. I was talking with Ray Simpson of Lindisfarne recently and he told me of a young pastor who admitted to the feeling that somewhere deep inside himself he was called to be a monk, but that he did not know what that meant. When I asked Ray how he answered the man he said that it could mean adopting a new rule or rhythm of life. It might also lead to the church as a whole adopting a set of values and practices which include daily prayer and regular meals together.

These comments are important. This position of not quite being sure where we are travelling, not fully understanding the realisation of a mystery once more I think is a healthy one. We are inundated with varying analysis of the slow haemorrhage of the contemporary church, but to the thinking Christian this is not news. What most disillusioned pew leavers need is practical assistance on what physically is possible as an alternative. Mike Yaconelli, in pastoring a church for people who don’t like church, pioneered a new ecclesiological paradigm. It is something Moltmann calls the ‘Open Church’, and what Bonhoeffer called ‘the Church for others.’ So many have lost faith whilst living in the shadow of the Enlightenment, and so what has developed is a pseudo-spirituality of the individual, where the West, it seems, is seeking to transcend itself. This becomes problematic because it creates isolation and fragments any kind of hope for a communal pattern of living. Yet to embrace the fragmented, marginalized, and flawed people of our communities, who are suspicious of Institutions, might just be part of the mystery which helps reconnect them. Most of my own friends, particularly those who don’t profess any kind of faith seem to want to explore uncharted territory, not to escape, but to find some way back home. The new monastics will be spiritual guides who will listen to stories, and having listened will offer some helpful clues for the general direction to be travelled, maybe offering some hospitality, a meal or a warm bed for the night, before allowing the pilgrim to journey on. Bonhoeffer alluded to this when he said that ‘prayer and action on behalf of others were two essentials that the new monastics would be limited to.’ This new monasticism is not trying to convince the community of faith to return to the historical manifestation and understanding of monasticism, but rather the opposite, that the new order would radically become fully engaged with the world.

Hospitality – Church around the meal table
Jesus did not have a home, he relied on the kindness of strangers for the niceties of life that you and I probably take for granted – a cooked meal, a bath, and a place to rest ones head for the night. In both Jewish and Celtic traditions the household becomes the main expression of ‘church’. Contemporary expressions of monasticism would perhaps encourage household development of prayers and rituals for significant daily happenings, primarily because they are more natural and organic than the evangelical model of cells. With a covenanted, organic, relational, small community in mind, my wife Claire and I decided that our home would become exactly that: a safe haven for a few vulnerable pilgrims to join us in the sharing of our journeys. One of our group describes it so:
Church is about relationship: Church around the meal table allows intimacy, confidentiality and security. Ideas can be voiced, ignorance’s confessed, mistakes allowed for and blessings shared. Time can be given to explore the nature of spirituality, the impact of the previous week’s experiences and points raised by that Sunday’s sermon. Because there is no particular agenda there is flexibility for change and sensitivity to what needs to be spoken about.

Criticising what exists is too easy, and unless we are ready to go beyond theory no reformation will be possible. Communities need to function and be energised. Bonhoeffer suggests that this is part of the completion with the working of atonement, particularly where the family is able to gather together, embracing the invitation to ‘come and eat’. The rhetoric of family values has become hurtful. There is a need for the rebuilding of family systems for it is abundantly clear that our polarities have weakened the community of family. Monastic communities though have always provided space and time for relating. Accountability and liability have always expressed the essence of the Monastic church for our brothers and sisters. As Tom Sine suggests, ‘over the centuries, much of the renewal of the church has come through small communities in which people are organically linked to one another in common purpose.’

The ability to relate to one another with out being inhibited is overwhelmingly difficult in large groups. Certain dynamics, where human emotion is embraced and intimacy nurtured, where we share one another’s joys and sorrows, becomes limited when numbers grow. Small groups also enable counter-dependency, and those who have been part of table church have expressed their gratitude for a place where one can question the taken-for-granted nature of the faith community’s beliefs, values and expected behaviours. It seems to provide a helpful sanctuary and refuge for those Alan Jamieson calls the reflective exiles, so helping the process of deconstructing the faith before re-building it. In other words table church and other forms of a new monastic order recognise that some traditional patterns are not helpful and appropriate for journeying into territory. As another of our group shared:
I guess I’m not in a place where I can speak passionately about the physical church. New concepts, new ideas, new pathways always require a period of hibernation. I am there at present.

Embracing the Organic Rhythm of Spirituality

It is essential that pious demands are not placed on people who are not ready to meet them. One must nurture carefully an earthed spirituality to allow a change of course and provide an open door into a new world. Throughout history story telling has been the primary means of communicating matters of significance. I think it was Walter Brueggemann who said that a metastory, if replaced by a personal story, only makes the Biblical story more poignant in connection to our journeying. Storytelling, eating and drinking around a fire – these are all participatory activities where one can learn, be vulnerable, and begin a healing at grass-roots level in the form of community.

For the coal carriers of today walking into the unknown is a risk. We have to live with contradictions, we have to help one another through the wasteland, but more than that we must continue to nurture what it means to follow Christ, and reform who we have become. The new monasticism will, as does table church, personify desire. There will be tempers and frustrations, but they are saturated in passion. As I look around the majority of churches I visit I see mostly the church is trying to create nice people, and the consequence of this is that most are bored. Was there not a promise of not thirsting any more and life in all its fullness? Too many pilgrims still leave church spiritually thirsty and malnourished. Contemporary monasticism is not about efficiency but inclusion. Douglas Coupland advocates this in his work, suggesting that they key happiness is the importance of a safe, open place to discuss and find the meaning of life, where friends and strangers can begin once more the difficult task of finding community in a fragmented world.

As I listened all those years ago to the intoxicating wisdom of my Indian friend, I realised the need to widen my boundaries, to sift my soul of the muck and mire of my religious ego. We are by nature ritual makers, and there is something profound in that rite of passage that allows us to let go of the past. I am not talking here about some emotionally charged resolution that will be disregarded once normality (whatever that is) reigns. Rather I am speaking of our duty to the soul. It is not just culture that is trying to balance religious obligation with secular freedom: there is a paradigm shift of the soul occurring where we wrestle with principles of inner reform. As we talked about ‘the trail’ the old man explained to me that rather than attending church he went to a sweat lodge; rather than accepting bread and wine from a priest, he smoked a ceremonial pipe to come into communion with the Great Spirit; and rather than kneeling with his hands placed together in prayer he allowed the tenderness and beauty of creation to wash over him for cleansing – the smoke carrying his prayers to the heavens.

My old friend did not regard his spiritual beliefs as a religion in the way many Christians do. His practices form an integral and seamless part of his very being. We need the coal-carriers of Christianity to keep the God-man Jesus alive and well – to keep the voice of the soul breathing – to go clear the land for a new culture. As Douglas Coupland suggests, ‘if you are not spending every waking moment of your life radically rethinking the nature of the world – if you’re not plotting every moment boiling the carcass of the old order – then you’re wasting your day.’ There is no blue print for the new monasticism, just many differing expressions of community stumbling together towards God. Initially, I suspect it will only attract those who have lost faith with institutionalised church – those spiritual refugees – searching to find a non-threatening home where their spirituality and search for God can be explored. In time I expect the balance to change. Bonhoeffer’s prediction, prophecy, vision, dream – however we package it – may just be the sign-post which will lead us in the right direction to restore and renew the community of God in the West…I hope so.

© Paul Chambers 2006 (Paul is a member of the Greenbelt Management Group)

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The New Conspirators

March 25, 2008

by Tom Sine, Mustard Seed Associates

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In the UK, more churches were planted in the last seven years than Starbucks were opened—over 1,000 churches as compared to only 750 Starbucks coffee shops. Interestingly, most of these church plants were ethnic and multi-cultural.

God is doing something new through a new generation, as I report in The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time, which will be published by IVP in 2008. I believe God is working through at least four streams: the emerging church, missional churches, mosaic church plants and the monastic movement. We have received very positive responses to the two most recent Seed Samplers the emerging and missional streams. This issue will attempt to describe what God is doing through those in the mosaic stream, which I define as multi-cultural church plants. While the emerging and missional leadership is overwhelmingly male and white, in this stream, God is doing something new through leaders from a number of different cultures.

In this issue, we have included some voices that are calling us to deal with issues that could enable the church to be more inclusive in terms of race and gender. David Park, of Next Gener.Asian Church, brings a very clear word about his concern with racial division in the church. Julie Clawson who administers the Emerging Women blog raises important questions about gender inclusion in the church, particularly within the new streams.

As I confessed in my book, as an aging author, I may not fully grasp all that God is doing through the young and the risk-taking. As a white author who has always been a part of a culture of privilege, I am certainly not the best one to write about the mosaic or multicultural stream. Eliacín Rosario-Cruz, who is a member of our MSA team and originally from Puerto Rico, holds our feet to the fire on issues of race, power and privilege.

It is past time for those of us who are white to wake up to the reality that we are living in a new majority world. By 2060, the United States will become the first non-European Western nation—a nation of Latinos, African-Americans and Asians. Those of us from European roots will just be another group. All of our churches need to help prepare to not only live in this future but receive and celebrate the gifts from other cultures as well.

In other words, the days of people with European roots running the world and the church are rapidly slipping away. While the churches in Western countries are overwhelmingly in decline, many churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America are growing at an explosive rate. Many of these churches are involved in reverse missions—planting churches in the United States, Canada and Britain. The leadership of the church will also increasingly shift to the majority world.

Clarkston Bible Church in Clarkston, Georgia, has already awakened to the new reality. Older white southern women in their Sunday finery find themselves worshiping with immigrants from the Philippines, Togo, refugees form war-torn Liberia, Ethiopia, Sudan and Afghanistan. Slowly, more and more churches are becoming much more like our richly multi-cultural world. But not only traditional churches are beginning to wake to this new reality. Young innovators are as well. Increasingly, multi-cultural leaders are beginning to come to the fore.

Efrem Smith and Phil Jackson’s book The Hip Hop Church and Tommy Kyllonen’s Un.orthodox offer compelling evidence that God is doing something new through young people from a spectrum of diverse cultures. Acknowledging some of the difficult issues associated with hip-hop culture, for example, sex, violence and materialism, both books recognize hip-hop as not just an expression of urban African-American culture, but the language of a new generation all over the planet, connecting young people in Britain, Germany and Japan.

Though most in the mosaic stream have never heard the word “postmodernity,” the urban youth of hip hop culture share a suspicion of modernity, authority and pat answers with the young leaders of the emerging church. Efrem Smith tells me that urban hip-hop culture isn’t just postmodern, but also post-institutional, post-soul and post-civil rights too.

Urban African-American young people are hungry for a spirituality to which they can relate. There are reportedly some 20 hip hop churches in United States and more are coming. Hip-hop churches are only one expression of what God is doing through a growing number of multicultural churches.

Kyllonen reminds us that the times are changing: “The emerging church is also the young black male in the hood. It is the second-generation Mexican in LA and the child of the Chinese immigrant in Houston. The emerging church is the Puerto Rican female on Wall Street.”

A number of second-generation Asian churches in Canada and the United States have chosen to become multicultural congregations. Some multicultural churches in California came together around inter-racial families that didn’t feel completely at home in mono-cultural churches.

There are even a few mono-cultural churches that are beginning to question whether that model is fully biblical. Kingston United Reformed Church in Britain, comprised of Korean, Russian, Nigerian, Chinese and English members, has worked very intentionally to become a multicultural congregation. Pastor Leslie Charlton believes diversity is essential to being church. “You cannot call yourself a church if you are all the same.” She added, “It may be a nice group, but a church, like the kingdom of God, must have room for everybody.”

In Doug Lee’s church plant, called Catalyst in Culver City, California, the multiethnic congregation enjoys the rich gifts of several different cultures. People from the South Pacific Islands bring a spirit of warmth, welcome and generosity. African American members teach others about being fully present to God and highly invested in worship. Latino members remind the congregation of the importance of family and hospitality. And Asian members bring service without the need for recognition. Doug Lee says his church family is richer because of diverse gifts people bring.

I experience something of the rich gifts of the tapestry of God’s new community at the annual conference of the Christian Community Development Association, started by John Perkins. They always have an urban choir in whatever city they are meeting that lifts our souls to the rafters. I also experience rich gifts at the Urbana Missions Conference because those who lead worship represent the many of the wonderful cultures of our world.

Mustard Seed Associates hosted an evening with community activist Rudy Carrasco called “The Color of Love in the City” to start a conversation about what love looks like between communities. After Rudy shared his stories, Eliacín Rosario-Cruz led a discussion on race and culture. To my surprise, people from a range of different racial backgrounds shared very openly about both their pain and their attempts to live faithfully in a multicultural society.

One of the most innovative congregations in the US in the area of ethnic diversity is a church in Southern California actually called Mosaic. It is located in Los Angeles, California, where people from all over the world settle. The church responds to the challenge of a multi-cultural, postmodern, pluralistic and global community. Like the emerging church, they give a major piece of their life and mission to the arts; their group Urban Poets includes artists, dramatists and social innovators.

Most of the pastors of these churches are not content to just create interesting programs to meet the needs of people within the building. Like missional leaders, these church planters are intent on involving their members in word and deed ministries that impact the lives of people in their communities. Eugene Cho created a multicultural church plant in Seattle called Quest. Quest has been devoted to local and global mission from its inception. Their coffee shop, the Q Café, serves as a place to engage their community and a performance space for local artists. They work with the homeless and offer computer education classes for kids struggling in school as well as being involved in global initiatives.

As you can see from this brief overview, multicultural churches—along with the increasing number of immigrant churches—are going to be part of the growing edge of the Church in Western countries. This new mosaic stream is quite diverse, but what they all seem to share in common, like emerging churches, is their desire to a reach out to new generation. Like the missional churches they also see their mission much more focused on the needs of those beyond their congregation. We all need to pay more attention to what God is doing through the mosaic stream and explore new forms of collaboration that enable the church to lead in celebrating the gifts that will be a part of our richly multicultural future.

 

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SCHOOL(S) FOR CONVERSION

March 25, 2008

SCHOOL(S) FOR CONVERSION
12 Marks of a New Monasticism

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Throughout the history of the church, monastic movements have emerged to explore new ways of life in the abandoned places of society. School(s) for Conversion is a communal attempt to discern the marks of a new monasticism in the inner cities and forgotten landscapes of the Empire that is called America. This book invites us into a way of life that is simultaneously ancient and wonderfully new. By combining first-person accounts of the marks of Christ-formed communities with rich historical and biblical reflection, the various writers provide truthful and hope-filled descriptions of contemporary Christian community. First in a series. Paperback, 190 pages.

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INHABITING THE CHURCH

March 25, 2008

INHABITING THE CHURCH
Biblical Wisdom for a New Monasticism

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Conversations between contemporary Christian communities and Benedictine monasticism are among the most surprising and promising in the church today. Given that the roots of monasticism and of contemporary Protestantism lie in different parts of the Christian tradition, mutual engagement between contemporary Christians and monastics has been rare. Recently, however, the scene has shifted, and Inhabiting the Church represents the new eagerness to learn the art of living together faithfully from experienced and ancient practitioners.
—Christine D. Pohl, foreword

If the church is more than just a building, what could it mean to live in it — to inhabit it as a way of life? From their location in new monastic communities, the authors ask what the church can learn from St. Benedict’s vows of conversion, obedience, and stability about how to live as the people of God in the world. Second in the series that began with School(s) for Conversion. Paperback, 140 pages

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COMMUNITY OF THE TRANSFIGURATION

March 25, 2008

The Journey of a New Monastic Community

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In the 1930s, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer anticipated the restoration of the church after the coming second world war through a new kind of monasticism, a way of life of uncompromising adherence to the Sermon on the Mount in imitation of Christ. Since then, the renewal of Christian monasticism has become a great spiritual movement. Imbued with a love for God and neighbor, and with a healthy self-love, people are going to monasteries to deepen their relationship with God, to pray, and to find peace. While some monastic institutions are suffering a decline in traditional vocations, many Christians are exploring monastic lifestyles. This book introduces The Community of the Transfiguration in Australia, the story of a new monastic community and an inspiring source of hope for the world at another time of spiritual, social, and ecological crisis. Third in the series that includes School(s) for Conversion and Inhabiting the Church. Paperback, 186 pages

Click here for “Community of the Transformation” on Amazon UK

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NEW MONASTICISM:What It Has to Say to Today’s Church

March 25, 2008

WHAT IS NEW MONASTICISM?

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“New Monasticism” is the name that a recently formed movement of evangelical Christian communities has given itself. In the last 10 years, more than 100 of these small communities have formed in order to seek a relationship to God through mission work, evangelization and radical poverty.

Frustrated with the increasing commercialization and social isolation of mainstream religion, New Monastics endeavor to live and interact with others as Christ would. Often from Protestant backgrounds, they seek to serve the wider church. Many are inspired by, and seek guidance from, traditional monasticism.

 

AVAILABLE IN MAY 2008

NEW MONASTICISM:
What It Has to Say to Today’s Church

“It’s hard to be a Christian in America,” writes Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, a leader in the New Monasticism movement in America, a growing group of committed Christians who are living lives of radical discipleship. However, the movement doesn’t mirror traditional monasteries — many members are married with children and have careers, yet they live differently, often in community in once-abandoned sections of society.
Wilson-Hartgrove founded a New Monastic community and works with an alternative theological collaborative. In this book, he takes readers inside New Monasticism, tracing its roots throughout Scripture and history and illuminating its impact on the contemporary church. He identifies the key tenets of New Monasticism, including:

How monasticism is the oldest form of counter-culture in the West

God’s alternative economy and financial practices for church

Hospitality and active peacemaking

A model for grassroots ecumenism

What the church offers New Monasticism: stability, diversity, and structure

“Monasticism isn’t about achieving some sort of individual or communal piety. It’s about helping the church be the church,” Wilson-Hartgrove writes. A must-read for New Monastics or those considering joining the movement, this book will also appeal to 20- and 30-somethings, pastors, leaders, and those interested in the emerging church. Paperback, 160 pages

Click here for “New Monasticism” on Amazon UK

 

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Downward Mobility in an Upscale World

March 25, 2008

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The vision of Jesus is not spread through organizational structures, but through touch, breath, shared life. It is spread through people who have discovered love.

Not long ago, I sat and talked with some very wealthy Christians about what it means to be the church and to follow Jesus. One businessman confided, “I, too, have been thinking about following Christ and what that means … so I had this made.” He pulled up his shirt-sleeve to reveal a bracelet, engraved with W.W.J.D (What Would Jesus Do?). It was custom-made of twenty-four karat gold.

Maybe each of us can relate to this man — both his earnest desire to follow Jesus and his distorted execution of that desire, so bound up in the materialism of our culture. It is difficult to learn to live the downward mobility of the gospel in this age of wealth. For the most part, those of us who are rich never meet those of us who are poor. Instead, nonprofit organizations serve as brokers between the two in a booming business of poverty management.

I believe that the great tragedy of the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor, but that they do not know the poor. Yet if we are called to live the new community for which Christ was crucified, we cannot remain strangers to one another. Jesus demands that we live in a very different way.

I recently surveyed people who said they were “strong followers of Jesus.” Over 80 percent agreed with the statement, “Jesus spent much time with the poor.” Yet only 1 percent said that they themselves spent time with the poor. We believe we are following the God of the poor — yet we never truly encounter the poor.

About five years ago, I became part of a community called the simple way, a group of Christians literally born out of the wreckage of the church. Dozens of homeless families and children had moved into St. Edward’s, a cavernous, abandoned Catholic church in one of the most struggling neighborhoods of Philadelphia. A small group of us who were students at Eastern College, a suburban Christian school, decided to move in with them as a gesture of solidarity. From that initial step, one miracle followed another as those families mentored us in community, worship, and love.

Eventually, we settled in a rowhouse in Kensington, a few blocks from St. Edward’s. It is the poorest (but most beautiful!) district in Pennsylvania. There is no place we’d rather call home. Here, we play and dance. We plant gardens. We feed people. We cry. We have a community store. We help kids with homework. We live, and we spend our lives joining folks in poverty as they struggle to end it. Because we know that we cannot end poverty without ending wealth, we also spend time talking with Christian communities about our work and hosting visitors.

Before moving to St. Edward’s and then Kensington, I had worked in Calcutta, India, first at Mother Teresa’s home for the destitute dying and then in a leper colony. A week after returning to the United States, I began a year at Willow Creek Community Church, one of the largest, wealthiest congregations in the world — where a food court graces their worship center. Talk about culture shock!

This contrast brought me face to face with Christ’s radical love, a love strong enough to bring us together across chasms of difference. I longed for the two worlds to meet, for the lepers to know the landowners. I committed my life to trying to make that a reality.

Over the years I have come to see how charity fits into — and legitimizes — our system of wealth and poverty. Charity assures that the rich will feel good while the poor will remain with us. It is important that the poor remain with us, because our capitalist system hinges on it. Without someone on the bottom, there is no American dream and no hope for upward mobility.

Charity also functions to keep the wealthy sane. Tithes, tax-exempt donations, and short-term mission trips, while they accomplish some good, also function as outlets that allow wealthy Christians to pay off their consciences while avoiding a revolution of lifestyle. People do their time in a social program or distribute food and clothes through organizations which take their excess. That way, they never actually have to face the poor and give their clothes, their food, their beds. Wealthy Christians never actually have to be with poor people, with Christ in disguise.

If charity did not provide these carefully sanctioned outlets, Christians might be forced to live the reckless Gospel of Jesus by abandoning the stuff of earth. Instead, thanks to charity, we can live out a comfortable, privatized discipleship.

But when we get to heaven and are separated into sheep and goats (Matt. 25), I don’t believe Jesus is going to say, “When I was hungry, you gave a check to the United Way and they fed me” or “When I was naked, you donated to the Salvation Army and they clothed me.” Jesus is not seeking distant acts of charity. He is seeking concrete actions: “You fed me, … you visited me, … you welcomed me in, … you clothed me.…”

If we are to truly be the church, poverty must become a face we recognize as our own kin.

Several years ago, I attended a protest against sweatshops where the organizers had not invited the typical rally speakers — lawyers, activists, advocates. Instead, they brought kids from the sweatshops. A child from Indonesia pointed to his face. “I got this scar when my master lashed me for not working hard enough. When it bled, he did not want me to stop working or to ruin the cloth, so he took a lighter and burned it shut. I got this scar making stuff for you.”

I was suddenly consumed with the overwhelming reality of the suffering body of Christ. Jesus now bore not just nail marks and scars from thorns, but a gash down his face. How could I possibly follow Jesus and buy anything from that master?

If we are content with discipleship that ends merely with generosity, we still serve money. Generosity is a beautiful response, but we should not confuse it with love. Generosity is merely what is expected; what is required is to return that which has been stolen. God did not create some of us rich and others of us poor.

Basil the Great, writing in the fourth century, put it this way: “When someone strips a man of his clothes, we call him a thief. And one who might clothe the naked and does not — should not he be given the same name? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat in your wardrobe belongs to the naked; the shoes you let rot belong to the barefoot; the money in your vaults belongs to the destitute.” Or, in the words of Dorothy Day, “If you have two coats, one of them belongs to the poor.” Should we not, then, return our stolen goods with humility, like a child returning a stolen candy bar to the grocery store clerk? Should we not cry out, in the words of St. Vincent de Paul: “May the poor man forgive me the bread I give him”?

Often wealthy folks ask me what they can do for the simple way. I could ask them for a few thousand dollars, but that would be too easy for both of us. Instead, I ask them to come visit. Writing a check makes us feel good and can fool us into thinking that we have loved the poor. But seeing the squat houses and tent cities and hungry children will wreck our lives. We will never again be the same.

As we have done this work and have accompanied others new to it, we’ve come to see a pattern. People join us with the idea of “saving the poor.” Later, they say instead that “the poor saved me.” But both comments have one thing in common. They revolve around me — what I have to give poor people and what they can give me. God wants us to move beyond ourselves to join all of creation in groaning for liberation. There we face, perhaps for the first time, the reality that we, too, are poor.

I believe the church has forgotten its identity. The church is not an institution, a meeting, or a building. It is not something we go to. The church is something we are — an organism, not an organization.

Instead of living out this alternative vision, the church has been content to be a broker between the rich and the poor. Both those trapped in poverty and those trapped in riches view the church as a distribution center, a place where the poor come to get stuff and the rich come to dump stuff. No radical new community is formed.

In this model, both go away satisfied (the rich feel good, the poor get fed) — but neither goes away transformed. They do not join together to discover a new way of living.

In ministering in this way, the church has adopted the model of many of our nonprofit organizations. Functionally, many nonprofits act as brokers between the rich and the poor. They facilitate the exchange of goods and services, putting plenty of professionals in the middle to guarantee that the rich do not have to face the poor and that power does not shift. Rich and poor are kept in separate worlds. Charity does not feed fundamental change.

Brokering poverty also seduces Christians into being gatekeepers to power. Our progressive movements are haunted by the temptation to facilitate power. If anything, the recent dismantling of the welfare system and the corresponding public praise of small attempts by churches, nonprofits, and other faith-based institutions to take up the slack has increased this pressure. Policies like charitable choice (where churches compete for federal funding to run social programs) allow our government to pat churches on the back: “You do a better job at managing poverty than we do, so we’ll just discontinue our social supports and let you do the job!” And our churches, flattered and uncritical, scramble for the new state money like a prize.

In that model, the power structure has not budged. The power has merely changed hands. But power does not trickle down. Just as trickle-down economics has failed, trickle-down politics does not bring change.

Many beautiful Christians working for social change in a range of movements believe we can bring about fundamental change by using power benevolently rather than reworking the power equation. We see ourselves as the good guys who will use our influence for justice — and perhaps, in these terms, we succeed in getting our candidate on the ballot or elected. But the Christ we follow has a different, harder path–one of downward mobility, of struggling to become the least, of joining those at the bottom.

Several years ago, I was at a meeting where a new movement to end poverty was announced. I looked around. The only poor people in sight were the handful of people I had come with. Launching a movement to end poverty without poor people in critical roles is like launching a civil rights movement without Black people, or a feminist movement without women. As long as the poor are not present and intricately involved in the process, ending poverty will remain an intellectual, political concept. It will not convert us.

The church needs to stop talking about ending the pain of the poor and instead join the poor. All around us, the poor are crying out. They can no longer be silenced. Wherever that outcry is heard, the church must be present.

All this does not mean that social-service organizations do not do a great deal of good. I am not calling for all these organizations to be dismantled. But I am calling Christians to ask critical questions about their relationship to God’s poor people.

I believe all our “programs” should have their genesis in true relationship. At our house, we tutor — but we did not start by deciding to do a tutoring program. We simply fell in love with kids who needed help with their homework. We feed people — but we did not begin with a decision to start a feeding program. We simply fell in love with our neighbors, and they were hungry.

We have now established a nonprofit organization ourselves, but we did this in order for the organization to serve us. We are not committed to the organization, but rather to our fellowship together.

I see many communities doing amazing things through established organizations. God can — and does — work through these organizations. But the reign of God dwells in people.

Those of us who yearn for the kingdom of God must follow in the steps of Jesus. Jesus was not “in charge” of the poor. He was poor. The message of Christ from the manger to the cross is that the world is conquered through weakness, through leastness, through struggle–not from the top, but from the bottom.

The people wanted a mighty Messiah. They got a baby refugee. They wanted a powerful king to take over Rome. They got a wandering homeless man. He could have saved the world with his mighty power, but he did it through his ridiculous love. The power of God lies in the brokenness of Jesus: naked, cursed, spit upon, with birds picking at his flesh as he died the rotten death of a criminal.

The great temptation of the church, and of every believer, is the offer Satan made to Jesus in the desert: to win the world with power. But power will not end poverty. We must discover another way of living.

Jesus did not set up a program, but rather modeled a way of living that incarnated the reign of God. That reign did not spread through organizational establishments or structural systems. It spread through touch, through breath, through life. It spread through people who discovered love.

I am haunted by the command of Jesus to love our neighbor as ourselves. I struggle because I sleep in a house while my neighbor sleeps in a cardboard box; I eat twice a day while my neighbor hasn’t eaten once. I draw strength from following Jesus in community. I live with people who, if they pass someone with a worse pair of shoes, have taken their shoes off and switched; people who have quietly handed over winter jackets to someone they met on the street without a coat.

This is the reckless love of Jesus, which teaches us to see the connections between our wealth and our neighbor’s poverty. The love of Jesus will teach us another way of doing life, a way that will bring God’s reign to earth as it is in heaven. The reign of God is not for the future. It is something we live today.

Jesus reminds us that it is easy to love people who are just like us: “Even idolators do that” (Matt. 5:47). We are called to love those who hate us. Love those who create poverty, and love those who are trapped in it. See in each of them yourself — the same blood and tears We are all capable of the same evil, and we have potential for the same good. As one believer said, “In the oppressed I recognize my own face, and in the hands of the oppressor I recognize my own hands.” From addicts I learn of my addiction, and from the saints I learn of my holiness.

The God of love and the love of God know no bounds. The unending love of Jesus teaches revolutionaries to love police officers, anarchists to love politicians, vegetarians to love meat eaters, peacemakers to love soldiers. This is the love that makes us the church.

Ultimately, only this radical love of Jesus can end the poverty-wealth dichotomy. When the rich meet the poor, together they will end wealth. When the poor meet the rich, together they will end poverty.

People do not get crucified for charity. People are crucified for living out a love that disrupts the social order, that calls forth a new world. People are not crucified for helping poor people. People are crucified for joining them.

Recommended
Few pastoral and practical guides help conscientized Christians to move beyond guilt, charity fatigue, or paralysis when they finally confront privilege that insulates. In Beyond Guilt (Adventure Publications, 2000), George Johnson addresses the struggles common to Christians as their social consciousness changes, moving through the natural emotional cycles of reflection, denial, and feelings of frustration and disempowerment to develop a commitment to justice that can be sustained. Though it sometimes diverts from its focus (moving privileged people into liberated, constructive engagement) to talk about the issues themselves, this is a good resource for individuals and groups who wish to make their privilege a tool of empowerment for themselves and others.

This article was first published in the November 1, 2000 issue of The Other Side, and was reprinted with permission of the author.

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Celebrating the eight days of Easter

March 18, 2008

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We celebrate Easter each day this week.  We keep celebrating so that we might continue to enter into the meaning of the resurrection.  In the early Church, the newly baptized would be at each liturgy this week, wearing their white garments.  We go through our everyday lives this week conscious of the “white garments” we all wear.  We are renewed as a priestly people, committed with Jesus to give our lives for others.

The resurrection stories, which we read this week, come from communities that are proclaiming the good news.  The tomb is empty – Jesus’ tomb and every tomb that tries to claim us in death.  These are not believers who, in their deep desire, just made up the resurrection.  These are people who can hardly believe what they are seeing and experiencing.  They, like us now, had trouble recognizing his presence with them.

We let the prayers of this Easter week draw us into the joy.  Jesus is with us.  He is not dead, but alive.  And, that makes all the difference in the world in how much hope and courage we have, before any struggle, any possible fear of death.

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Closing Prayer

March 13, 2008

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Closing Prayer

My Jesus, I have traveled Your Way of the cross.
It seems so real and I feel so ashamed. I complain of my
sufferings and find obedience to the Father’s Will difficult. My Mind
bogged down by the poverty, sickness, starvation, greed and hatred
in the world.
There are many innocent people who suffer so unjustly. There are
those born with physical and mental defects. Do we understand that
You continue to carry Your cross in the minds and bodies of each
human being?
Help me to see the Father’s Will in every incident of my daily
life. This is what You did – you saw the Father’s Will in Your persecutors,
Your enemies and your pain.
You saw a beauty in the Cross and embraced it as a desired treasure.
My worldly mind is dulled by injustice and suffering and I
lose sight of the glory that is to come. Help me to trust the Father
and to realize that there is something great behind the most insignificant
suffering. There is Someone lifting my cross to fit my shoulders – there
is Divine Wisdom in all the petty annoyances that irk my soul
every day.
Teach me the lessons contained in my Cross,
the wisdom of its necessity, the beauty of its variety and the
fortitude that accompanies even the smallest cross.
Father, obtain for me the grace to be Jesus
to my neighbour and to see my neighbour
in Jesus.

Amen.

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Jesus is Laid in the Sepulcher

March 13, 2008

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The Fourteenth Station:
Jesus is Laid in the Sepulcher

My Jesus, You were laid to rest in a stranger’s tomb. You were born with nothing of this world’s goods and You died detached from everything. When You came into the world, men slept and angels sang and now as You leave it, Creation is silent and only a few weep. Both events were clothed in obscurity. The majority of men live in such a way. Most of us live and die knowing and known by only a few. Were You trying to tell us, dear Jesus, how very important our lives are just because we are accomplishing the Father’s Will? Will we ever learn the lesson of humility that makes us content with who we are, where we are and what we are?

Will our Faith ever be strong enough to see power in weakness and good in the sufferings of our lives? Will our Hope be trusting enough to rely on Your Providence even when we have nowhere to lay our head? Will our Love ever be strong enough not to take scandal in the cross?

My Jesus, hide my soul in Your heart as You lie in the Sepulcher alone. Let my heart be as a fire to keep you warm. Let my desire to know and love You be like a torch to light up the darkness. Let my soul sing softly a hymn of repentant love as the hours pass and Your Resurrection is at hand. Let me rejoice, dear Jesus, with all the Angels in a hymn of praise and thanksgiving for so great a love- so great a God- so great a day!

Amen

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Jesus is Taken Down From the Cross

March 13, 2008

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The Thirteenth Station:
Jesus is Taken Down From the Cross

My Jesus, it was with deep grief that Mary finally took You into her arms and saw all the wounds sin had inflicted upon You. Mary Magdalene looked upon Your dead Body with horror. Nicodemus, the man so full of human respect, who came to You by night, suddenly received the courage to help Joseph take you down from the Cross. You are once more surrounded by only a few followers. When loneliness and failure cross my path, let me think of this lonely moment and this total failure – failure in the eyes of men. How wrong they were – how mistaken their concept of success! The greatest act of love was given in desolation and the most successful mission accomplished and finished when all seemed lost. Is this not true in my life, dear Jesus? I judge my failures harshly. I demand perfection instead of holiness. My idea of success is for all to end well – according to my liking.

Give to all men the grace to see that doing Your Will is more important than success. If failure is permitted for my greater good then teach me how to use it to my advantage. Let me say as You once said, that to do the Will of the Father is my food. Let not the standards of this world take possession of me or destroy the good You have set for me – to be Holy and to accomplish the Father’s Will with great love. Let me accept praise or blame, success or failure with equal serenity.

Amen

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Jesus Dies on the Cross

March 13, 2008

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The Twelfth Station:
Jesus Dies on the Cross

God is dead! No wonder the earth quaked, the sun hid itself, the dead rose and Mary stood by in horror. Your human body gave up it’s soul in death but Your Divinity, dear Jesus, continued to manifest its power. All creation rebelled as the Word made Flesh departed from this world. Man alone was too proud to see and too stubborn to acknowledge truth.

Redemption was accomplished! Man would never have an excuse to forget how much You loved him. The thief on Your right saw something he could not explain – he saw a man on a tree and knew He was God. His need made him see his own guilt and Your innocence. The Promise of eternal life made the remaining hours of his torture. endurable.

A common thief responded to Your love with deep Faith, Hope, and Love. He saw more than his eyes envisioned – he felt a Presence he could not explain and would not argue with. He was in need and accepted the way God designed to help him.

Forgive our pride, dear Jesus as we spend hours speculating, days arguing and often a lifetime in rejecting Your death, which is a sublime mystery. Have pity on those whose intelligence leads them to pride because they never feel the need to reach out to the Man of Sorrows for consolation.

Amen

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Jesus is Nailed to the Cross

March 13, 2008

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The Eleventh Station:
Jesus is Nailed to the Cross

It is hard to imagine a God being nailed to a cross by His own creatures. It is even more difficult for my mind to understand a love that permitted such a thing to happen! As those men drove heavy nails into Your hands and feet, dear Jesus, did You offer the pain as reparation for some particular human weakness and sin? Was the nail in Your right hand for those who spend their lives in dissipation and boredom?

Was the nail in Your left hand in reparation for all consecrated souls who live lukewarm lives? Were You stretching out Your arms to show us how much You love us? As the feet that walked the hot, dusty roads were nailed fast, did they cramp up in a deadly grip of pain to make reparation for all those who so nimbly run the broad road of sin and self-indulgence?

It seems, dear Jesus, Your love has held You bound hand and foot as Your heart pleads for a return of love. You seem to shout from the top of the hill “I love you – come to me – see, I am held fast – I cannot hurt you – only you can hurt Me.” How very hard is the heart that can see such love and turn away. Is it not true I too have turned away when I did not accept the Father’s Will with love? Teach me to keep my arms ever open to love, to forgive and to render service – willing to be hurt rather than hurt, satisfied to love and not be loved in return.

Amen

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Jesus is Stripped of His Garments

March 13, 2008

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The Tenth Station:
Jesus is Stripped of His Garments

It seems that every step to Calvary brought You fresh humiliation, my Jesus. How Your sensitive nature recoiled at being stripped before a crowd of people. You desired to leave this life as You entered it – completely detached from all the comforts of this world. You want me to know without a doubt that you loved me with an unselfish love. Your love for me caused You nothing but pain and sorrow. You gave everything and received nothing in return. Why do I find it so hard to be detached?

In your loving mind, dear Jesus, did You look up to the Father as You stood there on that windy hill, shivering from cold and shame and trembling from fear, and ask Him to have mercy on those who would violate their purity and make love a mockery? Did you ask forgiveness for those whose greed would make them lie, cheat and steal for a few pieces of cold silver?

Forgive us all, dear Jesus. Look upon the world with pity, for mankind has lost its way and the principles of this world make lust a fun game and luxury a necessity. Detachment has become merely another hardship of the poor and obedience the fault of the weak. Have mercy on us and grant the people of this day the courage to see and know themselves and the light to change.

Amen

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Jesus Falls the Third Time

March 13, 2008

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The Ninth Station:
Jesus Falls the Third Time

My Jesus, even with the help of Simon You fell a third time. Were You telling me that there may be times in my life that I will fall again and again despite the help of friends and loved ones? There are times when the crosses You permit in my life are more than I can bear. It is as if all the sufferings of a life time are suddenly compressed into the present moment and it is more than I can stand.

Though it grieves my heart to see You so weak and helpless, it is a comfort to my soul to know that you understand my sufferings from Your own experience. Your love for me made You want to experience every kind of pain just so I could have someone to look to for example and courage.

When I cry out from the depths of my soul, “This suffering is more than I can bear,” do You whisper, “Yes, I understand”? When I am discouraged after many falls, do you say in my innermost being, “Keep going, I know how hard it is to rise”?

There are many people who are sorely tried in body and soul with alcohol and drug weaknesses who try and try and fall again and again. Through the humiliation of this third fall, give them the courage and perseverance to take up their cross and follow you.

Amen

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Jesus Speaks to the Holy Women

March 13, 2008

 

The Eighth Station:
Jesus Speaks to the Holy Women

My Jesus, I am amazed at Your compassion for others in Your time of need. When I suffer, I have a tendency to think only of myself but You forgot Yourself completely. When You saw the holy women weeping over Your torments, You consoled them and taught them to look deeper into Your Passion. You wanted them to understand that the real evil to cry over was the rejection You suffered from the Chosen people – a people set apart from every other nation, who refused to accept God’s Son.

The Act of Redemption would go on and no one would ever be able to take away Your dignity as Son of God, but the evil, greed, jealousy and ambition in the hearts of those who should have recognized You was the issue to grieve over. To be so close to God made man and miss Him completely was the real crime.

My Jesus, I fear I do the same when I strain gnats and then swallow camels – when I take out the splinter in my brother’s eye and forget the beam in my own. It is such a gift – this gift of faith. It is such a sublime grace to possess Your own Spirit. Why haven’t I advanced in holiness of life? I miss the many disguises you take upon Yourself and see only people, circumstances and human events, not the loving hand of the Father guiding all things. Help all those who are discouraged, sick, lonely and old to recognize Your Presence in their midst.

Amen

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Jesus Falls A Second Time

March 13, 2008

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The Seventh Station:
Jesus Falls A Second Time

My Jesus, one of the beautiful qualities the people admired in You was Your strength in time of ridicule – Your ability to rise above the occasion. But now, You fall a second time – apparently conquered by the pain of the Cross. People who judged You by appearances made a terrible mistake. What looked like weakness was unparalleled strength!

I often judge by appearances and how wrong I am most of the time. The world judges entirely by this fraudulent method of discerning. It looks down upon those who apparently have given their best and are now in need. It judges the poor as failures, the sick as useless and the aged as a burden. How wrong that kind of judgment is in the light of your second fall! Your greatest moment wasYour weakest one. Your greatest triumph was in failure. Your greatest act of love was in desolation. Your greatest show of power was in that utter lack of strength that threw You to the ground.

Weak and powerful Jesus, give me the grace to see beyond what is visible and be more aware of Your Wisdom in the midst of weakness. Give the aged, sick, handicapped, retarded, deaf and blind the fruit of joy so they may ever be aware of the Father’s gift and the vast difference between what the world sees and what the Father sees that they may glory in their weakness so the power of God may be manifest.

Amen

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Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

March 13, 2008

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The Sixth Station:
Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

My Jesus, where were all the hundreds of peoples whose bodies and souls were healed by you? Where were they when You needed someone to give You the least sign of comfort? Ingratitude must have borne down upon Your heart and made the cross nearly impossible to carry. There are times I too feel all my efforts for Your Kingdom are futile and end in nothingness. Did your eyes roam through the crowd for the comfort of just one individual – one sign of pity – one sign of grief?

My heart thrills with a sad joy when I think of one woman, breaking away from fear and human respect and offeringYou her thin veil to wipe Your bleeding Face. Your loving heart, ever watching for the least sign of love, imprinted the Image of your torn Face upon it! How can You forget Yourself so completely and reward such a small act of kindness?

I must admit, I have been among those who were afraid to know You rather than like Veronica. She did not care if the whole world knew she loved You. Heartbroken Jesus, give me that quality of the soul so necessary to witness to spread Your Word – to tell all people of Your love for them. Send many into Your Vineyard so the people of all nations may receive the Good News. Imprint Your Divine Image upon my soul and let the thin veil of my human nature bear a perfect resemblance to your loving Spirit.

Amen

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Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross

March 13, 2008

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The Fifth Station:
Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross

My Jesus, Your tormentors enlisted a Simon of Cyrene to help You carry Your cross. Your humility is beyond my comprehension. Your power upheld the whole universe and yet You permit one of Your creatures to help You carry a cross. I imagine Simon was reluctant to take part in Your shame. He had no idea that all who watched and jeered at him would pass into oblivion while his name would go down in history and eternity as the one who helped his God in need. Is it not so with me, dear Jesus? Even when I reluctantly carry my cross as Simon did, it benefits my soul.

If I keep my eyes on You and watch how You suffered, I will be able to bear my cross with greater fortitude. Were you trying to tell all those who suffer from prejudice to have courage? Was Simon a symbol of all those who are hated because of race, color and creed?

Simon wondered as he took those beams upon his shoulders, why he was chosen for such a heavy burden and now he knows. Help me Jesus, to trust your loving Providence as you permit suffering to weave itself in and out of my life. Make me understand that You looked at it and held it fondly before You passed it on to me. You watch me and give me strength just as You did Simon. When I enter Your Kingdom, I shall know as he knows, what marvels Your Cross has wrought in my soul.

Amen

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Jesus Meets His Afflicted Mother

March 13, 2008

 

 

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The Fourth Station:
Jesus Meets His Afflicted Mother

My Jesus, it was a great sorrow to realize Your pain caused Mary so much grief. As Redeemer, You wanted her to share in Your pain for mankind. When You glanced at each other in unutterable suffering, what gave you both the courage to carry on without the least alleviation – without anger at such injustice?

It seems as if you desired to suffer every possible pain to give me an example of how to suffer when my time comes. What a humiliation for You when Your mother saw you in such a pitiable state – weak – helpless – at the mercy of sinful men – holiness exposed to evil in all hideousness.

Did every moment of that short encounter seem like an eternity? As I see so much suffering in the world, there are times I think it is all hopeless. There is an element of lethargy in my prayers for mankind that says “I’ll pray, but what good will it do? The sick grow sicker and the hungry starve. ” I think of that glance between You and Mary – the glance that said, “Let us give this misery to the Father for the salvation of souls. The Father’s power takes our pain and frustration and renews souls, saves them for a new life – a life of eternal joy, eternal happiness. It is worth it all.” Give perseverance to the sick so they can carry the cross of frustration and agony with love and resignation for the salvation of others.

Amen

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Jesus Falls the First Time

March 13, 2008

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The Third Station:
Jesus Falls the First Time

My Jesus, it seems to me, that as God, You would have carried Your cross without faltering, but You did not. You fell beneath it’s weight to show me You understand when I fall. Is it pride that makes me want to shine even in pain? You were not ashamed to fall- to admit the cross was heavy. There are those in world whom my pride will not tolerate as I expect everyone to be strong, yet I am weak. I am ashamed to admit failure in anything.

If the Father permits failure in my life just as He permitted You to fall, then I must know there is good in that failure which my mind will never comprehend. I must not concentrate on the eyes of others as they rest upon me in my falls. Rather, I must reach up to touch that invisible hand and drink in that invisible strength ever at my side.

Weak Jesus, help all men who try so hard to be good but whose nature is constantly opposed to them walking straight and tall down the narrow road of life. Raise their heads to see the glory that is to come rather than the misery of the present moment.

Your love for me gave You strength to rise from Your fall. Look upon all those whom the world considers unprofitable servants and give them the courage to be more concerned as to how they stand before You, rather than their fellowmen.

Amen

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Jesus Carries His Cross

March 13, 2008

 

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The Second Station:
Jesus Carries His Cross

How could any human impose such a burden upon Your torn and bleeding body, Lord Jesus? Each movement of the cross drove the thorns deeper into Your Head. How did You keep the hatred from welling up in Your Heart? How did the injustice of it all not ruffle your peace? The Father’s Will was hard on You – Why do I complain when it is hard on me?

I see injustice and am frustrated and when my plans to alleviate it seems futile, I despair. When I see those burdened with poverty suffer ever more and cross is added to cross my heart is far from serene. I utterly fail to see the dignity of the cross as it is carried with love. I would so much rather be without it.

My worldly concept is that suffering, like food, should be shared equally. How ridiculous I am, dear Lord. Just as we do not all need the same amount of material food, neither do we need the same amount of spiritual food and that is what the cross is in my life, isn’t it – spiritual food proportional to my needs.

Amen

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Jesus Is Condemned To Death

March 13, 2008

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The First Station:
Jesus Is Condemned To Death

My Jesus, the world still has You on trial. It keeps asking who You are and why You make the demands You make. It asks over and over the question, If You are God’s Son, why do You permit the world to be in the state it is in? Why are You so silent?

Though the arrogance of the world angers me, I must admit that silently, in the depths of my soul, I too have these questions. Your humility frustrates me and makes me uncomfortable. Your strength before Pilate as You drank deeply from the power of the Father, gives me the answer to my question – The Father’s Will. The Father permits many sufferings in my life but it is all for my good. If only I too could be silent in the face of worldly prudence – steadfast in the faith when all seems lost – calm when accused unjustly – free from tyranny of human respect – ready to do the Father’s Will no matter how difficult.

Silent Jesus, give us all the graces we need to stand tall in the face of the ridicule of the world. Give the poor the strength not to succumb to their privation but to be ever aware of their dignity as sons of God. Grant that we might not bend to the crippling disease of worldly glory but be willing to be deprived of all things rather than lose Your friendship. My Jesus, though we are accused daily of being fools, let the vision of Quiet Dignity standing before Monstrous Injustice, give us all the courage to be Your followers.

Amen

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THEOLOGY OF THE ICON

March 2, 2008

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The icon is a link between the human and the divine. It provides a space for the mystical encounter between the person before it and God. It becomes a place for the appearance of Christ, the Theotokos or the Saints-provided one stands before the icon with the right disposition of heart and mind. It creates a place of prayer. An icon participates in the event it depicts and is almost a re-creation of that event existentially for the believer.
As S. Bulgakov said, “By the blessing of the icon of Christ, a mystical meeting of the faithful and Christ is made possible.” Throughout the world, many icons are for this reason regarded as “wonder working”, providing both spiritual and temporal blessings. They are venerated as instruments of miraculous intervention. They provide courage and strength in a world marked with tragedy and suffering. They provide joy since icons remind us that we are deeply loved by God.

Western spirituality teaches us to listen, and the Byzantine Fathers invite us to look.
The constancy of the Christian Faith is reflected in its art. The icon is steeped in tradition. Tradition and artistic convention govern the icon painting. We all can imagine the ancient scribe carefully copying letter by letter the ancient religious texts. In a similar way the iconographer follows that which was before him. In fact, the act of painting an icon is often referred to as “writing.” The artist’s creativity comes into play not through creating the “novel,” but in the freedom of manipulating line, color, and form for a directed purpose: the expression of the truth and vision of the Church. With these specific goals in mind the icon over the centuries took on its own particular style. The ochre skin tones, the unnatural folds of closing, the flatter spaces and odd perspective, are all examples of this. An icon itself is not so much a painting as a prayer, hence it’s majestic simplicity and peacefulness. All that is depicted in it reflects divine orderliness. An icon speaks also with its hues, which are equally as symbolic as forms. Red, white, green, brown and yellow colors were the basic hues used in icon painting, red having a symbol of life and blood, in particular the blood of Christ and Martyrs. White represented the transcendental world, green was a symbol of youthfulness and vitality, while brown (the colour of the Earth-antithesis of Heaven) was used to paint monks’ and ascetics’ vestments. Yellow, approximating gold, symbolized light and eternity. The most spiritual hue was azure, a symbol of the mystery of life frequently used in icon painting.

There could be nothing personal, nothing those reflected individual predilections of a painter in an icon, as it did not depict human thoughts or images of the Truth, but the Truth itself. The art of icon painting is bound to religious tradition, which disallows loose alterations. This preserves the pure form and protects the specific theological and religious concepts being presented through the icons. A special discipline is prescribed for icon painters in conformity to ecclesiastical requirements. The icon is a consecrated object, thus demanding the painter to pray and fast for divine inspiration.
According to such interpretation the work of icon painters ( iconographers ) had very much in common with the priest’s duties, merely the form of work differed, for a priest taught with words and an iconographer with form and colour.
Some people consider painting icons an uncreative anachronism. This could equally be said of singing plainchant or interpreting any other time-honored form of art or music. An icon is said to be a mirror of divine revelation. A painter’s interpretation of it is also a reflection of his spiritual attitude. A good craftsman may make a competent copy, but the true artist tries with reverence to capture the spirit of the icon.

In Western art forms, the artist’s creativity and expertise are of primary value. In Eastern Byzantine Iconography, the value is in essence over appearance. The vast difference between styles seems to create a sort of language barrier between them. Ultimately, each has it’s own place and purpose; truly understanding various art forms takes a certain effort. Western art has often aided in the greater appreciation of God’s creation. Eastern Iconography serves to express the glory of God Himself.

When the Son of God became Man through the Mother of God (incarnation), God was given a physical image and was then able to be portrayed in icons in human form. The images serve as an inspiration to all who view them. An icon does not show the confusion of a sinful world. Rather, it depicts the peace of the Divine world; a world governed by grace, not logic. That is why every religious painting is not necessarily an icon. Icons are very different from other more commonly seen art forms. The value of an icon, therefore, is not based on the beauty of the work, but on the spiritual beauty it portrays.

Icon painters, are generally not known to us by name. By a curious twist of fate we are familiar with the names of many masters, but do not actually know any picture they have painted, whereas in the case of a great number of the works that have survived, we know the painting, but do not know the artist and have little hope of ever finding out his name. Icon painting was an anonymous branch of art because, the painter regarded himself a tool in the hands of God rather than as a creative artist. Therefore his name was quite unimportant and not worth mentioning. He was not interested in enhancing his reputation and the whole procedure of dating or signing pictures seemed quite superfluous when viewed in that light. In more recent time, the inscription “by the hand of (the iconographer’s name)” is used, thus giving God the credit for guiding the hand by which form is given to His sacred mysteries.

To those newly interested in icons: allow the icon to speak to your heart through quiet contemplation. Icons are a doorway into closeness with God, (leading beyond itself to the Eternal Creator.) Through God’s love, icons are created to aid seekers into spiritual holiness. Iconography is not an invention of painters or artists but it is an authentic tradition of the Church. The preaching of Christianity was carried out through word and image.

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How Ikons Are Created – Gilding & Varnishing

February 23, 2008

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Gilding is, for me, the most difficult part of ikon painting and I approach it with great trepidation every time I do it. Gilding is completely unforgiving and difficult to correct if done wrong. The hardest thing is to create an all-over even effect.

There are a number of methods for gilding, which include painted gold, gold-leaf adhered by applied glues and water gilding on gesso. Of these The first is the easiest. Gilding is extremely hard to master and can be very frustrating – as well as expensive. There are two different kinds of real gold-leaf, which comes in packets of around 25-40 sheets. A 14 by 20 inch ikon will take one packet of gold leaf which costs around $35. One is called ‘wind-blown’, which is used in water and bole gilding; and ‘patent’ gold, which is used in gilding with size. The difference is that wind-blown gold-leaf is loosely set in its packet, so that a cat’s hair brush can easily lift it from the folder onto the surface you are gilding; while pantent gold-leaf is attached to a removable piece of thin paper which is directly (and delicately) applied to a tacky sized surface. The gold-leaf is lightly rubbed through the paper until it has completely attached and then the paper is carefully removed. I recommend experimentation using a good book, such as ‘The Art of Tempera Painting”, which you can get from Sinopia, as a guide. I use 23kt patent gold-leaf and Japan Gold Size. It adheres fast but is tricky to use. I suggest using an artificial gold paint for your first ikon, a blue background and limiting the idea to be gilded to halos. This should only be step towards learning the proper methods. Water gilding is the best, because it allows the artist to polish the surface after the application of real gold leaf, creating a mirror-like surface.

There are also artificial gold-leaf packets which are less expensive than genuine gold. They only seem to come in the wind-blown variety.

Varnishing

When the painting has been completed it should be allowed to dry out completely. I suggest a week or more. A final varnish is necessary to protect the surface of the ikon. Do not use normal painting varnish. Russian painters used a refined oil to coat their ikons. This was a bad choice, as the oil soaked up dirt and grime. This is the reason many ancient Russian ikons have been repainted many times. The best varnish is shellac, which is a natural substance made from trees. I always use a spray shellac, putting on a number of light gentle coats. Make sure the temperature where you are applying the shellac is above 65F, free of any sudden gusts of air, insects and pet or human hair. There is nothing worse than to find a fly which has mistakenly alighted on your painting embedded in the shellac. As I mentioned earlier, always use light coats and let each layer dry. Putting the shellac on in too thick layers can cause cloudiness.

Taken from the website ICON’s- windows into heaven- A Collection of Sacred images. 

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How Ikons Are Created – Gilding & Varnishing

February 23, 2008

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Gilding is, for me, the most difficult part of ikon painting and I approach it with great trepidation every time I do it. Gilding is completely unforgiving and difficult to correct if done wrong. The hardest thing is to create an all-over even effect.

There are a number of methods for gilding, which include painted gold, gold-leaf adhered by applied glues and water gilding on gesso. Of these The first is the easiest. Gilding is extremely hard to master and can be very frustrating – as well as expensive. There are two different kinds of real gold-leaf, which comes in packets of around 25-40 sheets. A 14 by 20 inch ikon will take one packet of gold leaf which costs around $35. One is called ‘wind-blown’, which is used in water and bole gilding; and ‘patent’ gold, which is used in gilding with size. The difference is that wind-blown gold-leaf is loosely set in its packet, so that a cat’s hair brush can easily lift it from the folder onto the surface you are gilding; while pantent gold-leaf is attached to a removable piece of thin paper which is directly (and delicately) applied to a tacky sized surface. The gold-leaf is lightly rubbed through the paper until it has completely attached and then the paper is carefully removed. I recommend experimentation using a good book, such as ‘The Art of Tempera Painting”, which you can get from Sinopia, as a guide. I use 23kt patent gold-leaf and Japan Gold Size. It adheres fast but is tricky to use. I suggest using an artificial gold paint for your first ikon, a blue background and limiting the idea to be gilded to halos. This should only be step towards learning the proper methods. Water gilding is the best, because it allows the artist to polish the surface after the application of real gold leaf, creating a mirror-like surface.

There are also artificial gold-leaf packets which are less expensive than genuine gold. They only seem to come in the wind-blown variety.

Varnishing

When the painting has been completed it should be allowed to dry out completely. I suggest a week or more. A final varnish is necessary to protect the surface of the ikon. Do not use normal painting varnish. Russian painters used a refined oil to coat their ikons. This was a bad choice, as the oil soaked up dirt and grime. This is the reason many ancient Russian ikons have been repainted many times. The best varnish is shellac, which is a natural substance made from trees. I always use a spray shellac, putting on a number of light gentle coats. Make sure the temperature where you are applying the shellac is above 65F, free of any sudden gusts of air, insects and pet or human hair. There is nothing worse than to find a fly which has mistakenly alighted on your painting embedded in the shellac. As I mentioned earlier, always use light coats and let each layer dry. Putting the shellac on in too thick layers can cause cloudiness.

Taken from the website ICON’s- windows into heaven- A Collection of Sacred images. 

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How Ikons Are Created – Painting the Ikon

February 23, 2008

 

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As mentioned earlier ikons are painted from dark to light. It is a painstaking technique and requires the use of fine-tipped brushes. In order to achieve the fused method of modeling, which creates seamless graduations in tones it is necessary to make many subtle lightenings of the pigment which are applied in a very fine cross-hatching effect. Another method is to blur the edges of each successive coat with pigment which has been more diluted in water.

The first example at top left shows a detail of the face of St. Catherine of Sinai. In this ikon the 14th century Byzantine artist has used a rather dark underpainting, using a dark umber color mixed with white. After painting the undertones of the face the next step is to draw the dark lines upon the face in dark umber. The first face tones the painter has laid on in the fused, method. This can be determined by the lack of noticeable lines at the transition point between the underpaint and the first light flesh tones. In the fused method one uses a combination of water-diluted color with a very soft application of the paint in the transition zone. This may be hard to understand, but I promise you will learn it as you attempt to create this smooth transition yourself. The traditional flesh tones are generally made of Yellow Ochre mixed with a small amount of red, white and umber. The following lighter layers of face tone are made simply by adding more white. Midway through the process of building up the face a small amount of flesh tone should be taken aside and mixed with a touch more red and a bit of umber. It is better to err on the side of using less, rather than more. This tone is then dilutes and used for the rosey tones of the checks and lips. Notice that the painter of St. Catherine has used a lighter tone for the cheeks and that this is under the topmost layers. Also notice that the nose has a rosey zone along it’s right edge and that the chin has one also. Looking very closely it is possible to observe that the lower part of the neck and the edge of the forehead is treated in a similar, subtle way. Strive for a fused effect with the rosey tone, showing no lines.

The final light flesh tones can be seen to have been laid on in a contour effect and the brush strokes are visible. The artist has followed the contours of the various features of the face. leaving the lines visible is a conscious effort by the artist. Finally bright highlights have been placed along the same facial contours in key places. Study these very carefully, for all ikon faces follow a similar arrangement. This tone of white is actually not very bright and be careful to use a very light tone of your flesh color here rather than plain white, which would be too garish. The eyes take special treatment. Notice that the artist had used the fused method in the eyes, and has even outlines the dark-edged iris with a barely detectable outline of light tone.

The second ikon detail at left is from a Russian painting of St. David from the 15th century. The artist has used a lighter underpaint than the painter of St. Catherine and it has a greenish tone. A lighter underpainting in facial tones against a color background makes the facial tones harmonize more effectively. Here the artists has also chosen flesh tones which are much rosier and closer to the color of the underpaint. This makes it easier to achieve the fused effect. Here the highlights are much brighter and more abstract. The lines of the drawing on the face are also more red. This ikon certainly has a more calligraphic quality.

The first example of drapery painting at left is a detail from a 14th century ikon of the Annunciation from Constantinople, now in Orhid, Macedonia. It shows the leg of the Archangel.

Here can clearly be demonstrated the ikon method of painting garments. First the artist has painted the undertone, in this case a neutral grey. Next the painter drew the outlines of the drapery and then applied some broad areas of darker shadow (overuse of overly dark shadows can make your figures seem overworked, restraint is called for). Two layers of highlights are applied. Notice here that some ‘lines’ in the drawing of the garment are created by these highlights. This is called the three tone method, since there are three tones added to the underpaint of the garment (the lines of the drawing are not considered tones). The three tone method is also used in architecture and landscape.

Sometimes alternate colors, such as green or pink on blue, are used in the lighter tones to create contrasting tones which imitate shimmering fabrics such as silk or brocade. This can be seen in the garments of the left-hand Angel in Rublev’s great ikon of the Old Testament Trinity.

Specific garment colors are assigned by tradition to specific saints and Holy figures. For example, Christ and the Virgin’s robes are always in royal shades of Imperial Purple or rich Blue. The only exception is in some ikons depicting heaven, when their robes are white. The Archangel Michael’s outer cloak is usually red or purple while Gabriel’s is blue or a greenish blue. This was helpful in the days when few people could read. Christians could recognize who they were praying to by the colors in the ikon. Ikons always carry inscriptions identifying the scene or the saint shown for the same reason – it was important to know who one was praying to.

Finally, gold is used to highlight garments as well. In the example at left from Rublev’s Christ in Glory the use of fine gold lines which have the effect of building up volume can be clearly seen. Use of gold highlights the image seem more abstract.

 Taken from the website ICON’s- windows into heaven- A Collection of Sacred images.

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How Ikons Are Created – Choosing an Ikon to Paint and The Drawing

February 23, 2008

 

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The best way to select the subject of your first ikon is to look though books. I suggest selecting a simple subject to begin with, perhaps a Virgin and Child. There is no problem with tracing an ikon from a photocopy for your drawing, since one of the most valued possessions of medieval ikon painters were pattern books of drawings they used over and over as they painted. These books were often passed down from generation to generation. Also, as adhering to the original ikon as closely as possible is essential tracing is an excellent way of achieving that end. I also suggest lightly coloring in the colors of various areas in advance to insure you have the right pigments at hand.

The drawing is transferred to the panel by rubbing charcoal over the back of the drawing and pressing a copy onto the surface with a dull pencil through the paper. Never draw your ikon directing on the panel using a graphite pencil. Once the charcoal image is imprinted onto the panel a sepia painting of the lines is created and the remaining charcoal gently brushed away. Some artists then scratch the outline of the figure into the gesso, as the painted lines will disappear under the layers of paint. This technique will enable the original drawing to be seen in a raking light beneath the surface of the paint, and guide the drawing of lines and contours in paint on the undercoat.

Taken from the website ICON’s- windows into heaven- A Collection of Sacred images. 

 

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How Ikons Are Created – About the Egg Tempera Media

February 23, 2008

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The egg tempera medium is created by draining the yolks of fresh eggs. I do it by hand, rolling the yolk in a broken half-shell while carefully pouring out the white. Once most of the white is gone I roll the intact yolk in my cupped fingers to drain off the last of the white. Then I delicately hold the yolk while I pierce the membrane with a needle or tip of a knife. Next I gently drain the contents of the yolk into a clean cup or bowl, making sure that none of the membrane gets mixed in, which is discarded. Following this, I gently mix in a small amount of water and a tiny quantity of alcohol or vinegar as a preservative.

Pigments are mixed, usually the night before, in small bottles. I use baby food jars. Some choose to wet their dry pigments on china or glass, using a palate knife, however I have always mixed them in the bottle. Some dry pigments do not wet easily and the use of a few drops of a wetting agent, like Ox Gall is always a good idea. Ox Gall is inexpensive and can be ordered from Sinopia. Next I take a certain quantity of wetted pigment and mix it with a quantity of the egg mixture, either in another baby food jar or on an old china plate. It is important to get the mixture right, and this can vary. One has to watch for a velvety-matte effect as the paint dries, to little medium will leave a dry bleached out surface, while too much will make for an oily and pasty surface. Recognizing the right mixture is something that can only be learned by experimentation and observation.

Wetted pigments in sealed jars can be stored for a few days, perhaps as long as a week. I find that mixed pigments are useless if not used within 4 -12 hours.

Normally, differently colored pigments are not mixed together as much as in modern painting, but are used straight out of the bottle. This is not always possible, for example the underpainting of flesh tones is a mixture of various earth tones. The Imperial purple of the Virgin’s robes is a mixture of Hematite and Cinnabar. There is not hard and fast rule about mixing colors, it’s simply a situation of trial and error. In some cases the minerals used can react to each other in unexpected ways.

 Taken from the website ICON’s- windows into heaven- A Collection of Sacred images.

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How Ikons Are Created – Pigments and Brushes

February 23, 2008

 

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You selection of pigments and brushes are very important. Brushes must be soft and generally round. You will need a number of fine detail brushes. Watch for the points of your brushes when you buy them. Cheap, poorly made brushes can come apart while you are painting and spoil your work. Sable is best, but some synthetic brushes will work okay for the budget-minded.

Traditional ikons are painted in egg tempera, and in very early-times were also painted in wax colors manipulated with heated rods and spatulas. Acrylic and oils paints are not traditional media for ikon painting, but there is no hard fast rule against these mediums. It is impossible to achieve the effect of egg tempera in other medium. The use of acrylic paints for ikons is fairly wide spread because it is an easier technique and supplies are easier to obtain. New students of ikon painting should move directly to original methods and avoid the interim step of painting in acrylics on canvas which can teach bad habits. This is not to say that acrylic painted ikons aren’t spiritual. All ikons are simply nothing but painted boards and have no intrinsic spiritual value in their materials.

Two companies in Britain, Rowney and Windsor-Newton, carry egg tempera paints premade in tubes, but these are not true egg tempera paints, as they include oils in their composition and are very difficult for the ikon painter to use. The ancient egg tempera method uses dry pigments which you mix with the medium each time you use them. This might seem intimidating to the novice, but it is quite easy. Egg tempera is also easy to clean up.

Selecting the right pigments is very important. The traditional ikon palate is based on natural elements and is much cooler than the paints found for sale in art stores. You will find that natural pigments will harmonize within your composition in a way that mass-produced, synthetic paints never can. I suggest the following pigments for the beginning ikon painter; Green Earth, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, French Ochre, Slate Grey, Ivory Black, Hematite, and Ultramarine Blue. All of these will cost a total of around $40 and come in 50 and 100 gram glass bottles from Sinopia. These quantities will last a long time for the novice painter. I also recommend buying Titanium White over old Flake White, which is lead-based and a hazardous material. Plus, I find Titanium White has stronger tinting qualities. A rich blue for traditional ikon backgrounds and the robes of the Virgin and Christ is recommended. Here, I suggest Cobalt Blues over Lapis-Lazuli colors, which are extremely expensive. Dark Cobalt Blue comes closest to the color used by Giotto for the backgrounds of his work. Reds are also a special case. Cinnabar, which is the genuine color of Vermilion, is best, but expensive. Ikon painters who want to achieve the rich, bright reds of Russian painting must use Cinnabar. Sinopia carries some alternative pigments, such as Permanent Red, which will work well.

Greens were always a problematic color for ancient and medieval painters and were normally based on impermanent vegetable dyes or minerals like malachite and copper. I suggest a Cobalt Green be added to the range of your pigments. The last pigments I have recommended, Cobalt Blue, Cinnabar and Cobalt Green will cost about another $70, but as I mentioned earlier, should last a long time.

For more details on pigments I suggest contacting Sinopia, they are very helpful in recommending colors and have a catalog they can send you in the mail.

Taken from the website ICON’s- windows into heaven- A Collection of Sacred images.

 

 

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How Ikons Are Created – The Board

February 23, 2008

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The panel on which you paint an ikon is very important. In ancient times cypress or lime where the preferred woods, but these are now hard to find. Soft resinous woods – like pine – simply will not work and should be avoided. Most hardware stores carry hardwoods, like ash and maple, which will work well if they are fine grained. I also use hardwoods like cherry, pear, walnut and holly, which can be rather expensive and hard to find. For those on a budget, particle board will work, but the results are not the best. In selecting a board watch for fine grain – pick a panel without any knots, cracks or warping. A flat board is the easiest to use, however I often carve out the traditional nitch in the center (not possible with particle boards) of the panel.This is a laborious process and should be left to wood-working professionals or advanced students of ikonography.

Pandora carries prepared ikon panels which are expertly crafted in various sizes and shapes. This boards are made in the traditional way, with slats inserted across the back to prevent warping for an extra charge. They will even send them to you pre-gessoed, which saves a great deal of time. They are very expensive.

If you want to make your own – or if you buy a pre-made panel that is not gessoed – you board must be primed by using a combination of chalk and natural glue. This is called True Gesso and it is essential to use it for egg tempera painting. The acrylic gessos sold in stores will NOT work with ikon painting. One part glue is combined with 10-12 parts water and allowed to soak overnight. This mixture is then heated in a double boiler and applied in one or two coats to the wood board. This helps the coats of gesso-primer to better adhere to the board. After this has dried thoroughly a misture of 1 part glue solution to 1 1/2 parts chalk is mixed and heated in the double boiler. Mix the ingredients very gently. The gesso should be heated until warm, but not allowed approach boiling. It should be allowed to cool a bit (some pass the mixture through cheesecloth at this point, but I don’t) and they be applied on the board in six to eight rather thin coats with a large, soft, clean, flat brush. Some suggest applying the gesso in rapid cross strokes, which gently wipe out the furrows of the brush as you go. This works for me. All coats of gesso must be applied in one extended session or the coats may not adhere to each other well. It can be rather tricky to know when each coat has dried sufficiently to take the next one. I watch the surface to see when the wet shine has completely vanished. This will happen rapidly, especially with the first coats. After all the layers are allied the board should be palaced in a dry spot and allowed to completely dry out. This takes at very least 24 hours and it is best to wait another day or so to be sure the panel is ready.

At this point I take a very fine sandpaper and polish the surface of the panel as finely as possible. Use a circular motion for best results. I can usually tell when a panel is done by the appearance of the surface of the gesso which is ready when it has a very slight glassy appearance in a raking light.

Taken from the website ICON’s- windows into heaven- A Collection of Sacred images.

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How Ikons Are Created – What you will need to get started with ikon painting

February 23, 2008

 

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To get started in ikon painting you will need a board to paint on, gesso with glue, pigments, eggs, gilding materials (when you are ready to gild) and varnish. Finding supplies for ikon painting has been difficult until recently. Artists, particularly in small towns, found it hard to locate supplies locally. An even bigger problem was getting books which explained the technique; there was little in print anywhere on egg tempera painting.

I used to order most of my pigments from England, which was difficult and costly. Now, with the advent of the Internet it is incredibly easy to find supplies. All of these materials are now available from a store in San Francisco which has a site for ordering on the web. Materials – especially pigments – can be expensive. For a while I bought my pigments from another store in San Francisco, until a clerk told me about Sinopia, which is at least 50% less expensive than any source I have yet found. For the rest of the section of the website on the craft of ikonography I will make the assumption that you will be getting your supplies from them and will describe specific colors and products they carry.

Taken from the website ICON’s- windows into heaven- A Collection of Sacred images.

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How Ikons Are Created – What is Ikonography?

February 23, 2008

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Ikon painting is often called ‘ikonography’ or the art of ‘writing of an ikon’. This is ancient terminology which is used to describe the technique which conveys the image of a medieval scribe carefully copying out a manuscript in exact script. This is an apt picture to visualize this ancient art, since the craft of ikonography involves conscious copying and duplication of long established types. Some might say that ikonography is a lesser art, since it involves a limited number of types and set forms of expression. This is a narrow way of looking at ikon art, which resonates with thousands of subtle nuances indicating the deep spiritual consciousness and cultural roots of the artist. As this spans almost 2,000 years of continuous renewal and reinterpretation of the art the range of expression is far greater than many would expect.

Our modern culture values individual expression above all. The very idea of limits on creativity is considered the antithesis of true art. However, this cultural hedonism is a new phenomena and it is not clear what products of our era will represent the high culture of the 21st century culture to our forebearers. Therefore, whatever judgement our culture places on ikons is rather meaningless to ikons long-term. They will continue to be created, and to nurture and teach future generations.

One possible way to understand ikongraphy and the relation of the painter to the ikon they are painting might be to think of a musician playing a famous piece by Chopin. Most listeners would know the piece very well and listening to it would notice how the rendition of the artist interpreted the composer. The piece would always be Chopin, but it might be a distinctly different rendition. However, it would be noticed if the artist changed the notes or rearranged the piece.

Improvisation in ikon painting is a tricky affair and should be avoided until the technique of ikon painting has been mastered. Improvisation usually involves making ikons ‘prettier’, which is a subjective reaction. Every generation has it’s own idea about beauty and it is virtually impossible to avoid modern elements to enter into an ikon copy. Some of these are so subtle the painter may not even notice them. This is why ikons of different eras look different to us today. In their time these differences would have been less noticeable. Therefore, if the goal is to create the most accurate ikon possible, one with as much of the feel of the original as possible, it is best to conform as closely as possible to every detail of ikon you choose to paint. Over time it is a good idea to select a number of different ikons in different schools of ikon painting. Doing this helps the painter to learn differences in style, palate and methods of painting.

Ikon painting can be a challenging technique to learn, mostly because the modern painter must unlearn many things they have been taught about art. Many of the principals behind ikonography are diametrically opposed to methods of painting generally taught in Western art for hundreds of years. It is not an expressionist art or medium that is sympathetic to bold brushwork. The idealistic forms of ikons require careful study before the flow and balance of line in the drawing can be mastered. The craft of ikonography with its careful and painstaking technique is a process which lends itself to mental concentration and spiritual contemplation.

Like learning the piano, with practice and concentration, beautiful images can be created. With time and work the forms, methods and palate of ikon painting can become second nature to the artist. When that has been achieved the ikon painter can attempt more personal expression, but not before. At the same time it is not just an issue of technique and a subconscious identification with medieval ideas of beauty. The most successful ikons are painted by artists who understand and can identify closely with the subjects they are painting as well as having an understanding of history. Reading books on Orthodox spirituality, ikons, or prayer are all helpful in achieving a true comprehension of the real essence of ikons.

Taken from the website ICON’s- windows into heaven- A Collection of Sacred images.

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Ikon History – Ikons in the Modern Age

February 23, 2008

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It might seem curious to begin a discussion of ikons in the ‘modern age’ by starting in Russia around 1700, but this period is extremely interesting, as it was a time with Russian ikon painting was colliding head on with Western Art. This was true not only in ikon painting, but also was happening in architecture and the decorative arts. While western styles of art were relatively harmless when it came to palaces and portraits of living men and women, it was quite another thing when it came to ikons of Christ and the saints. The church was very skeptical of innovations from western Europe. The fact that Tsar Peter the Great was a rapid enthusiast for everything from the west meant that the church could not avoid these influences. Production centers of ikons were located in the Kremlin under the Tsar’s patronage and it was assured he would give direction in how he the styles his artists used.

Western influences in Russian art were not new. There had been a regular flow of western European popular religious prints and engravings for a very long time. Catholic Poland and Lithuania were very nearby, and their long established cultural connections with Kiev and Ukraine were strong. These influences from abroad had rather a spotty effect on Russian ikon painting. Catholic-appearing ikons were liable to be burnt if found by zealous churchmen.

During the 17th century Russian ikon art had reached an incredible level of technical perfection. The famous Stroganov school was producing jewel-like ikons in luscious colors with incredible detail. Old ikon themes continued to be chosen as subjects, but many Stroganov painters liked to pick new and obscure subjects for their painting. Painters liked to show off their bravura technique with crowed scenes, fantastic architecture and highly decorated clothing on their figures. This style was highly popular among the Muscovite aristocracy, but it did not work very well in monumental church settings. Also, the spiritual aspect of ikon painting suffered in the Stroganov school, when artists were obviously striving for superficial effect, rather than spirituality.

This changes with the arrival of famous artists like Simon Ushakov and Fyodor Zubov (an example of his work is at top left), who worked in the Tsar’s Armoury Workshops. The second ikon is by a follower of Ushakov, Filateyev. The ikon is large and was obviously intended for a church ikonstasis. The painting is shows how far western realism was impacting Russian art. Although it carefully follows strict Church canons regarding the depiction of Christ, details, such as the face, show a striving on the part of the artist to create a ‘real’ person. The modeling of the figure is extremely fine and almost exceeds the ability of egg tempera painting to reproduce soft graduations of shadow. This is a conscious effort of the artist to imitate the effect of oil painting in a media unfriendly to soft shadows. The clothes of Christ, following the Stroganov style, are highlighted in fine lines of gold, which give lend figure a burnished, almost metallic effect.

The second ikon at left, Christ – King of Kings, is very large, about six feet tall. It is a few years earlier than the ikon just discussed and has a number of features that show it comes from the previous decade. Here Christ is shown in regal garb, like a Muscovite Tsar. His clothes are fashioned on the ancient robes of Byzantine Emperors, made of thick orange brocade woven with gold and silver, set with gemstones. In His left hand He carries a wand of authority, while his right gives a traditional Orthodox blessing. Christ’s head is adorned with a highly ornate, scaley diadem of superimposed crowns, topped with a cross. The face and hands are delicately modeled.

Next, at left is an unusual ikon of the Theotokos from the 1700’s. Here decorative elements completely overwhelm the traditional depiction of the Mother of God with Christ. Behind the figures baroque architecture and unusual motifs compete in a busy background. The Virgin stands behind a table covered with rich brocade and carries a regal scepter which has exploded in bloom. She wears a western-style crown and is dressed in stiff orange-colored gold brocade robes. Two gold vases flank the Virgin and Christ, loaded with tulips and other flowers – perhaps showing the influence of Dutch floral painting. Christ is dressed like a tiny Russian Tsar, crowned and carrying a big orb and is own scepter. In such an ikon all spiritual power inherent in the subject matter seems completely drained. Such an ikon is a more an caprice, rather than an ikon. Its an ornamental painting designed to decorate a fashionable chamber or charm guests.

This type of degenerate ikon art, which attempted to blend western European styles with ikonographical subject matter, while pretty, was a spiritual dead end. However, elite patrons wanted to show-off their increasing sophistication and westernization with ikons that they imagined ‘fit in’ with artistic currents in the rest of Europe. From 1700 onward the educated and intellectual elites became increasing estranged from Orthodoxy, all the while observing superficial aspects of religious practice. For example, life’s milestones, like weddings and births continued to be observed by the gift of ikons. No Russian Orthodox home in St. Petersburg or Moscow would be without its wall or corner of family ikons, rather like long ago, forgotten members of the family, regardless of the convictions of the occupants.

The fourth ikon at left shows the type of ikon that a prosperous family in Russia would have chosen to decorate a dining room or bedroom. It dates from 1908-17, but it could have been produced fifty years earlier. The painting is done in oils and the noteworthy feature isn’t Christ, it’s the splendid silver-gilt covering which would have dazzled in the special ikon corner of a middle-class home. Such ikons were often mass-produced in factory assembly line settings. Sometimes the figure of the saint underneath was not completed, only the parts that would be exposed were painted.

At the end of the 19th Century Russians were learning to take particular pride in their own culture and heritage. They began to reject aspects of Western culture which seemed overtly foreign. This was particularly true in the decorative and church arts, but the move to old national forms was widespread in all artistic areas, including architecture. From 1860 to the late 1880’s this affection for Russian motifs was somewhat hesitant. The old styles still had the aura of the village about them for some sophisticates, and Western forms held on for awhile.

During the reign of the last Tsar there was an explosion of culture in Russia, which has been called the Silver Age. During this time scholars began to study ancient Russian and Byzantine art. Political uncertainties and a general dissatisfaction with the benefits of a western secularized society lead people to look for meaningful spiritual experiences which were rooted in Russia. Ikon painting had always survived in the villages, towns like Palekh and Mistera were traditional centers of ikon art, where generations of families practiced the craft.

The last ikon at left shows St. Gennady of Kostroma. It was painted in Moscow in 1900 and shows a curious, yet successful fusion of a fine linear drawing with an extremely delicate and careful technique. The ikon has a flat, almost brittle feel. The ikon is signed by the artist, which became common after 1700. Celebrated artists of the time, like Vasnetsov and Nesterov tried to integrate traditional ikonography with artistic currents of the time. The results can be seen in the paintings of St. Vladimir’s Cathedral in Kiev and in the Art Nouveau influenced religious art of Nesterov at the Martha and Mary Convent in Moscow.

 Taken from the website ICON’s- windows into heaven- A Collection of Sacred images.

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Ikon History – Twilight of Byzantium

February 23, 2008

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In 1204 the Latin soldiers of the Fourth Crusade diverted from the Holy Land and instead attacked the city of Constantinople. During the siege of the city fires purposely set by the Latins in an attempt to breach the wall defenses spilled into the city. The fire burned for days, spreading its way like a serpent through a large part of Constantinople. Since the city was, like ancient Rome, built on seven hills, and the fact that most of the poorer neighborhoods where built of wood, the fire grew to enormous size very quickly. No one had ever seen such a calamity. The resulting loss of art, architecture and literature placed the fire on par with the infamous burning of the Library of Alexandria. Many of the great works of classical art, which had decorated the streets of the city were consumed by flames or melted down for base coinage after the city fell. Untold thousands of books, paintings and other treasures, from over 1600 years of Hellenic and Roman culture were lost forever. No one thought it was possible. For the first time Constantinople had fallen to a foreign army. Even though the Latin Soldiers were supposed to be fellow Christians, they despised the Byzantines as heretics because they did not consider the Roman Pope to be the supreme head of the church and followed practices which were slightly different from those back in the Catholic world. Also, they considered the Byzantines effeminate because they took regular baths, read books and loved art. The city was devastated during the Crusader sack, and immense quantities of rare fabrics, gold, silver and gemstones, looted from the churches and palaces of the city were piled up and shipped off to the West. Many art works followed, including the four famous gilded horses from the Hippodrome which decorate the facade of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice.

Thousands of Greek refugees, harassed by bands of Crusaders along the way, poured out of Constantinople for safety in the Balkan states, Greece and Asia Minor. Artists were included in this exodus and they took their skill with them. Greek empires were created in Nicaea, Trebizond and Arta. At these courts, especially at Nicaea, the arts flourished under the patronage of Greek rulers who were anxious to create their own, much-reduced, Imperial courts. A new style of Byzantine Art emerged in these cities the Balkans. The ikon at top left of the Archangel Gabriel is a good example. It shows the angel in dark green and blue garments with the edge of a bright red sleeve showing from under the angel’s tunic. The modeling of the figure, especially the face, is highly worked in a restrained, classical style. The bright highlights on the face and clothing are typical of the time and add an electric, almost nervous, aspect to the ikon. Gabriel carries a staff and bends in deference to the left. This is an indication that this ikon may come from a Deesis tier of an iconostasis. The style is called Paleologian after the aristocratic family that usurped the Nicaean throne and retook Constantinople from the Latins in 1271.

Entering Constantinople, which was hurriedly abandoned by the last Latin Emperor and Catholic Patriarch in a Venetian ship crammed with as much treasure as they could quickly cart off, the returning Greeks found their city dirty, defiled, and with large abandoned tracks of ruins. Constantinople was a but a shadow of its former grandeur and the city that had been the most fabulous and beautiful in Christendom was gone. Seventy years of Latin rape, exploitation and neglect of the city was everywhere to be seen. What wasn’t too heavy to move had been taken away to Venice, Rome or Barcelona. Most of the ancient bronze statues that had survived the sack of the city had been hauled off as scrap metal by the Venetians, to be recast as cannon or struck as cheap coins. The Latins had even sold the lead roof of the Imperial Palace of Blachernae. When reoccupied by the Byzantines it was so filthy a complete cleaning and renovation was required to make it habitable again. Many of the famous religious relics of the city were gone, too; for example, the famous Crown of Thorns, which was said to have sat upon Christ’s head during the Passion was sold by the Latin rulers of the City to France, where it was to rest in Sainte Chapelle in Paris for hundreds of years to come.

The Paleologians occupied the throne of Constantinople for the next 180 years, but circumstances were quite different than those enjoyed by their Imperial predecessors. Money was very short and what funds were available were spent to defend the shrinking borders of the Empire. When part of the dome and eastern arch of Hagia Sophia collapsed in 1346’s it was some time before the needed repairs could be done because of a shortage of funds. A substantial donation from the Great Prince of Moscow made the restoration possible. It caused a great deal of grief in the Orthodox world that the once powerful Byzantine Emperors were now begging for handouts from their former client states and vassals to repair the Great Church of Hagia Sophia. Even the Imperial Crown Jewels were pawned and replaced by diadems of cut glass and gilded leather. To the surprise and dismay of guests at Imperial Paleologian dinners in the 14th century, they were no longer served on silver and gold. Embarrassingly, in place of these splendid settings were laid cheap ceramic and pewter.

In spite of the wretched circumstances of the Imperial Government, private aristocratic families of Byzantium were still extremely wealthy and continued to build fabulous palaces and establish glittering churches – although on a reduced scale in comparison to their ancestors. The second ikon on the left is from the apse in the side chapel of the Church of St. Savior in Chora in Istanbul, which was rebuilt and redecorated by a erudite and highly cultured high official of the Byzantine Court, Theodore Metochites, around 1300. This building contains one of the most extensive surviving decorative schemes of any Byzantine building of the time and is critical to an understanding of the artistic style in aristocratic circles of the time. The painting depicts St. Cyril of Alexandria, one of the fathers of the church. It dates from around 1350 and is interesting because it reveals a number of trends in Byzantine art of the time; including an increased emphasis on caricature, angularity, more intense use of color and a love of decorative elements.

The miniature ikon below St. Cyril is of St. John Chrysostom, a former Bishop of Constantinople who lived in the 5th century. His enlarged forehead, tiny eyes and pinched face, while loyal to the accepted image of St. John, are shown in an exaggerated and manneristic fashion, typical features of Paleologian art. Below the ikon of St. John is a detail from a large mosaic of St. George from the vaults of the Chora Church. Although the face has the same fresh and idealistic look (similar to his depiction on the ikon from Sinai) of the saint which had been loyally adhered to by Byzantine artistic canons for almost 1,000 years, certain elements in the figure, such as the egg-shaped head, and excessively decorated robes are hallmarks of the Paleologian style shown here at its zenith.

The next image at left shows the Theotokos holding Christ tightly to her face. It is an angular painting which perhaps shows the mastery of the artist, who probably drew the figure freehand, without reference to pattern books often used by artists less sure of their talent. The Virgin’s eyes peer off into the center of the chapel apse, while a chubby infant Christ, settles heavily into her arms and tugs at her robe. It’s a curious ikon, detached; the indirect look of the Virgin’s seems distracted. Consciously or unconsciously, the artist’s depiction of the Theotokos reflects the uncertainty of the time in which it was painted. After the initial euphoria of the recapture of Constantinople, Byzantium was soon torn apart by domestic divisions and civil wars. Although it was barely noticed by the Byzantines at the time, who were obsessed with their own internecine conflicts, the Ottoman Turks were just beginning their fateful conquest of the heartland of the Empire, Western Asia Minor. This would ultimately result in the Islamic swallowing up of the Byzantine Empire by the Turks.

Art historians have generally concluded that the last decades of Byzantine art – those years leading up to the conquest of the city by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II on May 29, 1453 – was a period of decadence and a serious decline in art patronage as Constantinople struggled for its very life. Beyond the walls of the city, in distant parts that still held out against the Turks, a valiant attempt was made to rally Hellenism and save the ancient legacy of Byzantium. In the town of Mistra near Sparta in Greece many artists and intellectuals from the city took refuge. In one of the last outposts of the Empire they attempted to rekindle the culture they had inherited from Greece, Rome and Medieval Byzantium. For a few years the flame burned brightly. The last image at left shows a detail from a painting of the Nativity which comes from one of last of Mistra’s churches to be decorated before the Turkish army overwhelmed them as well. The Virgin has just given birth to our Lord who is wrapped in swaddling clothes and attended by a cow and a donkey. The image of the Theotokos is one of the most intense we still have from Byzantium. It shows the artistic genius that the 1100 year old culture of Byzantium could still muster in its twilight years.

Taken from the website ICON’s- windows into heaven- A Collection of Sacred images. 

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Ikon History – Golden Age of Russian Ikons

February 23, 2008

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During the late 12th and early 13th centuries Russia was racked by internal divisions. Petty local princes fought for political supremacy and destroyed the economic strength and unity of the nation. Outside forces were eager to exploit these divisions and in 1237 the worst possible calumnity befell Russia when the Mongol Khan and his Muslim army fell on Russia like ravenous wolves. It was a very unlucky time for the Russia. On December 6, 1240 the great city of Kiev fell to the Muslim Mongols. After a ferocious siege of the city the defences suddenly were breached. Thousands of Muslim soldiers poured into the Kiev hungry for loot, rape and destruction. Ignoring the sanctity of shrines of Kiev, the churches and cathedrals of the city were set aflame by the Mongols with full knowledge that the people of the city – innocent men, women and children – were huddled within, praying for deliverance. Meanwhile, tens of thousands perished in their homes and the streets of the city, cut down indiscriminately by the Mongols. It was the blackest moment in the history of ancient Russ.

For sixty years the Mongols continuously pillaged the country at leisure. After they had carried off everything of value they could get their hands on, the Mongols of the Golden Horde settled down in their domination of Russia. They began a program of extortion, exacting ruinous yearly tribute from the population. During the period of Mongol occupation all of the arts, including ikon painting suffered. The Mongols bled the country dry, but they were prepared to leave the population alone as long as their heavy taxes were collected and delivered to them by their Russian vassals. Lucky for Russia the Mongol forces were unable to subjugate the entire country. In the north the famous merchant city of Novgorod the Great maintained its independence in the face of the Mongol hordes from the east and the Teutonic Knights pressing from the Baltic. In Novgorod and in the nearby city of Pskov, Russian culture went on in uncertain and perilous times. In both cities local schools with unique characteristics in ikon painting emerged. Very little of the artistic output of this period has survived, but remaining examples tell us the deep well of classicism, which had flowed from Byzantium into Russia had been cut off by the Mongol conquest. Novgorod and Pskov ikons of this period are often harsh and austere. Bright red backgrounds become commonplace, outlines become simpler, and the modeling of figures is noticeably flat and abstract. The overall effect of ikons of this period is direct and no-nonsense.

This period also saw the rise of the Muscovite state where a new center of ikon painting emerged. The new Moscow style of ikon painting was heavily influenced by foreign Greek and Serbian artists who were imported by the relatively wealthy Moscow Princes to paint the new churches of their city. In 1378 Theophanes, a Greek artist, painted the church of the Transfiguration in Moscow. His work in Russia was greeted with astonishment by local artists. Theophanes worked very fast and his style was extremely expressive and mystical. He could draw a large figure in fresco on a wall with guide books or drafts, a bravura performance which dumfounded the Russia artists, who had been trained to careful copy from pattern books. Local artists tried to imitate his style, but their work shows how difficult it was to master his free and easy-flowing style.

During the period from 1350 through the fall of Constantinople in 1453 contacts between Byzantium and Russia again became frequent. Churchmen, merchants and artists from Russia were able to see, first-hand, the splendors and ancient Christian art of the city. Many ikons of in the distinctive Paleologian style were imported to Russia. These had a tremendous influence on taste and painting styles.

The Royal Doors at upper left date from around 1425 and show how deeply the Paleologian style permeated Russian art of the time. “Royal Doors” lead from the center of the church through a screen of ikons into the altar area. They are a primary focus of the liturgy in Orthodox churches. At the top of the doors is the familiar scene of the Annunciation shown in two parts. Below are ikons of the four Evangelists. All the figures show the small head, tiny feet, hands, swelling bodies and fantastic architecture that are the signature of the Paleologian style. However much they follow Byzantine models, the Royal Doors are completely Russian in feeling, color and rhythm. The Russian palate was different from the Byzantine. In Russia some pigments – such as bright blues – were difficult to locate and very expensive. They were reserved for paintings of Christ of the Theotokos. Use of local materials leans the Russian palate of the time toward bright cinnabars, golden ochres and dark greens. There is also a noticeable tendency toward wide expanses of pure color without dark underpainting.

The third ikon at left shows Christ in Glory and dates from around 1410 and is the work of the great Andrei Rublev, a monastic painter who has been recognized as a saint by the Russian church. The ikon shows Christ enthroned on a heavenly throne. In the blue halo around Him fly angelic cherubim. In the red corners are symbols of the four Evangelists. The small ikon is of extraordinary quality and deeply spiritual. The technique and drawing are superb. Many of Rublev’s ikons have been damaged by repainting and excessive restoration. This is one of the few examples which retains its surface and hence shows us the original appearance of Rublev’s masterful work.

The next ikon at left is called the “Trinity” and it originally adorned the ikonstasis of the church in the holy St. Sergius Monastery near Moscow where the body of the St. Sergius lay in a silver coffin. The ikon has been heavily damaged by the attachment of a heavy silver cover, repainting and overzealous restoration in the Soviet Era. The paint surfaces are heavily abraded and it is difficult to appreciate the original state of the ikon today. masterful drawing, intense spiritualism and love of the classical beauty of old Byzantium still shines through. It was painted in 1411 and shows the three angels who visited Abraham at Mamre and are symbols of the Holy Trinity. In the center is the angel representing Christ. This is evident from the purple and blue garments. To the right is the angel who represents the Holy Spirit. Both angels bow before the third, who represents God the Father and the senior member of the Trinity. The ikon at bottom is a much reduced copy of the Trinity dating from the late 1400’s. The technique does not compare to Rublev, but the colors give some hint of the intensity of the hues in the Trinity when it was first painted.

Taken from the website ICON’s- windows into heaven- A Collection of Sacred images.

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Ikon History – Medieval balkan States

February 23, 2008

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In the sixth century massive invasions of Slav immigrants virtually ended urban life in the Balkans. Churches, villas and cities from Macedonia to the Pelleponesus where devastated and abandoned. The arts, such as ikon painting continued, but the level of artistry greatly declined and most artists who continued their craft fled to Constantinople, the Islands of the Aegean Sea, or Thessaloniki. During the Iconoclastic controversy of the eighth and ninth centuries maritime Greece began a center of resistance to the edicts against images from Constantinople. At the same time as the restoration of icons in 843, Greece and the Balkans were making tenuous economic and cultural progress. Regional power centers began to build churches and monasteries and these were decorated with ikons. Patrons who were looking for the finest work naturally turned to the capital city, Constantinople, for artists and precious pigments for painting. Some of these teams of painters stayed on to found their own regional schools of painting, usually associated with local courts, bishops and monasteries. During the 12th and early 13th centuries the Balkans appear to have experienced a tremendous increase in economic properity and the number of monuments increases correspondingly.

The large ikon of the Annunciation at upper left was brought to the lakeside Macedonian city of Ohrid, by Abbot Galaktion from the Monastery of the Virgin “Saviour of Souls” in Constantinople during the reign of the Emperor Andronikos II (1282 – 1328). It is contempory with the famous mosaics of the Chora Church in Constantinople. There was constant traffic accross the Balkans and the churches were in close contact with one another. Travellers to Constantinople usually brought back with them many precious things from the Imperial city. Ikons were usually among these treasures.

The ikon shows the Archangel Gabriel striding toward the seated Virgin, who is spinning red thread. The arc of the Angel’s wing leads from heaven directly through his arm to Mary. From above the Holy Spirit desends upon her. Mary sits on a golden throne, set with red silken pillows within a columned niche. The Theotokos is wrapped in an Imperial purple mantle over a dark blue dress. She wears the scarlet slippers reserved exclusively for Byzantine Emperors and Empresses. The Angel wears classical garments which have their echo in 5th century art and the painting resoundly mirrors classical traditions. The Paleologian style of the ikon is unmistakable in the excessive modelling of the figures, the electric highlights and the bulging heaviness of the Angel’s body.

The ikon at center is a miniature of the Annunication made of mosaic set in wax. The cubes of the mosaic are very small and made of lapis, gold, silver, semi-precious stones and other materials. Ikons of the Annunication were a delight for ikon painters because the subject gave them an opportunity to experiment with festive colors, fanciful architecture and new drapery forms within the guidelines of the ikon type. Even within the minute size of this ikon the artist has managed to place a classical collonade and inlaid floor in the scene.

There is great debate amoung the Balkan nations about the national origin of artists who worked during the Golden Age of Balkan painting in the 13-15th centuries. It is often extremely difficult to assign nationalities to many of the artists of the time, for few details are known of their lives. However, the best work in the medieval churches of Serbia and Macedonia show a level of inspiration and techinque which is equal to anything being done at the time in Europe. The ikon of Christ at lower left is from the Serbian monastery of Chilandari on Mt. Athos in Greece. It represents many of the characteristics of the Serbian school – attention to realism, a harmonious, muted range of colors and a monumental style. The explosion of Balkan art was set back by the conquest of the Serbian Empire by the Ottoman Turks in the late 14th and 15th centuries.

Taken from the website ICON’s- windows into heaven- A Collection of Sacred images. 

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Ikon History – Early Russian Ikons

February 23, 2008

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The Russian national state shares common roots with Ukraine in the capital city of ancient Russ, Kiev, situated on the Dnieper River. Old chronicles tell us the pagan rulers of Kiev concluded that their nation was rising on the world stage and as a world power needed to change its religion to increase the spiritual and cultural level of the nation. The chronicles report that the Great Prince of Kiev sent embassies around the world to find the faith that best suited his nation and people. Travelling from nation to nation they visited Muslims and Jews at worship observing their forms of worship and pondering the way of life that each religion taught. The emissaries judged neither of these worthy religions suitable for Russ. Finally, they visited the city of Constantinople and attended Divine Liturgy in the great cathedral of Hagia Sophia. The Russians were dumfounded by the richness and sublime beauty of the service, the church and the celestial singing of the Byzantine choirs in the lofty, domed cathedral. They breathlessly reported back to Kiev that in Hagia Sophia they were unable to tell if they were on earth or in heaven. The choice was made, Byzantine Orthodoxy it would be.

In 988 the Great Prince of Kiev, Vladimir, accepted baptism for himself and ordered his whole nation to follow his example. In doing this he acknowledged the fact that Christianity had already made tremendous inroads into the life of ancient Russ. For more than 100 years evangelists from the Byzantine world had achieved great success in converting his people to Orthodox Christianity. In fact, Kievian Russ instinctively looked down the Dnieper past the Black Sea to the great city of Constantinople for her cultural and spiritual inspiration. Russian merchants, churchman and warriors, travelled to Constantinople regularly and saw first hand how things where done in the Imperial city they called $#34;Tsargrad”. Church services back home in Kiev were closely modeled upon Byzantine norms and many ikons and liturgical furnishings where brought back for Kiev’s growing number of sanctuaries.

Although the first ikons in Kiev were certainly imported, Byzantine artists were soon lured north to Kiev to work and teach their craft there. The most important and influential school of painting in Russia was established in the famous catacomb Monastery of the Caves. The earliest ikons painted in Russia closely followed Byzantine models. It took some time for the Russian masters to acquire the high technical level of Constantinople. The enormous ikon at upper left, is composed of three boards fused together and is called the Great Panagia. This ikon was known in Russia as the paladin or protector of princes and most probably decorated a column in one of the Great Prince’s churches. The Theotokos is painted in a severe, classical style, with her arms extended in prayer. In her breast is an aureole containing the image of Christ in her womb. Above both of her arms are images of two archangels holding glass orbs topped with crosses adoring the Theotokos and Christ. The Virgin stands upon a red carpet which is a good example of Christian carpet weaving of the time. Her robes are imperial purple and dark blue, liberally splashed with wide areas of gold. What is interesting about the ikon is the confidence of the painter in deviating from a simple slavish copying of inherited Byzantine forms.

The painter has modeled the face of the Virgin in an almost abstract fashion with vibrant color and subtle shading. The majestic, unearthly effect of this ikon is a precursor to later Russian ikon painting which reaches its zenith in the transandental works of Andrei Rublev four hundred years later.

An alternate form of this ikon, showing the Theotokos only to the waist, is called “Znaminie” in Russia, or “Our Lady of the Sign”. The example at lower right was painted 700 years after the Great Panagia The ikon continued to be associated with Russian princes and the Court Church of Tsarskoe Selo outside St. Petersburg was dedicated to it. The last Tsarina of Russia, Alexandra Fyodorovna, had a special copy made of this ikon which she always carried with her. It was called “Our Lady of Tsarskoe Selo” and other copies where placed in most of the private rooms of the Tsar’s palace.

Below this ikon is the famous Christ, “Painted Without Hands”, which was displayed in the Moscow Kremlin Cathedral of the Assumption, where Russian Tsars were crowned, until the Bolshevik Revolution, when it was removed to a museum. The ikon is based on the famous Veil or mandylion of King Abgarus. The first record of this ikon dates from 590, when a Byzantine historian recorded the story of the ikon, which was miraculously imprinted upon a cloth by Christ himself. King Abgarus of Edessa had asked Christ for a picture of Himself and this was sent in reply. The cloth remained in Edessa until 944 when it was transferred to Constantinople to wild celebrations. The Byzantine Emperor received the Holy Veil himself and had it transferred to the Palatine Chapel. The Mandylion is sometimes confused with the Holy Shroud or “Sindona” in Turin.

The ikon of the Holy Veil pictured here has the same monumental style as the Great Panagia and is certainly produced in the same era. The face is quite similar to other ikons of this period, such as the great Christ of Cefalu in Palermo, Sicily. It is possible they are all based on a celebrated image of Christ created in Constantinople which is now lost to us. The drawing of this ikon is extremely sure and the strong lines of the face are complimented by thin gold lines which highlight the hair. The piercing glaze of this ikon was much noted and it was frequently copied.

The next ikon on the left is the famous Angel “With the Golden Hair”. Its tender gaze is quite a contrast to the stern face of Christ in the Holy Veil. The painting of the face is quite remarkable, showing the smooth graduations of fused color which were typical of Comnenian art in Constantinople during the 12th century. The last ikon is the famous Virgin of Vladimir, which came to Russia from Constantinople in 1131. The soft modeling of the faces and the intensity of the tender feeling of this ikon had a major impact on Russian art of the time. The ikon went through many troubles and repaintings before it arrived in Moscow, where it was placed on the ikonostasis of the Assumption Cathedral in the Kremlin. “Vladimirskaya”, as the ikon is called in Russia, was the holiest religious image in the country. As such, it attracted the interest of the Soviet Government in 1918 and was removed from the cathedral for restoration before it was placed in a glass case at the History Museum in Moscow and then was transferred the Tretyakov Museum in 1930. Of the original painting only the faces and small patch on Christ’s shoulder remain.

Taken from the website ICON’s- windows into heaven- A Collection of Sacred images.

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Ikon History – Middle Byzantine Period

February 23, 2008

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In the early 8th century there erupted a intense controversy in the Orthodox Church over the use of ikons in worship and prayer. The two sides in the battle were called ikonoclasts (opposed to ikons), and ikonodules (in favor of ikons). The argument over ikons had been going on in the church for several hundred years. Basically it broke down to whether the veneration of ikons was idolatry. Some people were offended by the kissing of images and the offering of incense and lighting of candles before them. It is very difficult to explain the nuance in the original argument in English. The ikonoclasts claimed that ikons were being worshiped, while the ikonodules argued that it was only veneration of ikons and a type of ‘salute’ of the original depicted in the ikon. The actual Greek word for this veneration is proskynesis, and it the same veneration that was given to the Emperor. It involved humble reverence and bowing, but it was not worship.

The Emperor Konstantine the Fifth put together a council of his supporters and pushed through an edict in 730 which banned images. This council was uncanonical and represented the first time an Emperor inferred directly in the affairs of the church, ignoring the other patriarchs, including the Pope in Rome.

Many monks, nuns, lay people and priests died defending the images of Constantinople, which were torn down by mobs supported by Imperial troops. The Emperor didn’t stop with images for he ordered monks and nuns to wed and executed those who refused. Many of the Emperor’s ideas came from the eastern part of Asia Minor he came from and was supported by the army which was recruited from the same area.

The edict was observed strictly in Constantinople but only to varying degrees around the Empire. It was rescinded for a few years, then reinstated once again, finally ending in 843 with the total victory of the Orthodox.

During Iconoclasm the unbroken tradition of ikon painting was severely shaken. Technique suffered greatly and we can suppose ikons created during Ikonoclasm had a rougher, perhaps even somewhat crude, appearance, since by this time almost all ikons were being produced in monasteries by monks who had little use for Hellenism and the fine technique of 5th and 6th century icongraphy.

When ikon painters became working openly after 843 there was much to do. There were many churches that immediately needed decoration. It took many years for artists to rediscover and relearn the old techniques and styles. Materials for painting and mosaic work were also hard to find. Within 100 years the artistic quality of Constantinoplian ikon painting was the near-rival of anything ever done in the city. Ikons were created in egg tempera, mosaic, ivory , glass, marble, gold and precious stones. By the time the twice life-sized mosaic on the left was created in the south gallery of Hagia Sophia, around 1185, Byzantine art had attained a refinement and beauty that would never be achieved by them again. The mosaic depicts Christ enthroned as Pantokrator; on the left (not shown) is Mary, the Mother of God, while on the left (also nor shown here) is John the Baptist. Considering the location of the mosaic ikon, and the quality of the work itself, this is the product of one of the top artists of the time. Unfortunately, as with most ikon art, we do not know the name of its creator. The tiny size of the cubes and subtle coloring of the face is astounding. This mosaic is, perhaps, the finest surviving artistic achievement of Byzantium and ranks among the most important works of art in the world.

This level of achievement lasted past the fall of Constantinople to the Latin Crusaders in 1204 and the reestablishment of Byzantine rule in the City under Emperor Michael Paleologius in 1261. However, within a hundred years of the recovery of the City the style and quality of painting seems to decline. The lower icon on the left dates from 1363 and is typical of the work of the time. It shows Christ Pantokrator in virtually the same mode as the Hagia Sophia mosaic, but the drawing is awkward, the coloring is a bit garish and the ikon has an almost hulking feeling. It was commissioned by two high officials of the Byzantine Court, the Grand Stratopedarch Alexius and the Grand Primicerion John; who are depicted as small figures in the lower margins of the ikon. These two gentlemen are recorded as having been founders of a monastery dedicated to the Pantokrator, so this ikon may be associated with that foundation.

The mosaic ikon at the bottom also comes from the upper gallery of Hagia Sophia. It dates from the reign of Emperor John Comnenus and is of the Virgin “Nikopeia” which was the sacred ikon of Byzantine Emperors which was carried into battle with them. The original icon, of which this mosaic is a much enlarged copy, was stolen during the Latin sack of Constantinople in 1204 and how is enshrined on the left hand-side of the altar of St. Mark’s in Venice.

 Taken from the website ICON’s- windows into heaven- A Collection of Sacred images.

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Ikon History – Our Lady of Kazan

February 23, 2008

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Over the years a number of variants of ikons of Mary and Christ were created. The most popular new version in Russia was Our Lady of Kazan, which was called “Kazanskaya” there. The ikon was found in a garden in 1579 in the city of Kazan and therefore, all copies of the ikon must be painted from that date forward. The original ikon was carried by Prince Pozharsky into battle against the Poles and it began to take on a militantly nationalistic reputation.

A special church dedicated to the ikon was built in Kazan in 1679, but the ikon had been kept in Moscow since the victory over the Poles and a copy was installed in the new cathedral of Kazan. In 1821 the original icon of Our Lady of Kazan moved again, this time to St. Petersburg where it was installed in the new Kazan Cathedral on Nevskii prospect in the heart of the city. By this time the ikon had become extremely popular and there were nine separate miracle working copies of the ikon around the country.

By the middle of the 19th century the original ikon was encrusted in diamonds, massive emeralds and a gold cover. In 1918 the ikon was seized by the new Soviet Government and transported to Moscow. It vanished enroute, only to turn up in New York City, where it is in the possession of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.

The two examples opposite are 150 years apart. Although the drawing is similar, there are many differences between the two ikons, which shows the freedom that Russian artists felt in dealing with traditional ikon designs. There are slight changes in the folds of the garments, but the most striking difference is the coloration. In the lower ikon the artist has chosen a much warmer palate, including bright cinnabar for Christ’s robe. The painter has also used thin bright gold highlights over the surfaces of the clothes of Mary and Christ which makes it very decorative, but perhaps less spiritual. The modeling of the faces, particularly of the Virgin is much harder and less subtle in the later painting.

Ikons of Our Lady of Kazan are quite numerous and often found in sales of Russian art today.

Taken from the website ICON’s- windows into heaven- A Collection of Sacred images. 

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Ikon History – Ikons of Mary, the Theotokos

February 23, 2008

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The appellation for Mary of Theotokos, or Mother of God, became widespread in the Christian Church much earlier than the fifth century, when a council of the entire church at Ephesus made the title official. This ikon of Mary holding the infant Christ in her arms is a copy of the famous ikon of the Hodegetria or “Indicator of the Way”, in which she points toward her Son as the path of salvation. The Hodegetria ikon was very popular throughout the Christian Church and was, perhaps, the most widely reproduced ikon type of the Madonna in the Orthodox world.

Written records for the early history of the ikon are scarce. A long tradition associated with the ikon must have existed at least as early as the 4th century. The Hodegetria ikon was installed by the Empress Pulcheria in the mid-fifth century in a sanctuary (Theotokos ton Hodegon) she founded on a terrace overlooking the sea in the area of the Great Palace, which was in the eastern part of Constantinople. The sanctuary was alongside a sacred font. Later a monastery was erected beside the shrine of the ikon. Foundations of the sacred font, which is on two levels and fronted by a semi-circular colonnade, is all that is to seen of the church complex, although excavations about 10 years ago which seemed to be revealing more of it.

The church and the ikon were very popular and miraculous healings, most frequently of the blind, took place at the hagiasma (well or holy font).

The ikon was always associated with St. Luke and was said to be large, square, measuring six palms high and highly ornamented – probably by a cover in precious metals and stones. The back of the ikon had an image of the Crucifixion. Relics of St. Luke and a St. Symeon were said to have also kept at the church. Other relics of the Theotokos were kept at the church, as well.

In the later period (perhaps this was an very old tradition) the ikon was displayed or processed every Tuesday around the monastery. The whole city was said to be there. There was beautiful singing in front of the ikon and people were deeply moved – one Orthodox traveller from Novgorod says people wept in front of her. Flabella were carried in front of the ikon and there was a canopy carried by attendants. People were anointed with chrism on cotton balls from the ikon. There was also a special confraternity of men (all, it is said, from the same family) who carried the ikon on Tuesdays. The men were blindfolded with a special hait of red linen covering their faces and the ikon would miraculously direct them where to carry her around the monastery. While this happened the people sang a very long chant, which included “Lord have mercy”.

The ikon frequently and regularly travelled away from it’s shrine. During the Commenian period the ikon was brought every Friday to the Pantokrator Monastery, near the center of the city. A special church, dedicated to the ikon had been built there. The ikon was saved by the people of Constantinople during the Latin sack of the City by the Fourth Crusade in 1204, but ended up in the hands of Venetians, who stole it from the Latin Patriarch of the City and then kept it at the Imperial Monastery of the Pantokrator, which had been seized and converted to the Catholic rite. On the Thursday before Palm Sunday it was taken to the Imperial Palace and stayed there until Easter Monday. The ikon also appears to have visited the Palace every Saturday as it left the Pantokrator on the way back to the Hodegon. There are also texts which tell us that the ikon was sometimes taken to Hagia Sophia – which was fairly close to the Hodegon.

The ikon was carried about the walls of the city in times of trouble and it was in the Chora Church near the walls at the time of the fall of the City to the Turks. Immediately upon the fall of the City on Tuesday, May 29, 1453, the Islamic army headed directly for the Chora where they first despoiled the painting of its silver gilt mount and precious stones, before barbarously splitting the millennium-old ikon and smashing its remnants to bits.

Something of the rich cover of the ikon can be imagined looking at the Russian oklad at left, which comes from a Russian copy of the Hodegetria. Below it is a variant of the Hodegetria called “Soteria” and below it is another Russian variant called “Smolenskaya”.

 Taken from the website ICON’s- windows into heaven- A Collection of Sacred images.

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Ikon History – Earliest Christian Ikons

February 23, 2008

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After the death and resurrection of Christ the new faith spread rapidly throughout the Roman world and the Near East. The stories of the Apostles and early witnesses who had seen and known Christ Himself were eagerly listened to by converts to the new faith. Naturally, people who had seen Christ asked for descriptions of His appearance. At some point people began to create and distribute paintings of Christ. This also included his disciples and the really martyrs of the Christian faith. The earliest images we know of was a statue of Christ which Eusebius, an important early Christian bishop, says had been set up in Caesarea-Phillipi (Paneaus) by the woman healed by Christ of an issue of blood. He also notes that in his time there were very ancient images of Peter and Paul. However, the church was somewhat divided about images of Christ.

Eusebius refused to send the wife of Caesar Callus an image of Christ, for he thought it idolatrous and a violation of biblical injunctions. Some regional churches were against images as well, a local Spanish synod in 305 said images in churches were forbidden. However, the number of examples of paintings of the nativity and allegories of the Good Shepherd from around 250 AD, show how common Christian paintings had already become. The growth of images was concurrent with the development of the doctrine of the Incarnation of Christ and is closely tied to the growing awareness of this essential element of the Christian faith.

We can reasonably suppose that these early paintings of Christ and His saints were, at first, simply looked upon as realistic depictions of people; much like the casual way we look at photographs today. Very quickly certain characteristics of Christ and the saints where established as canons for their future depiction. For example, Peter the Apostle is shown slightly bald, with grey curly hair and a beard. Paul is show more bald in front with straight brown hair, a beard, a thick neck and sometimes with a bit of a paunch. These images most certainly originated in Rome, where people knew the two apostles and their physical appearance well. An example of an early ikon of St. Peter is shown at left. Above him are circular ikons of St. John, Christ and the Virgin.

In early Christian times there were two images of Christ that were more or less standardized. One was of a young, idealized and clean shaven “hero” type. The second was the image we are familiar with today – a man in his late 20’s or early 30’s with long hair tied at the back, a smooth beard, high forehead, long nose, and dressed in a loose, long robe and cloak.

In ancient Rome and throughout the Roman world the Emperors, upon their accession to the throne – and then throughout their reign – distributed paintings or statues of themselves and often their families to cities around the Empire. These images would be placed in prominent places by the city fathers. They were intended to locally represent the presence of the Emperor and his power. Incense and sacrifice were often offered to these images to prove a local municipality’s devotion to Rome or the Imperial Family. Individuals who wanted to make a show of their loyalty might do the same in their own homes.

Christians had a hard time participating in the public ceremonies which involved sacrifice to the Emperor’s portrait. For most people these ceremonies where simply a formalistic part of civic life and had little real meaning their lives. Few people really believed the Emperor was a god. The fact that Christians were unwilling to offer incense or Sacrifice was looked upon as a treasonous act. Many Christians died rather than worship the Emperor’s image – even if it was only a show in people’s eyes.

Early Christians looked not on earth for their King or Emperor, but to Heaven. It isn’t known exactly when images of Christ began to take on many of the attributes of Kingship, but at some point Christ’s poor robes were transformed into the Royal colors of blue and Imperial Purple, while he sat upon a splendid throne and silken cushions, his feet upon a jeweled footstool. Around his head gleamed a golden halo with rays showing the arms of the cross. Halos came from Persia and had longed been a symbol of divinity or holiness.

The ikon shown at left is painted in wax colors by means of heated spatulas. His robes are painted in Imperial Purple, which was reserved for the Emperor alone. His hand is raised in blessing and he holds a gold-covered gospels encrusted with gemstones. The ikon probably dates from the reign of the Emperor Justinian (527 – 565) and may be a dedicatory gift from him to the Monastery of St. Catherine, which he had built around 548. The ikon in the center is of the Virgin accompanied by Saints Theodore and George. Behind them angels gaze upon the blessing hand of God emerging from heaven. All of these three ikons are striking in that they strive to depict real people in naturalistic settings; they have all the characteristics of genuine portraits.

Taken from the website ICON’s- windows into heaven- A Collection of Sacred images.

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Quotes from the Desert Fathers

February 22, 2008

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“Just as painters in working from models constantly gaze at their exemplar and thus strive to transfer the expression of the original to their own artistry, so too he who is anxious to make himself perfect in all kinds of virtue must gaze upon the lives of the saints… and must make their excellence his own by imitation.”

St. Basil the Great

“We must thoroughly quench the darts of the devil and beat them off by continual reading of the divine Scriptures. For it is not possible, not possible for anyone, to be saved without continually taking advantage of spiritual reading. Actually, we must be content, if even with continual use of this therapy, we are barely able to be saved. But when we are struck every day, if we do not use any medical care, what hope do we have of salvation?”

St. John Chrysostom

 

“If trees have not stood up against tile, winter’s storms they cannot bear fruit. It is much the same with us… This present age is a storm, and it is only through many trials and temptations that we can obtain an inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Amma (Mother) Theodora- From the Desert Fathers

 

“Burden the soul with the labor of reading the Scriptures which make known the narrow ways of ascetic life and of contemplation, as well as the stories of the saints; that you may exchange one habit for another even if in the beginning your soul does not feel the pleasure because of the thick darkness and confusion of present memories. Then when you arise for prayer and for the office, instead of musing upon the things of the world, ideas from Scripture will be imprinted in the mind. And wih these, the memory of what it already has seen and heard will be erased from it. In this way your mind will come to purity.”

Isaac the Syrian

 

God is glorified not by mere words, but by works of righteousness, which proclaim the majesty of God far more effectively than words.

St. Maximos the Confessor

 

Feed the needy now of be ready to forever feed the fires of hell, because there is no love in you unless you do it.

St. John Chrysostom

 

For it is impossible for love to the poor ever to remain unrewarded. Whether therefore a man gives away all his wealth, or only a part, he will certainly benefit his soul.

St. Cyril of Alexandria

 

Christ is Risen, and you (Hades) are annihilated! Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down! Christ is Risen and the angels rejoice! Christ is Risen, and life is liberated! Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep… Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Saviour has set us free.

St. John Chrysostom

 

“Marriage is the key of moderation and the harmony of desires, the seal of a deep friendship… the unique drink from a fountain enclosed, inaccessible to those without. United in the flesh, one in spirit, they urge each other on by the goad of their mutual love. For marriage does not remove God, but brings all closer to Him, for it is God Himself who draws us to it.”

St. Gregory the Theologian

 

Thank God. These are powerful words. When you are bereaved and afflicted, when your heart is attacked by doubt, cowardice and rebellious discontent, make yourself repeat again and again slowly and in concentration “Thank God.” He who in the simplicity of his heart believes this advice and tests it in the hour of need will see the miraculous power of thanksgiving. This is a much needed weapon of hope in the difficulty of our times. St. Paul says ‘we are saved by hope.'”

Adapted from St. Ignatius Brianchaninov

 

“What is more precious than anything in the world? Time! And what do we waste uselessly and without being sorry? Time! What do we not value and what do we disregard more than anything? Time! When we waste time, we lose ourselves… Time is given by God to use correctly for the salvation of the soul and the acquisition of the life to come… The Lord will call us to account for having stolen time for our own whims, and for not using it for God and our souls.”

St. Sebastian of Optina

 

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Orthodox Evening Prayers

February 22, 2008

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The Trisagion Prayers

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Glory to You, O Lord, glory to You.

O Heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who are in all places and fills all things, the treasury of good things and the giver of life:

Come and abide in us, cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Good One.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy lmmortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy lmmortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy lmmortal, have mercy on us.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

O Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us. O Lord, cleanse us from our sins. O Master, pardon our transgressions. O Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities, for Your Name’s sake.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who are in heaven, hallowed be Your Name. Your Kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For Yours is the Kingdom,and the power, and the glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Prayer for the Evening

O eternal God, King of all creation, who have kept me safe to attain to this hour, forgive me the sins which I have committed this day in thought, word, and deed. And cleanse, O Lord, my humble soul from every stain of flesh and spirit. Grant me, O Lord, to pass this night in peace, to rise from my bed, and to please Your Holy Name all the days of my life, and to vanquish the enemies, both corporeal and incorporeal, that contend against me. Deliver me, O Lord, from the vain thoughts that stain me, and from evil desires. For Yours is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

The Nicene Creed

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-Begotten, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father; by whom all things were made: who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried.The third day he rose again, according the the Scriptires: and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory, to judge the living and the dead; whose Kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, sho spoke by the prophets. And I believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Psalms

Sunday

Psalm 70

Monday

Psalm 143

Tuesday

Psalm 141

Wednesday

Psalm 130

Thursday

Psalm 130

Friday

Psalm 17

Saturday

Psalm 51

The Gospel and Epistle

Referring to the Lectionary in the Orthodoxy Study Bible, you may, as time permits, read the Gospel and
Epistle for this day.

Intercessory Prayers

Remember, O Lord Jesus Christ, our God, Your mercies and loving-kindnesses, which have been from everlasting, and for the sake of which You did become man and degin to endure crucifixion and death for the salvation of all who rightly believe in You. You rose from tge dead and ascended into heaven, and sit at the right hand of God the Father, and regard the humble prayers if all who call upon You with their whole heart. Incline Your ear and hear the humble entreaty of me, Your unprofitable servant, who offers it for an odor of spiritual fragrance for all Your people.

And first pf all rememver Your Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, which You have purchased with Your precious blood. Confirm and strengthen it, enarge and multiply it, keep it in peace, and preserve it unconquerable by the gates of hell forever. Heal the schisms of the churches, quench the ragings of the heathen, speedily undo and root out te growths of heresies, and bring them to naught by the power of Your Holy Spirit.

Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon all world rulers, on our president (name), on (names), and on all our civil authorities. Speak peace and blessing in their hearts for Your Holy Church and for all Your people, in order that we may live a calm and peaceful life, in all godliness and dignity.

Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon patriarchs, metropolitans, archbishops, priests, ministers, and deacons, and the whole clergy of Your Church, which You have established to feed the flock of Your word and by their prayers have mercy upon me, and save me, a sinner.

Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon my spiritual father (name) and by his holy prayers forgive me my transgressions.

Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon my parents (names), my spouse (name), my brothers and sisters (names), my children (names), my kinsmen after the flesh, and my friends, and grant them Your blessings both here and hereafter.

Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon the old, the young, the needy , the orphans and the widows, and on all that are in sickness and sorrow, in distress and affliction, in oppression and captivity, in prison and cofinement. More especially have mercy upon Your servants who are under persecution for Your sake and for the sake of the Orthodox Faith at the hands of heathen nations, of apostates, and of heretics: remember them, visit, strengthen, keep, and comfort them, and make haste to grant them, by Your power, relief, freedom, and deliverance.

Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon all who are sent on duty, all who travel, our fathers, brothers, and sisters, and upon all true Chistians.

Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon those who envy and affront me, and do me harm, and do not let them perish through me, a sinner.

Those who depart from the Orthodox Faith, dazzled by destroying heresies, enlighten by the light of Your holy wisdom, and unite them to Your Holy, Apostolic, Catholic Church.

(Add here any additional petitions.)

A Prayer

O Christ our God, who at all times and in every hour in heaven and on earth are worshipped and glorified; who are longsuffering, merciful, and compassionate; who love the just and show mercy upon sinners; who call all to salvation through the promise of the good things to come; O Lord, in thise hour receive our supplications and direct our lives according to Your commandments. Sanctify our souls, purify our bodies, correct our thoughts, cleanse our minds; deliver us from all tribulation, evil, and distress. Surround us with Your holy angels, so that guided and guarded by them, we may attain to the unity of the Faith and ot the full knowledge of Your unapproachable glory. For You are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

It is truly right to bless you, O Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim, without defilement you gave birth to God the Word: true Theotokos, we magnify you.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us.

Amen.

 

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Orthodox Morning Prayers

February 22, 2008

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The Trisagion Prayers

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Glory to You, O Lord, glory to You.

O Heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who are in all places and fills all things, the treasury of good things and the giver of life:

Come and abide in us, cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Good One.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy lmmortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy lmmortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy lmmortal, have mercy on us.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

O Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us. O Lord, cleanse us from our sins. O Master, pardon our transgressions. O Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities, for Your Name’s sake.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who are in heaven, hallowed be Your Name. Your Kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For Yours is the Kingdom,and the power, and the glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Morning Prayer to the Holy Trinity

Arising from sleep, I thank You, O Most Holy Trinity, that, for the sake of Your great kindness and longsuffering, You have not had indignation against me, for I am slothful and sinful. Neither have You destroyed me in my transgressions, but You have shown Your customary love toward mankind, and have raised me up as I lay in heedlessness, that I might sing my morning hymn and glorify Your sovereignty. Now enlighten the eyes of my understanding, open my ears to receive Your words, and teach me Your commandments. Help me to do Your will, to sing to You, to confess You from my heart, and to praise Your All-Holy Name: of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

The Nicene Creed

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-Begotten, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father; by whom all things were made: who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried. The third day he rose again, according the the Scriptires: and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory, to judge the living and the dead; whose Kingdom shall have no end. And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, sho spoke by the prophets. And I believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Psalms

Sunday

Psalm 5

Monday

Psalm 90

Tuesday

Psalm 101

Wednesday

Psalm 3

Thursday

Psalm 63

Friday

Psalm 103

Saturday

Psalm 5

The Gospel and Epistle

Referring to the Lectionary in the Orthodoxy Study Bible, you may, as time permits, read the Gospel and
Epistle for this day.

Intercessory Prayers

Remember, O Lord Jesus Christ, our God, Your mercies and loving-kindnesses, which have been from everlasting, and for the sake of which You did become man and degin to endure crucifixion and detah for the salvation of all who rightly believe in You. You rose from tge dead and ascended into heaven, and sit at the right hand of God the Father, and regard the humble prayers if all who call upon You with their whole heart. Incline Your ear and hear the humble entreaty of me, Your unprofitable servant, who offers it for an odor of spiritual fragrance for all Your people.

And first pf all rememver Your Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, which You have purchased with Your precious blood. Confirm and strengthen it, enarge and multiply it, keep it in peace, and preserve it unconquerable by the gates of hell forever. Heal the schisms of the churches, quench the ragings of the heathen, speedily undo and root out te growths of heresies, and bring them to naught by the power of Your Holy Spirit.

Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon all world rulers, on our president (name), on (names), and on all our civil authorities. Speak peace and blessing in their hearts for Your Holy Church and for all Your people, in order that we may live a calm and peaceful life, in all godliness and dignity.

Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon patriarchs, metropolitans, archbishops, priests, ministers, and deacons, and the whole clergy of Your Church, which You have established to feed the flock of Your word and by their prayers have mercy upon me, and save me, a sinner.

Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon my spiritual father (name) and by his holy prayers forgive me my transgressions.

Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon my parents (names), my spouse (name), my brothers and sisters (names), my children (names), my kinsmen after the flesh, and my friends, and grant them Your blessings both here and hereafter.

Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon the old, the young, the needy, the orphans and the widows, and on all that are in sickness and sorrow, in distress and affliction, in oppression and captivity, in prison and cofinement. More especially have mercy upon Your servants who are under persecution for Your sake and for the sake of the Orthodox Faith at the hands of heathen nations, of apostates, and of heretics: remember them, visit, strengthen, keep, and comfort them, and make haste to grant them, by Your power, relief, freedom, and deliverance.

Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon all who are sent on duty, all who travel, our fathers, brothers, and sisters, and upon all true Chistians.

Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon those who envy and affront me, and do me harm, and do not let them perish through me, a sinner.

Those who depart from the Orthodox Faith, dazzled by destroying heresies, enlighten by the light of Your holy wisdom, and unite them to Your Holy, Apostolic, Catholic Church.

(Add here any additional petitions.)

Prayer for the Beginning of the Day

O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will. In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all. In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by You. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray, and You, Yourself, pray in me. Amen.

It is truly right to bless you, O Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim, without defilement you gave birth to God the Word: true Theotokos, we magnify you.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us.

Amen.

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Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy!)

February 18, 2008

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The Meaning of Kyrie Eleison

St. Symeon of Thessaloniki writes about the Kyrie Eleison prayer: “ ‘Have mercy upon us, O God, according to your great mercy, we beseech you … ‘ This expression is appropriate, since we should not ask for anything except for mercy, as we have neither boldness nor access to offer anything as our own … So as sinners and condemned through sin we cannot, nor dare not, say anything to our Loving Master except ‘have mercy.’ “

The excellent book “Orthodox Worship” describes the meaning of the word mercy as follows:

“The word mercy in English is the translation of the Greek word eleos. This word has the same ultimate root as the old Greek word for oil, or more precisely, olive oil; a substance which was used extensively as a soothing agent for bruises and minor wounds. The oil was poured onto the wound and gently massaged in, thus soothing, comforting and making whole the injured part. The Hebrew word which is also translated as eleos and mercy is hesed, and means steadfast love. The Greek words for ‘Lord, have mercy,’ are ‘Kyrie, eleison’ ­ that is to say, ‘Lord, soothe me, comfort me, take away my pain, show me your steadfast love.’ Thus mercy does not refer so much to justice or acquittal ­ a very Western interpretation ­ but to the infinite loving-kindness of God, and his compassion for his suffering children! It is in this sense that we pray ‘Lord, have mercy,’ with great frequency throughout the Divine Liturgy.”*

From the Liturgy

I share with you the following prayer from the liturgy because it reminds us that God’s awesomeness, His majesty and His power are exceeded only by His mercy:

“O Lord our God, Whose power is unimaginable and Whose glory is inconceivable, Whose mercy is immeasurable and Whose love for mankind is beyond all words, in Your compassion, Lord, look down on us and on this holy house, and grant us and those who are praying with us the riches of Your mercy and compassion. For to You are due all glory, honor and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.”

From the Scriptures

Think of the people who approached Jesus with this simple prayer, “Kyrie eleison”, “Lord, have mercy”:

The Canaanite woman whose daughter was tormented by a devil. She persisted in her plea for mercy until her daughter was healed.

The man whose son was possessed by an evil spirit that threw him into the fire. He came to Jesus with the plea Kyrie eleison. The prayer was answered and his son was healed.

The two blind men sitting by the road outside Jericho who cried out to Jesus, Kyrie eleison. That cry was heard by Jesus who healed both of them.

A final example. Jesus is left alone with the adulteress. Misery is left alone face to face with mercy. And she hears from the mouth of Jesus the words, “Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.” That is God’s mercy!

In all these instances Kyrie eleison was not a prayer that people recited unthinkingly and mechanically, but a cry of sincere faith that came from their hearts, a cry of desperate need and dependence on Jesus. Such a prayer God will not despise.

Not What We Deserve

A precious story pictures a mother pleading with Napoleon to spare her condemned son’s life. The emperor said the crime was dreadful; justice demanded his life. “Sir,” sobbed the mother, “Not justice, but mercy.” “He does not deserve mercy,” was the answer. “But, sir, if he deserved it, it would not be mercy,” said the mother. “Ah yes, how true,” said Napoleon. “I will have mercy.”

We dare not stand before the throne of God and ask that we be given what we deserve. Our only cry is, “Lord, be merciful.” And the miracle is that there is mercy. At the very heart of the universe beats the heart of God’s love. “I tell you,” said Jesus about the publican, “this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.”

Not My Rights

C. S. Lewis tells an interesting story in his book “The Great Divorce.” A busload of ghosts is making an excursion from hell up to heaven with a view of remaining there permanently. They meet the citizens of heaven and one very big ghost from hell is astonished to find there a man, who on earth, had been tried and executed for murder.

“What I would like to know,” he explodes, “is what are you doing here, you a murderer, while I a pillar of society, a self-respecting decent citizen am forced to walk the streets down there in smoke and fumes and must live in a place like a pigsty.” His friend from heaven tries to explain that he has been forgiven, that both he and the man he had murdered have been reunited before the judgment seat of Christ. But the big ghost from hell replies, “I just can’t buy that!” “My rights!” he keeps shouting, “I have got to have my rights the same as you!” “Oh no!” his friend from heaven keeps reassuring him, “It’s not as bad as all that! You don’t want your rights! Why, if I had gotten my rights, I would never be here. You’ll not get your rights, you’ll get something far better. You will get the mercy of God.”

This is why we pray so often in the liturgy: “Lord, have mercy.” This prayer, uttered with the least particle of faith, will open the way for God’s forgiveness and for the coming of His kingdom in our hearts.

Another one of the most precious prayers of the Orthodox Church ­ the Jesus Prayer ­ claims nothing but God’s mercy: “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.”

St. Isaac the Syrian said once:

“Never say that God is just. If he were just you would be in hell. Rely only on His injustice which is mercy, love and forgiveness.”

“Have mercy upon me, O God … according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.” (Ps. 51.1)

What You Need Is Mercy

Once a woman hired an artist to paint her portrait. When he finished it, the woman complained that the portrait didn’t do her justice. The artist laughed and said, “Lady, you don’t need justice. You need mercy.”

One man said, “This is what I felt Jesus was saying to me as He looked down from the cross. He said, ‘You don’t need justice. You need mercy. Here is the mercy you need. It’s being poured out for you by the love of God. In spite of your tainted past, God loves you and wants to cleanse you.’ ”

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4.16).

“Why Should I Let You into Heaven?”

What if you die and appear before God. And this can happen at any moment since we are but a heartbeat away from Him. And God asks you, “Why should I let you into heaven?” What would you say?

One person replied, “Like the publican I would fall to my knees, beat my breast, and with my eyes cast on the ground, I would plead, ‘Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner.’ ”

Or, I would say as the prodigal did in the Gospel lesson, “Father I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of the hired servants.”

“Even if we reach the summit of virtue, we are saved only by God’s mercy,” said St. John Chrysostom.

But God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) and raised us up with Him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:4-6).

Be Merciful as God Is Merciful

We cannot pray for mercy without being willing to extend mercy to others. That is the point of Jesus’s parable about the two debtors (Matt. 18:23-35). Matthew uses a form of the same Greek word eleison in presenting Jesus’ teaching, “Should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”

The mercy we ask for is the mercy we must give to others. Lord, have mercy ­ and make us merciful.

A dying Christian was asked on his death bed, “Are you going to receive your reward?” “No, no!” he breathed. “I go to receive not my reward but God’s mercy.”

Prayer from the Triodion

“As the Prodigal Son I come to Thee, merciful Lord. I have wasted my whole life in a foreign land; I have scattered the wealth which Thou gavest me, O Father. Receive me in repentance, O God, and have mercy upon me.”

 


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Hesychasm

February 18, 2008

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Hesychasm is a mystical tradition of experiential prayer in the Orthodox Church. It is described in great detail in the Philokalia, a compilation of what various saints wrote about prayer and the spiritual life.

The Hesychastic prayer

In practice, the Hesychastic prayer bears some superficial resemblance to mystical prayer or meditation in Eastern religions (e.g., Buddhism and Hinduism, especially Yoga), although this similarity is often overly emphasized in popular accounts.

For example, it may involve specific body postures and be accompanied by very deliberate breathing patterns. It involves acquiring an inner stillness, ignoring the physical senses. The hesychasts interpreted Christ’s injunction in the Gospel of Matthew to “go into your closet to pray” to mean that they should ignore sensory input and withdraw inwards to pray. It often includes many repetitions of the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me[, a sinner].”. While some might compare it with a mantra, to use the Jesus Prayer in such a fashion is to violate its purpose. One is never to treat it as a string of syllables for which the “surface” meaning is secondary. Likewise, hollow repetition is considered to be worthless (or even spiritually damaging) in the hesychast tradition.

Saint Theophan the Recluse once related that body postures and breathing techniques were virtually forbidden in his youth, since, instead of gaining the Spirit of God, people succeeded only “in ruining their lungs.”

Gregory Palamas: Defender of Hesychasm

Hesychasm was defended theologically by Gregory Palamas at about three separate Hesychast Synods in Constantinople from 1341 to 1351; he was asked to by his fellow monks on Mt. Athos to defend it from the attacks of Barlaam of Calabria, who advocated a more intellectualist approach to prayer.

Some words from St. John Climacus

From Step 6 – On Remembrance of Death in The Ladder of Divine Ascent:

Every word is preceded by thought. And the remembrance of death and sins precedes weeping and mourning. Not every desire for death is good. Some, constantly sinning from force of habit, pray for death with humility. And some, who do not want to repent, invoke death out of despair. And some, out of self-esteem consider themselves dispassionate, and for a while have no fear of death. And some (if such can now be found), through the action of the Holy Spirit, ask for their departure. Some inquire and wonder: “Why, when the remembrance of death is so beneficial to us, has God hidden from us the knowledge of the hour of death?” – not knowing that in this way God wonderfully accomplishes our salvation. For no one who foreknew his death would at once proceed to baptism or the monastic life; but everyone would spend all his days in iniquities, and only on the day of his death, would he approach baptism and repentance. From long habit, he would become confirmed in vice, and would remain utterly incorrigible. And I cannot be silent about the story of Hesychius the Horebite. He passed his life in complete negligence, without paying the least attention to his soul. Then he became extremely ill, and for an hour he expired. And when he came to himself, he begged us all to leave him immediately. And he built up the door of his cell, and he stayed in it for twelve years without ever uttering a word to anyone, and without eating anything but bread and water. And, always remaining motionless, he was so rapt in spirit at what he had seen in his ecstasy, that he never changed this manner of life but was always as if out of his mind, and silently shed hot tears. But when he was about to die, we broke open the door and went in, and after many questions, this alone was all we heard from him: “Forgive me! No one who has acquired the remembrance of death will ever be able to sin.” We were amazed to see that one who had before been so negligent was so suddenly transfigured by this blessed change and transformation. We reverently buried him in the cemetery near the fort, and after some days we looked for his holy relics, but did not find them. So by Hesychius’s true and praiseworthy repentance, the Lord showed us that He accepts those who desire to amend, even after long negligence.

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Gift of Tears

February 18, 2008

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When we are baptized we often find ourselves crying tears of joy. And we can also look at the baptismal water as immersion in tears. But these tears only cover the moment of baptism backward. Back towards the past that we just left. They do nothing for the future. But our present day tears offer us a new and perhaps daily baptism. When we repent and cry tears of repentence we wash ourselves anew. St Symeon the New Theologian links tears to the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

St John Chrysostom  writes “The fire of sin is intense, but it is put out by only a small amount of tears, for the tear puts out a furnace of faults, and cleans our soul of sin.”

Isaiah 38:5 “Thus says the Lord… I have seen your tears, behold, I will add fifteen year to your life.”

St Symeon the New Theologian writes a strong reply on tears. “No one will ever prove from the divine Scriptures that any person was ever cleansed without tears and constant compunction. No one ever became holy  or recieved the Holy Spirit, or had the vision of God experienced His dwelling within himself, or ever had Him dwelling in his heart, without previous repentance and compunction and constant tears ever flowing as from a fountain. Such tears flood and wash out the house of the soul: they moisten and refresh the soul that has been possesed and inflamed by the unapproachable fire.”

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The Passions

February 18, 2008

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The Passions are the fleshly desires and the urge after things not of the Spirit. We readily think of drunkeness, orgies, idolatry, pride, pornography, lust, greed, etc… The Fathers of the Philokalia help us by giving us by reminding us of our God given weapons of spiritual warfare.

1 Prayer
2 Remembering the name of Jesus
3 Remembering the Lords passion, his last night before His death and His sufferings.
4 Nepsis, watchfulness, vigilance
5 By starving our passions, by not fueling them.
6 By waging war with them through ascesis.
7 By putting on the full armor of God. And by reading the Holy Scriptures and church writings.
8 Through partaking of the sacrements, ie.. the Holy Eucharist and Confession. And by being prepared to take the sacrements.

Our biggest struggle with the passions is our own mind. In taming our thoughts. (logismoi) For by our thoughts we arouse our passions. And if we are not careful our thoughts that go unchecked become a obsession that gets acted upon. In the Philokalia, the authors felt the need to name some of the more serious passions and give us a way to fight them. First in line is;
*Pride- St John Climacus wrote, “Pride is denial of God” As we know pride is the sin that befell Satan in heaven. Climacus also says that pride is like a “bitter Pharisee, a cruel judge. It is the foe of God, it is the root of blashemy.”

*Addiction is also a form of passion. Perhaps you are addicted to some form of flesh. It may seem simple enough in moderation, but you have allowed it to become a passion, a addiction.
The ancients would raise the passions to the level of Gods and bow down and worship them. For example; Aphrodite was the god of lust, Jupiter the god of war, Bacchus of appetite and Venus and sexuality.

The passions distort. If ever a man has been in prison for a long period of time, even though he hates it with his soul, he longs to return to it, because of his addiction to the famaliar, to the safe and perhaps to the wicked.

*Self- Many who win great victories in life, politics, business, sports, wars, etc… have only later to lose everything due to the inability to control self.

St Justin the Martyr, “To yield and give in to our sinful desires is the lowest form of slavery. To rule over such desires is the only true freedom.”

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Theosis

February 18, 2008

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Theosis simply put is “Union with God”.  It was Theia Enosis(union with God) that Christ asked the Father for when

He prayed that …“they also may be one in us.” (as we are one) John 17:21.

Another common means of expressing Theosis by orthodox is that we are “partakers of Divine Nature”.

Theosis also relates to salvation in many respects. And Theosis is seen in a very favorable light by Orthodox. It is the good news of the gospel, that we are to share in the very life of God. “Who is man that You are mindful of him?”

Salvation in orthodox terms is not only forgiveness of sins, and reconcilliation or justification by faith, but also the renewing and restoration of God’s image in us, “Let us make man in our image.”

Therefore the restoration of what was lost, by Theosis with Christ and the price He paid for us to restore our fallen state back into relationship with the Creator. Thusly Theosis is our great potential.

We can think of theosis as the transfiguration of man, restoration of communion with God, recieving the Holy Spirit who then dwells within us, becoming temples of the Holy Spirit, ascending to the throne of God, participating in the kingdom of God, and by grace being what God is by nature. St Paul in

Eph. 3:19 “we are made to be filled with all the fullness of God.”

St Symeon the New Theologian states “we become gods by disposition and grace, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, and together with this we receive the mind of Christ; and through it all we see God and Christ Himself, living in us according to His divinity, moving in a conscious way within us.”

Maximus the Confessor :“Man by the grace of God can become that which God is..” Zen Buddhism says, “In the begining there was nothing. The purpose of life is to achieve nothingness.”
Orthodox Theosis says,  “In the begining there was God. The purpose of life is to achieve union with God not in His essence but through His energies.”

Orthodox Scholar Anthony Coniaris states that “many of those who are baptized have in them the seed of theosis but have never made a authentic act of personal faith.”


St Gregory of Nyssa wrote; “…composed of bread and wine. He thus is commingled with us, so that by our union with the immortal, we might share in immortality.”

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Asceticism

February 17, 2008

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Asceticism has as its root word and element the word Askesis. Askesis can be defined as struggle, the effort of working towards Theosis. And the part that hurts but that lets us know of His love for us, pruning. Such as pruning a tree.

John 15:2 “He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”.

Askesis is never to be considered a means to an end in itself. It is only part of the path towards Theosis. St Seraphim of Sarov states:

“The true aim of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christs sake, they are only means for acquiring the Holy Spirit of God.”

The true end of askesis is the mystical union with God, Theosis.  St Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 9:27 “…I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disfigured.”

Askesis may also be called the cost of discipleship. We think in the modern world of cheap grace. Of no price to be paid for the intimacy with God. Yet the bible tells us that we must die to flesh, and live in the spirit for we are new creatures. It is the goal of Askesis that we die to self, that we yield ourselves totally to our Master, so that we might have union with Him, that we might become one flesh.

Romans 6:1 “dead unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

In askesis we are set free from the flesh. We no longer are slaves to sin. We overcome obesity, by our fasting. We overcome a lack of intimacy and power by constant prayer. We overcome the enemy and his doubt casting by constant communication with the Holy Spirit.

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Nepsis

February 17, 2008

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Nepsis is a greek word which means to be watchfull, alert, vigilant and to basically keep a look out. Jesus tells us in the gospel of St Luke 12:37 “Blessed are those servants whom the Lord when He comes, shall find watching.”

St Symeon the New Theologian wrote regarding prayer;

“Attention must be so united to prayer as the body is to the soul…Attention must go forward and observe the enemies like a scout, and it must engage in combat with sin, and resist the bad thoughts that come to the soul. Prayer must follow attention, banishing and destroying at once all the evil thoughts which attention previously fought, because by itself attention cannot destroy them.”

In the divine liturgy of St John Chrysosotom he calls for us to “Watch, therefore, at all times praying.” St Thoephan said that when we pray/

“When praying to God, start as if you had never prayed before.”

To be involved in Nepsis: watchfullness and alert is not only to guard our thoughts against the devil and sin, but also to guard our thoughts on the mind of Christ. To resist the devil by being alert, thus able to concentrate on Christ. St Symeon the New Theologian regarded the struggle of Nepsis thusly.

“Our whole soul should have at every moment a clear eye, able to watch and notice the thoughts entering our heart from the evil one and repel them. The heart must be always burning with faith, humility and love. Do not fear the conflict, and do not flee from it; where there is no struggle, there is no virtue.”

Scripture tells us to put on the full body of armor, for we do not fight against flesh and blood. Nepsis, the struggle. Guard our hearts and minds on the things of God. The Philokalia tells us:

“Vigilance is a firm control of the mind. Post it at the door of the heart, so that it sees marauding thoughts as they come, hears what they say, and knows what these robbers are doing, and what images are being projected….so as to seduce the mind by phantasy.” St Maximus wrote; “let us not sleep, but keep watch about Our Lord and Saviour, to make sure with unceasing vigil that no one should steal Him away from the Sepulchre of our hearts, lest we may have to say at some time; they came while we were sleeping and stole Him away. For we lapse into sleep. So with unceasing watch let us keep Him within the sepulchre of our souls; there let Him rest, there let Him sleep; there when He wills, let Him rise again. Jesus asked his disciples”Could you not pray a little longer?”

With Nepsis and watchfullness, comes a charismatic gift, discernment. By being watchfull we can be alert to things coming into the body of Christ that are harmful, or are from the enemy, thus the gift of discernment is needed by all christians and therefore could benefit from Nepsis. One of the enemies of the christian is a group of thoughts called Logismoi in Greek. The Desert Fathers thought that these were thoughts brought in by demons. These thoughts darken the mind, they bring in doubt, they leave the gate open to other non Godly thoughts. The look good on the outside, but on the inside they are dead mens bones.

How do we practice Nepsis, by the help of the Holy Spirit. He enables us to fight all good battles.

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The Philokalia

February 15, 2008

 

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There are many elements to the Philokalia. It is of course the “The Orthodox Spiritual Life” Our discussion is not on the singular work of Origen and his writings compiled in 360AD. But rather a group of spiritual writings dating in the church from the 4th through the 15th century. This second volume includes the first and consists of 5 volumes of work.

It was compiled in it’s last form by St Macarios and St Nicodemas from Mount Athos in Greece in 1777 and financed by John Mavrocordatos, Prince of Moldavia. And it’s final form was published in 1782 in Venice Italy and consisted of 1207 pages. The Philokalia consists of writings of such great men of the church as St Symeon the New Theologian, (part of my namesake), St Anthony the Great Philotheus the Sinaite, Maximus the Confessor( namesake of Bishop Reed in Georgia), Evagruis of Pontus, Nilus of Ancyra, Diadochus of Photice, Nicephorus the Monk, Ignatius Xanthopoulos and Kallistos. St Maximus the confessor is the largest contributor to the work. It is well to note, that these men were all what the modern church would call Charismatic. Oh how I love it. The topics of Philokalia include the following.

Nepsis– or inner attention, watchfullness, Asceticism- rooted in the word Askesis (struggle, pruning of the tree),Theosis – Union with God. The Passions- human impluses,The Gift of Tears,The ladder to heaven- from St John the ladder, Spiritual Synergy– A favorite of mine, Hesychasm– the practice of silence, Kyrie Eleison– Lord, Have Mercy, Descend with the mind into the heart, The inner closet, The inner flame.

 

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Attentive Prayer – The slowing of life

February 7, 2008

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Attentive Prayer – The slowing of life

In my better moments, I believe that you can foster an attitude of attentive prayer that requires the slowing of life, the silence of heart, the focus of the mind, then prayer as “breathing” kicks in. God becomes bigger the the slowness. This my own personal experience over the last few months.

It seems obvious to me that if you are “reconcilled” to God, then you are in His presence 24/7 and if you are in His presence 24/7 then the God into whose presence you are born is made more aware to the human soul through solitude, silence and attentive stillness. Attentive Prayer!

It is my own personal experience that much organised prayer and the “Quiet Time” for that matter, either focuses on – 1. “The Coming to God” in that moment. The implication from this belief is that we have not been in God’s presence all along,even before we have come to that moment. That we have been absent from his presence. or 2. – the focus on “God coming to us” and the implication here is that God has not been with us before that moment either. That he has been absent from our presence. Clearly both of these focuses are wrong.

We need to take serious that we are “in” given welcome, hospitality, a place of belonging, the real presence of God with us now in this time and space and for eternity. If you like “Given a place at his table”. This being the case then, the greatest ever act of attentive prayer is “silence acceptance” for in silence, nothing of the human condition is exalted, self is overcome and space and time is given to listening for God and resting in his revealed self.

It’s on this spiritual journey that we have embarked. A journey of attentive prayer, which is a living encounter 24/7; openess and awareness to God through the sacrament of daily life is what I’m practicing and inhabiting.

The slowing of life in our busy and highly stressful society energises this approach to attentive prayer, it gives it form and takes it from the realm of a casual meeting and places it in the centre of a relationship where loving hearts commune in total silence and solitude.

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Theologica Germanica 22

February 5, 2008

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CHAPTER XXII

How sometimes the Spirit of God, and sometimes also the Evil Spirit may possess a Man and have the mastery over him.

It is written that sometimes the Devil and his spirit do so enter into and possess a man, that he knoweth not what he doeth and leaveth undone, and hath no power over himself, but the Evil Spirit hath the mastery over him, and doeth and leaveth undone in, and with, and through, and by the man what he will. It is true in a sense that all the world is subject to and possessed with the Evil Spirit, that is, with lies, falsehood, and other vices and evil ways; this also cometh of the Evil Spirit, but in a different sense,

Now, a man who should be in like manner possessed by the Spirit of God, so that he should not know what he doeth or leaveth undone, and have no power over himself, but the will and Spirit of God should have the mastery over him, and work, and do, and leave undone with him and by him, what and as God would; such a man were one of those of whom St. Paul saith: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God,” and they “are not under the law, but under grace,” and to whom Christ saith: “For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.”

But I fear that for one who is truly possessed with the Spirit of God, there are a hundred thousand or an innumerable multitude possessed with the Evil Spirit. This is because men have more likeness to the Evil Spirit than to God. For the Self, the I, the Me and the like, all belong to the Evil Spirit, and therefore it is, that he is an Evil Spirit. Behold one or two words can utter all that hath been said by these many words: “Be simply and wholly bereft of Self.” But by these many words, the matter hath been more fully sifted, proved, and set forth.

Now men say, “I am in no wise prepared for this work, and therefore it cannot be wrought in me,” and thus they find an excuse, so that they neither are ready nor in the way to be so. And truly there is no one to blame for this but themselves. For if a man were looking and striving after nothing but to find a preparation in all things, and diligently gave his whole mind to see how he might become prepared; verily God would well prepare him, for God giveth as much care and earnestness and love to the preparing of a man, as to the pouring in of His Spirit when the man is prepared.

Yet there be certain means thereunto, as the saying is, “To learn an art which thou knowest not, four things are needful.” The first and most needful of all is, a great desire and diligence and constant endeavour to learn the art. And where this is wanting, the art will never be learned. The second is, a copy or ensample by which thou mayest learn. The third is to give earnest heed to the master, and watch how he worketh, and to be obedient to him in all things, and to trust him and follow him. The fourth is to put thy own hand to the work, and practise it with all industry. But where one of these four is wanting, the art will never be learned and mastered. So likewise is it with this preparation. For he who hath the first, that is, thorough diligence and constant, persevering desire towards his end, will also seek and find all that appertaineth thereunto, or is serviceable and profitable to it. But he who hath not that earnestness and diligence, love and desire, seeketh not, and therefore findeth not, and therefore remaineth ever unprepared. And therefore he never attaineth unto that end.

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Theologica Germanica 21

February 5, 2008

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CHAPTER XXI

How a friend of Christ willingly fulfilleth by his outward Works, such Things as must be and ought to be, and doth not concern himself with the rest.

Now, it may be asked, what is the state of a man who followeth the true Light to the utmost of his power? I answer truly, it will never be declared aright, for he who is not such a man, can neither understand nor know it, and he who is, knoweth it indeed; but he cannot utter it, for it is unspeakable. Therefore let him who would know it, give his whole diligence that he may enter therein; then will he see and find what hath never been uttered by man’s lips. However, I believe that such a man hath liberty as to his outward walk and conversation, so long as they consist with what must be or ought to be; but they may not consist with what he merely willeth to be. But oftentimes a man maketh to himself many must-be’s and ought-to-be’s which are false. The which ye may see hereby, that when a man is moved by his pride or covetousness or other evil dispositions, to do or leave undone anything, he ofttimes saith, “It must needs be so, and ought to be so.” Or if he is driven to, or held back from anything by the desire to find favour in men’s eyes, or by love, friendship, enmity, or the lusts and appetites of his body, he saith, “It must needs be so, and ought to be so.” Yet behold, that is utterly false. Had we no must-be’s, nor ought-to-be’s, but such as God and the Truth show us, and constrain us to, we should have less, forsooth, to order and do than now; for we make to ourselves much disquietude and difficulty which we might well be spared and raised above.

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Theologica Germanica 20

February 5, 2008

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CHAPTER XXHow, seeing that the Life of Christ is most bitter to Nature and Self, Nature will have none of it, and chooseth a false careless Life, as is most convenient to her.

Now, since the life of Christ is every way most bitter to nature and the Self and the Me (for in the true life of Christ, the Self and the Me and nature must be forsaken and lost, and die altogether), therefore, in each of us, nature hath a horror of it, and thinketh it evil and unjust and a folly, and graspeth after such a life as shall be most comfortable and pleasant to herself, and saith, and believeth also in her blindness, that such a life is the best possible. Now, nothing is so comfortable and pleasant to nature, as a free, careless way of life, therefore she clingeth to that, and taketh enjoyment in herself and her own powers, and looketh only to her own peace and comfort and the like. And this happeneth most of all, where there are high natural gifts of reason, for that soareth upwards in its own light and by its own power, till at last it cometh to think itself the true Eternal Light, and giveth itself out as such, and is thus deceived in itself, and deceiveth other people along with it, who know no better, and also are thereunto inclined.

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Theologica Germanica 19

February 5, 2008

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CHAPTER XIX

How we cannot come to the true Light and Christ’s Life, by much Questioning or Reading, or by high natural Skill and Reason, but by truly renouncing ourselves and all Things.

Let no one suppose, that we may attain to this true light and perfect knowledge, or life of Christ, by much questioning, or by hearsay, or by reading and study, nor yet by high skill and great learning. Yea, so long as a man taketh account of anything which is this or that, whether it be himself, or any other creature; or doeth anything, or frameth a purpose, for the sake of his own likings or desires, or opinions, or ends, he cometh not unto the life of Christ. This hath Christ Himself declared, for He saith: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” “He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me.” And if he “hate not his father and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” He meaneth it thus: “He who doth not forsake and part with everything, can never know My eternal truth, nor attain unto My life.” And though this had never been declared unto us, yet the truth herself sayeth it, for it is so of a truth. But so long as a man clingeth unto the elements and fragments of this world (and above all to himself), and holdeth converse with them, and maketh great account of them, he is deceived and blinded, and perceiveth what is good no further than as it is most convenient and pleasant to himself and profitable to his own ends. These he holdeth to be the highest good and loveth above all. Thus he never cometh to the truth.

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Theologica Germanica 18

February 5, 2008

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CHAPTER XVIII

How that the Life of Christ is the noblest and best Life that ever hath been or can be, and how a careless Life of false Freedom is the worst Life that can be.

Of a truth we ought to know and believe that there is no life so noble and good and well pleasing to God, as the life of Christ, and yet it is to nature and selfishness the bitterest life. A life of carelessness and freedom is to nature and the Self and the Me, the sweetest and pleasantest life, but it is not the best; and in some men may become the worst. But though Christ’s life be the most bitter of all, yet it is to be preferred above all. Hereby shall ye mark this: There is an inward sight which hath power to perceive the One true Good, and that it is neither this nor that, but that of which St. Paul saith; “When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” By this he meaneth, that the Whole and Perfect excelleth all the fragments, and that all which is in part and imperfect, is as nought compared to the Perfect. Thus likewise all knowledge of the parts is swallowed up when the Whole is known; and where that Good is known, it cannot but be longed for and loved so greatly, that all other love wherewith the man hath loved himself and other things, fadeth away. And that inward sight likewise perceiveth what is best and noblest in all things, and loveth it in the one true Good, and only for the sake of that true Good.

Behold! where there is this inward sight, the man perceiveth of a truth, that Christ”s life is the best and noblest life, and therefore the most to be preferred, and he willingly accepteth and endureth it, without a question or a complaint, whether it please or offend nature or other men, whether he like or dislike it, find it sweet or bitter and the like. And therefore wherever this Perfect and true Good is known, there also the life of Christ must be led, until the death of the body. And he who vainly thinketh otherwise is deceived, and he who saith otherwise, lieth, and in what man the life of Christ is not, of him the true Good and eternal Truth will nevermore be known.

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Theologica Germanica 17

February 5, 2008

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CHAPTER XVII

How we are not to take unto ourselves what we have done well: but only what we have done amiss.

Behold! now it is reported there be some who vainly think and say that they are so wholly dead to self and quit of it, as to have reached and abide in a state where they suffer nothing and are moved by nothing, just as if all men were living in obedience, or as if there were no creatures. And thus they profess to continue always in an even temper of mind, so that nothing cometh amiss to them, howsoever things fall out, well or ill. Nay verily! the matter standeth not so, but as we have said. It might be thus, if all men were brought into obedience; but until then, it cannot be.

But it may be asked: Are not we to be separate from all things, and neither to take unto ourselves evil nor good? I answer, no one shall take goodness unto himself, for that belongeth to God and His goodness only; but thanks be unto the man, and everlasting reward and blessings, who is fit and ready to be a dwelling and tabernacle of the Eternal Goodness and Godhead, wherein God may exert His power, and will and work without hindrance. But if any now will excuse himself for sin, by refusing to take what is evil unto himself, and laying the guilt thereof upon the Evil Spirit, and thus make himself out to be quite pure and innocent (as our first Parents Adam and Eve did while they were yet in paradise; when each laid the guilt upon the other), he hath no right at all to do this; for it is written, “There is none without sin.” Therefore I say; reproach, shame, loss, woe, and eternal damnation be to the man who is fit and ready and willing that the Evil Spirit and falsehood, lies and all untruthfulness, wickedness and other evil things should have their will and pleasure, word and work in him, and make him their house and habitation.

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Theologica Germanica 16

February 5, 2008

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CHAPTER XVI

Telleth us what is the old Man, and what is the new Man.

Again, when we read of the old man and the new man we must mark what that meaneth. The old man is Adam and disobedience, the Self, the Me, and so forth. But the new man is Christ and true obedience, a giving up and denying oneself of all temporal things, and seeking the honour of God alone in all things. And when dying and perishing and the like are spoken of, it meaneth that the old man should be destroyed, and not seek its own either in spiritual or in natural things. For where this is brought about in a true divine light, there the new man is born again. In like manner, it hath been said that man should die unto himself, that is, to earthly pleasures, consolations, joys, appetites, the I, the Self, and all that is thereof in man, to which he clingeth and on which he is yet leaning with content, and thinketh much of. Whether it be the man himself, or any other creature, whatever it be, it must depart and die, if the man is to be brought aright to another mind, according to the truth.

Thereunto doth St. Paul exhort us, saying: “Put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts: … and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” Now he who liveth to himself after the old man, is called and is truly a child of Adam; and though he may give diligence to the ordering of his life, he is still the child and brother of the Evil Spirit. But he who liveth in humble obedience and in the new man which is Christ, he is, in like manner, the brother of Christ and the child of God.

Behold! where the old man dieth and the new man is born, there is that second birth of which Christ saith, “Except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Likewise St. Paul saith, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” That is to say, all who follow Adam in pride, in lust of the flesh, and in disobedience, are dead in soul, and never will or can be made alive but in Christ. And for this cause, so long as a man is an Adam or his child, he is without God. Christ saith, “He who is not with Me is against Me.” Now he who is against God, is dead before God. Whence it followeth that all Adam’s children are dead before God. But he who standeth with Christ in perfect obedience, he is with God and liveth. As it hath been said already, sin lieth in the turning away of the creature from the Creator, which agreeth with what we have now said.

For he who is in disobedience is in sin, and sin can never be atoned for or healed but by returning to God, and this is brought to Pass by humble obedience. For so long as a man continueth in disobedience, his sin can never be blotted out; let him do what he will, it availeth him nothing. Let us be assured of this. For disobedience is itself sin. But when a man entereth into the obedience of the faith, all is healed, and blotted out and forgiven, and not else. Insomuch that if the Evil Spirit himself could come into true obedience, he would become an angel again, and all his sin and wickedness would be healed and blotted out and forgiven at once. And could an angel fall into disobedience, he would straightway become an evil spirit although he did nothing afresh.

If then it were possible for a man to renounce himself and all things, and to live as wholly and purely in true obedience, as Christ did in His human nature, such a man were quite without sin, and were one thing with Christ, and the same by grace which Christ was by nature. But it is said this cannot be. So also it is said: “There is none without sin.” But be that as it may, this much is certain; that the nearer we are to perfect obedience, the less we sin, and the farther from it we are, the more we sin. In brief: whether a man be good, better, or best of all; bad, worse, or worst of all; sinful or saved before God; it all lieth in this matter of obedience. Therefore it hath been said: the more of Self and Me, the more of sin and wickedness. So likewise it hath been said: the more the Self, the I, the Me, the Mine, that is, self-seeking and selfishness, abate in a man, the more doth God’s I, that is, God Himself, increase in him.

Now, if all mankind abode in true obedience, there would be no grief nor sorrow. For if it were so, all men would be at one, and none would vex or harm another; so also, none would lead a life or do any deed contrary to God’s will. Whence then should grief or sorrow arise? But now alas! all men, nay the whole world lieth in disobedience! Now were a man simply and wholly obedient as Christ was, all disobedience were to him a sharp and bitter pain. But though all men were against him, they could neither shake nor trouble him, for while in this obedience a man were one with God, and God Himself were one with the man.

Behold now all disobedience is contrary to God, and nothing else. In truth, no Thing is contrary to God; no creature nor creature’s work, nor anything that we can name or think of is contrary to God or displeasing to Him, but only disobedience and the disobedient man. In short, all that is, is well-pleasing and good in God’s eyes, saving only the disobedient man. But he is so displeasing and hateful to God and grieveth Him so sore, that if it were possible for human nature to die a hundred deaths, God would willingly suffer them all for one disobedient man, that He might slay disobedience in him, and that obedience might be born again.

Behold! albeit no man may be so single and perfect in this obedience as Christ was, yet it is possible to every man to approach so near thereunto as to be rightly called Godlike, and “a partaker of the divine nature.” And the nearer a man cometh thereunto, and the more Godlike and divine he becometh, the more he hateth all disobedience, sin, evil and unrighteousness, and the worse they grieve him. Disobedience and sin are the same thing, for there is no sin but disobedience, and what is done of: disobedience is all sin. Therefore all we have to do is to keep ourselves from disobedience.

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Theologica Germanica 15

February 4, 2008

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CHAPTER XV

How all Men are dead in Adam and are made alive again in Christ, and of true Obedience and Disobedience.

All that in Adam fell and died, was raised again and made alive in Christ, and all that rose up and was made alive in Adam, fell and died in Christ. But what was that? I answer, true obedience and disobedience. But what is true obedience? I answer, that a man should so stand free, being quit of himself, that is, of his I, and Me, and Self, and Mine, and the like, that in all things, he should no more seek or regard himself, than if he did not exist, and should take as little account of himself as if he were not, and another had done all his works. Likewise he should count all the creatures for nothing. What is there then, which is, and which we may count for somewhat? I answer, nothing but that which we may call God. Behold! this is very obedience in the truth, and thus it will be in a blessed eternity. There nothing is sought nor thought of, nor loved, but the one thing only.

Hereby we may mark what disobedience is: to wit, that a man maketh some account of himself, and thinketh that he is, and knoweth, and can do somewhat, and seeketh himself and his own ends in the things around him, and hath regard to and loveth himself, and the like. Man is created for true obedience, and is bound of right to render it to God. And this obedience fell and died in Adam, and rose again and lived in Christ. Yea, Christ’s human nature was so utterly bereft of Self, and apart from all creatures, as no man’s ever was, and was nothing else but “a house and habitation of God.” Neither of that in Him which belonged to God, nor of that which was a living human nature and a habitation of God, did He, as man, claim anything for His own. His human nature did not even take unto itself the Godhead, whose dwelling it was, nor anything that this same Godhead willed, or did or left undone in Him, nor yet anything of all that His human nature did or suffered; but in Christ’s human nature there was no claiming of anything, nor seeking nor desire, saving that what was due might be rendered to the Godhead, and He did not call this very desire His own. Of this matter no more can be said, or written here, for it is unspeakable, and was never yet and never will be fully uttered; for it can neither be spoken nor written but by Him who is and knows its ground; that is, God Himself, who call do all things well.

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The Gift of Simplicity

February 4, 2008

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I read this on the website of St Rita in Arizona a Benedictine community of women. I thought it was good to hear some reflections on “simplicity” this is a principle that I have been inhabiting and is inhabiting me. Last night I spoke at our evening gathering at Harehills Lane about the need to de-clutter and find simpler ways of living and relating as the people of God. There are some re-occurring themes, that travel along with simplicity. Time, Space. Listening, Attentiveness, Thankfulness, Slowing down, retreat in the heart and so on………….I enjoyed reading from the website of these dear sisters. That are seeking to work out the “rule of Benedict”

“We have less of many things than is customary in our culture. No TV beyond an occasional feast-day film. We don’t call our best friend at the end of a trying day to complain about the boss. We don’t plough through acres of email or go to the mall for a new outfit to enhance the new me. No career ladder to climb. We left behind the cell phone, check-book, credit cards, frequent flyer miles, book clubs, students or colleagues or buddies in the carpool, wardrobe, boyfriends, and a few other items of interest. We left behind a culture that offers dozens of ways of making us feel important. When this issue arose, the disciples asked Jesus, “What then shall we have?” Leaving aside for the moment the ultimate recompense of the Kingdom of God, we are offered the gift of simplicity.”

SIMPLICITY of form and space.
Our chapel is serenely plain, our monastic spaces are well-designed and free of clutter. We revel in an environment suited to an uncluttered life.

SIMPLICITY of heart.
We surrender affectation of manner and the need to impress.

SIMPLICITY of desire.
We seek to set our longings toward God in the face of his Christ. Simplicity can translate into listening, into attentiveness.We listen to the Word of God in liturgy, and in quiet prayer. We absorb the times and seasons of the days and years, letting ourselves be taught by the wisdom of the natural world. We hear the clamour in our own hearts, asking the primordial questions pressing for new and personal answers. We search for the needs of Christ in the needs of our sisters and those of the world.

 

 

 

 

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Julian of Norwich

February 4, 2008

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The Anchoress known as Julian of Norwich was born in late 1342, and may have lived well into the fifteenth century, dying around 1412. We know very few details about her life; in fact, we do not know even know her real name. At some point in her life she became an anchoress — a vowed solitary who lived a life devoted to prayer and meditation, confined to a cell adjoining a church. In her case, Julian’s cell adjoined the church of St. Julian in Norwich, from which we get her pseudonym. Virtually nothing is known about her aside from what she writes in her remarkable book, but even there she reveals little about herself, preferring instead to talk about her “courteous” God. In her work (the first book written by a woman in English), Julian recounts an amazing series of visions she had while suffering from a life-threatening illness; as she reflects on the meaning of her visions, she reveals a profound level of mystical wisdom and insight that, over six hundred years later, remains on the cutting edge of Christian theology.

In May 1373 when Julian was “thirty and one-half years old,” she became sick enough that a priest was summoned to come and issue her last rites. While on her supposed deathbed, he held a cross before her face and instructed her to gaze upon Christ for comfort. When she did so, she realized that she saw real, flowing blood on the corpus; this was the beginning a series of vivid, profound visions or “showings” — sixteen different revelations in which Christ, Mary, heaven, even hell and “the fiend” were shown to her. Shortly after this singular mystical experience she recovered from her illness, and subsequently wrote about her experience in a book that evolved over the following two decades. It appears she wrote a short text not long after the events of May 1373, and a longer text, completed twenty years later, filled with poetic and vividly rendered reflection on the theological meaning of her showings, centered on the lavish nature of Divine love.

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The Church of St. Julian, Norwich, England

Today, Julian is best known for her optimism; she is most-often quoted for saying “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well” (which was Christ’s response to her when she wondered about why sin had to exist). A lesser known but equally lovely quote: “The fullness of joy is to behold God in all.” Julian is also celebrated for naming both God and Christ as “mother.” More than a cute theological ploy, she articulates a fully-formed spirituality of the motherhood of God, yet always within the parameters of an orthodox appreciation of the Christian faith. In this way, Julian anticipates (by six centuries!) the best and most creative expressions of feminist Christian theology as has emerged in our time.

One of the loveliest stories from Julian’s series of visions involves a time when she was asked to hold something little, no bigger than a hazelnut. When she asks God what this is, she is told “It is everything that is made.” She marvels that this thing could even continue to exist, so small and delicate it appears. She then comes to understand that this little thing exists — and continues to do so — because God loves it. “In this little thing, I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second is that God loves it. The third is that God keeps it.” Note the Trinitarian nature of Julian’s insight; indeed, Trinitarian imagery abounds throughout her writing.

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Inside Julian’s restored cell. In her day the room would have been very simple with no altar or crucifix.

God made it, God loves it, and God keeps it. This sums up Julian’s optimistic, visionary theology — a theology where the love of God is expressed not in terms of law and duty, but in terms of joy and heartfelt compassion.

Excerpts are from the M. L. Del Mastro translation of Julian’s Revelation of Divine Love.

For further reading:

Editions of Julian’s book, translated into modern English:

Julian of Norwich, Revelation of Love, tr. John Skinner

Julian of Norwich, The Revelation of Divine Love in Sixteen Showings, tr. M.L. del Mastro

Julian of Norwich, Showing of Love, tr. Julia Bolton Holloway

Julian of Norwich, A Lesson of Love: The Revelations of Julian of Norwich, tr. Fr. John-Julian OJN

Julian of Norwich, Showings, tr. Edmund Colledge OSA and James Walsh SJ

Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, tr. Clifton Wolters

Editions of Julian’s book, in middle English:

Julian of Norwich, A Book of Showings to the Anchoress Julian of Norwich, ed. Edmund Colledge OSA and James Walsh SJ

Julian of Norwich, A Revelation of Love, ed. Marion Glasscoe

Julian of Norwich, Showing of Love: Extant Texts and Translation, ed. Sr. Anna Maria Reynolds CP and Julia Bolton Holloway

Julian of Norwich, The Showings of Julian of Norwich, ed. Denise Baker

Books about Julian (popular/devotional):

Ritamary Bradley, Julian’s Way: A Practical Commentary on Julian of Norwich

C. Hugh Hildesley, Journeying with Julian

Robert Llewelyn, All Shall Be Well: The Spirituality of Julian of Norwich for Today

Robert Llewelyn, ed., Julian: Woman of Our Day

Paul Molinari, Julian of Norwich: The Teaching of a 14th Century English Mystic

Ambrose Tinsley, OSB, A Neighbour Kind and Known: The Spirituality of Julian of Norwich

Sheila Upjohn, In Search of Julian of Norwich

Sheila Upjohn, Why Julian Now? A Voyage of Discovery

Books about Julian (academic/scholarly):

Christopher Abbott, Julian of Norwich: Autobiography and Theology

Denise Nowakowski Baker, Julian of Norwich’s Showings: From Vision to Book

Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt, Julian of Norwich and the Mystical Body Politic of Christ

Kerrie Hide, Gifted Origins to Graced Fulfillment: The Soteriology of Julian of Norwich

Grace Jantzen, Julian of Norwich: Mystic and Theologian

Kenneth Leech, Julian Reconsidered

Kevin J. Magill, Julian of Norwich: Mystic or Visionary?

Jane Maynard, Transfiguring Loss: Julian of Norwich as a Guide for Survivors of Traumatic Grief

Sandra J. McEntire, ed., Julian of Norwich: A Book of Essays

Joan M. Nuth, Wisdom’s Daughter: The Theology of Julian of Norwich

Margaret Ann Palliser, Christ Our Mother of Mercy: Divine Mercy and Compassion in the Theology of the Shewings of Julian of Norwich

Brant Pelphrey, Julian of Norwich: Christ Our Mother (The Way of the Christian Mystics, volume 7)

Brant Pelphrey, Love was His Meaning: The Theology and Mysticism of Julian of Norwich

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The Joy of God in Us

February 3, 2008

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The Joy of God in Us
The Revelations of Divine Love of Blessed Julian of Norwich

And in the same showing [of Christ bleeding on the Cross) suddenly the Trinity almost filled my heart with joy. (And I understood it shall be like that in heaven without end for all that shall come there.) For the Trinity is God, God is the Trinity; the Trinity is our Maker, the Trinity is our Keeper, the Trinity is our everlasting Lover, the Trinity is our endless Joy and Bliss, by our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ch. 4)

[Our Lord God] made everything in fullness of goodness, and therefore the Blessed Trinity is always completely pleased with all His works. And all this He showed most blessedly, meaning this: “See, I am God. See, I am in everything. See, I do everything. See, I never lift my hands from my works, nor ever shall, without end. See, I lead everything to the end I ordained for it from without beginning by the same Power, Wisdom, and Love with which I made it. How would anything be amiss?” (Ch. 11)

Ah, Jesus wishes that we take heed to the bliss of our salvation that is in the blessed Trinity and that we desire to have as much spiritual pleasure, with His grace, as was said before. (That is to say, that the pleasure of our salvation be like to the joy that Christ has about our salvation as much as it can be while we are here.) The whole Trinity acted in the Passion of Christ (ministering an abundance of strengths and plenitude of grace to us by Him) but only the Maiden’s son suffered (about which the whole blessed Trinity endlessly rejoices). (Ch. 23)

And so our good Lord replied to all the questions and doubts that I could raise, saying most reassuringly: “I am able to make everything well, and I know how to make everything well, and I wish to make everything well, and I shall make everything well; and thou shalt see for thyself that all manner of things shall be well. Where He says, “I am able,” I understand as referring to the Father; and where He says, “I know how,” I understand as referring to the Son; and where He says, “I wish to,” I understand as referring to the Holy Spirit; and where He says, “I shall,” I understand as referring to the unity of the blessed Trinity (three persons and one truth); and where He says, “Thou shalt see for thyself,” I understand the one-ing of all mankind that shall be saved into the blissful Trinity. (Ch. 31)

The all Powerful truth of the Trinity is our Father, for He created us and keeps us within Him;  and the deep Wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother in whom we are all enclosed; the exalted Goodness of the Trinity is our Lord and in Him we are enclosed and He in us. (Ch. 54)

I beheld the action of all the blessed Trinity.  In that sight I saw and understood these three aspects:  the aspect of the Fatherhood, the aspect of the Motherhood, and the aspect of the Lordhood, in one God. (Ch. 58)

And what can make us rejoice in God more than to see in Him that He rejoices in us, the highest of all His works? For I saw in the same showing that if the blessed Trinity could have made man’s soul any better, any more beautiful, any nobler than it was made, He would not have been wholly pleased with the creation of man’s soul. But because He made man’s soul as fair, as good, as precious a creature as He could make it, therefore the Blessed Trinity is wholly pleased without end in the creation of man’s soul, and He wills that our hearts be powerfully raised above the depths of the earth and all vain sorrows, and rejoice in Him. (Ch. 67)

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St. Catherine of Sienna

February 3, 2008

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St. Catherine of Sienna, 1347-1380

Catherine Benicasa was born in Siena in 1347, the youngest of a very large family. Her father, Giacomo, was a prosperous wool-dyer, the comfort of whose home may be gauged even today by visiting the large house in which he brought up his family, still preserved though considerably altered, through the intervening centuries. His wife, Monna Lapa, was the capable and energetic ruler of this lively family.

Catherine spent a normal, contented infancy during which only excessive gaiety singled her out from among her brothers and sisters. But in adolescence she became attracted to prayer and solitude. Lapa vigorously disapproved and for a period considered Catherine a difficult daughter, in fact a problem teenager, who rebelled against her mother’s direction in such matters as dress and amusements, resisted any suggestion of marriage and refused just as positively to become a nun.

There was a truce to their disagreement when Catherine, at the age of sixteen, gained admittance to the Third Order of St. Dominic, then flourishing in Siena. The rules of this group allowed her to dress in the black and white habit of a Dominican nun while remaining in her own home. Thenceforward for three years she never left her room, except to go to mass and confession, and spoke to no one except her confessor. This good priest said afterwards that he always felt incompetent to guide her. During this period Catherine trained herself to live on a spoonful of herbs a day and to make a couple of hours’ sleep every night suffice. Though apparently so uneventful, those years were of major importance to her, for it was on them she built her life’s achievement.

Having been told by God to resume family life, she then began to do her share of the work of the house, to nurse the sick and to help the poor. Almost at once it became known that she had discernment of souls and people began to flock to her from all sides. A motley band of men and women of all ages and ranks gathered around her, forming the singular ‘club’ of Fontebranda, the name of the district where she lived. They included scions of the principal Sienese families, men of fashion, priests and religious, soldiers and artists, merchants, lawyers, politicians.

The plain people of Siena did not care for the novelty. Here, said her neighbours in effect, is a young woman, a kind of nun, said to be holy; yet she goes about freely with numbers of young men, who are in and out of her house at all hours of the day. Who ever heard of such a thing? They nicknamed her derisively the ‘Queen of Fontebranda,’ and they called her friends, who they said must be bewitched, the ‘caterinati.’ But the unique club, or the ‘bella brigata,’ as they called themselves, was not to be dispersed by jeers. The disapproval did not even cloud their happiness. They persevered. Ecclesiastical history has since given them the noble title ‘School of Mystics.’ They were attracted to Catherine by her gaiety as well as by her asceticism; by her practical common sense as well as by her spiritual insight; by her serenity and personal charm.

There was at this time a severe crisis in the church, owing to the papacy’s desertion of Rome for Avignon. This had particularly bad effects on the Italian Communes, who were always at strife with the French papal legates. When Florence declared war on the papal states in protest against the legates’ rule, eighty towns joined them in ten days. While Catherine was in Pisa, working in the cause of peace, she received the stigmata on the fourth Sunday of Lent, 1375, although the marks remained invisible until after her death. At a certain stage in this war, Florence asked Catherine to go to Avignon and there intercede with Pope Gregory XI on behalf of their embassy. She at once agreed and reached Avignon in the third week of May, 1376, accompanied by twenty-three members of the ‘bella brigata,’ including four priests.

The ensuing three months were among the most fateful in the whole history of the Church. Catherine had to endure every kind of rebuff in Avignon: the society ladies who had great power in the papal court openly made fun of her; inquisition-minded prelates subjected her to a merciless examination in doctrine; when the Florentine envoys arrived, they rudely refused to accept her mediation: Florence had merely used her as a pawn in order to gain time. But the pope favoured her, and now she fully understood his irresolution of character and his difficulties. She succeeded in convincing him that peace could be won only by restoring the papacy to Rome.

The might of France, the Sacred College and the pope’s own family immediately closed in around him to prevent him from taking his step. It was a terrifying struggle of wills in which the victory went to Catherine. Pope Gregory XI left Avignon forever on September 13th, 1376.

The change of climate and the difficulties with which he had to cope took a heavy toll of Gregory’s frail physique. He died within a year. The new pope, Urban VI, was a Neapolitan who began his pontificate with a zeal for reform which immediately alienated the French cardinals. They withdrew to Anagni, where they issued a statement that the occupier of the Holy See was in reality an intruder, whom they had only pretended to elect in fear of the Roman mob who had dominated the election with their clamor for an Italian pope. Shortly afterwards the French cardinals elected a rival pope, who went to live in Avignon. Thus began the great western Schism which lasted for seventy years and proved to be the most terrible ordeal which the church has ever had to suffer.

Catherine went to Rome at the request of Urban VI to organize spiritual help towards ending the schism. Before leaving Siena for the last time, she dictated a book called The Dialogue of St. Catherine; this and her four hundred Letters comprise a great treasury of spiritual writing.

Once again in Rome she pitted herself against the powers of evil that threatened to engulf the church. For a whole year she lived corporally on the Blessed Sacrament and took less than an hour’s sleep every night while she sent her zealous letters all over Europe, beseeching help for the restoration of unity and for peace, as daily she offered her life for this cause. One evening in January, 1380, while dictating a letter to Urban, she had a stroke. Partially recovering, she lived in a mystical agony, convinced that she was wrestling physically with demons. She had a second stroke while at prayer in St. Peter’s and died three weeks later on April 29th, 1380, aged thirty-three. She was buried under the high altar in the Dominican church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, but her head was afterwards removed and taken to Siena, where it is enshrined in the Dominican church. She was canonized eighty-one years after her death. Her feast is celebrated in Siena on April 29th, but elsewhere in the church on the next day.

 

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The Rule of Saint Albert

January 30, 2008

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[1] Albert, called by God’s favour to be Patriarch of the Church of Jerusalem, bids health in the Lord and the blessing of the Holy Spirit to his beloved sons in Christ, B. and the other hermits living under obedience to him, who live near the spring on Mount Carmel.

[2] Many and varied are the ways in which our saintly forefathers laid down how everyone, whatever his station or the kind of religious observance he has chosen, should live a life of allegiance to Jesus Christ – how, pure in heart and stout in conscience, he must be unswerving in the service of the Master.

[3] It is to me, however, that you have come for a rule of life in keeping with your avowed purpose, a rule you may hold fast to henceforward; and therefore:

[4] The first thing I require is for you to have a Prior, one of yourselves, who is to be chosen for the office by common consent, or that of the greater and maturer part of you. Each of the others must promise him obedience – of which, once promised, he must try to make his deeds the true reflection – and also chastity and the renunciation of ownership.

[5] If the Prior and the brothers see fit, you may have foundations in solitary places, or where you are given a site suitable and convenient for the observance proper to your Order.

[6] Next, each one of you is to have a separate cell, situated as the lie of the land you propose to occupy may dictate, and allotted by disposition of the Prior with the agreement of the other brothers, or the more mature among them.

[7] However, you are to eat whatever may have been given you in a common refectory, listening together meanwhile to a reading from Holy Scripture where that can be done without difficulty.

[8] None of the brothers is to occupy a cell other than that allotted to him, or to exchange cells with another, without leave of whoever is Prior at the time.

[9] The Prior’s cell should stand near the entrance to your property, so that he may be the first to meet those who approach, and whatever has to be done in consequence may all be carried out as he may decide and order.

[10] Each one of you is to stay in his own cell or nearby, pondering the Lord’s law day and night and keeping watch at his prayers unless attending to some other duty.

[11] Those who know how to say the canonical hours with those in orders should do so, in the way those holy forefathers of ours laid down, and according to the Church’s approved custom. Those who do not know the hours must say twenty-five ‘Our Fathers’ for the night office, except on Sundays and solemnities when that number is to be doubled so that the ‘Our Father’ is said fifty times; the same prayer must be said seven times in the morning in place of Lauds, and seven times too for each of the other hours, except for Vespers when it must be said fifteen times.

[12] None of the brothers must lay claim to anything as his own, but you are to possess everything in common; and each is to receive from the Prior – that is from the brother he appoints for the purpose – whatever befits his age and needs.

[13] You may have as many asses and mules as you need, however, and may keep a certain amount of livestock or poultry.

[14] An oratory should be built as conveniently as possible among the cells, where, if it can be done without difficulty, you are to gather each morning to hear Mass.

[15] On Sundays too, or other days if necessary, you should discuss matters of discipline and your spiritual welfare; and on this occasion the indiscretions and failings of the brothers, if any be found at fault, should be lovingly corrected.

[16] You are to fast every day, except Sundays, from the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross until Easter Day, unless bodily sickness or feebleness, or some other good reason, demand a dispensation from the fast; for necessity overrides every law.

[17] You are to abstain from meat, except as a remedy for sickness or feebleness. But as, when you are on a journey, you more often than not have to beg your way, outside your own houses you may eat foodstuffs that have been cooked with meat, so as to avoid giving trouble to your hosts. At sea, however, meat may be eaten.

[18] Since man’s life on earth is a time of trial, and all who would live devotedly in Christ must undergo persecution, and the devil your foe is on the prowl like a roaring lion looking for prey to devour, you must use every care to clothe yourselves in God’s armour so that you may be ready to withstand the enemy’s ambush. 

[19] Your loins are to be girt with chastity, your breast fortified by holy meditations, for as Scripture has it, holy meditation will save you. Put on holiness as your breastplate, and it will enable you to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength, and your neighbour as yourself. Faith must be your shield on all occasions, and with it you will be able to quench all the flaming missiles of the wicked one: there can be no pleasing God without faith; and the victory lies in this – your faith. On your head set the helmet of salvation, and so be sure of deliverance by our only Saviour, who sets his own free from their sins. The sword of the spirit, the word of God, must abound in your mouths and hearts. Let all you do have the Lord’s word for accompaniment.

[20] You must give yourselves to work of some kind, so that the devil may always find you busy; no idleness on your part must give him a chance to pierce the defences of your souls. In this respect you have both the teaching and the example of Saint Paul the Apostle, into whose mouth Christ put his own words. God made him preacher and teacher of faith and truth to the nations: with him as your teacher you cannot go astray. We lived among you, he said, labouring and weary, toiling night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you; not because we had no power to do otherwise but so as to give you, in your own selves, as an example you might imitate. For the charge we gave you when we were with you was this: that whoever is not willing to work should not be allowed to eat either. For we have heard that there are certain restless idlers among you. We charge people of this kind, and implore them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that they earn their own bread by silent toil. This is the way of holiness and goodness: see that you follow it.

[21] The Apostle would have us keep silence, for in silence he tells us to work. As the Prophet also makes known to us: Silence is the way to foster holiness. Elsewhere he says: Your strength will lie in silence and hope. For this reason I lay down that you are to keep silence from after Compline until after Prime the next day. At other times, although you need not keep silence so strictly, be careful not to indulge in a great deal of talk, for as Scripture has it – and experience teaches us no less – Sin will not be wanting where there is much talk, and He who is careless in speech will come to harm; and elsewhere: The use of many words brings harm to the speaker’s soul. And our Lord says in the Gospel: Every rash word uttered will have to be accounted for on judgment day. Make a balance then, each of you, to weigh his words in; keep a tight rein on your mouths, lest you should stumble and fall in speech, and your fall be irreparable and prove mortal. Like the Prophet, watch your step lest your tongue give offence, and employ every care in keeping silent, which is the way to foster holiness.

[22] You, brother B., and whoever may succeed you as Prior, must always keep in mind and put into practice what our Lord said in the Gospel: Whoever has a mind to become a leader among you must make yourself servant to the rest, and whichever of you would be first must become your bondsman. 

[23] You other brothers too, hold your Prior in humble reverence, your minds not on him but on Christ who has placed him over you, and who, to those who rule the Churches, addressed these words: Whoever pays you heed pays heed to me, and whoever treats you with dishonour dishonours me; if you remain so minded you will not be found guilty of contempt, but will merit life eternal as fit reward for your obedience.

[24] Here then are a few points I have written down to provide you with a standard of conduct to live up to; but our Lord, at his second coming, will reward anyone who does more than he is obliged to do. See that the bounds of common sense are not exceeded, however, for common sense is the guide of the virtues.

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The Heart of the World

January 30, 2008

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 The Message of Monastic Life

 by Fr. Thomas Keating

Monastic life has been the guardian of much of Christian spirituality throughout the ages. Christian monasticism dates from the early part of the fourth century. It sprang up almost simultaneously in Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor While it expressed its inspiration in various concrete forms, all of them shared the same fundamental dedication to the search for God through silence, solitude, simplicity of lifestyle, and a discipline of prayer. These spiritual values were generally lived within a community which provided an environment conducive to the search for God.

Spiritual development is the birthright of every man and woman, not only of cloistered monks and nuns. Monastic life is simply a professional way of going about it. While the world as a whole tends to neglect and forget the knowledge of how to pursue and live a spiritual life, the monastic world has been occupied through the ages in trying to preserve that knowledge. At this moment of history, there are large numbers of genuine seekers after truth. Many of them never had a specific commitment to one of the Christian denominations, or even to any religion.

Others, who were raised as Christians or Jews, never heard any challenge to lead an interior life of prayer and union with God in their local churches or church-related schools.

During the last three or four centuries, the Christian spirituality of earlier times has become lost to view, and it is principally in monasteries that a continuing tradition of contemplation has been handed down. For this reason many of these seekers, both Christian and non-Christian, are turning to monasteries for some kind of guidance. This is especially true since the Vatican Council (1961-1965), which set in motion a vast program for the spiritual renewal of the Roman Catholic Church. This movement has awakened the interest of those in other Christian churches and in other religions who are seeking the spiritual renewal of their own traditions.

A contemplative monastery is a visible sign of our common human groping for interiority or wholeness and for what is deepest in human values. It is the sign of the Church’s groping for the fullness of the Christian mystery–oneness with God and with all creation. The monastic life-style is designed to lead those who enter it into a new attitude towards all reality. A certain measure of solitude and silence, and the practice of the traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, reduce the distracting stimuli which reinforce our view of ourselves and the world. This gradual silencing of our habitual ways of thinking and reacting opens up our awareness to other realities and other values, especially the value of every other human being at the deepest level. The ultimate purpose of monastic life is to experience oneness with everyone else–and to bear all the consequences of that experience.

A certain experience of God is quite common in the population. People do not talk about it because they think that if they mention their experience to their friends, everyone will think they are crazy. People who are not even religiously minded have an experience of transcendence now and then, but they do not know how to articulate it. If they should hear a few words indicating knowledge of an experience which is beyond thoughts, which is very peaceful, and which arises spontaneously, this will awaken memories of experiences which were very real to them at one time. We have to begin to understand that it is normal to be contemplative; it just needs to be cultivated.

Have you ever experienced a few moments of interior silence? How would you describe it? Is there not a sense of a very deep, all-pervading peace, a sense of well-being, and a delicate joy, all at once? Why is it such a difficult state to maintain or return to? It seems easier to forget about the whole experience than to be plagued by the pain of lingering outside a door that seems to be locked from the inside. Yet, in spite of this lingering pain, the repeated experience of interior silence is a need that everyone has in order to be fully human. Our capacity for the transcendent is precisely what distinguishes us most from the rest of visible creation. It is what makes us most human.

A while ago a group of university students visited the Abbey on a field trip in connection with a course in mysticism they were taking in school. After a few brief introductions, they wanted to know about my past life, my reasons for entering the monastery, and what possessed me to reach such a decision. Having answered as best I could without completely undermining my reputation, I said to them, “May I now ask you a question? Have you ever experienced a few moments of interior silence?”

They thought about that for a few moments, and then, very gradually, began to respond. I doubt if any of them were church-goers. Their professor said later that their interest in Christian mysticism did not coincide with church-going, at least not much of it. It was intriguing to hear four or five of these young people discuss their various experiences of interior silence.

So I pursued it a little further. “What was it like?”

One girl said, “I can remember a few times when I was lying on my bed, and a sense of well-being came over me along with deep interior silence, peace and joy. The only trouble with it was that I couldn’t make it last. There was also no way of getting back to it after it had gone.”

Another made this observation: “It is like having a door inside of you that is normally closed. You would like to get in, but can’t; and yet, every now and then, it just opens up. The feeling is just wonderful. It is like coming home.”

I said, “Well, you can’t make it come about then?”

Several replied at once, “No.”

I said, “If you can’t bring it about, who is it that opens the door?”

They were not prepared to answer that question, except that they knew it was not themselves. As a result of experiencing these moments of interior silence, they seem never to have forgotten the occasions, even if they happened only once. Evidently, the experiences had made a great impression and had influenced their actions for some time afterward. But little by little they faded away, as the students got immersed once again in the daily round. One other point made by these young people was that the experience of inner silence was like being really one’s true self for a few moments, rooted in one’s self. It was a deep affirmation of their being.

Interior silence is a fairly frequent and even ordinary human experience. It is not something given only to very spiritual or holy people. It seems to respond to a real need, as real and vital as eating or sleeping. You can survive, of course, without moments of interior silence, while you cannot survive without eating or sleeping; but a question could be raised about the quality of your survival. If this spiritual need is not appeased, it will take revenge in strange ways, such as an uncomfortable hunger. We may find ourselves trying to cover up the remembrance of this hunger in order not to feel its pangs. A lot of compulsive behavior–drugs, sexual license, hyper activity, work for work’s sake–can be means of escaping from the awareness of this hunger. Nature seems to have provided us with the need of interior silence. We seek it as we seek returning to a place of security, warmth, and love. Christian revelation addresses itself to this natural tendency and tells us Who it is that opens the door and lets us in.

A contemplative monastery is a visible expression of the fact that a state or place of interior silence is really available to all, and that everyone is invited. Such a place possesses a mysterious fascination. People do not come merely to look at the liturgy. They do not come just to sniff incense or pick up religious vibrations in the church. They feel intuitively that a contemplative monastery has something they are looking for. The buildings suggest it; the solitude suggests it; the silence suggests it. A group of people seeking interior silence as a life’s work is a call to others to do something similar in their lives. This call is a significant service in our day; one, however, that is impossible to measure with any kind of tool.

But what are the consequences of responding to this call?

When you reduce the ordinary flow of thoughts and your emotional reactions to them, you enter into a new world of reality. Even on the level of the senses we hear sounds only within a certain frequency or see things at a certain distance. Dogs hear much more than we do. Hawks see much farther than we do. If the range of our senses is limited in these areas, it should be no surprise that there are other levels of awareness that our ordinary sense experiences do not perceive either. This is especially true of the level of spiritual reality, which is the level of the mysteries of the Christian faith. Ordinary hearing does not grasp them. Ordinary seeing does not perceive them. Thus, Jesus repeatedly reminded his listeners, “He that has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 11:15), hinting that we must develop a greater capacity for hearing than the external ear alone. Christian tradition teaches that there are faculties of finer spiritual perception which develop in a climate of interior silence.

The principal means monks use to cultivate interior silence–external silence, a certain measure of solitude, and a non-possessive attitude–can be put into a concentrated form, like a capsule, to be taken daily, or several times a day. The traditional word for this is contemplative prayer.

Mary of Bethany gives us an example of how we might proceed. In the Gospel of Luke we read that “she seated herself at the Lord’s feet and listened to His teaching” (Luke 10:39). It is clear from the remarks of Jesus in her defense that she was engaged in some special kind of activity of greater value than Martha’s in preparation of his meal. Mary was listening to the Word of God–the divine person–a reality deeper than the human words falling upon her sense of hearing and resounding in her imagination. She was listening with her whole being. Her identity was melting into the presence of the Word of God within her. John, resting in the bosom of Jesus at the Last Supper, prayed in the same way that Mary of Bethany listened. He was not thinking or talking, but resting.

Contemplative prayer allows the hunger and thirst for God to well up. “On the last and great day of the Feast, Jesus stood up in the Temple and cried out with a loud voice: “If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink. Out of his inmost being will flow rivers of living water. This he said of the Holy Spirit who was to be given to those who believe”‘ (John 7:37-38). By these words, we are urgently invited to put aside our preoccupations and come to Christ in the depth of our being. This movement and the experience which results from it are the basis for every genuine form of Christian spirituality.

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Theologica Germanica 14

January 28, 2008

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CHAPTER XIV

Of three Stages by which a Man is led upwards till he attaineth true Perfection.

Now be assured that no one can be enlightened unless he be first cleansed or purified and stripped. So also, no one can be united with God unless he be first enlightened. Thus there are three stages: first, the purification; secondly, the enlightening; thirdly, the union. The purification concerneth those who are beginning or repenting, and is brought to pass in a threefold wise; by contrition and sorrow for sin, by full confession, by hearty amendment, The enlightening belongeth to such as are growing, and also taketh place in three ways: to wit, by the eschewal of sin, by the practice of virtue and good works, and by the willing endurance of all manner of temptation and trials. The union belongeth to such as are perfect, and also is brought to pass in three ways: to wit, by pureness and singleness of heart, by love, and by the contemplation of God, the Creator of all things.

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Theologica Germanica 13

January 26, 2008

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CHAPTER ~ XIII

How a Man may cast aside Images too soon.

Tauler saith: ” There be some men at the present time, who take leave of types and symbols too soon, before they have drawn out all the truth and instruction contained therein.” Hence they are scarcely or perhaps never able to understand the truth aright. For such men will follow no one, and lean unto their own understandings, and desire to fly before they are fledged. They would fain mount up to heaven in one flight; albeit Christ did not so, for after His resurrection, He remained full forty days with His beloved disciples. No one can be made perfect in a day. A man must begin by denying himself, and willingly forsaking all things for God’s sake, and must give up his own will, and all his natural inclinations, and separate and cleanse himself thoroughly from all sins and evil ways. After this, let him humbly take up the cross and follow Christ. Also let him take and receive example and instruction, reproof, counsel and teaching from devout and perfect servants of God, and not follow his own guidance. Thus the work shall be established and come to a good end. And when a man hath thus broken loose from and outleaped all temporal things and creatures, he may afterwards become perfect in a life of contemplation. For he who will have the one must let the other go. There is no other way.

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Theologica Germanica 12

January 26, 2008

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CHAPTER ~ XII

Touching that true inward Peace, which Christ left to His Disciples at the last.

Many say they have no peace nor rest, but so many crosses and trials, afflictions and sorrows, that they know not how they shall ever get through them. Now he who in truth will perceive and take note, perceiveth clearly, that true peace and rest lie not in outward things; for if it were so, the Evil Spirit also would have peace when things go according to his will which is nowise the case; for the prophet declareth, “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked”. And therefore we must consider and see what is that peace which Christ left to His disciples at the last, when He said: “My peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you.” We may perceive that in these words Christ did not mean a bodily and outward peace; for His beloved disciples, with all His friends and followers, have ever suffered, from the beginning, great affliction, persecution, nay, often martyrdom, as Christ Himself said: “In this world ye shall have tribulation.” But Christ meant that true, inward peace of the heart, which beginneth here, and endureth for ever hereafter. Therefore He said: “Not as the world giveth,” for the world is false, and deceiveth in her gifts. She promiseth much, and performeth little. Moreover there liveth no man on earth who may always have rest and peace without troubles and crosses, with whom things always go according to his will; there is always something to be suffered here, turn which way you will. And as soon as you are quit of one assault, perhaps two come in its place. Wherefore yield thyself willingly to them, and seek only that true peace of the heart, which none can take away from thee, that thou mayest overcome all assaults.

Thus then, Christ meant that inward peace which can break through all assaults and crosses of oppression, suffering, misery, humiliation and what more there may be of the like, so that a man may be joyful and patient therein, like the beloved disciples and followers of Christ. Now he who will in love give his whole diligence and might thereto, will verily come to know that true eternal peace which is God Himself, as far as it is possible to a creature; insomuch that what was bitter to him before, shall become sweet, and his heart shall remain unmoved under all changes, at all times, and after this life, he shall attain unto everlasting peace.

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Theologica Germanica 11

January 26, 2008

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CHAPTER ~ XI

How a righteous Man in this present Time is brought into hell, and there cannot be comforted, and how he is taken out of Hell and carried into Heaven, and there cannot be troubled.

Christ’s soul must needs descend into hell, before it ascended into heaven. So must also the soul of man. But mark ye in what manner this cometh to pass. When a man truly Perceiveth and considereth himself, who and what he is, and findeth himself utterly vile and wicked, and unworthy of all the comfort and kindness that he hath ever received from God, or from the creatures, he falleth into such a deep abasement and despising of himself, that he thinketh himself unworthy that the earth should bear him, and it seemeth to him reasonable that all creatures in heaven and earth should rise up against him and avenge their Creator on him, and should punish and torment him; and that he were unworthy even of that. And it seemeth to him that he shall be eternally lost and damned, and a footstool to all the devils in hell, and that this is right and just and all too little compared to his sins which he so often and in so many ways hath committed against God his Creator. And therefore also he will not and dare not desire any consolation or release, either from God or from any creature that is in heaven or on earth; but he is willing to be unconsoled and unreleased, and he doth not grieve over his condemnation and sufferings; for they are right and just, and not contrary to God, but according to the will of God. Therefore they are right in his eyes, and he hath nothing to say against them. Nothing grieveth him but his own guilt and wickedness; for that is not right and is contrary to God, and for that cause he is grieved and troubled in spirit.

This is what is meant by true repentance for sin. And he who in this Present time entereth into this hell, entereth afterward into the Kingdom of Heaven, and obtaineth a foretaste there of which excelleth all the delight and joy which he ever hath had or could have in this present time from temporal things. But whilst a man is thus in hell, none may console him, neither God nor the creature, as it is written, “In hell there is no redemption.” Of this state hath one said, “Let me perish, let me die! I live without hope; from within and from without I am condemned, let no one pray that I may be released.”

Now God hath not forsaken a man in this hell, but He is laying His hand upon him, that the man may not desire nor regard anything but the Eternal Good only, and may come to know that that is so noble and passing good, that none can search out or express its bliss, consolation and joy, peace, rest and satisfaction. And then, when the man neither careth for, nor seeketh, nor desireth, anything but the Eternal Good alone, and seeketh not himself, nor his own things, but the honour of God only, he is made a partaker of all manner of joy, bliss, peace, rest and consolation, and so the man is henceforth in the Kingdom of Heaven.

This hell and this heaven are two good, safe ways for a man in this present time, and happy is he who truly findeth them.

For this hell shall pass away, But Heaven shall endure for aye.

Also let a man mark, when he is in this hell, nothing may console him; and he cannot believe that he shall ever be released or comforted. But when he is in heaven, nothing can trouble him; he believeth also that none will ever be able to offend or trouble him, albeit it is indeed true, that after this hell he may be comforted and released, and after this heaven he may be troubled and left without consolation.

Again: this hell and this heaven come about a man in such sort, that he knoweth not whence they come; and whether they come to him, or depart from him, he can of himself do nothing towards it. Of these things he can neither give nor take away from himself, bring them nor banish them, but as it is written, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof,” that is to say, at this time present, “but thou knowest not whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth.” And when a man is in one of these two states, all is right with him, and he is as safe in hell as in heaven, and so long as a man is on earth, it is possible for him to pass ofttimes from the one into the other; nay even within the space of a day and night, and all without his own doing. But when the man is in neither of these two states he holdeth converse with the creature, and wavereth hither and thither, and knoweth not what manner of man he is. Therefore he shall never forget either of them, but lay up the remembrance of them in his heart.

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Theologica Germanica 10

January 26, 2008

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CHAPTER ~ X

How the perfect Men have no other Desire than that they may be to the Eternal Goodness what His Hand is to a Man, and how they have lost the Fear of Hell, and Hope of Heaven.

Now let us mark: Where men are enlightened with the true light, they perceive that all which they might desire or choose, is nothing to that which all creatures, as creatures, ever desired or chose or knew,

Therefore they renounce all desire and choice, and commit and commend themselves and all things to the Eternal Goodness. Nevertheless, there remaineth in them a desire to go forward and get nearer to the Eternal Goodness; that is, to come to a clearer knowledge, and warmer love, and more comfortable assurance, and perfect obedience and subjection; so that every enlightened man could say: “I would fain be to the Eternal Goodness, what His own hand is to a man.” And he feareth always that he is not enough so, and longeth for the salvation of all men. And such men do not call this longing their own, nor take it unto themselves, for they know well that this desire is not of man, but of the Eternal Goodness; for whatsoever is good shall no one take unto himself as his own, seeing that it belongeth to the Eternal Goodness, only.

Moreover, these men are in a state of freedom, because they have lost the fear of pain or hell, and the hope of reward or heaven, but are living in pure submission to the Eternal Goodness, in the perfect freedom of fervent love. This mind was in Christ in perfection, and is also in His followers, in some more, and in some less. But it is a sorrow and shame to think that the Eternal Goodness is ever most graciously guiding and drawing us, and we will not yield to it. What is better and nobler than true poorness in spirit? Yet when that is held up before us, we will have none of it, but are always seeking ourselves, and our own things. We like to have our mouths always filled with good things, that we may have in ourselves a lively taste of pleasure and sweetness. When this is so, we are well pleased, and think it standeth not amiss with us. But we are yet a long way off from a perfect life. For when God will draw us up to something higher, that is, to an utter loss and forsaking of our own things, spiritual and natural, and withdraweth His comfort and sweetness from us, we faint and are troubled, and can in no wise bring our minds to it; and we forget God and neglect holy exercises, and fancy we are lost for ever. This is a great error and a bad sign. For a true lover of God, loveth Him or the Eternal Goodness alike, in having and in not having, in sweetness and bitterness, in good or evil report, and the like, for he seeketh alone the honour of God, and not his own, either in spiritual or natural things. And therefore he standeth alike unshaken in all things, at all seasons. Hereby let every man prove himself, how he standeth towards God, his Creator and Lord.

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Theologica Germanica 9

January 26, 2008

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CHAPTER ~ IX

How it is better and more profitable for a Man that he should perceive what God will do with him, or to what end He will make Use of him, than if he knew all that Gad had ever wrought, or would ever work through all the Creatures; and how Blessedness lieth alone in God, and not in the Creatures, or in any Works.

We should mark and know of a very truth that all manner of virtue and goodness, and even that Eternal Good which is God Himself, can never make a man virtuous, good, or happy, so long as it is outside the soul; that is, so long as the man is holding converse with outward things through his senses and reason, and doth not withdraw into himself and learn to understand his own life, who and what he is. The like is true of sin and evil. For all manner of sin and wickedness can never make us evil, so long as it is outside of us; that is, so long as we do not commit it, or do not give consent to it.

Therefore although it be good and profitable that we should ask, and learn and know, what good and holy men have wrought and suffered, and how God hath dealt with them, and what He hath wrought in and through them, yet it were a thousand times better that we should in ourselves learn and perceive and understand, who we are, how and what our own life is, what God is and is doing in us, what He will have from us, and to what ends He will or will not make use of us. For, of a truth, thoroughly to know oneself, is above all art, for it is the highest art. If thou knowest thyself well, thou art better and more praiseworthy before God, than if thou didst not know thyself, but didst understand the course of the heavens and of all the planets and stars, also the dispositions of all mankind, also the nature of all beasts, and, in such matters, hadst all the skill of all who are in heaven and on earth. For it is said, there came a voice from heaven, saying, “Man, know thyself.” Thus that proverb is still true, “Going out were never so good, but staying at home were much better.”

Further, ye should learn that eternal blessedness lieth in one thing alone, and in nought else. And if ever man or the soul is to be made blessed, that one thing alone must be in the soul. Now some might ask, “But what is that one thing?” I answer, it is Goodness, or that which hath been made good; and yet neither this good nor that, which we can name, or perceive or show; but it is all and above all good things.

Moreover, it needeth not to enter into the soul, for it is there already, only it is unperceived. When we say we should come unto it, we mean that we should seek it, feel it, and taste it. And now since it is One, unity and singleness is better than manifoldness. For blessedness lieth not in much and many, but in One and oneness. In one word, blessedness lieth not in any creature, or work of the creatures, but it lieth alone in God and in His works. Therefore I must wait only on God and His work, and leave on one side all creatures with their works, and first of all myself. In like manner all the great works and wonders that God has ever wrought or shall ever work in or through the creatures, or even God Himself with all His goodness, so far as these things exist or are done outside of me, can never make me blessed, but only in so far as they exist and are done and loved, known, tasted and felt within me.

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Theologica Germanica 8

January 26, 2008

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CHAPTER ~ VIII

How the Soul of Man, while it is yet in the Body, may obtain a Foretaste of eternal Blessedness.

It hath been asked whether it be possible for the soul, while it is yet in the body, to reach so high as to cast a, glance into eternity, and receive a foretaste of eternal life and eternal blessedness. This is commonly denied; and truly so in a sense. For it indeed cannot be so long as the soul is taking heed to the body, and the things which minister and appertain thereto, and to time and the creature, and is disturbed and troubled and distracted thereby. For if the soul shall rise to such a state, she must be quite pure, wholly stripped and bare of all images, and be entirely separate from all creatures, and above all from herself. Now many think this is not to be done and is impossible in this present time. But St. Dionysius maintains that it is possible, as we find from his words in his Epistle to Timothy, where he saith: “For the beholding of the hidden things of God, shalt thou forsake sense and the things of the flesh, and all that the senses can apprehend, and that reason of her own powers can bring forth, and all things created and uncreated that reason is able to comprehend and know, and shalt take thy stand upon an utter abandonment of thyself, and as knowing none of the aforesaid things, and enter into union with Him who is, and who is above all existence and all knowledge.” Now if he did not hold this to be possible in this present time, why should he teach it and enjoin it on us in this present time But it behoveth you to know that a master hath said on this passage of St. Dionysius, that it is possible, and may happen to a man often, till he become so accustomed to it, as to be able to look into eternity whenever he will. For when a thing is at first very hard to a man and strange, and seemingly quite impossible, if he put all his strength and energy into it, and persevere therein, that will afterward grow quite light and easy, which he at first thought quite out of reach, seeing that it is of no use to begin any work, unless it may be brought to a good end.

And a single one of these excellent glances is better, worthier, higher and more pleasing to God, than all that the creature can perform as a creature. And as soon as a man turneth himself in spirit, and with his whole heart and mind entereth into the mind of God which is above time, all that ever he hath lost is restored in a moment. And if a man were to do thus a thousand times in a day, each time a fresh and real union would take place; and in this sweet and divine work standeth the truest and fullest union that may be in this present time. For he who hath attained thereto, asketh nothing further, for he hath found the Kingdom of Heaven and Eternal Life on earth.

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Theologica Germanica 7

January 26, 2008

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CHAPTER ~VII

Of the Eyes of the Spirit wherewith Man looketh into Eternity and into Time, and how the one is hindered of the other in its Working.

Let us remember how it is written and said that the soul of Christ had two eyes, a right and a left eye. In the beginning, when the soul of Christ was created, she fixed her right eye upon eternity and the Godhead, and remained in the full intuition and enjoyment of the divine Essence and Eternal Perfection; and continued thus unmoved and undisturbed by all the accidents and travail, suffering, torment and pain that ever befell the outward man. But with the left eye she beheld the creature and perceived all things therein, and took note of the difference between the creatures, which were better or worse, nobler or meaner; and thereafter was the outward man of Christ ordered.

Thus the inner man of Christ, according to the right eye of His soul, stood in the full exercise of His divine nature, in perfect blessedness, joy and eternal peace. But the outward man and the left eye of Christ’s soul, stood with Him in perfect suffering, in all tribulation, affliction and travail; and this in such sort that the inward and right eye remained unmoved, unhindered and untouched by all the travail, suffering, grief and anguish that ever befell the outward man. It hath been said that when Christ was bound to the pillar and scourged, and when He hung upon the cross, according to the outward man, yet His inner man, or soul according to the right eye, stood in as full possession of divine joy and blessedness as it did after His ascension, or as it doth now. In like manner His outward man, or soul with the left eye, was never hindered, disturbed or troubled by the inward eye in its contemplation of the outward things that belonged to it.

Now the created soul of man hath also two eyes. The one is the power of seeing into eternity, the other of seeing into time and the creatures, of perceiving how they differ from each other as afore-said, of giving life and needful things to the body, and ordering and governing it for the best. But these two eyes of the soul of man cannot both perform their work at once; but if the__soul shall see with the right eye into eternity, then the left eye must close itself and refrain from working, and be as though it were dead.

For if the left eye be fulfilling its office toward outward things; that is, holding converse with time and the creatures; then must the right eye be hindered in its working; that is, in its contemplation. Therefore whosoever will have the one must let the other go; for “no man can serve two masters.”

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Theologia Germanica 6

January 25, 2008

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CH A P T E R ~ VI

How that which is best and noblest should also be loved above all Things by us, merely because it is the best.

A Master called Boetius saith, “It is of sin that we do not love that which is Best.” He hath spoken the truth. That which is best should be the dearest of all things to us; and in our love of it, neither helpfulness nor unhelpfulness, advantage nor injury, gain nor loss, honour nor dishonour, praise nor blame, nor anything of the kind should be regarded; but what is in truth the noblest and best of all things, should be also the dearest of all things, and that for no other cause than that it is the noblest and best.

Hereby may a man order his life within and without. His outward life: for among the creatures one is better than another, according as the Eternal Good manifesteth itself and worketh more in one than in another. Now that creature in which the Eternal Good most manifesteth itself, shineth forth, worketh, is most known and loved, is the best, and that wherein the Eternal Good is least manifested is the least good of all creatures. Therefore when we have to do with the creatures and hold converse with them, and take note of their diverse qualities, the best creatures must always be the dearest to us, and we must cleave to them, and unite ourselves to them, above all to those which we attribute to God as belonging to Him or divine, such as wisdom, truth, kindness, peace, love, justice, and the like. Hereby shall we order our outward man, and all that is contrary to these virtues we must eschew and flee from.

But if our inward man were to make a leap and spring into the Perfect, we should find and taste how that the Perfect is without measure, number or end, better and nobler than all which is imperfect and in part, and the Eternal above the temporal or perishable, and the fountain and source above all that floweth or can ever flow from it. Thus that which is imperfect and in part would become tasteless and be as nothing to us. Be assured of this: All that we have said must come to pass if we are to love that which is noblest, highest and best.

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Theologia Germanica 5

January 25, 2008

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C H A P T E R ~ V

How we are to take that Saying, that we must come to be without Will, Wisdom, Love, Desire, Knowledge, and the like.

CERTAIN men say that we ought to be without will, wisdom, love, desire, knowledge, and the like. Hereby is not to be understood that there is to be no knowledge in man, and that God is not to be loved by him, nor desired and longed for, nor praised and honoured; for that were a great loss, and man were like the beasts [and as the brutes that have no reason]. But it meaneth that man’s knowledge should be so clear and perfect that he should acknowledge of a truth [that in himself he neither hath nor can do any good thing, and that none of his knowledge, wisdom and art, his will, love and good works do come from himself, nor are of man, nor of any creature, but] that all these are of the eternal God, from whom they all proceed. [As Christ Himself saith, “Without Me, ye can do nothing.” St. Paul saith also, “What hast thou that thou hast not received?” As much as to say — nothing. “Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?” Again he saith, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God.”] Now when a man duly perceiveth these things in himself, he and the creature fall behind, and he doth not call anything his own, and the less he taketh this knowledge unto himself, the more perfect doth it become. So also is it with the will, and love and desire, and the like. For the less we call these things our own, the more perfect and noble and Godlike do they become, and the more we think them our own, the baser and less pure and perfect do they become.

Behold on this sort must we cast all things from us, and strip ourselves of them; we must refrain from claiming anything for our own. When we do this, we shall have the best, fullest, clearest and noblest knowledge that a man can have, and also the noblest and purest love, will and desire; for then these will be all of God alone. It is much better that they should be God’s than the creature’s. Now that I ascribe anything good to myself, as if I were, or had done, or knew, or could perform any good thing, or that it were mine, this is all of sin and folly. For if the truth were rightly known by me, I should also know that I am not that good thing and that it is not mine, nor of me, and that I do not know it, and cannot do it, and the like. If this came to pass, I should needs cease to call anything my own.

It is better that God, or His works, should be known, as far as it be possible to us, and loved, praised and honoured, and the like, and even that man should vainly imagine he loveth or praiseth God, than that God should be altogether unpraised, unloved, unhonoured and unknown. For when the vain imagination and ignorance are turned into an understanding and knowledge of the truth, the claiming anything for our own will cease of itself. Then the man says: “Behold! I, poor fool that I was, imagined it was I, but behold! it is and was, of a truth, God!”

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Theologia Germanica 4

January 25, 2008

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C H A P T E R ~ IV

How Man, when he claimeth any good Thing for his own, falleth, and toucheth God in His Honour.

GOD saith, “I will not give My glory to another.” This is as much as to say, that praise and honour and glory belong to none but to God only. But now, if I call any good thing my own, as if I were it, or of myself had power or did or knew anything, or as if anything were mine or of me, or belonged to me, or were due to me or the like, I take unto myself somewhat of honour and glory, and do two evil things: First, I fall and go astray as aforesaid: Secondly, I touch God in His honour and take unto myself what belongeth to God only. For all that must be called good belongeth to none but to the true eternal Goodness which is God only, and whoso taketh it unto himself, committeth unrighteousness and is against God.

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Theologia Germanica 3

January 25, 2008

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C H A P T E R ~ III

How Man’s Fall and going astray must be amended as Adam’s Fall was.

WHAT else did Adam do but this same thing? It is said, it was because Adam ate the apple that he was lost, or fell. I say, it was because of his claiming something for his own, and because of his I, Mine, Me, and the like. Had he eaten seven apples, and yet never claimed anything for his own, he would not have fallen: but as soon as he called something his own, he fell, and would have fallen if he had never touched an apple. Behold! I have fallen a hundred times more often and deeply, and gone a hundred times farther astray than Adam; and not all mankind could mend his fall, or bring him back from going astray. But how shall my fall be amended? It must be healed as Adam’s fall was healed, and on the self-same wise. By whom, and on what wise was that healing brought to pass? Mark this: man could not without God, and God should not without man. Wherefore God took human nature or manhood upon Himself and was made man, and man was made divine. Thus the healing was brought to pass. So also must my fall be healed. I cannot do the work without God, and God may not or will not without me; for if it shall be accomplished, in me, too, God must be made man; in such sort that God must take to Himself all that is in me, within and without, so that there may be nothing in me which striveth against God or hindereth His Work. Now if God took to Himself all men that are in the world, or ever were, and were made man in them, and they were made divine in Him, and this work were not fulfilled in me, my fall and my wandering would never be amended except it were fulfilled in me also. And in this bringing back and healing, I can, or may, or shall do nothing of myself, but just simply yield to God, so that He alone may do all things in me and work, and I may suffer Him and all His work and His divine will. And because I will not do so, but I count myself to be my own, and say “I,” “Mine,” “Me” and the like, God is hindered, so that He cannot do His work in me alone and without hindrance; for this cause my fall and my going astray remain unhealed. Behold! this all cometh of my claiming somewhat for my own.

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Theologia Germanica 2

January 25, 2008

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C H A P T E R ~ II

Of what Sin is, and how we must not take unto ourselves any good Thing, seeing that it belongeth unto the true Good alone.

THE Scripture and the Faith and the Truth say, Sin is nought else, but that the creature turneth away from the unchangeable Good and betaketh itself to the changeable; that is to say, that it turneth away from the Perfect to “that which is in part” and imperfect, and most often to itself. Now mark: when the creature claimeth for its own anything good, such as Substance, Life, Knowledge, Power, and in short whatever we should call good, as if it were that, or possessed that, or that were itself, or that proceeded from it, — as often as this cometh to pass, the creature goeth astray. What did the devil do else, or what was his going astray and his fall else, but that he claimed for himself to be also somewhat, and would have it that somewhat was his, and somewhat was due to him? This setting up of a claim and his I and Me and Mine, these were his going astray, and his fall. And thus it is to this day.

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Theologia Germanica 1

January 25, 2008

 

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Of that which is perfect and that which is in part, and how that which is in part is done away, when that which is perfect is come.

ST. PAUL saith, “When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” Now mark what is “that which is perfect,” and “that which is in part.”

“That which is perfect” is a Being, who hath comprehended and included all things in Himself and His own Substance, and without whom, and beside whom, there is no true Substance, and in whom all things have their Substance. For He is the Substance of all things, and is in Himself unchangeable and immoveable, and changeth and moveth all things else. But “that which is in part,” or the Imperfect, is that which hath its source in, or springeth from the Perfect; just as a brightness or a visible appearance floweth out from the sun or a candle, and appeareth to be somewhat, this or that. And it is called a creature; and of all these “things which are in part,” none is the Perfect. So also the Perfect is none of the things which are in part. The things which are in part can be apprehended, known, and expressed; but the Perfect cannot be apprehended, known, or expressed by any creature as creature. Therefore we do not give a name to the Perfect, for it is none of these. The creature as creature cannot know nor apprehend it, name nor conceive it.

“Now when that which is Perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” But when doth it come? I say, when as much as may be, it is known, felt and tasted of the soul. [For the lack lieth altogether in us, and not in it. In like manner the sun lighteth the whole world, and is as near to one as another, yet a blind man seeth it not; but the fault thereof lieth in the blind man, not in the sun. And like as the sun may not hide its brightness, but must give light unto the earth (for heaven indeed draweth its light and heat from another fountain), so also God, who is the highest Good, willeth not to hide Himself from any, wheresoever He findeth a devout soul, that is thoroughly purified from all creatures. For in what measure we put off the creature, in the same measure are we able to put on the Creator; neither more nor less. For if mine eye is to see anything, it must be single, or else be purified from all other things; and where heat and light enter in, cold and darkness must needs depart; it cannot be otherwise.]

But one might say, “Now since the Perfect cannot be known nor apprehended of any creature, but the soul is a creature, how can it be known by the soul?” Answer: This is why we say, “by the soul as a creature.” We mean it is impossible to the creature in virtue of its creature-nature and qualities, that by which it saith “I” and “myself.” For in whatsoever creature the Perfect shall be known, therein creature-nature, qualities, the I, the Self and the like, must all be lost and done away. This is the meaning of that saying of St. Paul: “When that which is perfect is come” (that is, when it is known), “then that which is in part” (to wit, creature-nature, qualities, the I, the Self, the Mine) will be despised and counted for nought. So long as we think much of these things, cleave to them with love, joy, pleasure or desire, so long remaineth the Perfect unknown to us.

But it might further be said, “Thou sayest, beside the Perfect there is no Substance, yet sayest again that somewhat floweth out from it: now is not that which hath flowed out from it, something beside it?” Answer: This is why we say, beside it, or without it, there is no true Substance. That which hath flowed forth from it, is no true Substance, and hath no Substance except in the Perfect, but is an accident, or a brightness, or a visible appearance, which is no Substance, and hath no Substance except in the fire whence the brightness flowed forth, such as the sun or a candle.

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Madame Guyon – (Part 24)

January 25, 2008

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C H A P T E R XXIV.

ON THE PASSIVE WAY TO DIVINE UNION.

IT is impossible to attain Divine Union, solely by the way of meditation, or of the affections, or by any devotion, no matter how illuminated. There are many reasons for this, the chief of which are those which follow.

1. According to Scripture, “no man shall see God and live.” (Exod. xxxiii. 20.) Now all the exercises of discursive prayer, and even of active contemplation, regarded as an end, and not as a mere preparative to that which is passive, are still living exercises, by which we cannot see God; that is to say, be united with him. All that is of man and of his doing, be it never so noble, never so exalted, must first be destroyed.

St. John relates that there was silence in heaven. (Rev. viii. 1.) Now heaven represents the ground and centre of the soul, wherein all must be hushed to silence when the majesty of God appears. All the efforts, nay, the very existence, of self, must be destroyed; because nothing is opposite to God, but self, and all the malignity of man is in self-appropriation, as the source of its evil nature; insomuch that the purity of a soul increases in proportion as it loses this self-hood; and that which was a fault while the soul lived in self-appropriation, is no longer such, after it has acquired purity and innocence, by departing from that self-hood, which caused the dissimilitude between it and God.

2. To unite two things so opposite as the purity of God and the impurity of the creature, the simplicity of God and the multiplicity of man, much more is requisite than the efforts of the creature. Nothing less than an efficacious operation of the Almighty can ever accomplish this; for two things must have some relation or similarity before they can become one; as the impurity of dross cannot be united with the purity of gold.

3. What, then, does God do? He sends his own Wisdom before Him, as fire shall be sent upon the earth, to destroy by its activity all that is impure; and as nothing can resist the power of that fire, but it consumes everything, so this Wisdom destroys all the impurities of the creature, in order to dispose it for divine union.

The impurity which is so fatal to union consists in Self-appropriation and Activity.

Self-appropriation; because it is the source and fountain of all that defilement which can never be allied to essential purity; as the rays of the sun may shine, indeed, upon mire, but can never be united with it.
Activity; for God being in an infinite stillness, the soul, in order to be united to Him, must participate of his stillness, else the contrariety between stillness and activity would prevent assimilation.

Therefore, the soul can never arrive at divine union but in the rest of its will; nor can it ever become one with God, but by being re-established in central rest and in the purity of its first creation.

4. God purifies the soul by his Wisdom, as refiners do metals in the furnace. Gold cannot be purified but by fire, which gradually consumes all that is earthy and foreign, and separates it from the metal. It is not sufficient to fit it for use that the earthy part should be changed into gold; it must then be melted and dissolved by the force of fire, to separate from the mass every drossy or alien particle; and must be again and again cast into the furnace, until it has lost every trace of pollution, and every possibility of being farther purified.

The goldsmith cannot now discover any adulterate mixture, because of its perfect purity and simplicity. The fire no longer touches it; and were it to remain an age in the furnace, its spotlessness would not be increased, nor its substance diminished. It is then fit for the most exquisite workmanship, and if, thereafter, this gold seem obscured or defiled, it is nothing more than an accidental impurity occasioned by the contact of some foreign body, and is only superficial; it is no hinderance to its employment, and is widely different from its former debasement, which was hidden in the ground of its nature, and, as it were, identified with it. Those, however, who are uninstructed, beholding the pure gold sullied by some external pollution, would be disposed to prefer an impure and gross metal, that appeared superficially bright and polished.

5. Farther, the pure and the impure gold are not mingled; before they can be united, they must be equally refined; the goldsmith cannot mix dross and gold. What will he do, then? He will purge out the dross with fire, so that the inferior may become as pure as the other, and then they may be united. This is what St. Paul means, when he declares that “the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” (1Cor. iii 13); he adds, “If any man’s work be burnt, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.” He here intimates, that there are works so degraded by impure mixtures, that though the mercy of God accepts them, yet they must pass through the fire, to be purged from self; and it is in this sense that God is said to examine and judge our righteousness, because that by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified; but by the righteousness of God, which is by faith in Jesus Christ. (Rom. iii. 20, etc.)

6. Thus we may see that the divine justice and wisdom, like a pitiless and devouring fire, must destroy all that is earthly, sensual, and carnal, and all self-activity, before the soul can be united to its God. Now, this can never be accomplished by the industry of the creature; on the contrary, he always submits to it with reluctance; because, as I have said, he is so enamored of self, and so fearful of its destruction, that did not God act upon him powerfully and with authority, he would never consent.

7. It may, perhaps, be objected here, that as God never robs man of his free will, he can always resist the divine operations; and that I therefore err in saying God acts absolutely, and without the consent of man.

Let me, however, explain. By man’s giving a passive consent, God, without usurpation, may assume full power and an entire guidance; for having, in the beginning of his conversion, made an unreserved surrender of himself to all that God wills of him or by him, he thereby gave an active consent to whatever God might afterwards require. But when God begins to burn, destroy, and purify, the soul does not perceive that these operations are intended for its good, but rather supposes the contrary; and, as the gold at first seems rather to blacken than brighten in the fire, so it conceives that its purity is lost; insomuch, that if an active and explicit consent were then required, the soul could scarcely give it, nay would often withhold it. All it does is to remain firm in its passive consent, enduring as patiently as possible all these divine operations, which it is neither able nor desirous to obstruct.

8. In this manner, therefore, the soul is purified from all its self-originated, distinct, perceptible, and multiplied operations, which constitute a great dissimilitude between it and God; it is rendered by degrees conform, and then uniform; and the passive capacity of the creature is elevated, ennobled, and enlarged, though in a secret and hidden manner, hence called mystical; but in all these operations the soul must concur passively. It is true, indeed, that in the beginning its activity is requisite; from which, however, as the divine operations become stronger, it must gradually cease; yielding itself up to the impulses of the divine Spirit, till it is wholly absorbed in Him. But this is a process which lasts a long time.

9. We do not, then, say, as some have supposed, that there is no need of activity; since, on the contrary, it is the gate; at which, however, we should not always tarry, since we ought to tend towards ultimate perfection, which is impracticable except the first helps are laid aside; for however necessary they may have been at the entrance of the road, they afterwards become greatly detrimental to those who adhere to them obstinately, preventing them from ever attaining the end. This made St. Paul say, “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those which are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. iii. 13.)

Would you not say that he had lost his senses, who, having undertaken a journey, should fix his abode at the first inn, because he had been told that many travellers had come that way, that some had lodged there, and that the masters of the house dwelt there? All that we wish, then, is, that souls would press toward the end, taking the shortest and easiest road, and not stopping at the first stage. Let them follow the counsel and example of St. Paul, and suffer themselves “to be led by the Spirit of God,” (Rom. viii. 14,) which will infallibly conduct them to the end of their creation, the enjoyment of God.

10. But while we confess that the enjoyment of God is the end for which alone we were created, and that every soul that does not attain divine union and the purity of its creation in this life, can only be saved as by fire, how strange it is, that we should dread and avoid the process; as if that could be the cause of evil and imperfection in the present life, which is to produce the perfection of glory in the life to come.

11. None can be ignorant that God is the Supreme Good; that essential blessedness consists in union with Him; that the saints differ in glory, according as the union is more or less perfect; and that the soul cannot attain this union by the mere activity of its own powers, since God communicates Himself to the soul, in proportion as its passive capacity is great, noble and extensive. We can only be united to God in simplicity and passivity, and as this union is beatitude itself, the way that leads us in this passivity cannot be evil, but must be the most free from danger, and the best.

12. This way is not dangerous. Would Jesus Christ have made this the most perfect and necessary of all ways, had it been so? No! all can travel it; and as all are called to happiness, all are likewise called to the enjoyment of God, both in this life and the next, for that alone is happiness. I say the enjoyment of God himself, and not of his gifts; these latter do not constitute essential beatitude, as they cannot fully content the soul; it is so noble and so great, that the most exalted gifts of God cannot make it happy, unless the Giver also bestows Himself. Now the whole desire of the Divine Being is to give Himself to every creature, according to the capacity with which it is endowed; and yet, alas! how reluctantly man suffers himself to be drawn to God! how fearful is he to prepare for divine union!

13. Some say, that we must not place ourselves in this state. I grant it; but I say also, that no creature could ever do it; since it would not be possible for any, by all their own efforts, to unite themselves to God; it is He alone must do it. It is altogether idle, then, to exclaim against those who are self-united, as such a thing cannot be.

They say again, that some may feign to have attained this state. None can any more feign this, than the wretch who is on the point of perishing with hunger can, for any length of time at least, feign to be full and satisfied. Some wish or word, some sigh or sign, will inevitably escape him, and betray that he is far from being satisfied.

Since then none can attain this end by their own labor, we do not pretend to introduce any into it, but only to point out the way that leads to it: beseeching all not to become attached to the accommodations on the road, external practices, which must all be left behind when the signal is given. The experienced instructor knows this, points to the water of life, and lends his aid to obtain it. Would it not be an unjustifiable cruelty to show a spring to a thirsty man, then bind him so that he could not reach it, and suffer him to die of thirst?

14. This is just what is done every day. Let us all agree in the WAY, as we all agree in the end, which is evident and incontrovertible. The WAY has its beginning, progress, and termination; and the nearer we approach the consummation, the farther is the beginning behind us; it is only by leaving the one, that we can arrive at the other. You cannot get from the entrance to a distant place, without passing over the intermediate space, and, if the end be good, holy, and necessary, and the entrance also good, why should the necessary passage, the direct road leading from the one to the other, be evil?

O the blindness of the greater part of mankind, who pride themselves on science and wisdom! How true is it, O my God, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes!

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Madame Guyon – (Part 23)

January 25, 2008

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C H A P T E R   XXIII.

AN  EXHORTATION  TO  MINISTERS.

IF all who labored for the conversion of others sought to reach them BY THE HEART, introducing them immediately into prayer and the interior life, numberless and permanent conversions would ensue.  On the contrary, few and transient fruits must attend that labor which is confined to outward matters, such as burdening the disciple with a thousand precepts for external exercises, instead of leading the soul to Christ by the occupation of the heart in Him.

If ministers were solicitous thus to instruct their parishioners, shepherds, while they watched their flocks, would have the spirit of the primitive Christians, and the husbandman at the plough would maintain a blessed intercourse with his God; the manufacturer, while he exhausted his outward man with labor, would be renewed with inward strength; every species of vice would shortly disappear, and every parishioner would become spiritually minded.

2. O when once the HEART is gained, how easily is all the rest corrected! this is why God, above all things, requires the HEART.  By this means alone, we may extirpate the dreadful vices which so prevail among the lower orders, such as drunkenness, blasphemy, lewdness, enmity and theft.  JESUS CHRIST would reign everywhere in peace, and the face of the church would be renewed throughout.

The decay of internal piety is unquestionably the source of the various errors that have appeared in the world; all would speedily be overthrown, were inward devotion re-established.  Errors take possession of no soul, except such as are deficient in faith and prayer; and if, instead of engaging our wandering brethren in constant disputations, we would but teach them simply to believe, and diligently to PRAY, we should lead them sweetly to God.

O how inexpressibly great is the loss sustained by mankind from the neglect of the interior life!  And what an account will those have to render who are entrusted with the care of souls, and have not discovered and communicated to their flock this hidden treasure!

3. Some excuse themselves by saying, that there is danger in this way, or that simple persons are incapable of comprehending the things of the Spirit.  But the oracles of truth affirm the contrary: “The Lord loveth those who walk simply.” (Prov. xii. 22, Vulg.) But what danger can there be in walking in the only true way, which is Jesus Christ, giving ourselves up to Him, fixing our eye continually on Him, placing all our confidence in his grace, and tending with all the strength of our soul to his purest love?

4. The simple ones, so far from being incapable of this perfection, are, by their docility, innocence, and humility, peculiarly qualified for its attainment; and, as they are not accustomed to reasoning, they are less tenacious of their own opinions.  Even from their want of learning, they submit more freely to the teachings of the divine Spirit; whereas others, who are cramped and blinded by self-sufficiency, offer much greater resistance to the operations of grace.

We are told in Scripture that “unto the simple, God giveth the understanding of his law” (Psalm cxix. 130, cxviii. 130, Vulg.): and we are also assured, that God loves to communicate with them: “The Lord careth for the simple; I was reduced to extremity and He saved me.” (Psalm cxiv. 6, cxv. 6, Vulg.)  Let spiritual fathers be careful how they prevent their little ones from coming to Christ; He himself said to his apostles, “Suffer little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. xix. 14.)  It was the endeavor of the apostles to prevent children from going to our Lord, which occasioned this command.

5. Man frequently applies a remedy to the outward body, whilst the disease lies at the heart.  The cause of our being so unsuccessful in reforming mankind, especially those of the lower classes, is our beginning with external matters; all our labors in this field, do but produce such fruit as endures not; but if the key of the interior be first given, the exterior would be naturally and easily reformed.

Now this is very easy. To teach man to seek God in his heart, to think of Him, to return to Him whenever he finds he has wandered from Him, and to do and suffer all things with a single eye to please Him, is leading the soul to the source of all grace, and causing it to find there everything necessary for sanctification.

6. I therefore beseech you all, O ye that have the care of souls, to put them at once into this way, which is Jesus Christ; nay, it is He himself that conjures you, by all the blood he has shed for those entrusted to you. “Speak to the heart of Jerusalem!” (Isa. xl. 2, Vulg.)  O ye dispensers of his grace!  preachers of his word!  ministers of his sacraments!  establish his kingdom! — and that it may indeed be established, make Him RULER OVER THE HEART!  For as it is the heart alone that can oppose his sovereignty, it is by the subjection of the heart that his sovereignty is most highly honored: “Give glory to the holiness of God, and he shall become your sanctification.” (Isa. viii. 13, Vulg.)    Compose catechisms expressly to teach prayer, not by reasoning nor by method, for the simple are incapable of that; but to teach the prayer of the heart, not of the understanding; the prayer of God’s Spirit, not of man’s invention.

7. Alas! by directing them to pray in elaborate forms, and to be curiously critical therein, you create their chief obstacles.  The children have been led astray from the best of fathers, by your endeavoring to teach them too refined a language.  Go, then, ye poor children, to your heavenly Father, speak to him in your natural language; rude and barbarous as it may be, it is not so to Him.   A father is better pleased with an address which love and respect have made confused, because he sees that it proceeds from the heart, than he is by a dry and barren harangue, though never so elaborate.  The simple and undisguised emotions of love are infinitely more expressive than all language, and all reasoning.

8. Men have desired to love LOVE by formal rules, and have thus lost much of that love.  O how unnecessary is it to teach an art of loving!  The language of love is barbarous to him that does not love, but perfectly natural to him that does; and there is no better way to learn how to love God, than to love him.  The most ignorant often become the most perfect, because they proceed with more cordiality and simplicity.  The Spirit of God needs none of our arrangements; when it pleases Him, He turns shepherds into Prophets, and, so far from excluding any from the temple of prayer, he throws wide the gates that all may enter; while wisdom is directed to cry aloud in the highways, “Whoso is simple let him turn in hither” (Prov. ix. 4); and to the fools she saith, “Come eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled.” (Prov. ix. 5.)  And doth not Jesus Christ himself thank his Father for having “hid these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes?” (Matt. xi. 25.)

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Madame Guyon – (Part 22)

January 25, 2008

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C H A P T E R   XXII.

ON  INWARD  AND  OUTWARD  ACTS.

ACTS are distinguished into external and internal. External acts are those which appear outwardly, and bear relation to some sensible object, and have no moral character, except such as they derive from the principle from which they proceed.  I intend here to speak only of internal acts, those energies of the soul, by which it turns internally towards some objects, and away from others.

2. If during my application to God, I should form a will to change the nature of my act, I should thereby withdraw myself from God and turn to created objects, and that in a greater or less degree according to the strength of the act: and if, when I am turned towards the creature, I would return to God, I must necessarily form an act for that purpose; and the more perfect this act is, the more complete is the conversion.

Till conversion is perfected, many reiterated acts are necessary; for it is with some progressive, though with others it is instantaneous.   My act, however, should consist in a continual turning to God, an exertion of every faculty and power of the soul purely for Him, agreeably to the instructions of the son of Sirach: “Re-unite all the motions of thy heart in the holiness of God” (Eccles. xxx. 24,); and to the example of David, “I will keep my whole strength for thee,” (Psalm lix. 9, Vulg.) which is done by earnestly re-entering into ourselves; as Isaiah saith, “Return to your heart” (Isa. xlvi. 8, Vulg.)  For we have strayed from our heart by sin, and it is our heart only that God requires: “My son give me thine heart, and let thine eye observe my ways.” (Prov. xxiii. 26.)  To give the heart to God, is to have the whole energy of the soul ever centering in Him, that we may be rendered conformable to his will.  We must, therefore, continue invariably turned to God, from our first application to Him.

But the spirit being unstable, and the soul accustomed to turn to external objects, it is easily distracted.  This evil, however, will be counteracted if, on perceiving the wandering, we, by a pure act of return to God, instantly replace ourselves in Him; and this act subsists as long as the conversion lasts, by the powerful influence of a simple and unfeigned return to God.

3. As many reiterated acts form a habit, the soul contracts the habit of conversion; and that act which was before interrupted and distinct becomes habitual.

The soul should not, then, be perplexed about forming an act which already subsists, and which, indeed, it cannot attempt to form without very great difficulty; it even finds that it is withdrawn from its proper state, under pretence of seeking that which is in reality acquired, seeing the habit is already formed, and it is confirmed in habitual conversion and habitual love.  It is seeking one act by the help of many, instead of continuing attached to God by one simple act alone.

We may remark, that at times we form with facility many distinct yet simple acts; which shows that we have wandered, and that we re-enter our heart after having strayed from it; yet when we have re-entered, we should remain there in peace.  We err, therefore, in supposing that we must not form acts; we form them continually: but let them be conformable to the degree of our spiritual advancement.

4. The great difficulty with most spiritual people arises from their not clearly comprehending this matter.  Now, some acts are transient and distinct, others are continued, and again, some are direct, and others reflective.  All cannot form the first, neither are all in a state suited to form the others.  The first are adapted to those who have strayed, and who require a distinct exertion, proportioned to the extent of their deviation; if the latter be inconsiderable, an act of the most simple kind is sufficient.

5. By the continued act, I mean that whereby the soul is altogether turned toward God by a direct act, always subsisting, and which it does not renew unless it has been interrupted.  The soul being thus turned, is in charity, and abides therein; “and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God.” (1John iv. 16.) The soul then, as it were, exists and rests in this habitual act.  It is, however, free from sloth; for there is still an uninterrupted act subsisting, which is a sweet sinking into the Deity, whose attraction becomes more and more powerful.  Following this potent attraction, and dwelling in love and charity, the soul sinks continually deeper into that Love, maintaining an activity infinitely more powerful, vigorous, and effectual than that which served to accomplish its first return.

6. Now the soul that is thus profoundly and vigorously active, being wholly given up to God, does not perceive this act, because it is direct and not reflective.  This is the reason why some, not expressing themselves properly, say, that they make no acts; but it is a mistake, for they were never more truly or nobly active; they should say, that they did not distinguish their acts, and not that they did not act.  I grant that they do not act of themselves; but they are drawn, and they follow the attraction.  Love is the weight which sinks them.  As one falling into the sea, would sink from one depth to another to all eternity, if the sea were infinite, so they, without perceiving their descent, drop with inconceivable swiftness into the lowest deeps.

It is, then, improper to say that we do not make acts; all form acts, but the manner of their formation is not alike in all.  The mistake arises from this, that all who know they should act, are desirous of acting distinguishably and perceptibly; but this cannot be: sensible acts are for beginners; there are others for those in a more advanced state.  To stop in the former, which are weak and of little profit, is to debar ourselves of the latter; as to attempt the latter without having passed through the former, is a no less considerable error.

7. “To everything there is a season” (Eccles. iii. 1): every state has its commencement, its progress, and its consummation, and it is an unhappy error to stop in the beginning.  There is no art but what has its progress; at first, we labor with toil, but at last we reap the fruit of our industry.

When the vessel is in port, the mariners are obliged to exert all their strength, that they may clear her thence, and put to sea; but they subsequently turn her with facility as they please.  In like manner, while the soul remains in sin and the creature, many endeavors are requisite to effect its freedom; the cables which hold it must be loosed, and then by strong and vigorous efforts it gathers itself inward, pushes off gradually from the old port of Self, and, leaving that behind, proceeds to the interior, the haven so much desired.

8. When the vessel is thus started, as she advances on the sea, she leaves the shore behind; and the farther she departs from the land, the less labor is requisite in moving her forward.  At length she begins to get gently under sail, and now proceeds so swiftly in her course, that the oars, which are become useless, are laid aside.  How is the pilot now employed? he is content with spreading the sails and holding the rudder.

To spread the sails, is to lay ourselves before God in the prayer of simple exposition, to be moved by his Spirit; to hold the rudder, is to restrain our heart from wandering from the true course, recalling it gently, and guiding it steadily by the dictates of the Spirit of God, which gradually gains possession of the heart, just as the breeze by degrees fills the sails and impels the vessel.   While the winds are fair, the pilot and the mariners rest from their labors.   What progress do they not now secure, without the least fatigue!  They make more way now in one hour, while they rest and leave the vessel to the wind, than they did in a length of time by all their former efforts; and even were they now to attempt using the oars, besides greatly fatiguing themselves, they would only retard the vessel by their useless exertions.

This is our proper course interiorly, and a short time will advance us by the divine impulsion farther than many reiterated acts of self-exertion.  Whoever will try this path, will find it the easiest in the world.

9. If the wind be contrary and blow a storm, we must cast anchor in the sea, to hold the vessel.  This anchor is simply trust in God and hope in his goodness, waiting patiently the calming of the tempest and the return of a favorable gale; thus did David: “I waited patiently for the Lord, and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.” (Ps. xl. 1.)  We must therefore be resigned to the Spirit of God, giving ourselves up wholly to his divine guidance.

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Madame Guyon – (Part 21)

January 25, 2008

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C H A P T E R   XXI.

THE  SOUL  ACTIVE  WHEN  SELF  IS  STILL.

SOME persons, when they hear of the prayer of silence, falsely imagine that the soul remains stupid, dead, and inactive; but it unquestionably acts more nobly and more extensively than it had ever done before; for God himself is its mover, and it now acts by the agency of his Spirit. St. Paul would have us led by the Spirit of God. (Rom. viii. 14.)

It is not meant that we should cease from action; but that we should act through the internal agency of his grace.  This is finely represented by the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the wheels, which had a living Spirit; and whithersoever the Spirit was to go, they went; they ascended and descended as they were moved; for the Spirit of life was in them, and they returned not when they went.(Ezek. i. 18-21.) Thus the soul should be equally subservient to the will of that vivifying Spirit which is in it, and scrupulously faithful to follow only as that moves.   These motions never tend to return in reflections on the creatures or self; but go forward in an incessant approach toward the end.

2. This activity of the soul is attended with the utmost tranquility.  When it acts of itself, the act is forced and constrained, and, therefore, it is more easily distinguished; but when the action is under the influence of the Spirit of grace, it is so free, so easy, and so natural, that it almost seems as if we did not act at all. “He brought me forth also into a large place; He delivered me, because He delighted in me.” (Ps. xviii. 19.)

When the soul is in its central tendency, or in other words, is returned through recollection into itself, from that moment, the central attraction becomes a most potent activity, infinitely surpassing in energy every other species.  Nothing, indeed, can equal the swiftness of this tendency to the centre; and though an activity, yet it is so noble, so peaceful, so full of tranquility, so natural, and so spontaneous, that it appears to the soul as if it were none at all.

When a wheel rolls slowly we can easily perceive its parts; but when its motion is rapid, we can distinguish nothing.  So the soul which rests in God, has an activity exceedingly noble and elevated, yet altogether peaceful; and the more peaceful it is, the swifter is its course; because it is given up to that Spirit by whom it is moved and directed.

3. This attracting Spirit is no other than God himself, who, in drawing us, causes us to run to Him. How well did the spouse understand this, when she said, “Draw me, we will run after thee.” (Cant. i. 4.)  Draw me unto Thee, O my divine centre, by the secret springs of my existence, and all my powers and senses shall follow Thee!  This simple attraction is both an ointment to heal and a perfume to allure: we follow, saith she, the fragrance of thy perfumes; and though so powerful an attraction, it is followed by the soul freely, and without constraint; for it is equally delightful as forcible; and whilst it attracts by its power, it carries us away by its sweetness.  “Draw me,” says the spouse, “and we will run after thee.” She speaks of and to herself: “draw me,” — behold the unity of the centre which is drawn! “we will run,”— behold the correspondence and course of all the senses and powers in following the attraction of the centre!

4. Instead, then, of encouraging sloth, we promote the highest activity, by inculcating a total dependence on the Spirit of God, as our moving principle; for it is in Him, and by Him alone, that we live and move, and have our being. (Acts xvii. 28.)   This meek dependence on the Spirit of God is indispensably necessary, and causes the soul shortly to attain the unity and simplicity in which it was created.

We must, therefore, forsake our multifarious activity, to enter into the simplicity and unity of God, in whose image we were originally formed. (Gen. i. 27.) “The Spirit is one and manifold, (Wisdom vii. 22,) and his unity does not preclude his multiplicity.  We enter into his unity when we are united to his Spirit, and by that means have one and the same spirit with Him; and we are multiplied in respect to the outward execution of his will, without any departure from our state of union.

In this way, when we are wholly moved by the divine Spirit, which is infinitely active, our activity must, indeed, be more energetic than that which is merely our own.  We must yield ourselves to the guidance of “wisdom, which is more moving than any motion,” (Wisdom vii. 24,) and by abiding in dependence upon its action, our activity will be truly efficient.

5. “All things were made by the Word, and without Him was not anything made, that was made.” (John i. 3.)   God originally formed us in his own image and likeness; He breathed into us the Spirit of his Word, that breath of Life (Gen. ii. 7) which He gave us at our creation, in the participation whereof the image of God consisted.   Now, this LIFE is one, simple, pure, intimate, and always fruitful.

The devil having broken and deformed the divine image in the soul by sin, the agency of the same Word whose Spirit was inbreathed at our creation, is absolutely necessary for its renovation.  It was necessary that it should be He, because He is the express image of his Father; and no image can be repaired by its own efforts, but must remain passive for that purpose under the hand of the workman.

Our activity should, therefore, consist in placing ourselves in a state of susceptibility to divine impressions, and pliability to all the operations of the Eternal Word.  Whilst a tablet is unsteady, the painter is unable to produce a correct picture upon it, and every movement of self is productive of erroneous lineaments; it interrupts the work and defeats the design of this adorable Painter.  We must then remain in peace, and move only when He moves us. Jesus Christ hath life in himself, (John v. 26,) and He must give life to every living thing.

The spirit of the Church of God is the spirit of the divine movement. Is she idle, barren, or unfruitful?  No; she acts, but her activity is in dependence upon the Spirit of God, who moves and governs her.  Just so should it be in her members; that they may be spiritual children of the Church, they must be moved by the Spirit.

6. As all action is estimable only in proportion to the grandeur and dignity of the efficient principle, this action is incontestably more NOBLE than any other.  Actions produced by a divine principle, are divine; but creaturely actions, however good they appear, are only human, or at least virtuous, even when accompanied by grace.

Jesus Christ says that He has life in Himself: all other beings have only a borrowed life; but the Word has life in Himself; and being communicative of his nature, He desires to bestow it upon man.  We should therefore make room for the influx of this life, which can only be done by the ejection and loss of the Adamical life, and the suppression of the activity of self. This is agreeable to the assertion of St. Paul, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new,” (2Cor. v. 17;) but this state can be accomplished only by dying to ourselves, and to all our own activity, that the activity of God may be substituted in its place.

Instead, therefore, of prohibiting activity, we enjoin it; but in absolute dependence on the Spirit of God, that his activity may take the place of our own. This can only be effected by the consent of the creature; and this concurrence can only be yielded by moderating our own action, that the activity of God may, little by little, be wholly substituted for it.

7. Jesus Christ has exemplified this in the Gospel.   Martha did what was right; but because she did it in her own spirit, Christ rebuked her.  The spirit of man is restless and turbulent; for which reason he does little, though he seems to do a great deal. “Martha,” says Christ, “thou art careful and troubled about many things; but one thing is needful; and Mary hath chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke x. 41,42.) And what was it Mary had chosen? Repose, tranquility, and peace.  She had apparently ceased to act, that the Spirit of Christ might act in her; she had ceased to live, that Christ might be her life.

This shows how necessary it is to renounce ourselves, and all our activity, to follow Christ; for we cannot follow Him, if we are not animated by his Spirit.  Now that his Spirit may gain admittance, it is necessary that our own should be expelled: “He that is joined unto the Lord,” says St. Paul, “is one spirit.” (1Cor. vi. 17.)   And David said it was good for him to draw near unto the Lord, and to put his trust in him. (Psalm lxxiii. 28.)  What is this drawing near?  It is the beginning of union.

8. Divine union has its commencement, its progress, its achievement, and its consummation.  It is at first an inclination towards God.   When the soul is introverted in the manner before described, it gets within the influence of the central attraction, and acquires an eager desire after union;  this is the beginning.  It then adheres to Him when it has got nearer and nearer, and finally becomes one, that is, one spirit with Him; and then it is that the spirit which had wandered from God, returns again to its end.

9. Into this way, then, which is the divine motion, and the spirit of Jesus Christ, we must necessarily enter.  St. Paul says, “If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom. viii. 9): therefore, to be Christ’s, we must be filled with his Spirit, and emptied of our own.  The Apostle, in the same passage, proves the necessity of this divine influence. “As many,” says he, “as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” (Rom. viii. 14.)

The spirit of divine filiation is, then, the spirit of divine motion: he therefore adds, “Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the spirit of adoption whereby ye cry Abba, Father.” This spirit is no other than the spirit of Christ, through which we participate in his filiation; “The Spirit beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.”

When the soul yields itself to the influence of this blessed Spirit, it perceives the testimony of its divine filiation; and it feels also, with superadded joy, that it has received, not the spirit of bondage, but of liberty, even the liberty of the children of God; it then finds that it acts freely and sweetly, though with vigor and infallibility.

10. The spirit of divine action is so necessary in all things, that St. Paul, in the same passage, founds that necessity on our ignorance with respect to what we pray for: “The Spirit,” says he, “also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us, with groanings which cannot be uttered.”  This is plain enough; if we know not what we stand in need of, nor how to pray as we ought for those things which are necessary, and if the Spirit which is in us, and to which we resign ourselves, must ask for us, should we not permit Him to give vent to his unutterable groanings in our behalf?

This Spirit is the Spirit of the Word, which is always heard, as He says himself: “I knew that thou hearest me always;” (John xi. 42;) and if we freely admit this Spirit to pray and intercede for us, we also shall be always heard.  And why?  Let us learn from the same great Apostle, that skillful Mystic, and Master of the interior life, where he adds, “He that searcheth the heart, knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit; because he maketh intercession for the saints, according to the will of God” (Rom. viii. 27): that is to say, the Spirit demands only what is conformable to the will of God.  The will of God is that we should be saved, and that we should become perfect:  He, therefore, intercedes for all that is necessary for our perfection.

11. Why, then, should we be burthened with superfluous cares, and weary ourselves in the multiplicity of our ways, without ever saying, let us rest in peace.  God himself invites us to cast all our care upon Him; and He complains in Isaiah, with ineffable goodness, that the soul had expended its powers and its treasures on a thousand external objects, when there was so little to do to attain all it need desire. “Wherefore,” saith God, “do you spend money for that which is not bread; and your labor for that which satisfieth not?  Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.” (Isa. lv. 2.)

Oh! did we but know the blessedness of thus hearkening to God, and how greatly the soul is strengthened by such a course!  “Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord” (Zech. ii. 13); all must cease as soon as He appears.  But to engage us still farther to an abandonment without reservation, God assures us, by the same Prophet, that we need fear nothing, because he takes a very special care of us; “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb?  Yea, she may forget; yet will not I forget thee.” (Isa. xlix. 15.)  O words full of consolation!  Who after that will fear to abandon himself wholly to the guidance of God?

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Madame Guyon – (Part 20)

January 25, 2008

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C H A P T E R   XX.

PRAYER  DIVINELY  EXPLAINED.

BOTH devotion and sacrifice are comprehended in prayer, which, according to St. John is an incense, the smoke whereof ascendeth unto God; therefore it is said in the Apocalypse, that “unto the angel was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints.” (Rev. viii. 3.)

Prayer is the effusion of the heart in the presence of God: “I have poured out my soul before the Lord,” said the mother of Samuel. (1 Sam. i. 15.)  The prayer of the wise men at the feet of Christ in the stable of Bethlehem, was signified by the incense they offered.

2. Prayer is a certain warmth of love, melting, dissolving, and sublimating the soul, and causing it to ascend unto God, and, as the soul is melted, odors rise from it; and these sweet exhalations proceed from the consuming fire of love within.

This is illustrated in the Canticles, (i. 12,) where the spouse says, “While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof.” The table is the centre of the soul; and when God is there, and we know how to dwell near, and abide with Him, the sacred presence gradually dissolves the hardness of the soul, and, as it melts, fragrance issues forth; hence it is, that the Beloved says of his spouse, in seeing her soul melt when he spoke, “Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness, like pillars of smoke perfumed with myrrh and frankincense?” (Cant. v. 6; iii. 6.)

3. Thus does the soul ascend to God, by giving up self to the destroying and annihilating power of divine love.  This is a state of sacrifice essential to the Christian religion, in which the soul suffers itself to be destroyed and annihilated, that it may pay homage to the sovereignty of God; as it is written, “The power of the Lord is great, and he is honored only by the humble.” (Eccles. iii. 21.)  By the destruction of self, we acknowledge the supreme existence of God.  We must cease to exist in self, in order that the Spirit of the Eternal Word may exist in us: it is by the giving up of our own life, that we give place to his coming; and in dying to ourselves, He himself lives in us.

We must surrender our whole being to Christ Jesus, and cease to live any longer in ourselves, that He may become our life; “that being dead, our life may be hid with Christ in God.” (Col. iii. 3.) “Pass ye into me,” sayeth God, “all ye who earnestly seek after me.” (Eccles. xxiv. 16.)  But how is it we pass into God?  In no way but by leaving and forsaking ourselves, that we may be lost in Him; and this can be effected only by annihilation, which, being the true prayer of adoration, renders unto God alone, all “blessing, honor, glory, and power, forever and ever.” (Rev. v. 13.)

4. This prayer of truth; it is “worshipping God in spirit and in truth:” (John iv. 23.) “In spirit,” because we enter into the purity of that Spirit which prayeth within us, and are drawn forth from our own carnal and human method; “in truth,” because we are thereby placed in the truth of the all of God, and the nothing of the creature.

There are but these two truths, the ALL and the NOTHING; everything else is falsehood.  We can pay due honor to the ALL of God, only in our own ANNIHILATION; which is no sooner accomplished, than He, who never suffers a void in nature, instantly fills us with Himself.

Ah! did we but know the virtues and the blessings which the soul derives from this prayer, we should not be willing to do anything else;  It is the pearl of great price; the hidden treasure, (Matt. xiii. 44,45,) which, whoever findeth, selleth freely all that he hath to purchase it;   It is the well of living water, which springeth up unto everlasting life. It is the adoration of God “in spirit and in truth:” (John iv. 14-23:) and It is the full performance of the purest evangelical precepts.

5. Jesus Christ assures us, that the “kingdom of God is within us:” (Luke xvii. 21:) and this is true in two senses: first, when God becomes so fully Master and Lord in us, that nothing resists his dominion, then our interior is his kingdom; and again, when we possess God, who is the Supreme Good, we possess his kingdom also, wherein there is fulness of joy, and where we attain the end of our creation.  Thus it is said, “to serve God is to reign.” The end of our creation, indeed, is to enjoy God, even in this life; but, alas! who thinks of it?

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Madame Guyon – (Part 19)

January 25, 2008

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CH A P T E R   XIX.

ON  DISTRACTIONS  AND  TEMPTATIONS.

A DIRECT struggle with distractions and temptations rather serves to augment them, and withdraws the soul from that adherence to God, which should ever be its sole occupation.  We should simply turn away from the evil, and draw yet nearer to God.  A little child, on perceiving a monster, does not wait to fight with it, and will scarcely turn its eyes toward it, but quickly shrinks into the bosom of its mother, in assurance of its safety. “God is in the midst of her,” says the Psalmist, “she shall not be moved; God shall help her, and that right early.” (Psalm xlvi. 5.)

2. If we do otherwise, and in our weakness attempt to attack our enemies, we shall frequently find ourselves wounded, if not totally defeated: but, by remaining in the simple presence of God, we shall find instant supplies of strength for our support.  This was the resource of David: “I have set,” says he, “the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth; my flesh also shall rest in hope.” (Psalm xvi. 8,9.)  And it is said in Exodus, “The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.” (Exod. xiv.

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Madame Guyon – (Part 18)

January 25, 2008

 

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C H A P T E R   XVIII.

ON  FAULTS  COMMITTED.

     SHOULD we either wander among externals, or commit a fault, we must instantly turn inwards; for having departed thereby from God, we should as soon as possible turn toward Him, and suffer the penalty which He inflicts.

It is of great importance to guard against vexation on account of our faults; it springs from a secret root of pride, and a love of our own excellence; we are hurt at feeling what we are.

2. If we become discouraged, we are the more enfeebled; and from our reflections on our imperfections, a chagrin arises, which is often worse than the imperfections themselves.

The truly humble soul is not surprised at its defects or failings; and the more miserable it beholds itself, the more it abandons itself to God, and presses for a more intimate alliance with Him, seeing the need it has of his aid.   We should the rather be induced to act thus, as God himself has said, “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go; I will guide thee with mine eye.” (Psalm xxxii. 8.)

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Madame Guyon – (Part 17)

January 25, 2008

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C H A P T E R   XVII.

THE  SPIRIT  INDITES  OUR  PETITIONS.

THE soul should not be surprised at feeling itself unable to offer up to God such petitions as had formerly been made with facility; for now the Spirit maketh intercession for it according to the will of God; that Spirit which helpeth our infirmities; “for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (Rom. viii. 26.)  We must second the designs of God, which tend to divest us of all our own operations, that his may be substituted in their place.

2. Let this, then, be done in you; and suffer not yourself to be attached to anything, however good it may appear; it is no longer such to you, if it in any measure turns you aside from what God desires of you.  For the divine will is preferable to every other good.  Shake off, then, all self-interest, and live by faith and abandonment; here it is that genuine faith begins truly to operate.

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Madame Guyon – (Part 16)

January 25, 2008

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C H A P T E R   XVI.

ON  READING  AND  VOCAL  PRAYERS.

     THE method of reading in this state, is to cease when you feel yourself recollected, and remain in stillness, reading but little, and always desisting when thus internally attracted.
2. The soul that is called to a state of inward silence, should not encumber itself with vocal prayers; whenever it makes use of them, and finds a difficulty therein, and an attraction to silence, let it not use constraint by persevering, but yield to the internal drawings, unless the repeating such prayers be a matter of obligation.  In any other case, it is much better not to be burdened with and tied down to the repetition of set forms, but wholly given up to the leadings of the Holy Spirit; and in this way every species of devotion is fulfilled in a most eminent degree.

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Madame Guyon – (Part 15)

January 25, 2008

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C H A P T E R   XV.

GOD  HIMSELF  EXAMINES  US.

SELF-EXAMINATION should always precede confession, but the manner of it should be conformable to the state of the soul.  The business of those that are advanced to the degree of which we now treat, is to lay their whole souls open before God, who will not fail to enlighten them, and enable them to see the peculiar nature of their faults.  This examination, however, should be peaceful and tranquil; and we should depend on God for the discovery and knowledge of our sins, rather than on the diligence of our own scrutiny.

When we examine with effort, we are easily deceived, and betrayed by self-love into error: “We call the evil good, and the good evil,” (Isa. v. 20); but when we lie in full exposure before the Sun of Righteousness, his divine beams render the smallest atoms visible.  We must, then, forsake self, and abandon our souls to God, as well in examination as confession.

2. When souls have attained to this species of prayer, no fault escapes the reprehension of God; no sooner are they committed than they are rebuked by an inward burning and tender confusion.  Such is the scrutiny of Him who suffers no evil to be concealed; and the only way is to turn simply to God, and bear the pain and correction He inflicts.

As He becomes the incessant examiner of the soul, it can now no longer examine itself; and if it be faithful in its abandonment, experience will prove that it is much more effectually explored by his divine light, than by all its own carefulness.

3. Those who tread these paths should be informed of a matter respecting their confession, in which they are apt to err.  When they begin to give an account of their sins, instead of the regret and contrition they had been accustomed to feel, they find that love and tranquility sweetly pervade and take possession of their souls: now those who are not properly instructed are desirous of resisting this sensation, and forming an act of contrition, because they have heard, and with truth, that this is requisite.  But they are not aware that they thereby lose the genuine contrition, which is this infused love, and which infinitely surpasses any effect produced by self-exertion, comprehending the other acts in itself as in one principal act, in much higher perfection than if they were distinctly perceived.

Let them not be troubled to do otherwise, when God acts so excellently in and for them.  To hate sin in this manner, is to hate it as God does.   The purest love is that which is of his immediate operation in the soul; why should we then be so eager for action?  Let us remain in the state He assigns us, agreeably to the instructions of the wise man: “Put your confidence in God; remain in quiet where he hath placed you.” (Eccles. xi. 22.)

4. The soul will also be amazed at finding a difficulty in calling its faults to remembrance.  This, however, should cause no uneasiness, first, because this forgetfulness of our faults is some proof of our purification from them, and, in this degree of advancement, it is best to forget whatever concerns ourselves that we may remember only God.  Secondly, because, when confession is our duty, God will not fail to make known to us our greatest faults; for then He himself examines; and the soul will feel the end of examination more perfectly accomplished, than it could possibly have been by all our own endeavors.

5. These instructions, however, would be altogether unsuitable to the preceding degrees, while the soul continues in its active state, wherein it is right and necessary that it should in all things exert itself, in proportion to its advancement.  As to those who have arrived at this more advanced state, I exhort them to follow these instructions, and not to vary their simple occupations even on approaching the communion; let them remain in silence, and suffer God to act freely.  He cannot be better received than by Himself.

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Madame Guyon – (Part 14)

January 25, 2008

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C H A P T E R   XIV.

ON  INTERIOUR  SILENCE.

“The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” (Hab. ii. 20.)  The reason why inward silence is so indispensable, is, because the Word is essential and eternal, and necessarily requires dispositions in the soul in some degree correspondent to His nature, as a capacity for the reception of Himself.  Hearing is a sense formed to receive sounds, and is rather passive than active, admitting, but not communicating sensation; and if we would hear, we must lend the ear for that purpose.  Christ, the eternal Word, who must be communicated to the soul to give it new life, requires the most intense attention to his voice, when He would speak within us.

2. Hence it is so frequently enjoined upon us in sacred writ, to listen and be attentive to the voice of God; I quote a few of the numerous exhortations to this effect: “Hearken unto me, my people, and give ear unto me, O my nation!” (Isa. li. 4,) and again “Hear me, all ye whom I carry in my bosom, and bear within my bowels:” (Isa. xlvi. 3,) and further by the Psalmist, “Hearken, O daughter! and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house; so shall the king greatly desire thy beauty.” (Ps. xlv. 10,11.)

We must forget ourselves, and all self-interest, and listen and be attentive to God; these two simple actions, or rather passive dispositions, produce the love of that beauty, which He himself communicates.

3. Outward silence is very requisite for the cultivation and improvement of inward; and, indeed, it is impossible we should become truly interior, without loving silence and retirement. God saith by the mouth of his prophet, “I will lead her into solitude, and there will I speak to her heart (Hos. ii. 14, Vulg.); and unquestionably the being internally engaged with God is wholly incompatible with being externally busied about a thousand trifles.

When, through weakness, we become as it were uncentered, we must immediately turn again inward; and this process we must repeat as often as our distractions recur.  It is a small matter to be devout and recollected for an hour or half hour, if the unction and spirit of prayer do not continue with us during the whole day.

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Madame Guyon – (Part 13)

January 25, 2008

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C H A P T E R   XIII.

   ON  REST  BEFORE  GOD.

THE SOUL advanced thus far, has no need of any other preparation than its quietude: for now the presence of God, during the day, which is the great effect, or rather continuation of prayer, begins to be infused, and almost without intermission. The soul certainly enjoys transcendent blessedness, and finds that God is more intimately present to it than it is to itself.

The only way to find him is by introversion.  No sooner do the bodily eyes close, than the soul is wrapt in prayer: it is amazed at so great a blessing, and enjoys an internal converse, which external matters cannot interrupt.

2. The same may be said of this species of prayer, that is said of wisdom: “all good things come together with her.” (Wisdom vii. 11.)  For virtues flow from this soul into exercise with so much sweetness and facility, that they appear natural to it, and the living spring within breaks forth abundantly into a facility for all goodness, and an insensibility to all evil.

3. Let it then remain faithful in this state; and beware of choosing or seeking any other disposition whatever than this simple rest, as a preparative either to confession or communion, to action or prayer; for its sole business is to suffer itself to be filled with this divine effusion.  I would not be understood to speak of the preparations necessary for ordinances, but of the most perfect interior disposition in which they can be received.

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Madame Guyon – (Part 12)

January 25, 2008

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C H A P T E R   XII.

   PRAYER  OF  THE  PRESENCE  OF   GOD.

THE soul that is faithful in the exercise of love and adherence to God, as above described, is astonished to feel Him gradually taking possession of its whole being; it now enjoys a continual sense of that presence which is become as it were natural to it; and this, as well as prayer, becomes a matter of habit. It feels an unusual serenity gradually diffusing itself over all its faculties.  Silence now constitutes its whole prayer; whilst God communicates an infused love, which is the beginning of ineffable blessedness.

O that I were permitted to pursue this subject, and describe some degrees of the endless progression of subsequent states?  But I now write only for beginners; and shall therefore proceed no farther, but wait our Lord’s time for developing what may be applicable to every state.

2. We must, however, urge it as a matter of the highest import, to cease from self-action and self-exertion, that God himself may act alone: He says by the mouth of his prophet David, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm xlvi. 10.)  But the creature is so infatuated with love and attachment to its own working, that it does not believe that it works at all unless it can feel, know, and distinguish all its operations.  It is ignorant that its inability minutely to observe the manner of its motion, is occasioned by the swiftness of its progress; and that the operations of God, abounding more and more, absorb those of the creature; just as we see that the stars shine brightly before the sun rises, but gradually vanish as his light advances, and become invisible, not from want of light in themselves, but from the excess of it in him.

The case is similar here; for there is a strong and universal light which absorbs all the little distinct lights of the soul; they grow faint and disappear under its powerful influence, and self-activity is now no longer distinguishable.

3. Those greatly err, who accuse this prayer of inactivity, a charge that can only arise from inexperience.  O! if they would but make some efforts towards the attainment of it, they would soon become full of light and knowledge in relation to it.

This appearance of inaction is, indeed, not the consequence of sterility, but of abundance, as will be clearly perceived by the experienced soul, who will recognize that the silence is full and unctuous by reason of plenty.

4. There are two kinds of people that keep silence; the one because they have nothing to say, the other because they have too much: the latter is the case in this state; silence is occasioned by excess and not by defect.

To be drowned, and to die of thirst, are deaths widely different; yet water may be said to be the cause of both; abundance destroys in one case, and want in the other.  So here the fullness of grace stills the activity of self; and therefore it is of the utmost importance to remain as silent as possible.

The infant hanging at its mother’s breast, is a lively illustration of our subject; it begins to draw the milk, by moving its little lips; but when its nourishment flows abundantly, it is content to swallow without effort; by any other course it would only hurt itself, spill the milk, and be obliged to quit the breast.

We must act in like manner in the beginning of prayer, by moving the lips of the affections; but as soon as the milk of divine grace flows freely, we have nothing to do, but, in stillness, sweetly to imbibe it, and when it ceases to flow, again stir up the affections as the infant moves its lips.  Whoever acts otherwise, cannot make the best use of this grace, which is bestowed to allure the soul into the repose of Love, and not to force it into the multiplicity of self.

5. But what becomes of the babe that thus gently and without exertion, drinks in the milk?  Who would believe that it could thus receive nourishment? Y et the more peacefully it feeds, the better it thrives.  What, I say, becomes of this infant?  It drops asleep on its mother’s bosom.  So the soul that is tranquil and peaceful in prayer, sinks frequently into a mystic slumber, wherein all its powers are at rest, till it is wholly fitted for that state, of which it enjoys these transient anticipations.  You see that in this process the soul is led naturally, without trouble, effort, art or study.

The interior is not a strong hold, to be taken by storm and violence; but a kingdom of peace, which is to be gained only by love.  If any will thus pursue the little path I have pointed out, it will lead them to infused prayer.  God demands nothing extraordinary nor too difficult; on the contrary, He is greatly pleased by a simple and child-like conduct.

6. The most sublime attainments in religion, are those which are easiest reached; the most necessary ordinances are the least difficult.  It is thus also in natural things; if you would reach the sea, embark on a river, and you will be conveyed to it insensibly and without exertion.  Would you go to God, follow this sweet and simple path, and you will arrive at the desired object, with an ease and expedition that will amaze you.

O that you would but once make the trial! how soon would you find that all I have said is too little, and that your own experience will carry you infinitely beyond it!  What is it you fear?  Why do you not instantly cast yourself into the arms of LOVE, who only extended them on the cross that He might embrace you?  What risk do you run in depending solely on God, and abandoning yourself wholly to Him?  Ah! he will not deceive you, unless by bestowing an abundance beyond your highest hopes; but those who expect all from themselves, may hear this rebuke of God by his prophet Isaiah, “Ye have wearied yourselves in the multiplicity of your ways, and have not said, let us rest in peace.” (Isa. lvii. 10, Vulgate.)

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Madame Guyon – (Part 11)

January 25, 2008

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C H A P T E R   XI.

   ON  PERFECT  CONVERSION.

“Turn ye unto Him from whom the children of Israel have so deeply revolted.” (Isa. xxxi. 6.) Conversion is nothing more than turning from the creature in order to return to God.

It is not perfect (however good and essential to salvation) when it consists simply in turning from sin to grace.  To be complete, it should take place from without inwardly.

When the soul is once turned toward God, it finds a wonderful facility in continuing steadfast in conversion; and the longer it remains thus converted, the nearer it approaches and the more firmly it adheres to God; and the nearer it draws to Him, it is of necessity the farther removed from the creature, which is so contrary to Him; so that it is so effectually established in conversion, that the state becomes habitual, and as it were natural.

Now, we must not suppose that this is effected by a violent exertion of its own powers; for it is not capable of, nor should it attempt any other co-operation with divine grace, than that of endeavoring to withdraw itself from external objects, and to turn inwards; after which it has nothing farther to do, than to continue firm in its adherence to God.

2. GOD has an attractive virtue which draws the soul more and more powerfully to Himself, and in attracting, He purifies; just as it is with a gross vapor exhaled by the sun, which, as it gradually ascends, is rarified and rendered pure; the vapor, indeed, contributes to its ascent only by its passivity; but the soul co-operates freely and voluntarily.

This kind of introversion is very easy and advances the soul naturally, and without effort, because God is our centre.  The centre always exerts a very powerful attractive virtue; and the more spiritual and exalted it is, the more violent and irresistible are its attractions.

3. But besides the attracting virtue of the centre, there is, in every creature, a strong tendency to reunion with its centre, which is vigorous and active in proportion to the spirituality and perfection of the subject.

As soon as anything is turned towards its centre, it is precipitated towards it with extreme rapidity, unless it be withheld by some invincible obstacle.  A stone held in the hand is no sooner disengaged than by its own weight it falls to the earth as to its centre; so also water and fire, when unobstructed, flow incessantly towards their centre.  Now, when the soul by its efforts to recollect itself, is brought into the influence of the central tendency, it falls gradually, without any other force than the weight of love, into its proper centre; and the more passive and tranquil it remains, and the freer from self-motion, the more rapidly it advances, because the energy of the central attractive virtue is unobstructed, and has full liberty for action.

4. All our care should therefore be directed towards acquiring the greatest degree of inward recollection; nor should we be discouraged by the difficulties we encounter in this exercise, which will soon be recompensed on the part of God, by such abundant supplies of grace, as will render it perfectly easy, provided we are faithful in meekly withdrawing our hearts from outward distractions and occupations, and returning to our centre, with affections full of tenderness and serenity.  When at any time the passions are turbulent, a gentle retreat inwards to a present God, easily deadens them; any other way of opposing rather irritates than appeases them.

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Madame Guyon – (Part 10)

January 25, 2008

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C H A P T E R   X.

   MORTIFICATION  MUST  BE  INTERIOUR.

I SAY further, that, in any other way, it is next to impossible to acquire a perfect mortification of the senses and passions.

The reason is obvious: the soul gives vigor and energy to the senses, and the senses raise and stimulate the passions; a dead body has neither sensations nor passions, because its connection with the soul is dissolved.  All endeavors merely to rectify the exterior impel the soul yet farther outward into that about which it is so warmly and zealously engaged.  Its powers are diffused and scattered abroad; for, its whole attention being immediately directed to austerities and other externals, it thus invigorates those very senses it is aiming to subdue.  For the senses have no other spring whence to derive their vigor than the application of the soul to themselves, the degree of their life and activity being proportioned to the degree of attention which the soul bestows upon them.  This life of the senses stirs up and provokes the passions, instead of suppressing or subduing them; austerities may indeed enfeeble the body, but for the reasons just mentioned, can never take off the keenness of the senses, nor lessen their activity.

2. The only method of effecting this, is inward recollection, by which the soul is turned wholly and altogether inward, to possess a present God.  If it direct all its vigor and energy within, this simple act separates it from the senses, and, employing all its powers internally, it renders them faint; and the nearer it draws to God, the farther is it separated from self.  Hence it is, that those in whom the attractions of grace are very powerful, find the outward man altogether weak and feeble, and even liable to faintings.

3. I do not mean by this, to discourage mortification; for it should ever accompany prayer, according to the strength and state of the person, or as obedience demands.  But I say, that mortification should not be our principal exercise; nor should we prescribe to ourselves such and such austerities, but simply following the internal attractions of grace, and being occupied with the divine presence, without thinking particularly on mortification, God will enable us to perform every species of it.  He gives those who abide faithful to their abandonment to Him, no relaxation until He has subdued everything in them that remains to be mortified.

We have only, then, to continue steadfast in the utmost attention to God, and all things will be perfectly done.  All are not capable of outward austerities, but all are capable of this. In the mortification of the eye and ear, which continually supply the busy imagination with new subjects, there is little danger of falling into excess; but God will teach us this also, and we have only to follow his Spirit.

4. The soul has a double advantage by proceeding thus; for, in withdrawing from outward objects, it constantly draws nearer to God; and besides the secret sustaining and preserving power and virtue which it receives, it is farther removed from sin the nearer it comes to Him; so that its conversion becomes firmly established as a matter of habit.

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Madame Guyon – (Part 9)

January 25, 2008

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C H A P T E R   IX.

ON   VIRTUE.

IT is thus that we acquire virtue with facility and certainty; for as God is the principle of all virtue, we inherit all in the possession of Himself; and in proportion as we approach toward his possession, in like proportion do we receive the most eminent virtues.  For all virtue is but as a mask, an outside appearance mutable as our garments, if it be not bestowed from within; then, indeed, it is genuine, essential, and permanent: “The King’s daughter is all glorious within,” says David. (Psalm xlv. 13.)   These souls, above all others, practice virtue in the most eminent degree, though they advert not to any particular virtue.  God, to whom they are united, leads them to the most extensive practice of it; He is exceedingly jealous over them, and permits them not the least pleasure.

2. What a hungering for sufferings have those souls, who thus glow with divine love!  How would they precipitate themselves into excessive austerities, were they permitted to pursue their own inclinations!  They think of nought save how they may please their Beloved; and they begin to neglect and forget themselves; and as their love to God increases, so do self-detestation and disregard of the creature.

3. O were this simple method once acquired, a way so suited to all, to the dull and ignorant as well as to the most learned, how easily would the whole church of God be reformed! LOVE only is required: “Love,” says St. Augustine, “and then do what you please.” For when we truly love, we cannot have so much as a will to do anything that might offend the object of our affections.

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Madame Guyon – (Part 8)

January 25, 2008

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C H A P T E R   VIII.

ON   MYSTERIES.

IT will be objected, that, by this method, we shall have no mysteries imprinted on our minds; but so far is this from being the case, that it is the peculiar means of imparting them to the soul. Jesus Christ, to whom we are abandoned, and whom we follow as the way, whom we hear as the truth, and who animates us as the life (John xiv. 6,) in imprinting himself on the soul, impresses there the characters of his different states.  To bear all the states of Jesus Christ, is a much greater thing, than merely to meditate about them. St. Paul bore in his body the states of Jesus Christ; “I bear in my body,” says he, “the marks of the Lord Jesus;” (Gal. vi. 17;) but he does not say that he reasoned thereon.

2. In this state of abandonment Jesus Christ frequently communicates some peculiar views, or revelations of his states: these we should thankfully accept, and dispose ourselves for what appears to be his will; receiving equally whatever frame He may bestow, and having no other choice, but that of ardently reaching after Him, of dwelling ever with Him, and of sinking into nothingness before Him, and accepting indiscriminately all his gifts, whether darkness or illumination, fecundity or barrenness, weakness or strength, sweetness or bitterness, temptations, distractions, pain, weariness, or uncertainty; and none of all these should, for one moment, retard our course.

3. God engages some, for whole years, in the contemplation and enjoyment of a single mystery, the simple view or contemplation of which recollects the soul; let them be faithful to it; but as soon as God is pleased to withdraw this view from the soul, let it freely yield to the deprivation.  Some are very uneasy at their inability to meditate on certain mysteries; but without reason, since an affectionate attachment to God includes in itself every species of devotion, and whoever is calmly united to God alone, is, indeed, most excellently and effectually applied to every divine mystery.  Whoever loves God loves all that appertains to him.

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Madame Guyon – (Part 7)

January 25, 2008

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C H A P T E R   VII.

SUFFERING  –  A  SOURCE  OF  CONSOLATION.

BE patient under all the sufferings God sends; if your love to Him be pure, you will not seek Him less on Calvary, than on Tabor; and surely, He should be as much loved on that as on this, since it was on Calvary that he made the greatest display of love.

Be not like those who give themselves to Him at one season, only to withdraw from Him at another.  They give themselves only to be caressed, and wrest themselves back again, when they are crucified; or at least turn for consolation to the creature.

2. No, beloved souls, you will not find consolation in aught but in the love of the cross, and in total abandonment; who savoreth not the cross, savoreth not the things that be of God. (See Matt. xvi. 23.)   It is impossible to love God without loving the cross; and a heart that savors the cross, finds the bitterest things to be sweet; “To the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet;” (Prov. xxvii. 7) because it finds itself hungering for God, in proportion as it is hungering for the cross.  God gives us the cross, and the cross gives us God.

We may be assured that there is an internal advancement, when there is progress in the way of the cross; abandonment and the cross go hand in hand together.

3. As soon as anything is presented in the form of suffering, and you feel a repugnance, resign yourself immediately to God with respect to it, and give yourself up to Him in sacrifice: you will then find, that when the cross arrives, it will not be so very burthensome, because you have yourself desired it.   This, however does not prevent you from feeling its weight, as some have imagined; for when we do not feel the cross, we do not suffer.  A sensibility to suffering is one of the principal parts of suffering itself. Jesus Christ himself chose to endure its utmost rigors.  We often bear the cross in weakness, at other times in strength; all should be alike to us in the will of God.