ORATIONIS  FORMAS
ON SOME ASPECTS OF
CHRISTIAN MEDITATION
CONGREGATION for the  DOCTRINE of the FAITH   
 

 


CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH
CONGREGATIO PRO DOCTRINA FIDEI


LETTER TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
ON SOME ASPECTS OF CHRISTIAN MEDITATION*

EPISTULA AD TOTIUS CATHOLICAE ECCLESIAE EPISCOPOS DE QUIBUSDAM RATIONIBUS CHRISTIANAE MEDITATIONIS*

October 15, 1989

 

 

 

 

 

    I. Introduction

I. INTRODUCTIO

 

 

 

 

1. MANY Christians today have a keen desire to learn how to experience a deeper and authentic prayer life despite the not inconsiderable difficulties which modern culture places in the way of the need for silence, recollection and meditation. The interest which in recent years has been awakened also among some Christians by forms of meditation associated with some eastern religions and their particular methods of prayer is a significant sign of this need for spiritual recollection and a deep contact with the divine mystery. Nevertheless, faced with this phenomenon, many feel the need for sure criteria of a doctrinal and pastoral character which might allow them to instruct others in prayer, in its numerous manifestations, while remaining faithful to the truth revealed in Jesus, by means of the genuine Tradition of the Church. This present letter seeks to reply to this urgent need, so that in the various particular Churches, the many different forms of prayer, including new ones, may never lose their correct personal and communitarian nature.

1. Orationis formas veriore perfectioreque modo addiscendi plures nostrorum temporum christifideles magno flagrant desiderio, quamvis haud parvae adsint difficultates, quas hodierna animorum cultura opponit contra hanc, quae animadvertitur, silentii, contemplationis atque meditationis necessitatem. Animi attentio ad meditationis formas quarumdam orientalium religionum necnon ad earundem peculiares orandi rationes, quae etiam apud christianos excitata est postremis hisce annis, haud leve indicium exhiben potest huius necessitatis animi colligendi atque altius divinum mysterium attingendi. Rebus sic stantibus, tamen, complures coetus animadvertunt etiam urgentem necessitatem in promptu habendi certas iudicandi regulas, doctrinales et pastorales, quibus possint orationis institutioni incumbere, sub multiplicibus eius formis, permanentes in luce veritatis, in Christo Iesu revelata, per germanam Ecclesiae traditionem.Haec Epistula sibi proponit huiusmodi necessitati providere, ut in Ecclesiis particularibus formarum orandi pluralitas, novarum quoque, nullo modo obscuret germanam orationis naturam, personalem et communitariam.

These indications are addressed in the first place to the Bishops, to be considered in that spirit of pastoral solicitude for the Churches entrusted to them, so that the entire people of God—priests, religious and laity—may again be called to pray, with renewed vigor, to the Father through the Spirit of Christ our Lord.

 Imprimis ergo ad Episcopos dirigitur, ut pastorali cum cura Ecclesias suas de indicationibus quae sequuntur doceant, ita ut universus Dei populus — sacerdotes, religiosi et laici — ad orationem Patri solvendam renovato quodam vigore revocentur per Spiritum Iesu Christi Domini nostri.

 

 

2. The ever more frequent contact with other religions and with their different styles and methods of prayer has, in recent decades, led many of the faithful to ask themselves what value non-Christian forms of meditation might have for Christians. Above all, the question concerns eastern methods.1 Some people today turn to these methods for therapeutic reasons. The spiritual restlessness arising from a life subjected to the driving pace of a technologically advanced society also brings a certain number of Christians to seek in these methods of prayer a path to interior peace and psychic balance. This psychological aspect is not dealt with in the present letter, which instead emphasises the theological and spiritual implications of the question. Other Christians, caught up in the movement towards openness and exchanges between various religions and cultures, are of the opinion that their prayer has much to gain from these methods. Observing that in recent times many traditional methods of meditation, especially Christian ones, have fallen into disuse, they wonder whether it might not now be possible, by a new training in prayer, to enrich our heritage by incorporating what has until now been foreign to it.

2. Frequentior usque cum ceteris religionibus consuetudo, varus utentibus orationis stilis et methodis, proximis decenniis plures Christifideles induxit ad seipsos interrogandos quamne utilitatem Christianis possent afferre meditationis formae non Christianae. Quaestio praesertim attinet ad methodos quae dicuntur orientales [1]. Sunt qui huiusmodi methodos adhibeant propter rationes terapeuticas, ut dicunt: etenim facilis animi anxitudo eorum propria qui vivunt in societate technicis artibus progressa, etiam nonnullos Christianos impellit ad quaerendam, per illas, viam suae interioris tranquillitatis ac psychici aequilibrii. Sed haec ratio psychologica minime pertractabitur in hac Epistula, cuius finis econtra est in lucem ponere theologica ac spiritualia quaestionis consectaria. Alii sunt Christiani qui, vestigia insequentes motus apertionis et permutationis cum religionibus et culturis dissimilibus, putant huiusmodi methodos suae magnopere profuturas orationi. Iidem, cum animadvertant recentioribus temporibus haud paucas traditas meditationis methodos, christianae religionis proprias, paene oblitas esse, quaeritant: nonne possit, per novam institutionem ad orationem hereditas nostra ditari, additis etiam elementis quae antehac ei fuerunt aliena?

Uniqueness of Christian

Prayer

3. To answer this question, one must first of all consider, even if only in a general way, in what does the intimate nature of Christian prayer consist. Then one can see if and how it might be enriched by meditation methods which have been developed in other religions and cultures. However, in order to achieve this, one needs to start with a certain clear premise. Christian prayer is always determined by the structure of the Christian faith, in which the very truth of God and creature shines forth. For this reason, it is defined, properly speaking, as a personal, intimate and profound dialogue between man and God. It expresses therefore the communion of redeemed creatures with the intimate life of the Persons of the Trinity. This communion, based on Baptism and the Eucharist, source and summit of the life of the Church, implies an attitude of conversion, a flight from “self” to the “You” of God. Thus Christian prayer is at the same time always authentically personal and communitarian. It flees from impersonal techniques or from concentrating on oneself, which can create a kind of rut, imprisoning the person praying in a spiritual privatism which is incapable of a free openness to the transcendental God. Within the Church, in the legitimate search for new methods of meditation it must always be borne in mind that the essential element of authentic Christian prayer is the meeting of two freedoms, the infinite freedom of God with the finite freedom of man.

3. Ad hanc solvendam quaestionem imprimis perpendendum est, etiamsi in universum, quae sit Christianae orationis intima natura, ut deinde videatur, utrum et quomodo ditari possit meditationis methodis, quae ortae sint in dissimilibus religionum ac culturarum adiunctis. Idcirco est praeponenda maximi momenti sententia. Christiana oratio semper Christianae fidei structurae innititur, in qua ipsa de Deo atque de creatura veritas elucet. Quapropter formam habet, ut proprie loquamur, personalis colloquii, intimi scilicet ac altissimi, inter hominem et Deum. Ea igitur exprimit creaturarum redemptarum communionem cum intima Trinitatis Personarum vita. In hac communione, quae fundamentum suum habet in sacramentis baptismi et eucharistiae, quae est fons et culmen totius Ecclesiae vitae, exigitur conversionis habitus, scilicet quidam exodus ex propria persona versus Deum. Christiana oratio ergo est semper insimul vere personalis atque communitaria. Ipsa abhorret a technicis rationibus, quae impersonales sint vel propriam personam tamquam centrum habeant, quaeque automatismos generent, quibus persona orans obnoxia fit spiritualismo quodam, in semetipso clauso et inhabili ad liberam ad Deum transcendentem apertionem. In Ecclesia autem, ad meditationem quod attinet, legitima novarum rationum ac viarum inquisitio semper prae oculis habere debet vere Christianam orationem duabus esse componendam inter se occurrentibus libertatibus, infinita scilicet Dei cum hominis finita libertate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

    II. Christian Prayer in the Light of Revelation

II. CHRISTIANA ORATIO AD LUMEN REVELATIONIS

 

 

 

 

4. The Bible itself teaches how the man who welcomes biblical revelation should pray. In the Old Testament there is a marvelous collection of prayers which have continued to live through the centuries, even within the Church of Jesus Christ, where they have become the basis of its official prayer: The Book of Praises or of Psalms.2 Prayers similar to the Psalms may also be found in earlier Old Testament texts or re-echoed in later ones.3 The prayers of the book of Psalms tell in the first place of God’s great works on behalf of the Chosen People. Israel meditates, contemplates and makes the marvels of God present again, recalling them in prayer.

4. Sacrae ipsae Litterae docent quomodo orare debeat homo, qui divinam revelationem suscipiat. Nam in Veteris Testamenti scriptis insunt mira precum collectanea, quae, a saeculis vigentia in Christi quoque Ecclesia, tamquam eius publicae orationis fundamentum posita sunt: Liber scilicet Laudum vel Psalmorum [2]. Orationum Psalmorum genus invenitur iam antiquioribus in textibus vel resonat in recentioribus locis Veteris Testamenti [3]. Psalmorum libri orationes enarrant imprimis magnalia Dei erga populum, quem ipse sibi elegit; per orationis autem memoriale, Israel meditatur, contemplatur ac repraesentat eadem Dei magnalia.

In biblical revelation Israel came to acknowledge and praise God present in all creation and in the destiny of every man. Thus He is invoked, for example, as rescuer in time of danger, in sickness, in persecution, in tribulation. Finally, and always in the light of his salvific works, He is exalted in his divine power and goodness, in his justice and mercy, in his royal grandeur.

In Sacrarum Litterarum revelatione idem Israel agnoscit laudatque Dominum praesentem in universa creatura et in hominis cuiusque destinatione. Ita Illum, exempli causa, invocat ut sibi in periculis, in morbis, in persecutionibus, in tribulationibus succurrat. Demum, semper ad lumen salvifici eius operis, Illum celebrat propter divinam virtutem ac bonitatem, propter rectum iudicium ac misericordiam, propter regalem maiestatem ac gloriam.

 

 

5. Thanks to the words, deeds, Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, in the New Testament the Faith acknowledges in Him the definitive self-revelation of God, the Incarnate Word who reveals the most intimate depth of his love. It is the Holy Spirit, he who was sent into the hearts of the faithful, he who “searches everything, even the depths of God” (1 Cor 2:10), who makes it possible to enter into these divine depths. According to the promise Jesus made to the disciples, the Spirit will explain all that he had not yet been able to tell them. However, this Spirit “will not speak on his own authority,” but “he will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (Jn 16:13f.). What Jesus calls “his” is, as he explains immediately, also God the Father’s because “all that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (Jn 16:15).

5. In Novo autem Testamento, ob verba, gesta, Passionem et Resurrectionem Iesu Christi, fides agnoscit in Eo Deum Seipsum revelantem, Verbum carnem factum, quod altitudines intimas caritatis eius manifestat. Spiritus Sanctus efficit ut altius in huiusmodi Dei intimiora penetretur, idemque, in credentium corda missus, « omnia scrutatur, edam profunda Dei » (1 Cor 2, 10). Spiritus, iuxta Domini Iesu promissionem, discipulos docturus erat omnem veritatem, quam ipse Iesus nondum revelare poterat. At Spiritus, inquit, « non loquetur a semetipso sed me clarificabit, quia de meo accipiet et annuntiabit vobis » (Io 16, 13 s.). Quod Iesus in hoc loco « suum » esse dicit, est etiam possessio Dei Patris sui, ut ipse postea explicat: « Omnia, quaecumque habet Pater, mea sunt; propterea dixi quia de meo accipiet et annuntiabit vobis » (Io 16, 15).

The authors of the New Testament, with full cognizance, always spoke of the revelation of God in Christ within the context of a vision illuminated by the Holy Spirit. The Synoptic Gospels narrate Jesus’ deeds and words on the basis of a deeper understanding, acquired after Easter, of what the disciples had seen and heard. The entire Gospel of St. John is taken up with the contemplation of him who from the beginning is the Word of God made flesh. Paul, to whom Jesus appeared in his divine majesty on the road to Damascus, instructs the faithful so that they “may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth (of the Mystery of Christ), and to know the love of Christ which surpasses all knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:18 ff.). For Paul the Mystery of God is Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3) and, the Apostle clarifies, “I say this in order that no one may delude you with beguiling speech” (v. 4).

Novi Testamenti auctores semper consulto locuti sunt de Dei in Christo revelatione intra rerum prospectum a Spiritu Sancto illustratum. Evangeliorum Synopticorum auctores enarrant gesta et verba Domini Iesu Christi iuxta altiorem intellegentiam quam post Paschales eventus sunt adepti de omnibus rebus quas discipuli vidissent ac audivissent; Ioannis Evangelium ducit ad contemplationem Eius qui ab initio est Verbum Dei caro factum; Paulus apostolus, cui Dominus Iesus in itinere Damascum versus apparuit in gloria sua divina, Christifideles instituere conatur, ut valeant « comprehendere cum omnibus Sanctis quae sit latitudo et longitudo et sublimitas et profundum (mysterii Christi), scire etiam supereminentem scientiae caritatem Christi », ut impleantur « in omnem plenitudinem Dei » (Eph 3, 18 s.); Dei mysterium Apostolus profitetur esse Christum, « in quo — inquit — sunt omnes thesauri sapientiae et scientiae » (Col 2, 3), et: « Hoc dico — pergens explicat — ut nemo vos decipiat in subtilitate sermonum » (v. 4).

6. There exists, then, a strict relationship between Revelation and prayer. The Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum teaches that by means of his revelation the invisible God, “from the fullness of his love, addresses men as his friends (cf. Ex 33:11; Jn 15:14-15), and moves among them (cf. Bar 3:38), in order to invite and receive them into his own company.”4 

6. Arctissime ergo Revelatio et oratio coniunguntur. Docente Constitutione Dogmatica cui titulus est Dei Verbum, revelatione sua Deus invisibilis « ex abundantia caritatis suae homines tamquam amicos » alloquitur (cfr. Ex 33, 11; Io 15, 14-15) et cum eis conversatur (cfr. Bar 3, 38), « ut eos ad societatem Secum invitet in eamque suscipiat » [4].

This revelation takes place through words and actions which have a constant mutual reference, one to the other; from the beginning everything proceeds to converge on Christ, the fullness of revelation and of grace, and on the gift of the Holy Spirit. These make man capable of welcoming and contemplating the words and works of God and of thanking him and adoring him, both in the assembly of the faithful and in the intimacy of his own heart illuminated by grace.

Talis revelatio in actum est deducta verbis et gestis quae invicem semper conectuntur: ab initio et continenter omnia Christum versus tendunt, qui est plenitudo revelationis et gratiae, versusque Spiritus Sancti donum, qui hominem capacem facit amplectendi ac contemplandi Dei verba et gesta atque gratias ei agendi ac eum adorandi, sive in Christifidelium congregatione sive in intimo cuiusque corde, divina gratia illustrato.

This is why the Church recommends the reading of the Word of God as a source of Christian prayer, and at the same time exhorts all to discover the deep meaning of Sacred Scripture through prayer “so that a dialogue takes place between God and man. For, ‘we speak to him when we pray; we listen to him when we read the divine oracles.’“5

Idcirco Ecclesia sancta omnes Christifideles hortatur, ut ad Dei Verbum semper libenter accedant, tamquam ad Christianae orationis fontem, et insimul ut altiorem Sacrae Scripturae sensum oratione ediscant « ut fiat colloquium inter Deum et hominem; nam “ilium alloquimur, cum oramus; illum audimus, cum divina legimus oracula” » [5].

 

 

7. Some consequences derive immediately from what has been called to mind. If the prayer of a Christian has to be inserted in the Trinitarian movement of God, then its essential content must also necessarily be determined by the two-fold direction of such movement. It is in the Holy Spirit that the Son comes into the world to reconcile it to the Father through his works and sufferings. On the other hand, in this same movement and in the very same Spirit, the Son Incarnate returns to the Father, fulfilling his Will through his Passion and Resurrection. The “Our Father,” Jesus’ own prayer, clearly indicates the unity of this movement: the Will of the Father must be done on earth as it is in heaven (the petitions for bread, forgiveness and protection make explicit the fundamental dimensions of God’s will for us), so that there may be a new earth in the heavenly Jerusalem.

7. Ex his quae dicta sunt nonnulla ultro oriuntur consectaria. Si enim Christiana oratio inserenda est in motum trinitarium Dei, etiam eius essentiale contentum necessario est definiendum duplici huiusmodi motus directione: in Spiritu Sancto scilicet Filius in mundum venit ad reconciliandum eum cum Patre gestis et doloribus suis; in eodem autem motu in eodemque Spiritu, Filius caro factus redit ad Patrem, eius voluntatem adimplens Passione et Resurrectione. « Pater noster », Domini Iesu oratio, aperte indicat unitatem huius motus: Patris voluntas sicut in coelo et in terra est perficienda (petitiones panis, remissionis et praesidii explanant rationes principales voluntatis Dei erga nos) ut nova terra vivat ac vigeat in cadesti Ierusalem.

The prayer of Jesus6 has been entrusted to the Church (“Pray then like this”, Lk 11:2). This is why when a Christian prays, even if he is alone, his prayer is in fact always within the framework of the “Communion of Saints” in which and with which he prays, whether in a public and liturgical way or in a private manner. Consequently, it must always be offered within the authentic spirit of the Church at prayer, and therefore under its guidance, which can sometimes take a concrete form in terms of a proven spiritual direction. The Christian, even when he is alone and prays in secret, is conscious that he always prays for the good of the Church in union with Christ, in the Holy Spirit and together with all the Saints.7

Domini Iesu oratio Ecclesiae traditur (« sic ergo vos orate », Mt 6, 9) [6], et propterea Christiana oratio, etiam cum fit in solitudine, re autem vera semper manet ad intra illius « Sanctorum communionis », in qua et cum qua oratur sive sollemni ac liturgica sive privata actione. Elevanda est igitur semper Christiana oratio iuxta orantis Ecclesiae germanam mentem eiusque praecepta, quae aliquando ad effectum adduci possunt in probata moderatione spirituali. Christifidelis, etiam cum solus est et orat in secreto, conscius sibi est se in communione cum Christo orare, in Spiritu Sancto, una cum omnibus Sanctis ad bonum Ecclesiae [7].

 

 

 

 

    III. Erroneous Ways of Praying

III. NON RECTI ORANDI MODI

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neither “Knowledge” nor “Feeling/–

Experience”

8. Even in the first centuries of the Church some incorrect forms of prayer crept in. Some New Testament texts (cf. 1 Jn 4:3; 1 Tim 1:3-7 and 4:3-4) already give hints of their existence. Subsequently, two fundamental deviations came to be identified: Pseudognosticism and Messalianism, both of concern to the Fathers of the Church. There is much to be learned from that experience of primitive Christianity and the reaction of the Fathers which can help in tackling the current problem.

8. Inde a primis saeculis in Ecclesiam insinuati sunt vitiosi orandi modi, quorum vestigia iam revelant aliqui Novi Testamenti textus (cfr. 1 Io 4, 3; 1 Tm 1, 3-7 et 4, 3-4); decursu temporum duo praecipui errores annumerantur: pseudognosis et messalianismus, de quibus pertractaverunt Ecclesiae Patres. Primaeva illa experientia Christiana necnon Patrum agendi ratio nonnihil conferre possunt ad praesentes quaestiones solvendas.

In combating the errors of pseudognosticism8 the Fathers affirmed that matter is created by God and as such is not evil. Moreover, they maintained that grace, which always has the Holy Spirit as its source is not a good proper to the soul, but must be sought from God as a gift. Consequently, the illumination or superior knowledge of the Spirit (“gnosis”), does not make Christian faith something superfluous. Finally, for the Fathers, the authentic sign of a superior knowledge, the fruit of prayer, is always Christian love.

Contra pseudognosis errores [8] Patres docent materiam a Deo esse creatam, ideoque per se malam non esse; et praeterea gratiam, a Spiritu Sancto orientem, non esse bonum nativum animae, sed a Deo impetrandam esse tamquam donum. Illuminatio igitur, seu superior Spiritus scientia (quae graece dicitur « gnosis »), non reddit superfluam Christianam fidem. Demum, nota certa superioris scientiae, quae ab oratione oriatur, iuxta Patres, semper est Christiana Caritas.

 

 

9. If the perfection of Christian prayer cannot be evaluated using the sublimity of gnostic knowledge as a basis, neither can it be judged by referring to the experience of the divine, as Messalianism proposed.9 These false fourth century charismatics identified the grace of the Holy Spirit with the psychological experience of his presence in the soul. In opposing them, the Fathers insisted on the fact that the soul’s union with God in prayer is realized in a mysterious way, and in particular through the sacraments of the Church. Moreover, it can even be achieved through experiences of affliction or desolation. Contrary to the view of the Messalians, these are not necessarily a sign that the Spirit has abandoned a soul. Rather, as masters of spirituality have always clearly acknowledged, they may be an authentic participation in the state of abandonment experienced on the cross by Our Lord, who always remains the model and mediator of prayer.10

9. Christianae orationis perfectio neque existimari potest ex excellentia gnosticae scientiae, neque iudicari ex experientia divini, iuxta modum messalianismi [9]. Falsi charismatici, saeculo IV, Spiritus Sancti gratiam idem esse dicebant ac psychologicam experientiam eius praesentiae in anima. Contra quos Patres continenter docuerunt unionem animae orantis cum Deo in mysterio perfici, praesertim per Ecclesiae sacramenta, eamque praeterea vel per afflictionum ac etiam desolationum experientias ad actum deduci posse; quas minime significare, contra Messalianorum sententiam, Spiritum animam deseruisse, sed e converso, ut semper spirituales magistri tenuerunt, easdem participationem genuinam esse posse illius condicionis et solitudinis et derelictionis in Cruce Domini Nostri, qui semper manet orationis exemplar ac mediator [10].

 

 

10. Both of these forms of error continue to be a temptation for man the sinner. They incite him to try and overcome the distance separating creature from Creator, as though there ought not to be such a distance; to consider the way of Christ on earth, by which he wishes to lead us to the Father, as something now surpassed; to bring down to the level of natural psychology what has been regarded as pure grace, considering it instead as “superior knowledge” or as “experience.”

10. Utraque erroris forma pergit esse veluti tentatio contra peccatorem hominem, quem instigat ad superandum intervallum, quod creaturam separat a Creatore, tamquam quiddam esset quod esse non deberet; ad existimandum terrenum Christi iter, per quod ipse vult ad Patrem nos adducere, ut rem iam inutilem; ad imminuendum ac aequandum psychologiae naturali, id, quod datur ut mera gratia, sive « superioris scientiae » instar, sive « experientiae ».

Such erroneous forms, having reappeared in history from time to time on the fringes of the Church’s prayer, seem once more to impress many Christians, appealing to them as a kind of remedy, be it psychological or spiritual, or as a quick way of finding God.11

Huiusmodi non rectae orationis formae interdum decursu temporum in lucem redierunt in margine orationis Ecclesiae, eaedemque nostra aetate videntur iterum plurimorum Christifidelium animum movere, exhibentes seipsas veluti remedium psychologicum et spirituale necnon veluti velocem processum ad Deum inveniendum [11].

 

 

11. However, these forms of error, wherever they arise, can be diagnosed very simply. The meditation of the Christian in prayer seeks to grasp the depths of the divine in the salvific works of God in Christ, the Incarnate Word, and in the gift of his Spirit. These divine depths are always revealed to him through the human-earthly dimension. Similar methods of meditation, on the other hand, including those which have their starting-point in the words and deeds of Jesus, try as far as possible to put aside everything that is worldly, sense-perceptible or conceptually limited. It is thus an attempt to ascend to or immerse oneself in the sphere of the divine, which, as such, is neither terrestrial, sense-perceptible nor capable of conceptualization.12 This tendency, already present in the religious sentiments of the later Greek period (especially in “Neoplatonism”), is found deep in the religious inspiration of many peoples, no sooner than they become aware of the precarious character of their representations of the divine and of their attempts to draw close to it.

11. At huiusmodi falsae formae, undecumque oriuntur, maxime expedite dignosci possunt. Nam, Christiana meditatio studet amplecti per gesta salvifica Dei in Christo, Verbo carne facto, et per dona eius Spiritus, divinam altitudinem, quae in ipso Christo semper revelatur, per humanam ac terrenam rationem. Econtra huiusmodi medi talionis methodi, etiam cum ex verbis et gestis Domini Iesu exordiantur, conantur omittere, quantum fieri poterit, quod terrenum, sensibile, atque notione finitum est, ut ascendant vel immergantur in regionem divinam, quae, qua talis, neque terrena, neque sensibilis est, neque mentis per conceptus enarrabilis [12]. Talis vitiositas, quae apparet iam in seriore Graecorum religiositate (praesertim in « neoplatonismo »), invenitur profecto in religioso afflatu multarum gentium, simul ac suas divinae rei imagines precarias agnoverunt et impares conatus suos ad eam appropinquandi.

 

 

12. With the present diffusion of eastern methods of meditation in the Christian world and in ecclesial communities, we find ourselves faced with a pointed renewal of an attempt, which is not free from dangers and errors, to fuse Christian meditation with that which is non-Christian. Proposals in this direction are numerous and radical to a greater or lesser extent. Some use eastern methods solely as a psycho-physical preparation for a truly Christian contemplation; others go further and, using different techniques, try to generate spiritual experiences similar to those described in the writings of certain Catholic mystics.13 Still others do not hesitate to place that absolute without image or concepts, which is proper to Buddhist theory,14 on the same level as the majesty of God revealed in Christ, which towers above finite reality. To this end, they make use of a “negative theology,” which transcends every affirmation seeking to express what God is and denies that the things of this world can offer traces of the infinity of God. Thus they propose abandoning not only meditation on the salvific works accomplished in history by the God of the Old and New Covenant, but also the very idea of the One and Triune God, who is Love, in favor of an immersion “in the indeterminate abyss of the divinity.”15 

12. Cum in dies meditationis methodi orientales diffundantur in Christianum orbem et in ecclesiales communitates, vividior fit conatus, qui non caret periculis et erroribus, commiscendi Christianam cum non Christiana meditatione. Proposita ad hoc sunt innumera atque plus minusve extrema, quorum alia methodis orientalibus uti satagunt tantum ad praeparationem psychocorpoream apparandam, quae revera permittat Christianam contemplationem; alia autem ultra procedunt, cum nitantur varus technicis rationibus gignere spirituales experientias, non dissimiles varus experientiis, de quibus loquuntur quidam catholici rerum mysticarum scriptores [13]; alia demum temere audent aequare absolutum illud sine imaginibus et conceptibus, quod est proprium theoriae Buddhisticae [14], Dei maiestati, in Christo revelatae, quae supra res finitas elevatur; ad eundemque finem « theologiam negativam » usurpant, quae transcendat omnem affirmationem sententiamque pertinentem ad Deum, negantes mundi creaturas exhibere vestigium vel minimum, quod ad infinitam Dei virtutem dirigat. Proponunt igitur relinquendam esse non solum salvificorum gestorum meditationem, quae Deus Veteris et Novi Testamenti in Historia perfecit, sed notionem ipsam Dei Unius et Trini, qui caritas est, pro immersione « in divinitatis indeterminatam abyssum » [15].

These and similar proposals to harmonize Christian meditation with eastern techniques need to have their contents and methods ever subjected to a thorough-going examination so as to avoid the danger of falling into syncretism.

Huiusmodi ceteraeque similes condiciones componendi Christianam meditationem cum technicis rationibus orientalibus pensitandae sunt continenter summa claraque cum distinctione suae naturae et methodi, ad vitandum perniciosum syncretismum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

    IV. The Christian Way to Union with God

IV. CHRISTIANUM ITER CONIUNCTIONIS CUM DEO

 

 

 

 

13. To find the right “way” of prayer, the Christian should consider what has been said earlier regarding the prominent features of the way of Christ, whose “food is to do the will of him who sent (him), and to accomplish his work” (Jn 4:34). Jesus lives no more intimate or closer a union with the Father than this, which for him is continually translated into deep prayer. By the will of the Father he is sent to mankind, to sinners. to his very executioners, and he could not be more intimately united to the Father than by obeying his will. This did not in any way prevent him, however, from also retiring to a solitary place during his earthly sojourn to unite himself to the Father and receive from him new strength for his mission in this world. On Mount Tabor, where his union with the Father was manifest, there was called to mind his passion (cf. Lk 9:31), and there was not even a consideration of the possibility of remaining in “three booths” on the Mount of the Transfiguration. Contemplative Christian prayer always leads to love of neighbor, to action and to the acceptance of trials, and precisely because of this it draws one close to God.

13. Ad suam inveniendam rectam orationis « viam » Christifidelis perpendere debet ea omnia quae supra diximus de praecipuis lineamentis viae Christi, cuius cibus est, ut faciat voluntatem eius, qui misit illum, et ut perficiat opus eius (cfr. Io 4, 34). Hac Dominus Iesus nullam habet interiorem ac arctiorem cum Patre unionem, qua continenter in altissima oratione manet; nam Patris voluntas ad homines eum mittit, ad peccatores, ad carnifices ipsos; neque ille intimius coniungi potest cum Patre quam tali oboediens voluntati. Quod nullo modo impedit quominus in terrestri itinere desertum petat ad orandum, ad se coniungendum cum Patre, ad novum vigorem suscipiendum ut suam adimpleat missionem in mundo. In monte Tabor, ubi cum Patre manifeste coniunctus apparet, eius passio praedicitur (cfr. Lc 9, 31), nihilque consideratur votum manendi in « tribus tabernaculis » in eodem transfigurationis monte. Christiana quaeque oratio contemplativa ad caritatem erga proximum semper dirigit necnon ad actionem et passionem, atque hoc modo nos ad Deum magis admovet.

 

 

14. In order to draw near to that mystery of union with God, which the Greek Fathers called the divinization of man, and to grasp accurately the manner in which this is realized, it is necessary in the first place to bear in mind that man is essentially a creature,16 and remains such for eternity, so that an absorbing of the human self into the divine self is never possible, not even in the highest states of grace. However, one must recognize that the human person is created in the “image and likeness” of God, and that the archetype of this image is the Son of God, in whom and through whom we have been created (cf. Col 1:16). This archetype reveals the greatest and most beautiful Christian mystery: from eternity the Son is “other” with respect to the Father and yet, in the Holy Spirit, he is “of the same substance.” Consequently this otherness, far from being an ill, is rather the greatest of goods. There is otherness in God himself, who is one single nature in three Persons, and there is also otherness between God and creatures, who are by nature different. Finally, in the Holy Eucharist, as in the rest of the sacraments—and analogically in his works and in his words—Christ gives himself to us and makes us participate in his divine nature,17 without nevertheless suppressing our created nature, in which he himself shares through his Incarnation.

14. Ad illud attingendum coniunctionis cum Deo mysterium, quod a Patribus Graecis appellabatur hominis divinizatio, adque modos etiam pressius intelligendos quibus perficitur, prae oculis est habendum ante omnia hominem esse suapte natura creaturam [16], talemque mansurum in aeternum, ut numquam absorbi possit id quod dicitur hominis « ego » in Dei « Ego », ne in summis quidem gratiae statibus. Attamen affirmandum est humanam personam creatam esse « ad imaginem et similitudinem » Dei, cuius imaginis archetypus est Filius Dei, in quo et per quem facti sumus (cfr.Col 1, 16). Qui archetypus revelat nobis, ut maximum et pulcherrimum inter Christiana mysteria: Filium ab aeterno esse « alium » ac Patrem, et tamen, in Spiritu Sancto, esse « consubstantialem »; sequitur quod factum alteritatis non habendum est tamquam malum sed potius ut maximum bonorum. Datur in ipso Deo alteritas, qui est Una Natura in Tribus Personis, et datur alteritas inter Deum et creaturam, qui suapte natura diversi sunt. In sancta eucharistia demum, sicut in ceteris Sacramentis — et analogice in suis gestis et verbis — Christus seipsum nobis tradit consortesque nos efficit suae divinae naturae [17], cum ceteroqui nostram creatam naturam non deleat, quam ipse participat suipsius incarnatione.

 

 

15. A consideration of these truths together brings the wonderful discovery that all the aspirations which the prayer of other religions expresses are fulfilled in the reality of Christianity beyond all measure, without the personal self or the nature of a creature being dissolved or disappearing into the sea of the Absolute. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). This profoundly Christian affirmation can reconcile perfect union with the otherness existing between lover and loved, with eternal exchange and eternal dialogue. God is himself this eternal exchange and we can truly become sharers of Christ, as “adoptive sons” who cry out with the Son in the Holy Spirit, “Abba, Father.” In this sense, the Fathers are perfectly correct in speaking of the divinization of man who, having been incorporated into Christ, the Son of God by nature, may by his grace share in the divine nature and become a “son in the Son.” Receiving the Holy Spirit, the Christian glorifies the Father and really shares in the Trinitarian life of God.

15. Quod si una simul huiusmodi veritates considerentur, pulcherrima admiratione perspicitur in Christianarum rerum veritate omnia supra modum perfici vota, quae in orationibus aliarum religionum inveniuntur, neque hac de causa personam eiusque creaturalitatem ad nihilum reduci et evanescere in magno mari Absoluti. Altissima Christianorum asseverano « Deus Caritas est » (1 Io4, 8), conciliare potest perfectam coniunctionem cum alteritate amantem inter et amatum, cum aeterno commercio cum aeternoque colloquio. Deus ipse est huiusmodi commercium atque nos participes re effici vera possumus Christi, ut « fìlii adoptionis », et cum Filio in Spiritu Sancto clamare « Abba, Pater ». Iure igitur Patres locuti sunt de hominis divinizatione, qui, cum concorporatus sit Christo, Dei Filio suapte natura, per eius gratiam particeps fit eiusdem divinae naturae, veluti « filius in Filio ». Christifidelis accipiens Spiritum Sanctum glorificat Patrem atque participat revera trinitariam Dei vitam.

 

 

 

 

 

 

    V. Questions of Method

V. QUAESTIONES METHODOLOGICAE

 

 

 

 

16. The majority of the great religions which have sought union with God in prayer have also pointed out ways to achieve it. Just as “the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions,”18 neither should these ways be rejected out of hand simply because they are not Christian. On the contrary, one can take from them what is useful so long as the Christian conception of prayer, its logic and requirements are never obscured. It is within the context of all of this that these bits and pieces should be taken up and expressed anew. Among these one might mention first of all that of the humble acceptance of a master who is an expert in the life of prayer, and of the counsels he gives. Christian experience has known of this practice from earliest times, from the epoch of the desert Fathers. Such a master, being an expert in “sentire cum Ecclesia,” must not only direct and warn of certain dangers; as a “spiritual father,” he has to also lead his pupil in a dynamic way, heart to heart, into the life of prayer, which is the gift of the Holy Spirit.

16. Omnes fere magnae religiones, quae coniunctionem cum Deo per orationem quaesiverunt, etiam iter ad eam consequendam apparaverunt. Cum autem « Ecclesia catholica nihil eorum, quae in his religionibus vera et sancta sunt » [18] reiciat, nullum est habendum praeiudicium nullaque habenda contemptio erga earum indicationes, propter id quod Christianae non sint. E contra excerpi ex eisdem potest quidquid utile est, salvis Christianae orationis notione eiusque logica structura et exigentiis; ad intra enim huiusmodi totalitatis illa fragmenta iterum concipienda atque assumenda sunt. Inter quae annumerari potest imprimis humilis acceptio probati magistri in orationis vita eiusque praeceptorum, secundum notam ac constantem Christianorum experientiam inde ab aevis antiquioribus, et a Patrum in deserto degentium temporibus. Qui magister, expertus in sensu Ecclesiae, non solum ducere discipulos et monere eosdem debet, ne quibusdam periculis cedant, sed etiam ut spiritualis « pater », introducere eos debet, inflammato cum animo, et, ut ita dicam, cor cordi apponens, in orationis vitam, quod donum est Spiritus Sancti.

 

 

17. In the later non-Christian classical period, there was a convenient distinction made between three stages in the life of perfection: the purgative way, the illuminative way and the unitive way. This teaching has served as a model for many schools of Christian spirituality. While in itself valid, this analysis nevertheless requires several clarifications so as to be interpreted in a correct Christian manner which avoids dangerous misunderstandings.

17. Serior aetas classica non Christiana libenter consuevit tres gradus in perfectionis via distinguere: primum purificationis, alterum illuminationis, tertium coniunctionis. Quam doctrinam exemplarem habuerunt plures Christianae spiritualitatis scholae. At huiusmodi schema, quod per se valet, tamen aliquantulum definiendum est, ut recte a Christianis intellegatur vitenturque periculosae confusiones ac interpretationes.

 

 

18. The seeking of God through prayer has to be preceded and accompanied by an ascetical struggle and a purification from one’s own sins and errors, since Jesus has said that only “the pure of heart shall see God” (Mt 5:8). The Gospel aims above all at a moral purification from the lack of truth and love and, on a deeper level, from all the selfish instincts which impede man from recognizing and accepting the Will of God in its purity. The passions are not negative in themselves (as the Stoics and Neoplatonists thought), but their tendency is to selfishness. It is from this that the Christian has to free himself in order to arrive at that state of positive freedom which in classical Christian times was called “apatheia,” in the Middle Ages “Impassibilitas” and in the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises “indiferencia.”19 This is impossible without a radical self-denial, as can also be seen in St. Paul who openly uses the word “mortification” (of sinful tendencies).20 Only this self-denial renders man free to carry out the will of God and to share in the freedom of the Holy Spirit.

18. Dei quaesitionem per orationem praecedant oportet ac sequantur ascesis et peccatorum errorumque purificatio, quia iuxta Dominicas Beatitudines tantum ii qui mundo sunt corde Deum videbunt (cfr. Mt 5, 8). Potissimum Evangelica praecepta ad purificandos mores de absentia veritatis et amoris impellunt atque, in ordine altiore, omnes egoisticas passiones, quae impediunt quominus homo agnoscat ac adimpleat Dei integram voluntatem. Non enim passiones, qua tales, sunt negativae (ut Stoici et Neoplatonici opinabantur), sed earum egoistica inclinatio, quam Christifidelis exuere debet, ut perveniat ad ilium positivae libertatis statum, quem Christiana aetas classica « apatheiam » vocabat, Aetas autem quae dicitur Media « impassibilitatem » et Liber Spiritualium Exercitiorum Sancti Ignatii « indifferentiam » [19]. Quod impossibile evadit si desit extrema abnegatio, ut probatur a Sancti Pauli verbis, aperte utentis voce « mortificatione » (peccati inclinationum) [20]. Huiusmodi tantum abnegatio hominem liberum reddit Dei voluntatem perficiendi ac participandi Spiritus Sancti libertatem.

 

 

19. Therefore, one has to interpret correctly the teaching of those masters who recommend “emptying” the spirit of all sensible representations and of every concept, while remaining lovingly attentive to God. In this way, the person praying creates an empty space which can then be filled by the richness of God. However, the emptiness which God requires is that of the renunciation of personal selfishness, not necessarily that of the renunciation of those created things which he has given us and among which he has placed us. There is no doubt that in prayer one should concentrate entirely on God and as far as possible exclude the things of this world which bind us to our selfishness. On this topic St. Augustine is an excellent teacher: if you want to find God, he says, abandon the exterior world and re-enter into yourself. However, he continues, do not remain in yourself, but go beyond yourself because you are not God: He is deeper and greater than you. “I look for his substance in my soul and I do not find it; I have however meditated on the search for God and, reaching out to him, through created things, I have sought to know ‘the invisible perfections of God’ (Rom 1:20).”21 “To remain in oneself”: this is the real danger. The great Doctor of the Church recommends concentrating on oneself, but also transcending the self which is not God, but only a creature. God is “deeper than my inmost being and higher than my greatest height.”22 In fact God is in us and with us, but he transcends us in his mystery.23

19. Recte est igitur interpretanda doctrina eorum magistrorum, qui spiritum « vacuefaciendum » esse ab omni sensuum repraesentatione ac notione suadent, firma tamen amantis ad Deum attentione manente, ita ut vacuum in orante maneat quod deinde divinis divitiis impleri potent. Vacuum quod Deus exigit est reiectio egoismi, non autem necessario contemptio rerum creatarum, quas ipse donavit et in quibus nos posuit. Exploratum est in oratione animum intendendum esse in unum Deum atque esse excludendas, quantum fieri potest, mundanas res, nos egoismo nostro alligantes. Huius doctrinae praeclarus extitit doctor S. Augustinus: Si Deum invenire cupis, inquit, exteriora omnia contemne atque in te ipsum redi; noli tamen immorari in te ipso, sed transcende te ipsum, quia tu Deus non es: Ipse excelsior et maior te est. « Quaero substantiam eius in anima mea, et non invenio: meditatus sum tamen inquisitionem Dei mei, et per ea quae facta sunt, “invisibilia Dei” (Rm 1, 20) mei cupiens intellecta conspicere » [21]. « In se ipso commorari »: ecce periculum certum. Magnus Ecclesiae Doctor monet ut redeamus in nosmetipsos, sed etiam ut transcendamus personam nostram, quae non est Deus, sed tantum creatura. Deus est « interior intimo meo et superior summo meo » [22]. Deus est enim in nobis et nobiscum sed transcendit nos in mysterio suo [23].

 

 

20. From the dogmatic point of view, it is impossible to arrive at a perfect love of God if one ignores his giving of himself to us through his Incarnate Son, who was crucified and rose from the dead. In Him, under the action of the Holy Spirit, we participate, through pure grace, in the interior life of God. When Jesus says, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9), he does not mean just the sight and exterior knowledge of his human figure (“the flesh is of no avail”, Jn 6:63). What he means is rather a vision made possible by the grace of faith: to see, through the manifestation of Jesus perceptible by the senses, just what he, as the Word of the Father, truly wants to reveal to us of God (“It is the Spirit that gives life [...]; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life”, ibid.). This “seeing” is not a matter of a purely human abstraction (“abs-tractio”) from the figure in which God has revealed himself; it is rather the grasping of the divine reality in the human figure of Jesus, his eternal divine dimension in its temporal form. As St. Ignatius says in the Spiritual Exercises, we should try to capture “the infinite perfume and the infinite sweetness of the divinity” (n. 124), going forward from that finite revealed truth from which we have begun. While he raises us up, God is free to “empty” us of all that holds us back in this world, to draw us completely into the Trinitarian life of his eternal love. However, this gift can only be granted “in Christ through the Holy Spirit,” and not through our own efforts, withdrawing ourselves from his revelation.

20. Sub aspectu dogmatico, impossibile evadit ad perfectam Dei caritatem pervenire, si praetermittatur Dei suipsius donatio in Filio, qui caro factus, crucifixus est et resurrexit. In Ipso, ducente Spiritu Sancto, participamus, gratuita liberalitate, vitam intradivinam. Cum Dominus Iesus dicit: « Qui vidit me, vidit Patrem » (Io 14, 9), non tantum habet in animo visionem et scientiam exteriorem suae humanae figurae (« caro non prodest quidquam », Io 6, 63), alloqui potius intendit de visione, quae possibilis fit per fidei gratiam, de visione scilicet earum rerum, quas de Deo, per sensibilem sui manifestationem, Dominus Iesus, ut Patris Verbum, intendit profecto ostendere (« Spiritus est, qui vivificat… verba quae ego locutus sum vobis, Spiritus sunt et vita sunt », ibid.). In huiusmodi « visione » non est quaestio de abstractione mere humana (« abs-tractio ») a figura, in qua Deus revelatus est, sed de divina realitate attingenda in humana Iesu figura, scilicet de attingendo aspectu divino et aeterno in eius temporalitate. Innitentes verbis S. Ignatii in opere cui titulus est Exercitia Spiritualia, nobis omnibus attingenda sunt « odor infinitus ac dulcedo infinita divinitatis » (n. 124), proficiscendo ab finita veritate revelata a qua exorsi sumus. Nos extollendo, Deus libere valet nos « vacuefacere » ab rebus omnibus, quibus in hoc saeculo tenemur, ac ex toto nos trahere in trinitariam suae aeternae caritatis vitam. Tamen, hoc donum traditur tantum « in Christo per Spiritum Sanctum », non autem per propriam virtutem, seposita eius revelatione.

 

 

21. On the path of the Christian life, illumination follows on from purification, through the love which the Father bestows on us in the Son and the anointing which we receive from him in the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Jn 2:20). Ever since the early Christian period, writers have referred to the “illumination” received in Baptism. After their initiation into the divine mysteries, this illumination brings the faithful to know Christ by means of the faith which works through love. Some ecclesiastical writers even speak explicitly of the illumination received in Baptism as the basis of that sublime knowledge of Christ Jesus (cf. Phil 3:8), which is defined as “theoria” or contemplation.24 The faithful, with the grace of Baptism, are called to progress in the knowledge and witness of the mysteries of the faith by “the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience.”25 No light from God can render the truths of the faith redundant. Any subsequent graces of illumination which God may grant rather help to make clearer the depth of the mysteries confessed and celebrated by the Church, as we wait for the day when the Christian can contemplate God as He is in glory (cf. 1 Jn 3:2).

21. In vitae Christianae progressu purificationem sequitur illuminatio per caritatem, quam Pater nobis donat in Filio et per unctionem, quam ab eo suscipimus in Spiritu Sancto (cfr. 1 Io 2, 20). Inde ab antiquitate Christiana memoratur « illuminatio », quae in baptismo traditur, quaeque Christifideles, divinis initiates mysteriis, introducit ad cognoscendum Christum per fidem, quae per caritatem operatur. Quinimmo nonnulli ecclesiastici auctores explicite pertractant de illuminatione, in baptismo tradita, tamquam de fundamento illius eminentis scientiae Christi Iesu (cfr. Phil 3, 8), quae definitur « theoria » seu contemplatio [24]. Christifideles, baptismi gratia, vocantur ad progrediendum in scientia et in testimonio reddendo fidei mysteriis, « ex intima spiritualium rerum quam experiuntur intelligentia » [25]. Nullum Dei lumen cassas reddit fidei veritates. E contra illuminationis gratiae, quas Deus fortasse concedere potest, potius sunt auxilio ad aptius declarandam altissimam mysteriorum rationem, quas Ecclesia sancta confitetur et celebrat, exspectans ut Christifidelis videre Deum possit sicuti est in gloria (cfr. 1 Io 3, 2).

 

 

22. Finally, the Christian who prays can, if God so wishes, come to a particular experience of union. The Sacraments, especially Baptism and the Eucharist,26 are the objective beginning of the union of the Christian with God. Upon this foundation, the person who prays can be called, by a special grace of the Spirit, to that specific type of union with God which in Christian terms is called mystical.

22. Christifidelis orans demum pervenire potest, Deo adiuvante, ad peculiarem experientiam unionis. Sacramenta, praesertim baptismum et eucharistia [26], initium reale sunt unionis Christifidelis cum Deo. Super huiusmodi fundamentum, per peculiarem Spiritus gratiam, persona orans vocari potest ad illam peculiarem formam unionis cum Deo, quae « mystica » in Christiana provincia appellatur.

 

 

23. Without doubt, a Christian needs certain periods of retreat into solitude to be recollected and, in God’s presence, rediscover his path. Nevertheless, given his character as a creature, and as a creature who knows that only in grace is he secure, his method of getting closer to God is not based on any technique in the strict sense of the word. That would contradict the spirit of childhood called for by the Gospel. Genuine Christian mysticism has nothing to do with technique: it is always a gift of God, and the one who benefits from it knows himself to be unworthy.27

23. Christianus profecto indiget certis temporibus ad secedendum in solitudinem, ad secum meditandum, ad suumque iter apud Deum inveniendum; sed cum suapte natura sit creatura, et talis creatura, quae sciat se in tuto non esse nisi in gratia, suus ad Deum appropinquandi modus non innititur certae rationi technicae, stricto verbi sensu, quoniam id contradiceret infantiae spirituali, quam praedicat Evangelium. Christiana ac germana mystica nihil cum technica commune habet, cum semper sit donum Dei, quo indignum sentit se esse, quisquis illud susceperit [27].

 

 

24. There are certain mystical graces, conferred on the founders of ecclesial institutes to benefit their foundation, and on other saints, too, which characterize their personal experience of prayer and which cannot, as such, be the object of imitation and aspiration for other members of the faithful, even those who belong to the same institutes and those who seek an ever more perfect way of prayer.28 There can be different levels and different ways of sharing in a founder’s experience of prayer, without everything having to be exactly the same. Besides, the prayer experience that is given a privileged position in all genuinely ecclesial institutes, ancient and modern, is always in the last analysis something personal. And it is to the individual person that God gives his graces for prayer.

24. Non desunt certae gratiae mysticae, quibus ditantur, exempli gratia, ecclesialium institutionum fundatores pro universa sua fundatione, necnon alii sancti, quae denotant eorundem peculiarem orationis experientiam, et eas ceteri Christifideles nequeunt, qua tales, imitari neque postulare, etiamsi sint eidem institutioni adscripti, atque optent orationem in diem perfectiorem [28]. Dari possunt gradus diversi et diversi modi participandi experientiam orationis cuiusdam fundatoris, neque his omnibus eadem forma necessario est conferenda. Ceterum orationis experientia quae locum habet praestantem in omnibus institutionibus vere ecclesialibus antiquis et modernis, semper, ad summam, manet quiddam personale, cum Deus personis ipsis gratias suas largiatur in ordine ad orationem.

 

 

25. With regard to mysticism, one has to distinguish between the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the charisms granted by God in a totally gratuitous way. The former are something which every Christian can quicken in himself by his zeal for the life of faith, hope and charity; and thus, by means of a serious ascetical struggle, he can reach a certain experience of God and of the contents of the faith. As for charisms, St. Paul says that these are, above all, for the benefit of the Church, of the other members of the Mystical Body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12:17). With this in mind, it should be remembered that charisms are not the same things as extraordinary (“mystical”) gifts (cf. Rom 12:3-21), and that the distinction between the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” and “charisms” can be flexible. It is certain that a charism which bears fruit for the Church, cannot, in the context of the New Testament, be exercised without a certain degree of personal perfection, and that, on the other hand, every “living” Christian has a specific task (and in this sense a “charism”) “for the building up of the body of Christ” (cf. Eph 4:15-16),29 in communion with the Hierarchy whose job it is “not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to what is good” (LG, n. 12).

25. In qua re mystica distinguenda sunt Spiritus Sancti dona et charismata, quae Deus liberrime largitur. Quorum priora sunt quiddam, quod Christifidelis quisque novo vigore refovere in se potest per fidei spei et caritatis studiosam vitam, atque hoc modo per fortem ascesim pervenire ad certam Dei et fidei veritatum experientiam; posteriora autem, ad mentem S. Pauli, sunt data praesertim ad Ecclesiam fovendam, scilicet pro Corporis Christi mystici ceteris membris (cfr. 1 Cor 12, 7). Hac in re, reminiscendum est sive charismata non aequari donis extraordinariis (« mysticis ») (cfr. Rm 12, 3-21), sive distinctionem inter « Spiritus Sancti dona » et « charismata » fluentem esse posse. Constat autem quodlibet charisma, fecundum pro Ecclesia, exerceri non posse, in provincia neotestamentaria, quin certum perfectionis personalis gradum quis sit consecutus; ex altera parte, patet etiam Christiano cuique « vivo » munus esse peculiare (et hoc sensu « charisma ») “in aedificationem Corporis Christi” (cfr. Eph 4, 15-16) [29], in communione cum catholica Hierarchia, cui « speciatim competit, non Spiritum exstinguere, sed omnia probare et quod bonum est tenere » (LG n. 12).

 

 

 

 

 

 

    VI. Psychological-Corporal Methods

VI. METHODI PSYCHOPHYSICAE-CORPOREAE

 

 

 

 

26. Human experience shows that the position and demeanor of the body also have their influence on the recollection and dispositions of the spirit. This is a fact to which some eastern and western Christian spiritual writers have directed their attention.

26. Humana experientia declarat corporis positionem ac habitum nonnihil posse conferre ad animum secum colligendum et ad spiritum disponendum, propter quod ad ea nonnulli spirituales auctores Orientis et Occidentis Christiani attento animo intenderunt.

Their reflections, while presenting points in common with eastern non-Christian methods of meditation, avoid the exaggerations and partiality of the latter, which, however, are often recommended to people today who are not sufficiently prepared.

Eorum considerationes quasdam licet habeant communes rationes cum meditationis methodis orientalibus non Christianis, tamen devitant earum nimia ac in unam tantum partem propendentia, quae econtra saepe hodie proponuntur hominibus adhuc rudibus.

The spiritual authors have adopted those elements which make recollection in prayer easier, at the same time recognizing their relative value: they are useful if reformulated in accordance with the aim of Christian prayer.30 For example, the Christian fast signifies, above all, an exercise of penitence and sacrifice; but, already for the Fathers, it also had the aim of rendering man more open to the encounter with God and making a Christian more capable of self-dominion and at the same time more attentive to those in need.

Huiusmodi spirituales auctores ea sumpserunt dementa, quae adiutorio sunt ad animum colligendum in oratione, agnoscentes insimul eorum vim contingentem: utilia enim sunt, si ad Christianam fovendam orationem restaurentur [30]. Ieiunium, ut exemplum afferamus, apud Christianos imprimis significationem induit exercitii poenitentiae ac abstinentiae, sed iam apud Patres etiam finem habuit reddendi hominem propensiorem ad occurrendum Deo, Christianumque magis idoneum ad se dominandum et insimul magis sedulum erga fratres egentiores.

In prayer it is the whole man who must enter into relation with God, and so his body should also take up the position most suited to recollection.31 Such a position can in a symbolic way express the prayer itself, depending on cultures and personal sensibilities. In some aspects, Christians are today becoming more conscious of how one’s bodily posture can aid prayer.

In oratione homo totus Deum attingere debet et ideo etiam suum corpus positionem debet assumere aptiorem ad animum secum colligendum [31]. Haec positio symbolice exprimere potest orationem ipsam, cum possit esse varia, pro varus culturis et personali vi sentiendi. In nonnullis regionibus Christifideles nostris temporibus in dies magis animadvertunt quantum corporis positio possit orationem fovere.

 

 

27. Eastern Christian meditation 32 [=Hesychasm] has valued psychophysical symbolism, often absent in western forms of prayer. It can range from a specific bodily posture to the basic life functions, such as breathing or the beating of the heart. The exercise of the “Jesus Prayer,” for example, which adapts itself to the natural rhythm of breathing can, at least for a certain time, be of real help to many people.33 On the other hand, the eastern masters themselves have also noted that not everyone is equally suited to making use of this symbolism, since not everybody is able to pass from the material sign to the spiritual reality that is being sought. Understood in an inadequate and incorrect way, the symbolism can even become an idol and thus an obstacle to the raising up of the spirit to God. To live out in one’s prayer the full awareness of one’s body as a symbol is even more difficult: it can degenerate into a cult of the body and can lead surreptitiously to considering all bodily sensations as spiritual experiences.

27. Christiana meditatio Orientis [32] magni fecit symbolismum psychophysicum, quo saepe caruit oratio in Occidente. Huiusmodi symbolismus potest proficisci a certo corporis habitu, usque ad fundamentales vivendi functiones, quales sunt respiratio et cordis pulsus. Exercitium « Domini Iesu orationis », exempli causa, quod aptatur rhythmo naturalis respirationis, potest, saltem ad tempus, opportunum auxilium afferre plerisque [33]. Ceteroqui, ipsi magistri orientales exploraverunt etiam non omnes esse aeque idoneos ad huiusmodi symbolismum adhibendum, quia non omnes valent a materiali signo ad spiritualem rem quaesitam transire. Quod si symbolismus inadaequate ac non recte intellegatur, idolum prorsus fieri periclitatur et ideo impedire elevationem Spiritus ad Deum. Vivere in ambitu orationis totam realitatem proprii corporis ut symboli admodum difficilius est, cum id in quendam corporis cultum possit degenerari, atque inducere ad omnes sensationes spiritualibus experientiis subrepticie adaequandas.

 

 

28. Some physical exercises automatically produce a feeling of quiet and relaxation, pleasing sensations, perhaps even phenomena of light and of warmth, which resemble spiritual well-being. To take such feelings for the authentic consolations of the Holy Spirit would be a totally erroneous way of conceiving the spiritual life. Giving them a symbolic significance typical of the mystical experience, when the moral condition of the person concerned does not correspond to such an experience, would represent a kind of mental schizophrenia which could also lead to psychic disturbance and, at times, to moral deviations.

28. Aliqua corporis exercitia ultro producunt quietis et tranquillitatis sensationes, gratificantes sensus, fortasse vel lucis et caloris phaenomena, spirituali felicitati similia. Quae accipere pro germanis Spiritus Sancti consolationibus, prorsus non rectus modus est iter spirituale concipiendi; pariter eisdem tribuere symbolicas significationes, experientiae mysticae peculiares, si moralis agendi ratio ipsi contradicat, quaedam mentalis schizophrenia est, quae psychicas secumfert perturbationes ac morales, interdum, gravissimos errores.

That does not mean that genuine practices of meditation which come from the Christian East and from the great non-Christian religions, which prove attractive to the man of today who is divided and disoriented, cannot constitute a suitable means of helping the person who prays to come before God with an interior peace, even in the midst of external pressures.

Quod tamen non impedit quominus meditationis germanae exercitationes, quae in Oriente Christiano sunt ortae et apud magnas religiones non Christianas sunt usitatae, quaeque alliciunt hominem nostrorum temporum tam alienatum ac turbatum, constituere possint aptum instrumentum ad orantem adiuvandum, ut ante Deum adstet interius relaxatus, etsi eum urgeant externae curae

It should, however, be remembered that habitual union with God, namely that attitude of interior vigilance and appeal to the divine assistance which in the New Testament is called “continuous prayer,”34 is not necessarily interrupted when one devotes oneself also, according to the will of God, to work and to the care of one’s neighbor. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God,” the Apostle tells us (1 Cor 10:31). In fact, genuine prayer, as the great spiritual masters teach, stirs up in the person who prays an ardent charity which moves him to collaborate in the mission of the Church and to serve his brothers for the greater glory of God.35

. Non est tamen obliviscendum habitualem coniunctionem cum Deo, vel habitum interioris vigilantiae et divinum auxilium invocandi, quae in libris Novi Testamenti appellatur « oratio continua » [34], non necessario cessare, si quis incumbat, iuxta Dei voluntatem, etiam ad operis et proximi curae officium, hortante Apostolo: « Sive ergo manducatis sive bibitis sive aliud quid facitis, omnia in gloriam Dei facite » (2 Cor 10, 31). Germana oratio enim, ad mentem praecipuorum rerum spiritualium magistrorum, in orantibus ardentem caritatem inducit, quae ipsos urget ad collaborandum cum Ecclesiae missione et ad fratres serviendos ad maiorem Dei gloriam [35].

 

 

 

 

 

 

    VII. “I am the Way”

VII. « EGO SUM VIA »

 

 

 

 

 

 

29. From the rich variety of Christian prayer as proposed by the Church, each member of the faithful should seek and find his own way, his own form of prayer. But all of these personal ways, in the end, flow into the way to the Father, which is how Jesus Christ has described himself. In the search for his own way, each person will, therefore, let himself be led not so much by his personal tastes as by the Holy Spirit, who guides him, through Christ, to the Father.

29. Omnis Christifidelis quaerere debet et invenire potest in varietate ac divitiis orationis christianae, quam Ecclesia docet, iter suumque orandi modum; sed huiusmodi viae personales confluunt, ad ultimum, in illam viam ad Patrem, quam Iesus Christus se esse proclamavit. In quaerenda sua via igitur unusquisque non tam suis se agitari permittet personalibus iudiciis, quam a Spiritu Sancto dirigi, qui per Christum eum ducit ad Patrem.

 

 

30. For the person who makes a serious effort there will, however, be moments in which he seems to be wandering in a desert and, in spite of all his efforts, he “feels” nothing of God. He should know that these trials are not spared anyone who takes prayer seriously. However, he should not immediately see this experience, common to all Christians who pray, as the “dark night” in the mystical sense. In any case in these moments, his prayer, which he will resolutely strive to keep to, could give him the impression of a certain “artificiality,” although really it is something totally different: in fact it is at that very moment an expression of his fidelity to God, in whose presence he wishes to remain even when he receives no subjective consolation in return.

30. Etiam personae actuose oranti non deerunt tempora, quibus sibi ipsi tamquam errans in deserto videbitur, nihil de Deo « sentiens », licet totis viribus nitatur. Noverit tamen huiusmodi tentationes nulli parcere personae, orationi serio deditae. Sed ipsa huiusmodi experientiam, omnibus communem Christianis orantibus, ne adaequaet illico « obscurae nocti » mysticae. Verum tunc oratio, quam firmiter tenere nitatur oportet, speciem fortasse inducet cuiusdam « artificiositatis », quamquam agitur reapse de re toto caelo diversa: etenim tunc exhibetur velut expressio fidelitatis eius erga Deum, ante cuius conspectum manere desiderat etiam cum nullam recipiat subiectivam consolationem.

In these apparently negative moments, it becomes clear what the person who is praying really seeks: is he indeed looking for God who, in his infinite freedom, always surpasses him; or is he only seeking himself, without managing to go beyond his own “experiences”, whether they be positive “experiences” of union with God or negative “experiences” of mystical “emptiness.”

In his momentis, quae specie tantum negativa videntur, id manifestum apparet, quod orans re quaerit vera: utrum scilicet quaerat Deum, qui semper eum superat in sua libertate infinita, an se ipsum solum, qui nequit suas « experientias » superare, sive quae videntur « experientiae » positivae coniunctionis cum Deo, sive quae videntur « experientiae » negativae mystici « vacui ».

 

 

31. The love of God, the sole object of Christian contemplation, is a reality which cannot be “mastered” by any method or technique. On the contrary, we must always have our sights fixed on Jesus Christ, in whom God’s love went to the cross for us and there assumed even the condition of estrangement from the Father (cf. Mk 13:34). We therefore should allow God to decide the way he wishes to have us participate in his love. But we can never, in any way, seek to place ourselves on the same level as the object of our contemplation, the free love of God; not even when, through the mercy of God the Father and the Holy Spirit sent into our hearts, we receive in Christ the gracious gift of a sensible reflection of that divine love and we feel drawn by the truth and beauty and goodness of the Lord.

31. Caritas Dei, quod obiectum est unicum Christianae contemplationis, manet talis realitas, qua « potiri » nulla methodus vel technica possit ratio; quin immo intenti oculi coniciendi sunt in Iesum Christum, in quo divina caritas propter nos pervenit usque ad crucem, adeo ut Ipse vel assumpserit condicionem derelicti a Patre (cfr. Mc 15, 34). Deo est ergo remittendus modus, quo Ipse participes nos effici statuit amoris sui. Attamen numquam, nullo modo, conandum est nos aequare obiecto contemplationis, libero amori scilicet Dei, ne tunc quidem cum, ex misericordia Dei Patris, per Spiritum Sanctum, qui missus est in corda nostra, nobis gratuito donetur in Christo sensibilis repercussus huius divini amoris et sentiamus nos esse quasi attractos veritate ac bonitate et pulchritudine Domini.

The more a creature is permitted to draw near to God, the greater his reverence before the thrice-holy God. One then understands those words of St. Augustine: “You can call me friend; I recognize myself a servant.”36 Or the words which are even more familiar to us, spoken by her who was rewarded with the highest degree of intimacy with God: “He has looked upon his servant in her lowliness” (Lk 1:48).

Quod magis datur cuidam creaturae, ut ad Dominum propinquet, eo magis crescit in ea reverentia ante Deum ter Sanctum. Intellegitur tum verbum S. Augustini: « Tu licet dicas amicum, ego confiteor servum » [36], vel illud familiarius verbum quod prompsit ex ore mulieris quam gratificatus est ipse Deus summa sua ac intima familiaritate: « Respexit humilitatem ancillae suae » (Lc 1, 48).

 

 

The Supreme Pontiff, John Paul II, in an audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, gave his approval to this letter, drawn up in a plenary session of this Congregation, and ordered its publication.

Hanc Epistulam in Conventu Plenario huius Congregationis deliberatam, Summus Pontifex PP. Ioannes Paulus II, in Audientia infrascripto Cardinali Praefecto concessa, adprobavit et publici iuris fieri iussit.

At Rome, from the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, October 15, 1989, the Feast of Saint Teresa of Jesus.

 Romae, ex Aedibus Congregationis pro Doctrina Fidei, die 15 octobris 1989, in festo Sanctae Teresiae a Iesu.

 

 

Joseph Card. Ratzinger
Prefect

IOSEPH Card. RATZINGER 
Praefectus

 Alberto Bovone
Titular Archbishop of Caesarea in Numidia
Secretary

ALBERTUS BOVONE 
Archiep. tit. Cesarien. in Numidia Secretarius

 

 

Endnotes

Notae

AAS 82 (1990) 362-379.

* AAS 82 (1990), pp. 362-379.

1. The expression “eastern methods” is used to refer to methods which are inspired by Hinduism and Buddhism, such as “Zen,” “Transcendental Meditation” or “Yoga.” Thus it indicates methods of meditation of the non-Christian Far East which today are not infrequently adopted by some Christians also in their meditation. The orientation of the principles and methods contained in this present document is intended to serve as a reference point not just for this problem, but also, in a more general way, for the different forms of prayer practiced nowadays in ecclesial organizations, particularly in associations, movements and groups.

[1] . « Methodi orientales » appellantur rationes ac viae quae ex Hinduismo et Buddhismo oriuntur, uti sunt Zen, vel « Meditatio transcendentalis », quae vocatur, vel « Yoga ». Agitur ergo de meditationis methodis non christianis, procedentibus ab Extremo Oriente, quae non raro nostra aetate usurpantur quoque a nonnullis Christianis ad meditandum. Normae sive doctrinales sive methodologicae, quae hic proponuntur, vim habent non solum relate ad hanc quaestionem sed etiam, magis in genere, ad varias orationis formas, quae temporibus nostris usurpantur ab ecclesialibus realitatibus, praesertim a Consociationibus, Motibus et Coetibus.

2. Regarding the Book of Psalms in the prayer of the Church, cf. Institutio generalis de Liturgia Horarum, nn. 100-109.

[2] . De usurpatione Psalmorum in Ecclesiae oratione, cfr. Institutio generalis de Liturgia Horarum, nn. 100-109.

3. Cf. for example, Ex 15; Deut 32; 1 Sam 2; 2 Sam 22 and some prophetic texts, 1 Chron 16.

[3] . Cfr. ex. gr. Ex 15, Dt 32, 1 Sam 2, 2 Sam 22, aliquot textus Prophetarum, 1 Chr 16.

4. Dogm. Const. Dei Verbum, n. 2. This document offers other substantial indications for a theological and spiritual understanding of Christian prayer; see also, for example, nn. 3, 5, 8, 21.

[4] . Const. dogm. Dei Verbum n. 2. Ibidem extant aliae graves sententiae ad christianam orationem intelligendam ratione theologica et spirituali; cfr. ex. gr. nn. 3, 5, 8, 21.

5. Dogm. Const. Dei Verbum, n. 25.

[5] . Const. dogm. Dei Verbum n. 25.

6. Regarding the prayer of Jesus, see Institutio generalis de Liturgia Horarum, nn. 3-4.

[6] . De Domini Iesu oratione cfr. Institutio generalis de Liturgia Horarum, nn. 3-4.

7. Cf. Institutio generalis de Liturgia Horarum, n. 9.

[7] . Cfr. Institutio generalis de Liturgia Horarum, n. 9.

8. Pseudognosticism considered matter as something impure and degraded which enveloped the soul in an ignorance from which prayer had to free it, thereby raising it to true superior knowledge and so to a pure state. Of course not everyone was capable of this, only those who were truly spiritual; for simple believers, faith and the observance of the commandments of Christ were sufficient.

[8] . Pseudognosis materiam habebat tamquam rem immundam ac depravatam, animam ignorantia involventem, a qua liberanda valitura esset oratio, ut ad veram ac superiorem scientiam extolleret adque puritatem. Verum non omnes talem facultatem habebant, sed tantum homines vere spirituales, cum reliquis fidelibus fides et Christi praeceptorum observantia sufficerent.

9. The Messalians were already denounced by St. Ephraim Syrus (Hymni contra Haereses 22, 4, ed. E. Beck, CSCO 169, 1957, p. 79) and later, among others, by Epiphanius of Salamina (Panarion, also called Adversus Haereses: PG 41, 156-1200; PG 42, 9-832), and Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium (Contra haereticos: G. Ficker, Amphilochiana I, Leipzig 1906, 21-77).

[9] . Messaliani primum a S. EFREM SYRO (Hymni contra Haereses 22, 4, ed. E. Beck, CSCO 169, 1957, p. 79) repudiati sunt et postea, inter caeteros, ab EPIPHANIO CONSTANTIENSI (Panarion seu Adversus HaeresesPG 41, 156-1200; PG 42, 9-832) et ab AMPHILOCHIO ICONIENSI (Contra Haereticos: G. Ficker, Amphilochiana 1, Leipzig 1906, 21-77).

10. Cf., for example, St. John of the Cross, Subida del Monte Carmelo, II, chap. 7. 11.

[10] . Cfr. ex. gr. S. IOANNES A CRUCE, Subida del Monte Carmelo, 2, c. 7, 11.

11. In the Middle Ages there existed extreme trends on the fringe of the Church. These were described not without irony, by one of the great Christian contemplatives, the Flemish Jan van Ruysbroek. He distinguished three types of deviations in the mystical life (Die gheestelike Brulocht228, 12-230, 17; 230, 18-32, 22; 232, 23-236, 6) and made a general critique of these forms (236, 7-237, 29). Similar techniques were subsequently identified and dismissed by St. Teresa of Avila who perceptively observed that “the very care taken not to think about anything will arouse the mind to think a great deal,” and that the separation of the mystery of Christ from Christian meditation is always a form of “betrayal” (see: St. Teresa of Jesus, Vida 12, 5 and 22, 1-5).

[11] . Aetate quae dicitur Media in margine Ecclesiae vigebant quidam molitores extremarum rerum, quorum opiniones exponuntur, non sine ironia, a doctissimo viro Flandrico Ioanne de Ruysbroek, qui inter maiores recensetur viros Christianos contemplationi deditos. Qui, ad vitam mysticam quod attinet, tres enumerat erroris formas (Die gheestelike Brulocbt 228, 12-230, 17; 230, 18-232, 22; 232, 23-236, 6) quibus etiam in universum contradicit (236, 7-237, 29). Non dissimiles technicae formae postea agnitae ac reiectae sunt a S. Teresia a Iesu, sagaciter animadvertente « curam ipsam, quae impenditur ad nihil cogitandum, intellectum excitare ad nimis cogitandum », atque Christi mysterium deserere in Christiana meditatione quamdam speciem « proditionis » constituere (cfr. S. TERESIA A IESU, Vida 12, 5 et 22, 1-5).

12. Pope John Paul II has pointed out to the whole Church the example and the doctrine of St. Teresa of Avila who in her life had to reject the temptation of certain methods which proposed a leaving aside of the humanity of Christ in favor of a vague self-immersion in the abyss of the divinity. In a homily given on November 1st, 1982, he said that the call of Teresa of Jesus advocating a prayer completely centered on Christ “is valid, even in our day, against some methods of prayer which are not inspired by the Gospel and which in practice tend to set Christ aside in preference for a mental void which makes no sense in Christianity. Any method of prayer is valid insofar as it is inspired by Christ and leads to Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life (cf. Jn 14:6).” See:Homilia Abulae habita in honorem Sanctae TeresiaeAAS 75 (1983), 256-257.

[12] . Universae proponens Ecclesiae vitam ac doctrinam Sanctae Teresiae, quae temporibus suis tentationi restitit adhibendi certas methodos, suadentes ut Christi humanitas omitteretur, pro indefinita immersione in divinitatis abyssum, Summus Pontifex Ioannes Paulus II, in homilia die I mensis novembris a. 1982 habita, affirmavit eius clamorem ad fovendam orationem, in Christo ex toto collineatam, « etiam temporibus nostris valere contra quasdam orationis methodos quae Evangelio minime innituntur, re autem vera ad Christum omittendum tendunt, pro mentis inane, quod in Christiana religione nihil valet; orationis autem quamque methodum valere si a Christo oriatur ad ipsumque ducat, qui est Via, Veritas et Vita (Io 14, 6) ». Cfr. Homilia Abulae habita in honorem Sanctae Teresiae, AAS 75, [1983] 256-257.

13. See, for example, The Cloud of Unknowing, a spiritual work by an anonymous English writer of the fourteenth century.

[13] . Cfr. ex. gr. Nubes non-scientiae, opus spirituale anonymi cuiusdam Anglici auctoris saec. XIV.

14. In Buddhist religious texts, the concept of “Nirvana” is understood as a state of quiet consisting in the extinction of every tangible reality insofar as it is transient, and as such delusive and sorrowful.

[14] . « Nirvana » in religiosis Buddhismi textibus intelligitur status quietis, consistens in exstinctione cunctae rei concretae, qua transeuntis, et ideo deludentis atque acerbae.

15. Meister Eckhart speaks of an immersion “in the indeterminate abyss of the divinity” which is a “darkness in which the light of the Trinity never shines.” Cf. Sermo “Ave Gratia Plena” in fine (J. Quint, Deutsche Predigten und Traktate, Hanser 1955, 261).

[15] . Doctus vir Magister Eccardus loquitur de immersione « in indeterminatam Divinitatis abyssum », quae sunt « tenebrae in quibus Trinitatis lux nunquam refulsit ». Cfr. Sermo « Ave gratia plena »in fine (J. Quint, Deutsche Predigten und Traktate, Hanser 1955, 261).

16. Cf. Past. Const. Gaudium et spes, n. 19, 1: “The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. The invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.”

[16] . Cfr. Const. Past. Gaudium et spes, n. 19, 1: « Dignitatis humanae eximia ratio in vocatione hominis ad communionem cum Deo consistit. Ad colloquium cum Deo iam inde ab ortu suo invitatur homo: non enim existit, nisi quia, a Deo ex amore creatus, semper ex amore conservatur; nec plene secundum veritatem vivit, nisi amorem illum libere agnoscat et Creatori suo se committat ».

17. As St. Thomas writes of the Eucharist: “… proprius effectus huius sacramenti est conversio hominis in Christum, ut dicat cum Apostolo: ‘Vivo ego, iam non ego; vivit vero in me Christus’ (Gal 2:20)” (In IV Sent., d. 12, q. 2, a. 1).

[17] . Cfr. verba Divi Thomae de eucharistia: « ... proprius effectus huius sacramenti est conversio hominis in Christum, ut dicat cum Apostolo: Vivo ego, iam non ego; vivit vero in me Christus (Gal2, 20) » (In IV Sent., d. 12 q. 2 a. 1).

18. Decl. Nostra aetate, n. 2.

[18] . Decl. Nostra aetate, n. 2.

19. St. Ignatius of Loyola, Ejercicios espirituales, n. 23 et passim.

[19] . S. IGNATIUS A LOYOLA, Ejercicios espirituales, n. 23 et passim.

20. Cf. Col 3:5; Rom 6:11ff.; Gal 5:24.

[20] . Cfr. Col 3, 5; Rom 6, 11 ss.; Gal 5, 24.

21. St. Augustine. Enarrationes in Psalmos XLI, 8: PL 36, 469.

[21]. S. AUGUSTINUS, Enarrationes in Psalmos, XLI, 8: PL 36, 469.

22. St. Augustine, Confessiones 3, 6, 11: PL 32, 688. Cf. De vera Religione 39, 72: PL 34, 154.

[22]. S. AUGUSTINUS, Confessiones 3, 6, 11: PL 32, 688. Cfr. De vera Religione, 39, 72: PL34, 154.

23. The positive Christian sense of the “emptying” of creatures stands out in an exemplary way in St. Francis of Assisi. Precisely because he renounced creatures for love of God, he saw all things as being filled with his presence and resplendent in their dignity as God’s creatures, and the secret hymn of their being is intoned by him in his Cantico delle Creature. Cf. C. Esser, Opuscula Sancti Patris Francisci Assisiensis, Ed. Ad Claras Aquas, Grottaferrata (Roma) 1978, pp. 83-86. In the same way he writes in the Lettera a tutti i fedeli: “Let every creature in heaven and on earth and in the sea and in the depth of the abyss (Rev 5: 13) give praise, glory and honor and blessing to God, for he is our life and our strength. He who alone is good (Lk 18: 19), who alone is the most high, who alone is omnipotent and admirable, glorious and holy, worthy of praise and blessed for infinite ages of ages. Amen” (ibidOpuscula… 124).

[23]. Splendidum exemplar Christiani ac positivi sensus « evacuationis » a creaturis elucet in S. Francisco, Pauperculo Assisiensi. Qui, cum abrenuntiaverit creaturis propter amorem Domini, propterea eas plenas eius praesentiae et fulgentes in dignitate sua, qua Dei creaturas, contemplatur, tacitosque earundem modos orditur in Cantico creaturarum (cfr. C. Esser, Opuscula Sancti Patris Francisci Assisiensis, Ed. Ad Claras Acquas Grottaferrata - Roma, 1978, pp. 83-86). Eadem ratione perscribit in « Epistola ad fideles »: « Omnis creatura, quae est in caelis, in terra, in mari et in abyssis (Ap 5, 13) reddat laudem Deo, gloriam, honorem et benedictionem, quia ipse est vita et fortitudo nostra, qui est solus bonus (Lc 18, 19), solus altissimus, solus omnipotens, admirabilis, gloriosus et solus sanctus, laudabilis et benedictus per infinita saecula saeculorum. Amen » (ib.Opuscula…, p. 124).

St. Bonaventure shows how in every creature Francis perceived the call of God and poured out his soul in the great hymn of thanksgiving and praise (cf. Legenda S Francisci, chap. 9, n. 1, in Opera Omnia, ed. Quaracchi 1898, Vol. VIII, p. 530).

S. Bonaventura inducit Franciscum in omni creatura audientem Dei vocem et effundentem animam suam in hymno immortali gratitudinis et laudis (cfr. Legenda S. Francisci, cap. 9, n. 1, in Opera Omnia, ed. Quaracchi 1898, vol. VIII, p. 530).

24. See, for example, St. Justin, Apologia I, 61, 12-13: PG 6, 420- 421; Clement of Alexandria,Paedagogus I, 6, 25-31: PG 8, 281- 284; St. Basil of Caesarea, Homiliae diversae 13, 1: PG 31, 424- 425; St. Gregory Nazianzen, Orationes 40, 3, 1: PG 36, 361.

[24]. Cfr. ex. gr. S. IUSTINUS, Apologia I, 61, 12-13: PG 6, 420-421; CLEMENS ALEXANDRINUS, Paedagogus I, 6, 25-31: PG 8, 281-284; S. BASILIUS CAESARIENSIS,Homiliae diversae, 13, 1: PG 31, 424-425; S. GREGORIUS NAZIANZENUS, Orationes, 40, 3,1: PG 36, 361.

25. Dogm. Const. Dei Verbum, n. 8.

[25]. Const. dogm. Dei Verbum, n. 8.

26. The Eucharist, which the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium defines as “the source and summit of the Christian life” (LG 11), makes us “really share in the body of the Lord”; in it “we are taken up into communion with him” (LG 7).

[26]. Eucharistia, quae definitur in Constitutione dogmatica Lumen gentium « totius vitae Christianae fons et culmen » (n. 11), realiter participes nos efficit Dominici corporis, in eaque « ad communionem cum Eo elevamur » (n. 7).

27. Cf. St. Teresa of Jesus, Castillo Interior IV, 1, 2.

[27]. Cfr. S. TERESIA A IESU, Castillo Interior IV, 1, 2.

28. No one who prays, unless he receives a special grace, covets an overall vision of the revelations of God, such as St. Gregory recognized in St. Benedict. or that mystical impulse with which St. Francis of Assisi would contemplate God in all his creatures, or an equally global vision, such as that given to St. Ignatius at the River Cardoner and of which he said that for him it could have taken the place of Sacred Scripture. The “dark night” described by St. John of the Cross is part of his personal charism of prayer. Not every member of his order needs to experience it in the same way so as to reach that perfection of prayer to which God has called him.

[28]. Nullus homo orans, absque speciali gratia, postulare debet totalem illam Dei revelationis visionem, qualem S. Gregorius Magnus habuisse S. Benedictum testatur, vel illum mysticum impetum Francisci Assisiensis, Deum contemplantis in cunctis creaturis, vel visionem aeque totalem, quam habuit S. Ignatius apud flumen Cardoner, de qua ipse testatur sibi Sacrae Scripturae locum profecto usurpare eam potuisse. « Nox obscura », quam declarat S. Ioannes a Cruce, pars est personalis eius orationis charismatis, eamque sodalis quisque eiusdem ordinis non necessario experiri eodem modo debet ad eam adipiscendam orationis perfectionem, ad quam vocatur a Deo.

29. The Christian’s call to “mystical” experiences can include both what St. Thomas classified as a living experience of God via the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the inimitable forms (and for that reason forms to which one ought not to aspire) of the granting of grace. Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Ia-IIae, q. 68, a. 1 c, as well as a. 5, ad 1.

[29]. Christifidelis vocatio ad « mysticas » experientias includere potest tum id quod S. Thomas denotat ut experientiam vivam Dei per Spiritus dona, tum formas non imitabiles (et ideo non exposcendas) gratiae donationis. Cfr. S. THOMAS DE AQUINO, Summa Theologiae, IIIae, q. 68, a. 1 c, et a. 5 ad 1.

30. See, for example, the early writers, who speak of the postures taken up by Christians while at prayer: Tertullian, De Oratione XIV: PL 1, 1170; XVII: PL 1, 1174-1176; Origen, De OrationeXXXI, 2: PG 11, 550-553, and of the meaning of such gestures: Barnabas, Epistula XII, 2-4: PG 2, 760-761; St. Justin, Dialogus 90, 4-5: PG 6, 689-692; St. Hippolytus of Rome,Commentarium in Dan. III, 24: GCS I, 168, 8-17; Origen, Homiliae in Ex. XI, 4: PG 12, 377-378. For the position of the body see also, Origen, De Oratione, XXXI, 3: PG 11, 553-555.

[30]. Conferantur ex. gr. antiqui scriptores, qui de orantis habitu corporis pertractant, a Christianis orantibus adhibito: TERTULLIANUS, De oratione XIV: PL 1, 1170; XVII: PL 1, 1174-1176; ORIGENES, De oratione XXXI, 2: PG 11, 550-553, necnon de significatione huiusmodi habitus: BARNABAS, Epistula XII, 2-4: PG 2, 760-761; S. IUSTINUS, Dialogus 90, 4-5: PG 6, 689-692; S. HIPPOLYTUS ROMANUS, Commentarium in Dan. III, 24: GCS I, 168, 8-17; ORIGENES, Homiliae in Ex. XI, 4: PG 12, 377-378. De corporis positione conferatur etiam ORIGENES, De oratione XXXI, 3: PG 11, 553-555.

31. Cf. St. Ignatius of Loyola, Ejercicios Espirituales, n. 76.

[31]. Cfr. S. IGNATIUS A LOYOLA, Ejercicios espirituales, n. 76.

32. Such as, for example, that of the Hesychast anchorites. Hesychia or external and internal quiet is regarded by the anchorites as a condition of prayer. In its oriental form it is characterized by solitude and techniques of recollection.

[32]. Cfr. ex. gr. anachoretae hesychasti. Hesychia, seu quies exterior et interior, tamquam orationis conditio ab anachoretis habetur; in sua forma orientali notas habet solitudinis ac technicae rationis ad animum colligendum.

33. The practice of the “Jesus Prayer,” which consists of repeating the formula, rich in biblical references, of invocation and supplication (e.g., “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”), is adapted to the natural rhythm of breathing. In this regard, see St. Ignatius of Loyola,Ejercicios Espirituales, n. 258.

[33]. Exercitium « Domini Iesu orationis », quod consistit in iteranda formula, plurimis referta biblicis et invocationis et obsecrationis indicationibus (ex. gr. « Domine Iesu Christe, Fili Dei, miserere mei »), valde accomodatur rhythmo respirationis naturalis. De qua re cfr. S. IGNATIUS A LOYOLA,Ejercicios espirituales, n. 258.

34. Cf. 1 Thess 5: 17, also 2 Thess 3: 8-12. From these and other texts there arises the question of how to reconcile the duty to pray continually with that of working. See, among others, St. Augustine, “Epistula” 130, 20: PL 33, 501-502 and St. John Cassian, De Institutis coenobiorumIII, 1-3: SC 109, 92-93. Also, the Demonstration of Prayer by Aphraat, the first father of the Syriac Church, and in particular nn. 14-15, which deal with the so-called “works of Prayer” (cf. the edition of J. Parisot, Afraatis Sapientis Persae Demonstrationes IV: PS 1, pp. 170-174).

[34]. Cfr. 1 Th 5, 17 et 2 Th 3, 8-12. Ex huiusmodi textibus oritur quaestio: quomodo orationis continuae officium conciliari potest cum operis officio. Cfr. inter ceteros S. AUGUSTINUS,Epistula 130, 20: PL 33, 501-502, et S. IOANNES CASSIANUS, De institutis coenobiorumIII, 1-3: SC 109, 92-93. Conferatur etiam Orationis demonstratio primi Syriacae Ecclesiae patris Afraatis, praesertim nn. 14-15, pertractantes de « Orationis operibus », ut vocantur (cfr. J. Parisot,Afraatis Sapientis Persae Demonstrationes, IV: PS I, 170-174).

35. Cf. St. Teresa of Jesus, Castillo Interior VII, 4, 6.

[35]. Cfr. S. TERESIA A IESU, Castillo interior VII, 4, 6.

36. St. Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos CXLII, 6: PL 37, 1849. Also see: St. Augustine,Tract. in Ioh. IV, 9: PL 35, 1410: “Quando autem nec ad hoc dignum se dicit, vere plenus Spiritu Sancto erat, qui sic servus Dominum agnovit, et ex servo amicus fieri meruit.”

[36]. S. AUGUSTINUS, Enarrationes in Psalmos CXLII, 6: PL 37, 1849: cfr. etiam Tract. in Ioh. IV, 9: PL 35, 1410: « Quando autem nec ad hoc dignum se dicit, vere plenus Spiritu Sancto erat, qui sic servus Dominum agnovit, et ex servo amicus fieri meruit ».

   

 

 


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