Concerning the plurality of Persons within the unity of nature, true faith bids us believe that, in the one nature, there are three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The First does not originate from any of the others; the Second originates from the First alone through generation; and the Third, from both the First and the Second through spiration or procession. And yet, Trinity of Persons does not exclude from the divine essence a supreme unity, simplicity, immensity, eternity, immutability, necessity, or even primacy; more, it includes supreme fecundity, love, generosity, equality, kinship, likeness, and inseparability; all of which sound faith understands to exist in the blessed Trinity.
Saint Bonaventure, Breviloquium (trans. José De Vinck; vol. 2; The Works of Bonaventure: Cardinal Seraphic Doctor and Saint; Paterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild Press, 1963), 35.
This godly Saint also declared Theology the only perfect science,
And so theology is the only perfect science, for it begins at the beginning, which is the first Principle, and proceeds to the end, which is the final wages paid; it begins with the summit, which is God most high, the Creator of all, and reaches even to the abyss, which is the torment of hell.
I can allow that if we understand that science of the physical world is imperfect not to its detriment but because we are human, ever seeking, ever curious, and not always knowing.
Saint Catherine of Siena. From chiesa di Santa Maria del Rosario in Prati, Roma (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This Word played life against death and death against life in tournament on the wood of the most holy cross so that by his death he destroyed our death, and to give us life he spent his own bodily life. With love, then, he has so drawn us and with the kindness so conquered our malice that every heart should be won over. For a person can shown no greater love (he said so himself) than to give his or her life for a friend. And if he praises the love that gives one’s life for a friend, what shall we say of the consummate blazing love that gave his life for his enemy? For through sin we had become God’s enemies. Oh, gentle loving Word, with love you recovered your little sheep, and with love gave them life. You brought them back to the fold by restoring to them the grace they had lost.” – Catherine of Siena, What Drew Matthew to Jesus
The imagery is more Justin than Anselm, which is why I like it.
If only… someone… could bring us John… to us Protestants….
The principal reason why the Old Law permitted us to ask questions of God, and why prophets and priests had to seek visions and revelations of God, was because at that time faith had no firm foundation and the law of the Gospel was not yet established; and thus it was necessary that men should enquire of God and that he should speak, whether by words or by visions and revelations or whether by figures and images or by many other ways of expressing His meaning. For all that he answered and revealed belonged to the mysteries of our faith and things touching it or leading to it.
But now that the faith is founded in Christ, now that in this era of grace the law of the Gospel has been made manifest, there is no reason to enquire of God in that manner nor for him to speak to us or answer us as he did then. For, in giving us, as he did, his Son, who is his one and only Word, he spoke to us once and for all, in this single Word, and he has no occasion to speak further.
And this is the meaning of that passage with which the Letter to the Hebrews begins, trying to persuade the Hebrews that they should abandon those first ways of dealing and communicating with God which are in the law of Moses, and should set their eyes on Christ alone: At various times in the past and in various different ways, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our own time, in the last days, he has spoken to us through his Son. That is, God has said so much about so many things through his Word that nothing more is needed, since that which he revealed partially in the past through the prophets, he has now revealed completely by giving us the All, which is his Son.
Therefore if someone were now to ask questions of God or seek any vision or revelation, he would not only be acting foolishly but would be committing an offence against God – for he should set his eyes altogether upon Christ and seek nothing beyond Christ.
God might answer him after this manner, saying: This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; listen to him. I have spoken all things to you in my Word. Set your eyes on him alone, for in him I have spoken and revealed to thee all things, and in him you shall find more than you ask for, even more than you want.
I descended upon him with my Spirit on Mount Tabor and said This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; listen to him. You have no reason to ask for new teaching or new answers from me because if I spoke to you in the past then it was to promise Christ. If people asked questions of me in the past then their questions were really a desire of Christ and a hope for his coming. For in him they were to find all good things, as has now been revealed in the teaching of the Evangelists and the Apostles. (here)
There is a deep need among many Evangelicals today to absolve themselves of a less-substantive religion and investigate something more profound. There is a longing for something more spiritual, mystical and overpowering. We see this manifested as more and more Evangelicals leave the fold for Rome, the East, or elsewhere. In a new book edited by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel we find something of a start in attempting to provide something filling for the spiritually hungry Evangelical.
The editors have assembled an impressive list of contributors, with themselves taking the opportunity to write only the introduction. Contributors include Fred Sanders (The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything); James R. Payton, Jr. (Getting the Reformation Wrong); and Timothy George (Dean of Beeson Divinity School; Theology of the Reformers). The impressive intellectual might assembled herein to argue for the value of ancient Christian classics is enough to convince even hardened skeptics.
The book is divided into four parts. Part 1, Approaching the Spiritual Classics, begins with a theological argument put forth by Steve L. Porter for the allowance to read something other than Scripture. As one who has ingested the spiritual classics for several years, much of this argument was surprising to me, but nevertheless it was an argument will founded in Scripture and provide insight I had not previously considered. Closing out this three chapter section is Betsy Barber who writes on the value of the classics in soul care, a common theme in the book. She argues for the use of the classics in spiritual formation and discipleship, but only in a graduated sense. Barber provides as powerful a theological argument for the Evangelical use of the classics as Porter.
Part 2 provides a general overview of the tradition of the classics, focusing on the different schools of thought (do not confuse the Carmelites with the Benedictines!), their theology, and how to engage them. I find it odd John Wesley is listed throughout the book (noticeably on p77) with Catholic and Orthodox schools as if he was somehow not a part of Protestantism, although he would consider himself an Evangelical. But, this should be a warning to those who read the book — names, opinions, and points of view of others change over time.
Change is what Greg Peters seems to assign as the origin of spirituality. He opens his essay with a short history of the genesis of the movement, citing the conversion of Constantine as a marked change in how Christians approached spirituality. Why? Because after Constantine’s conversion (which is hardly a conversion), the Church “began emerging from an extended period of persecution.” According to Peters, this nixed the many opportunities of martyrdom Christians could avail themselves (80). Thus, they had to find a new way to be Christian. This is, at least, Peters’ thesis and one which I heartily disagree with. Spirituality is not the new martyrdom, but something long found in Christianity (and other religions of the time) with little or nothing to do with the lack of opportunities of martyrdom. I do not mean to imply his essay is one that shouldn’t be read, because it does encapsulates the beauty of the Christian spiritual classics and their use in pedagogy.
Part 3 concerns itself with reading the classics as Evangelicals. James Payton provides us with an exceptionally beautiful account of Orthodox Spirituality. He, in a few words, takes his experience and knowledge of the Greek Church and with a certain aesthetic profundity delivers a warm invitation to explore the East. Payton draws us into Orthodox spirituality noting it takes more than a casual glance to understand and grasp the fullness of the East. Oddly enough — and if nothing else, this is extremely important — Payton’s remarks about the East’s view on orthodoxy v. -praxy is something we must first understand before we can assess the East. We in the West know our doctrines, Payton tells us, while those in the East live their doctrines. This is why Payton can write of Orthodox spirituality without the warnings accompanying Catholic spirituality Demarest felt we needed in the previous chapter. Instead, he explains some basic precepts of Orthodoxy and why it as an ecumenical body holds to such tenants. He is able to then invest some credit in recommending Orthodox spirituality.
The final chapter provides a more of a what-to-read framework for each of the areas of Church History. Each author provides basic details of the time, a hermeneutical framework, short biographies of the major writers, and how such writings can be useful for the Church today.
Will this book provide a panacea for the lack of deep spirituality among Evangelicals? Hardly, but it does write the prescription. The editors and contributors provide a sustained regime for reading the spiritual classics in order to develop our soul. Except for one essay, I believe these contributors have made a concerted effort to be fair and accommodating to differences in doctrines without sacrificing the heart of modern Evangelicalism. Not only should this appeal to Protestants, but it must appeal to Catholics who have forgotten the richness of spiritual formation found in their ancient tradition. We are not simply talking about discipleship (or church care, usually summed up as: witness, tithe, attend) but about spiritual formation. This is about reaching the inner person to bring them closer to God and building from the inside out a Christian. By taking to heart and head what these essayists write, the modern Evangelical will find a new world awaiting them, a world with a deeper connection to God than they have known before.
If you could perceive the splendor and magnitude of this flame sent down from heaven, the refreshing breeze that came down with it, the consolation it poured forth; if you could understand the loftiness of Mary’s elevation, the glorification of humanity, the condescension of divine Majesty; if you could hear the Virgin singing her delight; if you could accompany her into the hill country and witness how the woman who had been barren embraced her and greeted her with words by which the tiny servant recognized his Lord, the herald announced the Judge, the voice proclaimed the Word—oh, surely then, together with the Blessed Virgin,* you would most sweetly sing this holy canticle: “My soul magnifies the Lord …”; surely, then, together with the infant prophet, you would joyfully and jubilantly adore the marvel of the virgin conception.
Saint Bonaventure, Mystical Opuscula (trans. José De Vinck; The Works of Bonaventure: Cardinal Seraphic Doctor and Saint; Paterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild Press, 1960), 105–106.
Therefore the Gnostic prays in thought during every hour, being by love allied to God. And first he will ask forgiveness of sins; and after, that he may sin no more; and further, the power of well-doing and of comprehending the whole creation and administration by the Lord, that, becoming pure in heart through the knowledge, which is by the Son of God, he may be initiated into the beatific vision face to face, having heard the Scripture which says, “Fasting with prayer is a good thing.”[1. Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, or Miscellanies, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume II: Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire) (ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe; Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 503.]
I am currently examining the beatific vision in Revelation 4 — you know, the necessary follow-up to penance and the eucharist (chapters 2 and 3).
I have long struggled with Clement of Alexandria because of his mention of Gnostic Christians. Rodney has been helpful in this regard. After careful study, it seems for him, Gnostic means nothing more than how we might properly use mystic (Julian of Norwich and not John Crowder).
So, when I place this quote into my book, I will change the word gnostic to mystic.
Drawn to a life of prayer from an early age, Anne Catherine Emmerich longed to be part of a convent, but she was repeatedly rejected because of her inability to provide a dowry. Persisting in the pursuit of her faith, she was finally allowed to take religious vows in at the convent of Agnetenberg in Dülmen at age 28. Her time as an Augustinian nun proved to fit her well, and she latched onto the disciplines of the faith. Prone to ill health, spiritual ecstasies, and stigmata, Emmerich was bedridden for a good part of her later life, but reported to have a supernatural awareness of the illnesses of others and the ability to prescribe cures. Her incredible devotion to and zeal for God earned Emmerich beatification in 2004, and the records of her visions and revelations continue to encourage and enlighten believers.
“He was not tall, but short, marvelously beautiful, with a face which shone as though he were one of the highest of the angels, who seem to be all of fire: they must be those whom we call Seraphim…. I saw in his hands a long golden spear, and at the point of the iron there seemed to be a little fire. This I thought that he thrust several times into my heart, and that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew out the spear he seemed to be drawing them with it, leaving me all on fire with a wondrous love for God. The pain was so great that it caused me to utter several moans; and yet so exceeding sweet is this greatest of pains that it is impossible to desire to be rid of it, or for the soul to be content with less than God.” - The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (Peers, 197)
Make then your forecasts, my lords Astrologers, with your slavish physicians, by means of those astrolabes with which you seek to discern the fantastic nine moving spheres; in these you finally imprison your own minds, so that you appear to me but as parrots in a cage, while I watch you dancing up and down, turning and hopping within those circles. We know that the Supreme Ruler cannot have a seat so narrow, so miserable a throne, so trivial, so scanty a court, so small and feeble a simulacrum that phantasm can bring to birth, a dream shatter, a delusion restore, a calamity diminish, a misdeed abolish and a thought renew it again, so that indeed with a puff of air it were brimful and with a single gulp it were emptied. On the contrary we recognize a noble image, a marvellous conception, a supreme figure, an exalted shadow, an infinite representation of the represented infinity, a spectacle worthy of the excellence and supremacy of Him who transcendeth understanding, comprehension or grasp. Thus is the excellence of God magnified and the greatness of his kingdom made manifest; He is glorified not in one, but in countless suns; not in a single earth, a single world, but in a thousand thousand, I say in an infinity of worlds. (On the Infinite Universe and Worlds (1584))
Bruno, before he was executed, saw a universe teeming with life, each with Edens, Adams, and Eves. He was pretty good about the other stuff, but this has not borne fruit as of yet.
It is my opinion, that the mystics (philosophers, quantum physicists, mystics) can pear deep into the universe. Don’t want to frighten you, but…
And therefore take good heed unto time, how that thou dispendest it: for nothing is more precious than time. In one little time, as little as it is, may heaven be won and lost. A token it is that time is precious: for God, that is given of time, giveth never two times together, but each one after other. And this He doth, for He will not reverse the order or the ordinal course in the cause of His creation. For time is made for man, and not man for time. And therefore God, that is the ruler of nature, will not in His giving of time go before the stirring of nature in man’s soul; the which is even according to one time only. So that man shall have none excusation against God in the Doom, and at the giving of account of dispending of time, saying, “Thou givest two times at once, and I have but one stirring at once.”
But sorrowfully thou sayest now, “How shall I do? and sith this is thus that thou sayest, how shall I give account of each time severally; I that have unto this day, now of four and twenty years age, never took heed of time? If I would now amend it, thou wottest well, by very reason of thy words written before, it may not be after the course of nature, nor of common grace, that I should now heed or else make satisfaction, for any more times than for those that be for to come. Yea, and moreover well I wot by very proof, that of those that be to come I shall on no wise, for abundance of frailty and slowness of spirits, be able to observe one of an hundred. So that I am verily concluded in these reasons. Help me now for the love of JESUS!”