Archive for September, 2011


The Trinity by Fr. Robert Barron

September 30, 2011

St. Augustine

I have written elsewhere that Fr. Barron is a treasure of the Catholic Church and he once again shows his worth in the following exposition on the nature of the Holy Trinity. Read and enjoy! It’s a couple pages from his latest book Catholicism  based on his DVD set of the same name.

Thus far almost everything I have said about God could be echoed by a faithful Jew or Muslim, believers in the one God. So what is it, precisely, that makes the Christian doctrine of God distinctive? The answer is given every time we make the sign of the cross and invoke the three divine persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are signaling that God is one, but not monolithically so; rather in his unity he is a communion, a family of love.

Where does this doctrine come from? As is always the case with Christian teaching, we have to go back to Jesus. Jesus consistently referred to himself as one who had been sent by the Father; and in this regard he would seem little different from, say, Abraham or Moses or Isaiah. But as we have seen in the first chapter, there is something that sets Jesus apart from those figures, namely, that he spoke and acted in the very person of God. Therefore Jesus was sent by another whom he acknowledged as divine, yet he himself is divine also. The Father was clearly other than the Son he sent; nevertheless, the Son could say, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

And to make things even more complex, Jesus promised his disciples at the Last Supper that he and his Father would send an “advocate,” a Spirit who would lead the church into the fullness of Truth. It was this “breath” (pneuma) that blew through the church at the first Pentecost, sustained the early Christian community, and brings divinizing life to believers in Jesus: “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).

Now, the first believers were all Jews, trained in the strict monotheism of Israel and holding passionately to the great Shema, the Jewish declaration of faith from the sixth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!”

Yet they knew that the one God had revealed something new about himself in Jesus and the Holy Spirit. None of the pioneers of the Christian faith summed up this novelty more succinctly than did Saint John, who in his first letter said simply, “God is love.” He wasn’t defending the proposition that God has love, or that love is one of God’s attributes; he was saying that love names the very essence of God. And this means that God must be, in his own life, an interplay of lover (the Father), beloved (the Son), and shared love (the Holy Spirit).

What the Bible bequeathed to the great tradition was this tension, this dilemma: how to square the Shema with the claim that God is love. For the first several centuries of the church’s life, some of the greatest minds in both the east and the West struggled to work out the right balance between the two.

The discussion swung between the poles of tritheism (belief in three gods) and Monarchianism (the belief in the supreme unity of God), and no finally satisfying resolution was achieved until the fourth century when three brilliant theologians from Asia Minor — Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa — and one supreme genius from North Africa — Augustine of Hippo — brought their powers of reflection to bear on the matter. Within the confines of this short essay, I have space to consider — however inadequately — only Augustine’s meditations.

Throughout the course of twenty years, during his intellectual prime, Augustine composed a text entitled De Trinitate (About the Trinity) in which he sought to clarify and explain the church’s doctrine of the one God in three persons. In the ninth book of that text Augustine lays out a remarkably illuminating analogy for the Trinity, which has proven over the centuries to be massively influential on other theologians.

Taking his cue from the book of Genesis, Augustine speculates that, though all things reflect the Trinity to varying degrees, the best model of the Trinity would be the human person himself, the one made “in the image and likeness of God.”

When we look within — and Augustine was one of the greatest masters of introspection — we find, he says, a mirror of the Trinity in the very dynamics of human consciousness. The ground of the intellect, the mysterious source from which all intellectual activity surges forth, Augustine called mens. It would be wrong to translate this simply as “mind,” for that reduces its meaning too drastically. Mens is closer to esprit in French or Geist in German, designating the full range of spiritual energy. Mens is capable of a doubling or mirroring activity by which it poses itself as an object for its own contemplation. This Augustine calls notitia sui, or self-knowledge.

Though this sounds rather abstract, we all acknowledge notitia sui whenever we say, “What was I thinking?” or whenever we engage in introspection under the guidance of a therapist or counselor, searching out our motives and bringing to consciousness our often unconscious impulses. And when mens comes to self-awareness through notitia sui, it falls in love. Again, we sense this whenever, through introspection or counseling, we come to a richer understanding of ourselves and experience, thereby, a deeper level of self-acceptance.

What Augustine finds so intriguing about these dynamics is that though their components are separate from one another, though they can be clearly distinguished one from the other, they do not constitute a dividing of the mind into three. For example, when I say, “What was I thinking?” I’m certainly distinguishing mens from notitia sui, but I’m not falling into schizophrenia.

It was precisely this tensive ambiguity that makes the analogy so apt. The Father, Augustine claimed, is the mens of God, the dark, elemental ground of the divine life. The Father is capable of a perfect and utterly interior act of self-othering. The mirror or Word of the Father, his notitia sui, is the Son. When Father and Son gaze at each other, they breathe hack and forth their mutual love, and this is the amor sui of God, or the Holy Spirit. Hence we have three dynamisms but not three Gods; we have a lover, a beloved, and a shared love, within the unity of one stance, not a one plus one plus one adding up to three, but a one times one times one, equaling one.

The one God of Israel — “I am who am” — is a play of subsistent relations — “God is love” — and thus we learn the deepest meaning of verb “to be” is “to love.” It was the Son, the Father’s beloved, who became incarnate in Jesus, and it was the Holy Spirit, the love breathed back forth between the Father and the Son, that came to dwell in the church. And the church’s mission, therefore, is to make real in the world precisely this love that God is.



The Fall As Seen From Liturgical Theology: “We Have Wounded Creation” — David Fagerberg

September 29, 2011

We have recanted our vocation as homo adorans.

Happiness does elude us, because we have recanted our vocation as homo adorans. As a result, we have not only wronged ourselves, but we no longer “do” the material world the way it was meant to be done. God’s response was, characteristically, merciful: God expelled us from the environs of the Tree of Life lest we be eternally disfigured. Do not think we were expelled from paradise because God was jealous of divinity and would not share it with anthropos. The Christian narrative is not the myth of Prometheus.

The expulsion was on account of man and woman’s untimely grasping at that for which they were not prepared. The sin was not that man and woman took something which God never intended them to have; the sin was that the serpent convinced them to take it prematurely. Thus, Ephrem says,

He deceived the husbandman
so that he plucked prematurely
the fruit which gives forth its sweetness only in due season
—a fruit that, out of season,
proves bitter to him who plucks it.

God would have given Adam and Eve the knowledge they sought after preparing them for it, but when grasped precipitately the knowledge impaired their created capacity for liturgical priesthood. A double knowledge was hidden in the tree: knowledge of God’s glory and of our lowliness:

But when Adam boldly ran
     and ate of its fruit
this double knowledge
    straightway flew toward him,
tore away and removed
     both veils from his eyes:
he beheld the Glory of the Holy of Holies
     and trembled;
he beheld, too, his own shame and blushed,
     groaning and lamenting
because the twofold knowledge he had gained
     had proved for him a torment.
Whoever has eaten
     of that fruit
either sees and is filled with delight,
     or he sees and groans out.”

If anthropos had eaten the tree’s fruit as God gave it — in love — then men and women would have seen everything with a knowledge that is delighted by the sight of God’s glory and by the sight of their humility (just as Dante describes souls in heaven). But when anthropos ate the tree’s fruit as the tempter gave it — in jealousy — then the sight of God’s glory and our humility filled men and women with envy (just as Dante describes souls in hell). Through time, sin’s cataracts have obscured anthropos’ liturgical vision.

Because of our fallen state, we no longer see the world as material sacrifice for the glory of God, or as sacramental means for communion with God. Man and woman no longer fulfill their vocation as homo adorans because they are plunged into a sea of forgetfulness. Makarios of Egypt says the prelapsarian soul was to have progressed and attained full adulthood, just as a newborn child, who is the image of a full-grown adult, must progress and grow up.

But through the fall [anthropos' soul] was plunged into a sea of forgetfulness, into an abyss of delusion, and dwelt within the gates of hell. As if separated from God by a great distance, it could not draw near its Creator and recognize him properly. But first through the prophets God called it back, and drew it to knowledge of Himself. Finally, through his own advent on earth, He dispelled the forgetfulness, the delusion; then, breaking through the gates of hell, He entered the deluded soul, giving himself to it as a model. By means of this model the soul can grow to maturity and attain the perfection of the Spirit.

Since that cataclysm, material things have held so much potential to make us amnesiac that the ascetical tradition warns us to discipline the body, warns about material things, and even warns about the danger of these things recurring in memory and imagination.

We have lost our equilibrium. The fall affected our nature in such a way that we have grown accustomed to the unnatural state of forgetting the sacramental dimension of good, material things. In Schmemann’s words, “the `original’ sin is not primarily that man has `disobeyed’ God; the sin is that he ceased to be hungry for God and God alone…

The only real fall of man is his non-Eucharistic life in a non-Eucharistic world. The microcosm that God had created — a spirit in matter should have spiritualized the material universe in which it was placed. Instead, man and woman abdicated their office in the cosmic liturgy.

This causes Evdokimov to lament, “There are no more singers for the cosmic liturgy because the Taboric light [the light revealed on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration of Jesus, identified with the light seen by Paul at his conversion.] has no longer been seeded the opacity of our bodies, and the glory of God has lost its place in a nature put to another and illegitimate use.”

Although the fall took place on a spiritual level, it affected matter, which is why this asceticism must be done to the body, through the body, by the body, for the body. “By what rule or manner can I bind this body of mine?” asks John Climacus. “He is my helper and my enemy, my assistant; and my opponent, a protector and a traitor…. If I strike him down I have nothing left by which to acquire virtues.”

Asceticism is necessary in order to think straight — about ourselves (anthropology), the world (cosmology), and God (theology).  The place where we can think straight is the place where we stand straight. At the opening of the anaphora in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the deacon bids the Church, “Let us stand aright; let us stand with fear; let us attend, that we may offer the Holy Oblation peace.”There is nothing wrong with matter, but matter has been wronged by us. By turning away from the Creator, anthropos does not use matter eucharistically or receive matter sacramentally. We have wounded creation, and by our fault matter does not fulfill its end anymore. Ephrem describes the reaction of the sun to human idolatry:

The sun bellowed out in silence to the Lord against his worshippers.
It was a suffering for him, the servant, that instead of his Lord he was worshipped.
Behold the creation is joyful that the Creator is worshipped… .
Since fools honored the sun, they diminished him in his honor.
Now that they know he is a servant, by his course he worships his Lord. All the servants are glad to be counted servants.
Blessed is he who set the natures in order!
We have done perverse things that we should be servants to servants…
Since fools honored the sun, they diminished him in his honor.
Now that they know he is a servant, by his course he worships his Lord.
All the servants are glad to be counted servants.
Blessed is he who set the natures in order!
We have done perverse things that we should be servants to servants.

That is why creation groans in travail, waiting for the redemption of anthropos. Asceticism is required of the liturgist so that earth may be healed; asceticism is required of the theologian in order to see the matter clearly.

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis describes the effect which eating enchanted food could have upon a son of Adam. A little boy named Edmund and his siblings had stumbled into Narnia and threatened the reign of the white witch, so she gave to Edmund a candy upon which an enchantment had been placed. Its first effect was “anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they had killed themselves.”

Second, when Edmund sat down to supper, he did not enjoy the meal because, Lewis observes, “There’s nothing that spoils the taste of good ordinary food half so much as the memory of bad magic food.”” The Christian doctrine of original sin claims that each human being is born with a spoiled appetite, and that humanity was expelled from paradise before we killed ourselves eternally, and that the memory of this bad magic food has spoiled the taste of this good ordinary earth. Asceticism is the weaning of our appetites from magic food, but it does not make us less human, it makes us finally human. Man and woman were plunged into a sea of forgetfulness by the delectability of the world, and the first reaction of God was mercy: They were expelled from the garden until they got their appetites under control. But this was not the last action of God.

The way to rectify the being of a microcosmic hybrid who had come under the trance of the corporeal is for God himself to become corporeal flesh. Satan warped our spirits so that creation would work an opposite effect upon an unrighteous being. We are idolatrously blinded by the heavenly luminaries, impoverished by the avarice that the goods of creation create in an unrighteous heart, and alienated from God by the very book of nature that was created to disclose God. The only countervail would be an incarnate inversion. In Ephrem’s words,

The All-Knowing saw that we worshipped creatures.
He put on a created body to catch us by our habit,
to draw us by a created body toward the Creator.
Blessed is He Who contrived to draw us to Him.
The evil one knew how to harm us; with the luminaries he blinded us.
With possessions he maimed us, by gold he made us poor.
With graven images he made us a heart of stone.
Blessed is He who came to soften it!

If the sinner will no longer look through matter to God, then God will himself become matter to be looked at. It is a principle of iconography that the faculty of sight is the most active of the senses, reaching out to seize and take in the object apprehended. We become what we look at. God became human so that we might see him and he made divine. Irenaeus says, “The Word was made flesh … that all that exists could see … its King, and also that the paternal light might meet with and rest upon the flesh of our Lord, and come to us from his resplendent flesh, and that thus man might attain to immortality, having been invested with the paternal light.” The incarnation is crucial to our justification.

When Satan burgled Eden, he took the most valuable possession and imprisoned it in a stronghold he thought was secure. The evil one thought he could hide anthropos from God by shame and accusation and death. He took Adam to a place he thought was out of God’s reach, but he was mistaken.

Adam was heedless
as guardian of Paradise,
for the crafty thief
stealthily entered;
leaving aside the fruit
—which most men would covet—
he stole instead
the Garden’s inhabitant!
Adam’s Lord came out to seek him;
He entered Sheol and found him there, then led and brought him out to set him once more in Paradise.

When the man and the woman hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden, the Lord God called, saying, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). The cry, “Adam, Eve, where Are you?” sounded in the garden that first time. Then angels went to the corners of the universe shouting the question, not only because they were bid by their Lord to do so, but also because they missed the humans’ voices in the celestial choir. The king sent inquisitors with the question through the long corridors of history — Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah — but neither could find Adam and Eve. Finally, the Lord put on flesh, so that he could die, so that he could look in the last, last place. And there, in Sheol, he found them: deaf, mute, ashamed, dead. And the Lord brought out the man and woman and led them once more to paradise. This dogma is written in icon, too.

Whereas Christ overcame the passions; whereas struggling against the passions increases the share we have in Christ’s life; whereas our renewed humanity is an icon of Christ, who is the icon of the invisible God; and whereas the work of this renewed humanity is to perpetuate Christ’s own ergeia in the world, therefore the discipline practiced by Christ’s mystical body ought to be called liturgical asceticism. Liturgical asceticism was not possible until after the incarnation any more than iconography — and for the same reason. The uniqueness of liturgical asceticism derives from the uniqueness of the hypostatic union. And since liturgy is living by grace this hypostatic union that was natural in Christ, the new reality into which a Christian is baptized brings with it a discipline to make Christ’s image visible in our faces. It begins with death. It is sacramental, spiritual, pre-biological death, made efficacious by mysterious union with Christ’s own death.

Evdokimov states, “If philosophy brings knowledge of death, Christian ascesis offers the art of going beyond it and thus anticipating the resurrection.” Liturgical asceticism corroborates the death of Christ in our own bodies by taming those passions that accompany life-in-the-body so that we may notarize with our hope that death has not been victorious. Instead, death, when grasped in a radical act of faith, has been made a portal to the new age. The pall has become a white baptismal garment, which is our swaddling cloth.

That is why liturgical life begins in the font. The asceticism, which is made possible by the theological virtues infused by baptism (faith, hope, and charity), is the discipline that increases the measure by which the Christian can participate in the liturgical life this sacrament initiates. Baptism drops the spirit of the Holy One into our veins, but there is no fire where there is not matter to burn; liturgical asceticism makes us combustible. In his foreword to Unseen Warfare, Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain describes the book’s ascetical subject matter in this way: “It teaches not the art of visible and sensory warfare, and speaks not about visible, bodily foes but about the unseen and inner struggle, which every Christian undertakes from the moment of his baptism, when he makes a vow to God to fight for Him, to the glory of His divine name, even unto death.” If it is remembered that the word sacramentum once meant the vow taken by a soldier upon enlistment in the army, then it will be understood that liturgical asceticism is the fulfillment of every Christian’s baptismal sacramentum. If it is remembered that baptism creates the people of God, named by the word laos, then it will be understood that this life is the ergeia of the laos.

Liturgical asceticism is not born out of hatred of the world, and it is not an exercise of our religious faculty alone. Christian liturgical asceticism is born in the waters of the font where the liturgist-information is immersed into the blood of a suffering Christ. Evdokimov sees the cross “planted at the threshold of the new life — vita nova — and the water of baptism receives the sacramental value of the blood of Christ. From then on, ascesis teaches participation in the `health’ of the Savior, but this entails a victory over death and therefore a preliminary purification.”

This labor is incumbent on every Christian who has passed through what Gregory of Nyssa calls the mystical sea:

Those who pass through the mystical water in baptism must put to death in the water the whole phalanx of evil—such as covetousness, unbridled desire, rapacious thinking, the passion of conceit and arrogance, wild impulse, wrath, anger, malice, envy, and all such things. Since the passions naturally pursue our nature, we must put to death in the water both the base movements of the mind and the acts which issue from them…. If someone should still serve them, even if he should happen to have passed through the water, according to my thinking he has not at all touched the mystical water whose function is to destroy evil tyrants.”

‘Therefore, liturgical asceticism is for every baptized Christian. It is not confined to the Desert Fathers and Mothers, but they blazed the trail and it is to them that generations have turned when seeking creative recovery and interpretation of this spirituality.

Paul Evdokimov describes the kingdom of God in this way:

“It is in the offering of the heart to God that the Spirit manifests itself and introduces the human being into the eternal circulation of love between the Father and the Son, and this is the `Kingdom.’”

I suggest that this is the only adequate definition of liturgy. Liturgy is living in that eternal circulation of love within the Trinity. For us to love God, our appetites must be put into control: ordo amoris. In the liturgy God presents himself to be loved and by loving we know Him, and knowing the trinity is what Athanasius simply called “theology.” It is liturgical theology practiced by liturgists in the ascetical discipline of theologia prima.


Liturgical Asceticism – David Fagerberg

September 28, 2011

Coptic icon of Saint Anthony the Great

The objective of the previous posts has been to deepen the grammar by which we speak about liturgy itself, and to do so in order to prepare us to speak specifically about liturgical theology. Since I intend to follow the lead of Schmemann in developing a connection between liturgy and theology that could be called organic, my definition of liturgical theology raises a wide range of questions about the vocation of liturgists. Let me speak directly about this liturgical vocation. This is, in other words, a clearer elucidation of liturgical asceticism.

There are general definitions of asceticism from which liturgical asceticism must be distinguished. The term askein, from which askesis comes, meant “to work.” Asceticism thus came to mean discipline and training, especially the sort that an athlete undergoes, as John McGuckin explains:

The word “asceticism” derives from the Greek term for physical exercise, such as athletic practice. The idea of training the soul to virtue by disciplining the body is fundamental to monastic theory. Here, Christian monasticism provided a distinct and original anthropology. In many Greco-Roman theories the purpose of “philosophic” asceticism was to purify the soul of the body’s influence…. In its purest form the Christian concept of ascesis seeks not the liberation of the soul in the body but the integration of the person, spiritually and materially, Ascesis was thus a manner of disciplining the body and training the mind by prayers, vigils and fasting, until the whole person was attuned to his or her best ability to hear and obey the voice of Gods’

Asceticism therefore involves the idea of self-sacrifice and self-discipline. Since there are a large number of reasons for which one might submit to a discipline, I have no objection to a large number of uses for the word asceticism. When an athlete is placed under discipline in order to train for a prize, it is athletic asceticism; when a person disciplines excessive consumption of goods for the sake of distributive justice it might be called moral asceticism; when a person refrains from those same goods during wartime, it may be called patriotic asceticism; when a child learns to discipline wants and outbursts of frustration, that self-discipline may also be said to have an ascetical quality about it. In this way, different types of asceticism could be identified by different formal causes. Paul Evdokimov admits this range of meaning, too:

The word “ascesis” comes from the Greek askesis and means exercise, effort, exploit. One can speak of the athletic ascesis when it seeks to render the body supple, obedient, resistant to every obstacle. The ascesis of scientists and doctors shows their magnificent abnegation that sometimes costs them their lives. Monastic tradition has given to this term a very precise meaning; it designates the interior combat necessary in order that the spiritual acquire a mastery over the materials

It is easy to imagine religious causes of asceticism, too. Religious asceticism would be a disciplined endeavor to find God. The existence of pre-Christian and extra-Christian asceticism is a phenomenological fact (just like the existence of pre-Christian and extra-Christian religion is a phenomenological fact). But I shall maintain that liturgical asceticism is different from both moral asceticism and religious asceticism, and distinguish them not so much by the practices employed, but by the cause and end to which they are employed. That is exactly why two words (liturgical and asceticism) are required to name the single, simple reality liturgical asceticism. It is a theological category, not a moral, civic, religious, or athletic one. Evdokimov states it succinctly: “An athlete exercises his body; an ascetic, his flesh.”

Christianity shares many religious practices with the whole of humanity. This is a corollary of believing that grace perfects nature, and there is no alarm in this admission: It is, in fact, a sign of the solidarity and compatibility of Christianity with human nature. Perhaps no one understood this better than G. K. Chesterton, whose writings often contained an apology for the rather pagan quality of certain Catholic acts. For example, when critics of Catholicism complained that “ritual feasts, processions or dances are really of pagan origin,” Chesterton replied, “they might as well say that our legs are of pagan origin. Nobody ever disputed that humanity was human before it was Christian; and no Church manufactured the legs with which men walked or danced, either in a pilgrimage or a ballet.

Neither do I deny that fasting, vigils, and solitude were practiced by religious persons before they were practiced by Christians. The Church did not create asceticism, and I do not deny that there were ascetics before there were Christians. In fact, liturgical asceticism does possess this religious dimension, meaning by “religion” what Archimandrite Boniface Luykx meant when he called it “making a path for God to come to you by.” There is a religious aspect to liturgical asceticism. After all, Christian ascetics who make a profession are called “religious” (priest, lay, religious).

However, Chesterton also pointed out modernity’s tendency to overlook content when noticing similar forms, a tendency which he said led ethical societies and parliaments of religion to conclude that “the religions of the earth differ in rites and forms, but they are the same in what they teach.” Chesterton contradicts this. “It is false; it is the opposite of the fact. The religions of the earth do not greatly differ in rites and forms; they do greatly differ in what they teach…. They ,agree in machinery; almost every great religion on earth works with lie same external methods, with priests, scriptures, altars, sworn (brotherhoods, special feasts. They agree in the mode of teaching; what they differ about is the thing to be taught.”

Similarly, I will suppose that liturgical asceticism and religious asceticism agree in their machinery: They will use the same external methods of fasting and celibacy. But liturgical asceticism will differ from religious asceticism in its arche and telos (origin and end, principle and purpose). Not all monasticism is liturgical, any more than all worship is Christian; but liturgical asceticism does exist, as does liturgical worship.

Jeremy Driscoll affirms this in Evagrius who recorded the understanding of the Desert Fathers: “Evagrius himself is witness … to how at base this monastic heritage has a distinctive Christian face which distinguishes it from all other traditions of spiritual exercises, from other cultural manifestations of monasticism. This distinctive face, again, is the face ofthe incarnate Lord who is with the monk in every stage of his exercises….” Every mystery of the Church — its sacraments, its laws, its hierarchy, its exercises, its ministry — exists for the sole purpose of being a means to participate in the mystery of Christ. Therein lies the difference between Christian asceticism and other religious asceticism. What makes it liturgical asceticism is the fact that it is a means of participating in Christ. There is a natural virtue of moral discipline that might lead a person to make ascetical experiments in goodness or justice or humility before Almighty God, but I am speaking of a discipline that is required to become a liturgist in Christ’s body. Asceticism is requisite to being a liturgist and to becoming a liturgical theologian.

All this is presented to help explain the kind of theology a liturgical theologian does. Liturgy is not just ritual; it is a way of living and a way of thinking, expressed ritually. I will try to make this point by nesting asceticism and theology within the fundamental liturgical mysteries of creation, sin, salvation, and deification. Our liturgical life is our synergistic participation in the economy of God, as the Almighty gathers up history to bring it to eschatological perfection.

I will turn to the Christian East (particularly the fourth-century hymnographer, Ephrem) in order to speak of asceticism as a vocation that includes the liturgist, and not only the monk. I will do so for a reason John Paul II understood when he wrote: “In the East, monasticism was not seen merely as a separate condition, proper to a precise category of Christians, but rather as a reference point for all the baptized, according to the gifts offered to each by the Lord; it was presented as a symbolic synthesis of Christianity.”

From the beginning, God intended to share divine life with man and woman, and the incarnation is simply the flowering of the paradisal seed God planted. Jesus is called the “final Adam” because he is, finally, what Adam and Eve were meant to be. Jesus is the eschatos Adam. The life anthropos simultaneously leads in the visible and invisible worlds is the anthropological potential for the incarnation. The incarnation is neither an afterthought by God, nor a simple case of damage control, for the Father had Christ before his eyes when Adam and Eve were made.

God sculpted the human person while looking at his Wisdom, the celestial humanity of Christ…. In the thinking of the fathers, above the potential abyss of the Fall, God sculpted the human face while looking at the humanity of Christ in the depths of his Wisdom…. Christ did not become incarnate in a foreign and utterly alien element, but he found in man his own heavenly and archetypical image, for God created man while looking at the heavenly humanity of the Word of God (1 Corinthians 15:47-49), preexistent in the Wisdom of God.”

From the moment God created, the economy was under way that would lead to the moment when God would appear in the midst of his ecstatic product, material creation. Jesus is the ground of God’s hierarchies.

Human being is unique among other ways of being in the world, and in at least three ways. First, anthropos is microcosmic because in men and women can be found everything that is in the entire cosmos. Anthropos is made of matter and spirit. Gregory Nazianzus said God produced a being “endowed with both natures, the visible and invisible…. Thus, in some way a new universe was born, small and great at one and the same time. God set this hybrid worshipper on earth to contemplate the visible world, and to be initiated into the invisible; to reign over earth’s creatures, and to obey orders from on high.” No other creature is enrolled as simultaneous citizen in both realms.

Second, this microcosmic capacity enables anthropos to be royal priest, ruling over matter in the image of God. In Schmemann’s words:

All rational, spiritual and other qualities of man, distinguishing him from other creatures, have their focus and ultimate fulfillment in this capacity to bless God, to know, so to speak, the meaning of the thirst and hunger that constitutes his life. Homo sapiens, “homo faber” … yes, but, first of all, “homo adorans. “The first, the basic definition of man is that he is the priest. He stands in the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God — and by filling the world with this Eucharist, he transforms his life, the one that he receives from the world, into life in God, into communion with Him. The world was created as the “matter,” the material of one all-embracing Eucharist, and man was created as the priest of this cosmic sacrament

Men and women were created with the capacity to recognize the logoi of material things (reflected in the biblical story of Adam naming the animals; he called things as they are). There is a world to be celebrated. The angels know it, but cannot experience it sensually; the animals experience it, but cannot know it spiritually. Only man and woman praise God for a world taken in through the senses and wondered at by the intellect. At the incarnation, the Word will not assume an angelic nature, or an animal nature, but rather a human nature, because of this microcosmic and priestly potential. Gregory asks,

Do you realize how much your Creator has honored you above all creatures? He did not make the heavens in his image, nor the moon, the sun, the beauty of the stars, nor anything else which you can see in the created universe. You alone are made in the likeness of that nature … you alone are a similitude of eternal beauty, a receptacle of happiness… Nothing in all creation can equal your grandeur. All the heavens fit into the palm of God’s hand. And though He is so great that He can grasp all creation in His palm, you can wholly embrace Him; He dwells within you, nor is He cramped as he pervades your entire being.

The third way anthropos is unique is because this is given as potential that is not actualized without our cooperation. In order to be a liturgical temple in whom God is not cramped, anthropos must act. Other beings are finished as soon as they are made. There is nothing else to add to a dog to make it finally canine, a cow does not progressively grow more bovine, and a cat is sufficiently feline as a kitten. But men and women are made homo via/or: a being-on-the-way. Anthropos is a verb (a human being) until he or she becomes a noun (saint).

Ephrem says God created anthropos this way in order that men and women would enjoy the potential to contribute to their own reality. Human nature was made with the capacity to participate freely and willingly in a process of growing into the likeness of God. Created in the image of God, a human person also lives by relationship, and this provides for maximum individuality. God planned beings who could attain maximum personality:

For this is the Good One, who could have forced us to please Him, without any trouble to Himself; but instead He toiled by every means so that we might act pleasingly to Him of our free will, that we might depict our beauty with the colors that our own free will had gathered; whereas, if He had adorned us, then we would have resembled a portrait that someone else had painted, adorning it with his own colors.”

We were created for immortal happiness — and I do not mean by the modifier how long the happiness will last, but from whom it must come. Only the Immortal One can satisfy us, and communion is the ordered end for men and women. The liturgical posture of homo adorans is even more basic to anthropos than homo erectus, and happiness will elude us until we stand aright in our vocation as liturgical beings.


“In The Hour Of Jesus’ Cross And Resurrection, The Liturgy Streamed Forth” – David Fagerberg

September 27, 2011

John 31-37: “Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not one of His bones shall be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.”

The fact that the Church finally adopted the word leitourgia to name her cult “indicates her special understanding of worship, which is indeed a revolutionary one. If Christian worship is leitourgia, it cannot be simply reduced to, or expressed in terms of, `cult.’ The ancient world knew a plethora of cultic religions or `cults’…. But the Christian cult is leitourgia, and this means that it is functional in its essence, has a goal to achieve which transcends the categories of cult as such.

Schmemann identifies this peculiar characteristic of the Christian cult by calling it antinomous. In an antinomy a contradiction is felt between two principles that seem equally necessary and reasonable. An antinomy integrates contradictory aspects into one total truth. In the words of the Russian theologian-philosopher, Pavel Florensky, that something is antinomous means “both the one and the other are true, but each in its own way. Reconciliation and unity are higher than rationality.”  The thesis and the antithesis together form the expression of the whole truth. At the heart of the liturgy there is an antinomy between our cultic expression of Christianity and the radical abolishment of cult, as Schmemann says. “The Christian leitourgia is not a `cult’ if by this term we mean a sacred action, or rite, performed in order to establish `contact’ between the community and God… “

We celebrate a super-cultic reality in cultic form. This accounts for the defection by primitive Christians from classic religious jargon, no doubt making themselves enigmatic to their neighbors. Christians were charged with atheism. For one thing, notes Josef Jungmann, they did not call their cultic leaders by the name Iereus:

Among the pagans and even in the Old Covenant, the Iereus was someone who himself, in his own name or at the command of the community, acted as mediator with the deity. Such a possibility does not exist in the new Covenant. For there is only one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ, and all others are merely His instruments, able to act not in their own name but only in His. The term iereus, was therefore applicable only to Christ and to the whole communion of the faithful, the holy Church, in so far as it joined to Christ.

Congar makes the same observation. “If it pertained to an Iereus, whether in Judaism or paganism, to immolate a victim in offering and so to be a’sacrificer,’ then in Christianity there was only one deserving that name, Christ…. The ministers of the Eucharist were not acting as ‘sacrificers’ because, in celebrating that efficacious memorial as the Lord had given his Apostles power and commandment to do, they were simply making Christ’s one sacrifice actual and present to the faithful.” Taft says the apostle Paul never once used “cultic nomenclature (liturgy, sacrifice, priest, offering) for anything but a life of self-giving, lived after the pattern of Christ.

When he does speak of what we call liturgy, … he makes it clear that its purpose is to contribute to this `liturgy of life’….” So on the one hand, liturgy directs its participants to a goal different from the cultic goal of attaining contact with God. Everything that religious cult foreshadowed has had its fulfillment in Christ. He is the new temple and the new sacrifice, as well as the new altar,  priest, king, prophet, Torah, Sabbath, and tabernacle. Everything we use in Christian liturgy has passed through the hypostatic union. The goal of liturgy, in Schmemann’s words, is “the Church as the manifestation and presence of the `new aeon’ of the Kingdom of God.” Christ did not found another religion; he founded a new age, the age of the Church, which is populated by a new race of people in unity with himself. This is his body, the totus Christus. On the other hand, liturgy uses many of the same forms religious cult uses to accomplish this end.

Liturgy celebrates the supercultic end of temples, priests, and sacrifices by means of liturgical temples, liturgical priests, and liturgical sacrifices. I suppose this to be an instance of grace perfecting nature, and again I say, all cultic matter must pass through the hypostatic union in order to be serviceable to Christian liturgy. The liturgy is antinomous because what cult cannot contain is contained in liturgical cult, just as what heaven and earth could not contain was contained in the womb of the Theotokos.

Liturgy is not a species in the genus of religious ritual. That’s why the thick sense of liturgy is only partially grasped by studying its thin cult. For example, liturgical time is not merely religious festival, but it is celebration of the cosmic eighth day; liturgical space is not a history of sacred architecture, but it is standing on the ground of Mt. Tabor when we stand before the altar; liturgical assembly is only partially understood by a sociology of religion because it is the body of Christ; liturgical hymn is not music with a certain piety, but it is the angels’ Trisagion passed through human vocal chords.

Liturgy is the paschal mystery sacramentalized in ritual time, space, assembly, and the arts, like God was incarnated in the flesh. The stage of Christian liturgy is cosmic. In his study on liturgy in the book of Revelation, Erik Peterson measures the scope of the Christian liturgy when he says, “[This] is not the liturgy of a human religious society, connected with a particular temple, but worship which pervades the whole universe and in which sun, moon, and all the stars take part…. The Church is no purely human religious society. The angels and saints in heaven belong to her as well. Seen in this light, the Church’s worship is no merely human occasion. The angels and the entire universe take part in it.”

In short — and here I come closer to the grammar I seek — liturgy is not the religion of Christians; liturgy is the religion of Christ perpetuated in Christians. The religion Jesus enacted in the flesh before the Father is continued in the Church, liturgically. “The Church .. has a part too in the religion of Christ towards His Father in order to continue upon earth the homage of praise that Christ in His Sacred Humanity offered to His Father.” There is therefore no altar in the Church as the pagans knew it, but there is the hagia trapezia (holy table), which presents Christ, who is the altar of God. There is no sacrifice as cults knew it, but there is the Eucharist, which is the body of Christ, in which sacrifice the Church liturgically participates. There is no temple as religious impulse builds, but the assembly becomes a living temple and the building thereby becomes sacred place. Christ is the intermediator between heaven and earth, between thick liturgy and its ritual form.

Liturgy is not our religious expression, but God’s theology. And when this divine grammar is imprinted upon liturgists, then they are on their way to becoming a theologian. But the imprinting is an ascetical process. Every liturgist is called to be a theologian (even if not of the academic variety) and every liturgist is called to be an ascetic (even if not of the monastic variety).

This is not a denunciation of ritual in Christianity. In just a moment I shall agree with Jean Corbon that “the liturgy cannot be lived at each moment … unless it is celebrated at certain moments.” But Christ did not come that we may have ritual and have it abundantly. “His followers were aware that he came not to invent or overhaul a liturgical system but to redeem a world.”

Christianity is a religion, and liturgy is a ritual, in the way that Jesus was a man: fully, but not only. G. K. Chesterton said it is true to call a peacock’s tail blue — there is blue in it. It is true in the same way to call liturgy a ritual — there is ritual in the work done by the people of God. But it is imprecise, and would be misleading, to use the terms liturgy and ritual interchangeably, as people sometimes do when they call any repetitive, organized, and ruled event a liturgy. Ritual form alone, without a divine content, does not make a liturgy. The liturgy uses cultic ritual to do something more than cult can ritualize. Therein lies the antinomy. [Antinomy (Greek αντι-, for or instead of, plus νομος, law) literally means the mutual incompatibility, real or apparent, of two laws. It is a term used in logic and epistemology.]

Liturgical antinomy is parallel to, because based upon, the incarnation. As in the latter, so in the former the illimitable is circumscribed, and the eternal resides in time, and the incorporeal is spatially located. The incarnation is the paradox of God present in the flesh, .and the liturgy is the paradox of He who cannot be contained in thought of  space or time or matter, presenting Himself to us in doctrine and temple and feast day and sacrament. Liturgy is icon, and “a place lit meeting or joining [sum-bole) of different realities." 

Apophatic Theology[The theological tradition demands that we also speak of God in a second way, called “negative” or “apophatic.” In this way the positive affirmation we can legitimately make is nevertheless denied. The denial derives from the conviction that God’s absolute otherness demands silence rather than description. In the apophatic way we respond to the positive affirmation that “God is the maker of heaven and earth.” with the denial that “God is not the maker of heaven and earth in any manner known to us.” The denial serves to protect us from reducing God to the level of our human ideas. The positive and the negative are joined dialectically in the third way of speaking about God which the tradition calls “analogical.”]

Apophatic Theology is required to see the reality behind the reality, the prototype behind the icon, the divine action within the human ritual. Andrew Louth has made this clear in his study of Maximus the Confessor’s commentary on the Divine Liturgy. Apophatic theology “is the realization in the Christian soul of what is accomplished and celebrated in the Church’s liturgy, …” which means the Eucharistic liturgy is a corporate, ecclesial encounter with God that draws each participant towards the attainment of the reality that it sets forth, and that attainment involves passing beyond everything we can conceive or understand, the rejection of everything that is simply about God, for the sake of an encounter in love with God Himself, an encounter in which we become transparent to God, and are deified. The Eucharistic liturgy is an encounter to be experienced (pathein), but not information to be learned (mathein).

But it is not an encounter that is open to anyone on any terms: it is an encounter that demands faith and ascetic struggle.… it is a way open to any baptized Christian, and indeed a way required if we are to remain faithful to our baptism, but it is a way of human, or personal, transformation that is costly.

The locus of liturgy is the Church, but the location of the Church is in the world, so the liturgist’s calling is to rule in right relationship (righteously) over material creation and contribute its splendor to the great cosmic sobornost, which is the gathering of heaven and earth, angel and human, round the throne of God.

The principal meaning of the existence of the world is to build the kingdom of God, says Leonid Ouspensky, and the principal meaning of the Church in that world “is the work of drawing this world into the fullness of the revelation — its salvation.”

The Church is not in the world like a marble is in a lump of bread dough. The Church is a piece of the dough, removed, leavened, and returned to raise the whole loaf. It is why Schmemann speaks of liturgy as a journey of leaving the world for the sake of the world. It is why Kavanagh was fond of saying that liturgy is the Church doing the world the way the world was meant to be done. The ultimate object of liturgy is not itself (that would be liturgical egotism), but the world. The liturgical community does not gather to do something irrelevant to the world; it is the heart of the world above the altar, beating without sin’s arrhythmia.

Georges Florovsky said, “the doctrine of the Church itself is but an ‘extended Christology,’ the doctrine of the `total Christ,’ totus Christus, caput et corpus.” Liturgical theology is ecclesiological self-analysis. The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that “Christ and his Church thus together make up the `whole Christ’.” It affirms this with Augustine (“Let us rejoice then and give thanks that we have become not only Christians, but Christ himself. Do you understand and grasp, brethren, God’s grace towards us? Marvel and rejoice: We have become Christ. For if he is the head, we are the members; he and we together are the whole man …”) and with Gregory the Great (“Our redeemer has shown himself to be one person with the holy Church whom he has taken to himself”) and with Thomas Aquinas (“Head and members form as it were one and the same mystical person”). Liturgy is the manifestation of the new creation, which is the God-Man perpetuated temporally, personally, sacramentally, and socially until the Lord of the Church returns as Lord of the World (Pantocrator).

Liturgy is not one cult among others to be inserted into the deck of religious practices in the human hand; it is the manifestation of a new creation and a new race. Church is the noun form of the verb liturgy, like Christian is the noun form of the verbs faith, hope, and charity. The job description of a liturgist is someone who strives for this life of Christ, and who, to the measure he or she attains it, is witness to the world of its final destiny. Here we have visited liturgical asceticism again.

Liturgical ritual cannot be isolated from our Christian life because liturgy ritualizes identity. According to Taft, “the purpose of all Christian liturgy is to express in a ritual moment that which should be the basic stance of every moment of our lives,” and this lived liturgy is always what the apostle Paul seems to have had in mind.

To express this spiritual identity, Paul uses several compound verbs that begin with the preposition syn (with): I suffer with Christ, am crucified with Christ, die with Christ, am buried with Christ, am raised and live with Christ, am carried off to heaven and sit at the right hand of the Father with Christ…. This seems to be what Christian liturgy is for St. Paul. Never once does he use cultic nomenclature (liturgy, sacrifice, priest, offering) for anything but a life of self-giving, lived after the pattern of Christ. When he does speak of what we call liturgy … he makes it clear that its purpose is to contribute to this “liturgy of life,” literally to edify; to build up the Body of Christ into that new temple and liturgy and priesthood in which sanctuary and offerer and offered are one.

The world’s future is to become the temple of God, and the human future is to become participants in the eschatological liturgy. The world exists to be transfigured into the kingdom, as John of the eagle eye witnessed in his apocalyptic vision where the heavenly Jerusalem in its entirety had become God’s dwelling place (Revelation 21:1-2). ‘I’he present creation is the heavenly Jerusalem in potency, and God is at work in unseen ways to bring it to its omega. Kavanagh used to say that God works on both sides of the Church-world equation, and he writes, “Christian theology cannot talk of God, any more than Einstein could talk of energy, without including the `mass’ of the world squared by the constant of God’s eternal will to save in Christ.” This creation is oriented to its fulfillment and transfiguration, and our eternal beatitude will consist of being perfect liturgists, as Macarios of Egypt states.

The soul that has not yet acquired this citizenship in heaven and is not yet conscious of the heart’s sanctification should be full of sorrow and should implore Christ fervently…. [The soul will then go forward,] receiving unutterable gifts and advancing from glory to glory and from peace to greater peace. Finally, when it has attained the full measure of the Christian life, it will be ranged among the perfect liturgists and faultless ministers of Christ in his eternal Kingdom.

Now the human creature is invited by the Creator to serve as priest of material creation. Liturgy is the Son’s energy possessing those baptized into him, enabling them to do before the Father, by divine breath, the very work which he himself does before the Father. Liturgy, then, is to enter into the Trinity, and liturgy began at the moment that this potency was tendered humankind, which Jean Corbon describes.

The mystery that had been wrapped in silence through everlasting ages, and then had been concealed in creation, now journeyed with human beings and entrusted itself patiently to our fathers in the faith during the time of the promises. Its coming in the fullness of time was made known in the kenosis of the incarnate Word until it became event in the hour of Jesus’ cross and resurrection. At that point the liturgy streamed forth.

To see by the light of this mystery (to see God’s revelation, ourselves, the world) is liturgical theology, and to be capacitated for this eternal vocation is liturgical asceticism. Schmemann complains that liturgical study has moldered into rubricism [a tenacious adherence to rules of behavior or thought; formulism] on the one hand, and historical studies on the other. Liturgy has been disconnected from both theology and life. For that reason he wishes for liturgical theology to be seen “as a slow and patient bringing together of that which was for too long a time and because of many factors broken and isolated — liturgy, theology and piety, their reintegration within one fundamental vision.”

To reintegrate these factors would not consist of combining disparate things (like gluing a stick to a stone); it would be an act of reuniting things that were made for each other and should never have been separated in the first place (like healing a fractured bone). Reuniting, as opposed to combining, means that things which appear to be separate are in fact related by their nature, their ground, and their end. Under the thick definition of liturgy that we are seeking, liturgy is the locus for both Christian theology and Christian asceticism.


The Liturgist – David Fagerberg

September 26, 2011

The Ascension of Christ by Dosso Dossi, 1520

One way to enlarge our grammar of liturgy (see previous post on Liturgy as grammar)  might be to change our use of the word liturgist. I do not use it in either of two conventional ways. Ordinarily, a liturgist is thought to be either the person who might want to read (or even write) a book like this one, or else the person who remembers to order the branches for Palm Sunday. That is, the person we ordinarily call “liturgist” is the one who conducts classes, or conducts choirs. But this does overlook one very significant person.

When a verb is turned into a noun, the subject is usually the one who commits the action: A wrestler is one who wrestles, a builder is one who builds, and a plumber is one who plumbs. So also, I would like to primarily call by the name “liturgist” the one who commits liturgy, and only secondarily (as it is more commonly used) the one who studies it or directs it.

If, as will be made clear below, liturgy names an action, then we ought to be directed to the ones who do that action. Liturgists make up the Church, and the Church is made up of liturgists, and the word liturgist can be used as virtually synonymous with baptized or with laity to name the members of the mystical body of Christ.

The roots of this viewpoint are in the doctrine of creation. It is a doctrine that places man and woman, as microcosm, at the interface between the spiritual realm and the material realm. Louis Bouyer pictures it in this way:

The tradition of the Fathers has never admitted the existence of a material world apart from a larger creation, from a spiritual universe. To speak more precisely, for them the world, a whole and a unity inseparably matter and spirit…. Across this continuous chain of creation, in which the triune fellowship of the divine persons has, as it were, extended and propagated itself, moves the ebb and flow of the creating Agape and of the created eucharistia. Descending further and further towards the final limits of the abyss of nothingness, the creating love of God reveals its full power in the response it evokes, in the joy of gratitude in which, from the very dawn of their existence creatures freely return to him who has given them all. Thus this immense choir of which we have spoken, basing ourselves on the Fathers, finally seems like an infinitely generous heart, beating with an unceasing diastole and systole, first diffusing the divine glory in paternal love, then continually gathering it up again to its immutable source in filial love.”

Man and woman were created as rational liturgists of the material world and placed at the apex of the systolic action in order to translate the praise of mute matter into speech and symbol. I am interested in rediscovering an understanding of this cosmological priesthood by seeing Christ’s priesthood as the eschatological recapitulation of Adam and Eve’s dignity. The fall was the forfeiture of our liturgical career. The economy of God, climaxing in Christ’s paschal mystery, was the means to restore it.

Therefore, this cosmological priesthood in the structure of the world should not be confused with either the Church’s common priesthood of the laity, or the Church’s ministerial priesthood of the ordained. The latter two are for the healing of the first. The common priesthood of the laity is directed toward the cure of this now corrupted structure of the world, and the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood to equip them for their lay apostolate.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church seems to be describing the liturgical job description of the baptized when it says, “The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly since the faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king.”

In order to equip and capacitate this common priesthood of his body, Christ instituted the ministerial priesthood, which is “directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church.”  The clergy alone is not Church, with lay spectators; and the laity alone is not Church, with hired ordained leaders. Therefore, “though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ.”

Liturgical theology is derivative from the liturgists’ encounter with God. Liturgical theology materializes upon the encounter with the Holy One, not upon the secondary analysis at the desk. God shapes the community in liturgical encounter, and the community makes theological adjustment to this encounter, which settles into ritual form. Only then can the analyst begin dusting the ritual for God’s fingerprints.

These methodological assertions affect the arena where we can expect liturgy to operate, as well as the density of our concept of liturgy. Two uses of the term liturgical must be accounted for, and I shall suggest one be called thin, the other thick. Paul Holmer has said, “Liturgy is not an expression of how people see things; rather it proposes, instead, how God sees all people.” I propose that liturgy in its thin sense is an expression of how we see God; liturgy in its thick sense is the expression of how God sees us.

Temple decorum and ritual protocol is liturgy only in its thin sense; in its thick sense, liturgy is theological and ascetical. Both senses are true and necessary, and one way of constructing the question would be to ask how thick liturgy is expressed in its ritual form (thin). I take this thicker meaning, residing behind the rubrics, to be what Alexander Schmemann means when he identifies the proper object of liturgical theology:

To find the Ordo behind the “rubrics,” regulations and rules — to find the unchanging principle, the living norm or “logos” of worship as a whole, within what is accidental and temporary: this is the primary task which faces those who regard liturgical theology not as the collecting of accidental and arbitrary explanations of services but as the systematic study of the lex orandi of the Church. This is nothing but the search for or identification of that element of the Typicon which is presupposed by its whole content, rather than contained by it…

A problem arises, however, when we limit ourselves to speaking only about the thin sense. In that case, it’s hard to imagine liturgical theology meaning anything more than devotional affectation, and “it’s hard to imagine liturgical asceticism meaning anything more than the songbooks monks used. Liturgy is more than rubric, like music is more than score. Just as the word music can name either the notes or the act of making music, so the word liturgy (thin) can name the ritual score or a supernatural dynamic (thick).

The Church can modify the liturgy, but only in its thin sense. In its thick sense, it is liturgy that creates the Church: a theological corporation, Kavanagh said, and practitioners of asceticism. It is my overarching objective to keep this thicker liturgical grammar before the face of liturgical studies curricula.

Failing this, liturgy is relegated in divinity schools to practical “how to” courses for ecclesiastics who get a thrill out of rubrical tidiness, and in the academy at large it is relegated to departments of history or anthropology or comparative ritual, if it is studied at all.

Sometimes it is treated as a branch of spirituality, i.e., the doxological titillation of the otherwise stolid theological mind. Sometimes it is handled as a branch of history, and as historians might treat the creeds or papal documents they might likewise investigate an obscure medieval psalter. Sometimes it is subsumed under a branch of systematics, usually sacramentology, but also under various “theologies of. . .” worship, prayer, doxology, and so forth.

And finally, and increasingly in vogue, liturgy is made into a branch of ritual studies that attempts an uncritical report of the worship protocols practiced by any given community. These branches of academic study are inadequate to fully comprehend liturgy because, as Taft bluntly says, “Liturgy, therefore, is theology. It is not history or cultural anthropology or archeology or literary criticism or esthetics or philology or pastoral care.

Liturgy (whose grammar we are trying to discover in its amplitude) had a larger meaning when Christians borrowed it in the first place. Leitourgia was “the usual designation for a service performed by an individual for the state (often free of charge).”  

In classical Greek, liturgy (leitourgia) had a secular meaning; it denoted a work (ergon) undertaken on behalf of the people (laos). Public projects undertaken by an individual for the good of the community in such areas as education, entertainment or defense would be leitourgia. The word became especially appropriate to name religious cult, that complex of actions that surrounded public services done in the name of the city, “because they were linked to its most vital interests. In a culture permeated by religious values (as most of the traditional cultures were), ‘liturgy’ thus understood was predicated first and foremost of actions expressing the city’s relations to the world of divine powers on which it acknowledged itself to be dependent.” The mark of liturgy was its reference to the organized community. A work, then, done by an individual or a group was a liturgy on behalf of the larger community to which he, she, or they belonged. As Schmemann puts it:

It meant an action by which a group of people become something corporately which they had not been as a mere collection of individuals — a whole greater than the sum of its parts. It meant also a function or “ministry” of a man or of a group on behalf of and in the interest of the whole community. Thus the leitourgia of ancient Israel was the corporate work of a chosen few to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah…. Thus the Church itself is a leitourgia, a ministry, a calling to act in this world after the fashion of Christ, to bear testimony to him and His kingdom.

Liturgy was an act of largesse; it required magnanimity; it was not a domestic act for one’s kith and kin, but a public act for the community in which one dwelled.

That means there is something wrong with thinking liturgy is the work of the clergy on behalf of the laity (clericalism), or with thinking that liturgy is not valid unless everyone has a share in the work of the ministerial priesthood (laicism). In fact, liturgy is the work of Christ on behalf of the vital interests of the clan to which he belongs: the family of Adam and Eve. Christ is the premier liturgist, head of a body animated by the Holy Spirit, and so it is Christ’s work that the Church performs — which is to say the thick liturgy done by the Church must always and only be Christ’s liturgy, never its own.

The sacramental power of baptism creates the people of God (laos) and commissions them to perform Christ’s work (ergon). That’s where liturgists come from: They are regenerated. Christ is the firstborn of many little liturgists who perpetuate a Christic, kenotic, salutary, sacerdotal, prophetic, and royal work.

The liturgy is therefore our product and not our work at all. It is why the presiding celebrant is said to be an alter Christus. Romano Guardini saw the difference between the Eucharistic memorial and other types of memorial in the fact that Jesus did not say, “On a certain day of the year you are to come together and share a meal in friendship….” Such an act would issue from the humanly possible, Guardini says, and only the event it was celebrating would be divine.

Christ spoke differently. His “do these things” implies “things I have just done”; yet what He did surpasses human possibility. It is an act of God springing as incomprehensibly from His love and omnipotence as the acts of Creation or the Incarnation. And such an act He entrusts to men!

He does not say: “Pray God to do thus,” but simply “do.” Thus he places in human hands an act which can be fulfilled only by the divine … God determined, proclaimed, and instituted; man is to execute the act. When he does so, God makes of it something of which He alone is capable.


Liturgical Asceticism: A Reading Selection From David Fagerberg’s Theologia Prima

September 23, 2011

Early Christians Worshipping" by William Hole

David Fagerberg believes that liturgical theology dilates (not dilutes) our understanding of both liturgy and theology. The result of a full understanding of a concept of liturgy and theology is closer to what the early Church perhaps possessed, and one we would do well to imitate and recover. An important element in that effort is what Professor Fagerberg rightly identifies as a Catholic asceticism.

Fagerberg presents us with this gem from Aidan Kavanaugh which deeply affected his thinking:

Far from being something esoteric to Christianity, asceticism is native to the Gospel and is required of all. Specifically monastic asceticism was generated, it seems, in that same process by which living the Gospel began to take on ecclesial form in the earliest Jewish-Christian churches… . One must therefore take the continuing fact of organized asceticism in Christian life as a given which provides access to whole dimensions of Christian perception and being. The existence, furthermore, of specifically monastic asceticism is a theological datum which lies close to the very nerve center of Christian origins and growth. One cannot study Christianity without taking monasticism into account. One cannot live as a Christian without practicing the Gospel asceticism which monasticism is meant to exemplify and support. A Christian need not be a monk or nun, but every monk and nun is a crucial sort of Christian
Aidan Kavanaugh, On Liturgical Theology

Fagerberg goes on to tell us that

Christianity involves liturgy, theology, and asceticism the way a pancake involves flour, milk, and eggs: They are ingredients to the end result. Leave one out and you don’t have exactly the same thing anymore. Liturgy is a substantially theological enterprise; asceticism is a product of and prerequisite for Christian liturgy; liturgy and theology integrate by ascetical means. I do not see myself trying to coordinate two dyads (liturgical theology and liturgical asceticism), but I see myself trying to understand how the terms in one triad (liturgy-theology-asceticism) relate to each other. The horizontal base line of the triangle is liturgy. “Seek the reason why God created,” Maximus the Confessor counseled, “for that is knowledge.” This wisdom is possessed by the liturgical theologian, and liturgical asceticism is the price of its possession.

Theologia Prima  is a graduate text and addresses complex issues but I think the following reading selection reveals why it should be read and the treasures it contains:

Deepening the Grammar of Liturgy
The need to deepen the grammar by which we speak about liturgy is readily evident from certain attitudes exhibited toward liturgy. Aidan Kavanagh commented on having seen an advertisement for a summer course called “Creative Worship” in which participants were to be taught how to “creatively use liturgy, liturgical robes, banners and stoles.” Even if this course is no longer on the books, it reveals an attitude that can still be found easily enough, and Kavanagh’s response remains fully applicable: “The relationship of embroidery to the driving of a diesel locomotive seems easier to demonstrate than the connection between stoles and proclaiming the Gospel. Something here seems to have been enthusiastically trivialized.”‘

We seek to join the opposition to that trivialization. It seeks to understand Alexander Schmemann when he calls liturgy the locus theologicus par excellence, and Kavanagh when he calls liturgy the place where the church transacts its faith in God under the condition of God’s real presence in both church and world, and Robert Taft when he calls liturgy nothing less than the ongoing saving work of God’s Only-begotten Son. The tradition once connected liturgy, theology, and asceticism easily and naturally and necessarily, and that is the tradition I am trying to understand. I do not want to dilute theology with liturgy, I want to dilate our grammar of liturgy until our Christian doctrine and our Christian life find their rightful home there.

I borrow the metaphor of grammar from Ludwig Wittgenstein, a linguistic philosopher for whom the analysis of language was the way into a concept. He once remarked, almost casually, that “theology is a grammar.” I take this to mean that it is one thing to know theological words, and another thing to know how to use words theologically. Wittgenstein thought it was wrong to think of words possessing meanings in themselves, and preferred to say that people mean by using words.

We use words to mean with. By our words we express meaning. Therefore a word’s meaning is found in how it is used, in its grammar, in how it plays in what Wittgenstein called a “language game.” To know the meaning of a word is not just to know its ostensive definition from the dictionary; it requires knowing how to play with the word in its language game. Wittgenstein illustrated his point by observing how different it is to know the name of a chess piece (say, a knight or a queen) from being able to move it effectively on the board during a game.

It is possible to speak meaningfully, therefore, even if one is not a professional grammarian. One can use a grammar even if one cannot describe a grammar. Paul Holmer notes that when we acquire mastery of a language “we do not speak the grammar itself but we say everything else in accord with the rules we have already learned. The more skilled we become in writing or speaking, the more does our knowledge of grammar inform everything we say and write. The reason one can use words intelligibly and intelligently even if one cannot parse the sentence is because grammar is first of all a tool to use, and second, a subject to examine.

Grammar books are for specialists who reflect on or study the nature of language, but the grammar itself is for anyone who wishes to say something. People use grammar tacitly: They look through the grammar at the subject at hand.  The subject matter of a grammar book is grammar, but the subject matter of a grammatical sentence can be anything. The profession grammarian may be of regular help to the speaker, but the speaker has a priority over the grammarian that should not be denied.

Similarly, it is possible to be an intelligent theologian even if one is not an academic theologian. The academic theologian may be of regular help to the liturgical community, but there is a priority here, too, that should not be denied. It is possible to speak theologically even if one does not have that specialized knowledge about how the deposit of faith has been parsed systematically or historically. Liturgy creates a Christian grammar in the people of God who live through the encounter with the paschal mystery, and then have something to say. But what they have to say is usually about God, and not about ritual! They may therefore be said to speak theologically, even if they have not made theology their topic of conversation. So Holmer concludes, “If theology is like a grammar, and certainly it is, then it follows that learning theology is not an end in itself…. [Theology] is the declaration of the essence of Christianity, … [its] aim is not that we repeat the words. Theology must also be absorbed, and when it is, the hearer is supposed to become Godly.

Liturgical theology may therefore be called faith’s grammar in action — a genuine theology, but one manifested and preserved in the community’s lex orandi (law of prayer) even before it is parsed into lex credendi (law of belief). It is discovered in the structure of the liturgy, which shapes the lives of liturgists. Kavanagh was fond of calling liturgy the faith of the Church in motion. “This means that the liturgy of a church is nothing other than that church’s faith in motion on certain definite and crucial levels…. Thus a church’s worship does not merely reflect or express its repertoire of faith. It transacts the church’s faith in God under the condition of God’s real presence in both church and world.” In my language game, the structure of the liturgical lex orandi I call liturgical theology, and the process of shaping lives I call liturgical asceticism. The liturgy doesn’t just make the thinker think doxologically, or theologize prayerfully; it forms a believer whose life is theological.

There was a time in Christian tradition when liturgy interpenetrated both theology and asceticism. Absorbing theology to the point of becoming Godly was an ascetical capacitation for liturgical theology. Yves Congar’s historical survey of the word theologia reflects this evolution within the context of asceticism. Although the term had its roots in the Greek philosophers (Plato used it to point out the educational value of mythology, and Aristotle identified it with metaphysics because the divine is present in all being), Congar observes that Christians narrowed theologia to mean knowledge of divine things, beginning with Clement of Alexandria who called it a science of divinity, and Origen, for whom the term meant a doctrine about God — which for Christians meant teachings about Christ.

By the time of Eusebius of Caesarea, theologia had been so associated with the Savior that when Christians applied the term to the pagan gods they had to qualify it as “false theology.” Christians used theologia to refer to Sacred Scripture itself because it contained true theology (Dionysius recognized a mystical theology, too” ). Athanasius could use the term simply to refer to the doctrine of the Trinity. Even so, these Christian theologians worked from a concept of God’s transcendence that was even greater than that of the Neoplatonic philosophers. God cannot be explained, and God cannot be known, but by his will God has become participable. That is why theologia took on special meaning with the monks and mystical writers. Congar therefore concludes that for the fathers, theology meant a knowledge of God which is either the highest form of the gnosis or of that illumination of the soul by the Holy Spirit which is more than an effect since it is the very substance of its divinization or godlike transformation. For Evagrius Pontikus, followed by Maximus Confessor and others, theologia is the third and the most elevated of the degrees of life. In short, it is that perfect knowledge of God which is identified with the summit of prayer. Climbing to the summit of prayer is an arduous business.

Reaching this liturgical zenith requires a disciplined training, which is just what the word askesis means. The root of the word asceticism implied a training designed to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior. Used of an athlete, it referred to the training one underwent in order to accomplish a goal. Evagrius of Pontus went to the deserts of Egypt in the fourth century to train with these athletic Monks, and he systematized their discoveries. Evagrius spoke of three stages: first, an initial ordering of basic passions (praktike,; second, a contemplation of nature (theoria physike), whereby the world is known as it truly is by reflecting on scripture’s revelation; and third, contemplation of the Holy Trinity — which is synonymous with theologia itself. Within this context, theology is less the fruit of a graduate program at university, and rather the fruit of a rightly-ordered existence. But while the ascetical capacity for theology may have been brought to perfection in the sands of the desert, it is born in the waters of the font. As Kavanagh says, “Ascetics blaze the trail all must follow, but they do not walk it alone.”

This book will speak about liturgical theology, but in order to apprehend the term adequately our ideas of liturgy and theology and asceticism must be adjusted. This first chapter explores their interconnection. It discovers that liturgy is the place of communion with God; that asceticism is the imitation of Christ by a liturgist; and that the end of liturgical asceticism is sharing God’s life, rightly called Theologia.

Being a theologian means being able to use the grammar of God. Yet even more, it means speaking with God. That’s why Evagrius of Pontus calls prayer theology (“If you are a theologian you truly pray. If you truly pray you are a theologian“), and why I think liturgical theology involves liturgical asceticism. Before there were universities with theology faculties, it was possible to learn and to use this theological grammar.

Asceticism was especially integrated with theology as a liturgical consequence in Eastern Christianity. In saying this, I do not imply it is absent in the West. The scholastics knew that theology was not like other human sciences. In Congar’s words, they understood theology as “an extension of faith, which is a certain communication and a certain sharing of God’s knowledge.”

Theology’s object is not only the knowledge of a generic divine subject, but also “a certain constructio ipsius subjecti, namely, the construction of God in us, or rather the construction of Christ in us.” But with the relocation of theology to the university auditorium, the harmonization of liturgy, theology, and asceticism might have become less recognizable in the West, and there may be benefit in tuning our ears to voices from the East. Tomas Spidlik’s digest of Eastern spirituality notes that the Eastern Fathers “understood the practice of theology only as a personal communion with Theos, the Father, through the Logos, Christ, in the Holy Spirit — an experience lived in a state of prayer.”

Theology was as much a practice as a cognition. Asceticism is the path to prayer; prayer in the Spirit is the Christian liturgical life in practice; this gives rise to perfect knowledge, which is the path to theology. Commenting on Maximus the Confessor, Georges Berthold defines theology as “direct communion with God in pure prayer, and ‘to theologize’ is to pray in spirit and in truth.” “”

To make sense of such remarks will require a different grammar of liturgy — a deeper grammar, one in which the word liturgical is more than just an emotional adjective. The liturgy is participation by the body of Christ in the activity of the Trinity; the Church’s ritual activity is itself theological; and asceticism is the capacitation of the baptized for that participation. I do not seek to add liturgy to asceticism or theology; rather I seek to enlarge our understanding of liturgy by discovering its very theological and ascetical dimensions. Although the phrase “liturgical theology” contains two words, only one thing is being named. The two words together reference an Organically single phenomenon, and both words are necessary for a full understanding. The task is not to glue together two heterogeneous realities, resulting in either a theological appraisal of liturgy or a doxological appraisal of theology; the task is to name the ritualized response by the body of Christ to the activity of the Trinity. This response is itself, in its ritual form, theological.

Liturgical theology is theology that is liturgically embodied. The phrase is a complex name (in the philosophical sense of being multiple) of a simple reality (in the philosophical sense of being one indivisible thing). Put colorfully, liturgical theology is not yellow liturgy marbles mixed with blue theology marbles to make ajar full of yellow and blue marbles: Liturgical theology is green marbles.

Or, to use a more dignified example, liturgical theology is simple in the way a human being is simple. The scholastics said form and matter make one substance, so that a human being, although both soul and body, is One substantial being, not two. Liturgical theology is simple in the same way a human being is simple. It is no more appropriate to speak of’ bridging liturgy with theology or asceticism than it is appropriate to speak of bridging soul and body, when the human being cannot be understood apart from soul or apart from body.

Liturgy and asceticism and theologia cannot be understood apart from each other. This means liturgy is not ritual cliche in need of theological additives and supplemental spiritualities. But so long as liturgy is misperceived in this manner, the widespread mistake will continue to spread even more widely that liturgical renewal has more to do with relocating furniture in the sanctuary than with reallocating hearts to God. Liturgical asceticism capacitates the liturgist. Christian asceticism is a substantially liturgical activity.


Augustine On Unceasing Prayer — Fr. Thomas Hand

September 22, 2011

“One Thing I Have Asked of the Lord”
The end of all Christian endeavor, and the object of all Christian prayer, is to see God face to face in the kingdom of his glory. This will be the reward of the pilgrim’s love. And in order to attain this never-ending end, we must adhere to Christ so as to be one with him even on this earth.

Augustine observes that, “Our Lord Jesus Christ himself said: No one has come up to heaven except the One who came down from there — the Son of Man [who is in heaven] (John 3:13). And he seems to have spoken of himself only. If, then, he alone ascends who alone descended, have all others been left behind? What must these others do? They must be united with his body, so that there may be but One Christ who descends and ascends. The head descended, and he ascends with his body; he ascends clothed with the Church which he has presented to himself without spot or wrinkle (cf. Ephesians 5:27). In this way he still ascends alone. For when we are so united with him as to be his members, then even with us he is alone, and therefore one — always one.” [On Psalm 122, 1]

Saint Augustine exhorts us, therefore, to stand fast in the faith, and to be loyal to our holy Mother the Church, in all the temptations of life. The history of the Mystical Body was graphically summarized by Saint Matthew when he said: Meanwhile the boat, already several hundred yards out from shore, was being tossed about in the waves raised by strong headwinds (Matthew 14:24). “By the very nature of the journey we are exposed to waves and tempests; so it is necessary that we be at least in the ship.” “If there be danger on board ship, there is instant disaster outside of it … And even though the ship be in difficulty, still it is the ship. . . Keep yourself safely on board, then, and pray to God. For when all counsels fail, when the very helm is unserviceable, and the spreading of sail more hazardous than helpful, when all human help and strength have been exhausted, then, for those on board, there remains only the earnest cry of entreaty, and the pouring forth of prayers to God. And shall he, who grants that sailors reach their haven, so forsake his Church as not to lead it on to rest!” [Sermon 75, 4]

One thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, that I may gaze on the loveliness of the Lord and contemplate his temple (Psalm 27:4). “In order that we may attain this happy life, he who is himself the true Blessed Life has taught us to pray.” [Letter 130, 15] But what shall we do now, during this our life and pilgrimage? “Let us sigh now; let us pray now. Sighs belong to the miserable; prayers belong to those in need. Prayers shall pass away and praise shall take their place; tears shall pass away to be replaced with joy. Meanwhile, during these evil days let us never cease from making that petition until, by his grace and guidance, we have attained to it.” [On Psalm 26 -- 2nd -- 14]

“In the midst of our wanderings here, we are hurt at times; but our last home shall be a home of joy alone. Hard work, sighs, and prayers shall pass away, to be succeeded by hymns of praise. . . For he shall be with us for whom we sigh, and, We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2) … Prepare yourselves for a certain ineffable delight; cleanse your hearts from all earthly and mundane affections. We will see something, the vision of which shall make us happy, something which shall alone suffice us.” [On Psalm 86, 9] “We shall see God. And that shall be so great, so stupendous a reality, that in comparison with it, all else shall be as nothing.” [Sermon 127, 11] “We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” “The tongue has done what it could; it has spoken the words. Let the rest be pondered in the heart.” [Treatise on 1 John, IV, 6]

“It will repay us, then, to inquire after and to discuss in detail what we are going to do in that home, for which we express our hope and desire when we repeat the words, One thing I ask of the Lord. What shall we do in that home in which we hope to dwell all the days of our lives? Listen: that I may gaze on the loveliness of the Lord. That is what I love; and that is why I wish to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. What a glorious vision will be presented to us in the gazing on the loveliness of the Lord!” [On Psalm 26 -- 2nd -- 8] We shall see God. “And so charming is the face of God, that once it is seen, nothing else shall ever give delight.” [Sermon 170, 9] “There we shall rest and we shall see; we shall see and we shall love; we shall love and we shall praise.” [City of God, XXII, 30] Such will be the activity of the elect: contemplation, love, and praise.

Happy they who dwell in your house! (Psalm 84:5). But why? Continually they praise you (Psalm 84:5). “Such will be our activity, the praise of God. You love and you praise. You would cease to love if you ceased to praise. But you will never cease to love because he whom you shall see will never weary you.” [On Psalm 85, 44] Such is the reward of the pilgrim’s love. He shall rest in the Lord; he shall gaze on the loveliness of the Lord; he shall love and praise the Lord. He shall rejoice in “the everlasting reign of those who perfectly praise him because they see him face to face.” [On Psalm 105, 37] “

There is praise given to God, and here on earth is praise given to God; but here by those full of anxious care, there by those who are free from care; here by those whose lot it is to die, there by those who are to live forever; here in hope, there in hope realized; here on the way, there in our Fatherland. Now, therefore, my brethren, let us sing, not for delight as we rest, but to cheer us in our labor. As pilgrims are wont to sing, sing, but travel on!” [Sermon 256, 3]

Meanwhile, as they walk the pilgrim’s way, men must be careful of what they love and of what they ask in prayer. “Men have many things,” observes Augustine, “and when a man seems to have what he loves, he is called happy. But he is truly happy, not if he has what he loves, but if he loves what he ought to love. Many are more miserable in having what they love than in wanting it. For men who are miserable through loving hurtful things are rendered more miserable still by possessing them ... This is the one petition that ought to be loved — that we may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our life.”[ On Psalm 26 -- 2nd -- 7]

“Whoever desires that one thing of the Lord and seeks after it, asks with certainty and with confidence, and has no fear that when it is obtained it may be harmful to him, seeing that without it anything else he may have acquired through praying as he ought is of no advantage to him. The thing referred to is the one true and only happy life in which, immortal and incorruptible in body and in spirit, we may contemplate the joy of the Lord forever. All other things are desired and are prayed for without impropriety, with a view to this one thing.” [Letter 130, 27]

The whole life of a Christian should be a holy desire for this truly happy life, “for a person lives in those things which he loves, which he greatly desires, and in which he believes himself to be happy.” [Letter 130, 7] This desire, moreover, will enlarge the soul until it is capable of receiving everlasting happiness. “By desiring you open up and expand the soul, by expanding it you make it capable of receiving more. Let us stretch ourselves unto him, so that when he shall come he may fill our souls.“[Treatise on 1 John, IV, 6]

This should be our unceasing desire, our unceasing prayer. “What else is intended by the words of the Apostle: Pray without ceasing, if not, `Desire without ceasing, from him who alone can give it, a happy life, which no life can be but that which is eternal’? This, therefore, let us desire without intermission from the Lord our God, and so let us pray without ceasing.” [Letter 130, 18] “This is the final blessedness, this is the ultimate consummation, this is the unending end.” [City of God, XIX, Ic]

Amen. Alleluia!
Eternal life will be the last Amen, the final Alleluia, that shall be never-ending
. “And it is not with the fleeting echoes of our voices that we shall then be saying, `Amen’ and `Alleluia,’ but with the affectionate feelings of the heart.” [Sermon 255, 5] Alleluia means the praise of God. “To us as we labor,” says Augustine, “it signifies the activity of our eternal rest. For when, after these labors, we come to that rest, the praise of God will be our sole occupation. Our activity there will be `Alleluia’ … our food will be `Alleluia’; our drink will be `Alleluia’; our whole joy will be `Alleluia’ — the praise of God.” [Sermon 252, 9] “Today, hope sings it, and sometimes love. But then love alone shall sing it. The love that sometimes sings it in this life is a love of desire, whereas it will then be sung by a love that rejoices in the everlasting possession of its beloved.” [Sermon 255, 5] Such will be the Sabbath of life everlasting, in which the only ultimate happiness open to man will be forever realized.

“There shall peace be made perfect in the sons of God all loving one another, seeing one another possessed of God, since God shall be all in all. We shall have God as our common vision, God as our common possession, God as our common peace. And whatever there is that he gives us here and now, he himself will be in place of all his gifts. He will be our full and perfect peace … . Our peace, our rest, our joy, the end of all our troubles, is none but God.” [On Psalm 84, 10] The Savior has transformed us into a new race. He has put a new canticle into our mouths — a song to our God. [Cf. Psalm 39, 4] We are pilgrims homeward bound, as we sing praise to the Lord with all our hearts (Ephesians 5:19). “O sons of peace, sons of the one, Catholic Church, walk in your way, and sing as you walk. Travelers do this to keep up their spirits. Do you also sing on the way. I beseech you, by the very way in which you walk, sing on this road, sing the new canticle. Let no one sing old songs, but sing the songs of love of your country; let none sing the old. For the way is new, the traveler is new, and the song is new.” [On Psalm 66, 6]

Turning, then, to the Lord our God, let us as best we can give thanks with all our hearts, beseeching him that in his goodness he would mercifully hear our prayers, and by his grace drive evil from our thoughts and actions, increase our faith, grant us his holy inspirations, and lead us to never-ending joy, through his Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amens [With this prayer Saint Augustine concluded almost all his sermons.]


Augustine On The Voice of Prayer in the Church — Fr. Thomas Hand

September 21, 2011

The Unity That Prays
“Let the members of Christ understand. Let them see Christ in his members, and the members of Christ in Christ; for head and members are one Christ.” [On Psalm 54, 3] It was the will of God that Christ and the Church should be one. And the two shall be made into one. said Saint Paul. This is a great foreshadowing; I mean that it refers to Christ and the church (Romans 5:2). “And if they be two in one flesh,” queries Augustine, “why not two in one voice?” [On Psalm 30 -- 2nd -- 4]

For if they be one, then, the Church speaks in Christ, and Christ speaks in the Church: the body in the head, and the head in the body. “Even though absent from our eyes, Christ our head is bound to us by love. And since the whole Christ is head and body, let us listen to the voice of the head in such a manner that we may also hear the body speak. He no more wished to speak alone than He wished to exist alone, for He says: And know that I am with you always until the end of the world! (Matthew 28:20). If He is with us, then, He speaks in us, He speaks for us, He speaks through us; and we also speak in him.” [On Psalm 56, 1]

Augustine tells us that he found it difficult to find any voices in the Psalms except those of Christ and the Church. “Sometimes,” he says, “it is the voice of Christ alone, and sometimes it is that of the Church alone, of which we certainly are members.” [On Psalm 59, 1] “The members of the Church, many though they be, are bound to one another by the ties of charity and of peace under the one head, who is our Savior himself, and they form one man. The voice of the many is frequently heard in the Psalms as the voice of one man; the cry of one is as the cry of all, for all in one are one.” [On Psalm 69, 1] “And because we are many, the Scriptures say that we praise God altogether (collaudamus); and because we are one, it says that each of us praise him (laudamus). The same who are many are one; for he is ever one in whom we are one.” [On Psalm 147, 7]

Consequently, when we speak to God in prayer for mercy, we do not separate the Son from him; and when the body of the Son prays it does not separate itself from the head. It is the one Savior of his body, our Lord Jesus Christ, who prays both for us and in us, and is prayed to by us. He prays for us as our priest; he prays in us as our head; he is prayed to by us as our God. Let us, then, acknowledge our words in him, and his words in us … He is prayed to in the form of God; He prays in the form of a servant. In the first case He is the Creator; in the latter He is `created,’ the unchanging assuming the form of a creature that the creature may be changed, and so making us with himself, one man, head and body … Be unwilling to say anything without him, and he will say nothing without you. ” [On Psalm 85, 1]

Sometimes, then, Christ speaks as our head, and at other times he speaks and prays on behalf of his members. “This is the case,” observes Augustine, “in that Psalm, the first verse of which the Lord himself spoke from the cross: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:2). Transferring us into what he was saying, and into his body — for we also are his body and he is our head — he uttered our cry from the cross, not his own. Because God never forsook him; nor did he himself ever depart from the Father. So it was on our behalf that he uttered the words: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46).

Moreover, note the words that follow after: Far from my prayer, from the words of my cry? (Psalm 22:2). This verse shows in whose person He spoke the preceding words, for sin could find no place in him.” [On Psalm 43, 2] “Sometimes, then, he speaks as our head, and at other times he speaks for us who are his members. When he said: For I was hungry and you gave me food (Matthew 25:35), he spoke for his members, and not on his own behalf. And when he said: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? (Acts 9:4), it was the head crying out on behalf of its members. Yet, he did not say: `Why do you persecute my members,’ but, Why do you persecute me?

If he suffers in us, then we also shall be crowned in him. Such is the love of Christ. Can anything be compared to this?” [On Psalm 39, 5] “The Church suffered in him, when he suffered for the Church; just as he suffered in the Church, when the Church suffered for his sake. For just as we have heard the voice of the Church suffering in Christ: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? so also have we heard the voice of Christ suffering in the Church: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” [Letter 140, 18]

“Why, then, do we disdain to hear the voice of the body from the mouth of the head?” [Letter 140, 18] His prayer is our prayer, and our prayer is his prayer — provided we do not cut ourselves off from him. “Therefore, as soon as our head begins to pray, let us understand that we are in him, that so we may share our prayer with him just as we share in his tribulation.” [On Psalm 54, 4]

The prayer of all is as the prayer of one man; and this one man can address the Lord and say: From the earth’s end I call to you (Psalm 61:3). “If we are his members and in his body — as we are bold enough to believe on his exhortation — then, we should acknowledge the voice in this psalm as our own and not that of any stranger. I have not called it our own as if it were that of those of us who are now here present, but of all of us spread through the whole world from the east even to the west.

And that you may know it is our voice, He speaks in this psalm as if with the voice of one man; but like a single man, it is the unity that is speaking. In Christ we are all one man; and the head of this one man is in heaven while the members are still toiling on the earth. And because they are toiling, see what Hesays: Hear, O God, my cry; listen to my prayer! From the earth’s end I call you as my heart grows faint (Psalm 61:2-3) … But what one man cries from the ends of the earth? Nothing cries from the ends of the earth save that inheritance concerning which it was said to the Son himself, Ask of me and I will give you the nations for an inheritance and the ends of the earth for your possession (Psalm 2:8). This inheritance of Christ, this body of Christ, this one Church of Christ, this unity to which we belong, is crying from the ends of the earth.” [On Psalm 60, 1-2]

“Let him rise up, this one chanter; let this man sing from the heart of each of us, and let each one of us be in this man. When each of you sings a verse it is still this one man that sings, since you are all one in Christ. We do not say, `To you, 0 Lord, we lift up our eyes,’ but To you Ilift up my eyes (Psalm 123:1). You should of course consider that each of you is speaking, but that primarily this one man is speaking who reaches to the end of the earth.” [On Psalm 122, 2] “How can this one man cry out from the ends of the earth unless he be one in all?” [On Psalm 54, 17]


Augustine On The Prayer Of The Church I — Fr. Thomas Hand

September 20, 2011


Madonna in the Church (detail), Jan van Eyck, 1425

Unity in Multiplicity
Insofar as Christ is the source from which we receive the life of grace, He is, from that point of view, the “Father” of our supernatural life. But if he be the “Father” of a supernatural family, he must have a bride; and it is the Church that is chosen as the spouse of Christ. Through her He brings us forth to the life of grace, builds himself a family that shall grow into a great people — the city of God. “We had a father and mother on earth that we might be born to labor and death; but we have found other parents: God our Father and the Church our Mother, by whom we are born unto life everlasting.” [Sermon 57:2]

There were two things, according to Augustine, that our Divine Lord loved above all others on this earth: his mother and his Church. “Mary mothered your leader,” preached Augustine; “the Church mothered you; for she also is mother and virgin. Mother through the womb of her charity; virgin in the integrity of her faith and of her piety. She issues to the world entire peoples, but they are all members of a single Christ, of which she is the body and the spouse. One can say of her as of Mary: She is the mother of unity in multiplicity.” [Sermon 192, 2 -- In multis mater est unitatis.]

The comparison according to which the Church appears as an interior and spiritual society of souls, linked directly to the Incarnate Word as to its chief, is inspired by the Gospel, in which Christ said to his apostles: Live on in me, as I do in you. No more than a branch can bear fruit of itself apart from the vine, can you bear fruit apart from me (John 15:4). This organic unity is again explicitly affirmed by Saint Paul. The body is one and has many members, but all the members, many though they are, are one body; and so it is with Christ.

It was in one Spirit that all of us, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, were baptized into one body. All of us have been given to drink of one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). This unity in multiplicity, this oneness of his members with himself, was the theme of the Savior’s prayer at the Last Supper. I do not pray for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their word, that all may be one as you, Father, are in me, and I in you; I pray that they may be [one] in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me that they may be one, as we are one (John 17:20-22).

The Church, then, is not just a society of many members, however numerous; nor is it merely an external organization united by the will to pursue the same common good. Its unity is that of a single, living organism, like a vine; or like that of a single, living person. It must not be equated with the worldwide association of all Christian souls, as if it were the sum of all Christian personalities, created by their voluntary federation, and dependent on their good pleasure for its continued existence. The Church is antecedent to all Christian personalities; it does not presuppose them, it creates and produces them. It is not the branches that give life to the vine; it is the vine that gives life to the branches. Therefore, all of us, together with our head, we are Christ: without our head we are worth nothing. Why? Because, together with our head we are the vine; without our head — which God forbid — we are lopped-off branches, destined to do no work for the Husbandman, but for the fire only.

So he himself says in the Gospel: I am the vine, you are the branches. He who lives in me and I in him, will produce abundantly, for a part from me you can do nothing (John 15:5). [On Psalm 30 -- 2nd -- 4] Being engrafted into this vine which is Christ, is the very condition of our spiritual life and of our supernatural fruitfulness.

“When I call Christians many,” declares Augustine, “I understand them to be one in Christ. ” [On Psalm 127, 4] So we are many, and we are one. “He is one, we are many; he is one, and we are one in him.” [On Psalm 88 -- 1st -- 7] “We are one because Christ is one and we are his members.” [On Psalm 60, 2] “Our Lord Jesus Christ, like a whole and perfect man, is head and body … The body of this head is the Church; and not just the Church in this particular place, but both the Church that is here, and the Church that extends itself over the whole earth; and not only the Church that is living today, but the whole race of saints, from Abel down to all those who will ever be born, and who will believe in Christ to the end of the world. For all belong to one city. This city is the body of Christ. . . This is the whole Christ: Christ united to his Church.” [On Psalm 90 -- 2nd -- l] “Let us rejoice and give thanks. Not only are we become Christians, we are become Christ! My brethren, do you understand the grace that is given us? Marvel, rejoice, for we are made Christ! If he be the head and if we be the members, then, he and we together are the whole man ... This would be foolish pride on our part were it not a gift of his bounty. But this is what he promised by the lips of his Apostle: You, then, are the body of Christ. Every one of you is a member of it (1 Corinthians 12:27).” [Treatise on John XXI, 8]

While emphasizing the intimacy of the union between Christ and his members, however, Augustine clearly maintains certain distinctions. “We do not separate the two realities,” he says, “though we do distinguish two different dignities: For the head saves, the body is saved.” [On Psalm 37, 6]

Furthermore, it is not Christ as the Word of God who is the head of the Church. “The Word is made flesh in order to become the head of the Church. Because the Word himself is not a part of the Church; but in order to become the head he has taken a body.” [On Psalm 148, 8] In this way he preserves his own personal activities, those of his divine life, in spite of the intimacy of his union with his members. It is not the Word, or divinity as such, that is the head of the Church, but the Word made flesh. Consequently, though he as their head condescends to be what his members are, it does not follow that they are what he is as the second person of the Blessed Trinity, that is, God. Nevertheless, the Word Incarnate is “human divinity and divine humanity,” [Sermon 47, 21] and even as the humanity of Christ was sanctified through its assumption by the Word, so are the members of Christ sanctified in their head.

“Since, then, he is the Mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus has been made head of the Church, and the faithful are his members. Wherefore, he says: I consecrate myself for their sakes now (John 17:19): And when he says this, what else does he mean but, `I sanctify them in myself, since truly they are myself’? For, as I have already remarked, those of whom he speaks are his members, and head and body are one Christ. That he signifies this unity is certain from what follows in the same verse. For having said: `For them do I hallow myself,’ he immediately adds: `that they also may be sanctified in truth.’ Now, the words, `in truth,’ can only mean, `in me,’ since truth is the Word who in the beginning was God. The Son of Man was himself sanctified in the Word at the moment of his creation, when the Word was made flesh, for Word and man became one person.

It was at that instant, therefore, that he hallowed himself, that is, that he hallowed himself as man in himself as the Word. For there is but one Christ, Word and man, sanctifying himself in the Word. But now it is on behalf of his members that he adds: `and for them do I hallow myself.’ That is to say, that since they too are myself, so they too may profit by this sanctification, just as I profited by it as man without them. `And for them do I hallow myself’: that is, I sanctify them in myself as myself, since they too are myself.” [Treatise on John, 108, 5]

This very manifest desire of the Son of God made man to identify us with himself, should not surprise us. For God is love; and love not only creates more love, it strives to unite those who love each other. “What is love, if not a certain life which unifies, or seeks to unify, two things, namely, him that loves and that which is loved?” [Trinity, VIII, xi, 14] Christ, therefore, has identified the Church with himself so that they are one person, one man, one body, the whole Christ — the unity in which we love and pray. “He wills his own to be one,” says Augustine, “but in himself… that they may be one in him, not only through the same nature in which all from being mortal men are made equal to the angels, but also through the same will harmoniously conspiring to the same happiness, and fused in some way by the fire of charity into one spirit.” [Trinity, IV, ix, 12]

We have seen that love and prayer are gifts from God, and that the love which is God is poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:5). Now this Holy Spirit is the very soul of the Mystical Body of Christ, because “the body of Christ cannot live but by the spirit of Christ,” [Treatise on John, XXVI, 13] and if we would live by this spirit, we must be members of that body in which the spirit dwells, and through which it communicates itself.

We are all one in Christ, as the body and soul are one in a single living man. For though we be many, we all live by the same life, and we are unified by the same Holy Spirit that dwells in us, just as all the members of a body are given unison of life and harmony and of operation by the indwelling soul. “See what the soul does in the body. It feeds all the members; it gives life to all; and it gives to each member the function proper to it. The eye does not hear, the ear does not see, nevertheless, it lives. The functions vary, but the life is common to all.

So it is with the Church of God. There are priests and laity, virgins and married people, each having their own proper activity, but all having the same spiritual life. Now, what the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the body of Christ which is the Church. He accomplishes in the whole Church what the soul does in all the members of a single body.” [Sermon 267, 4] Through the Mystical Body of Christ, therefore, the Savior communicates his life and his holiness to us, and in so doing he communicates his love and his prayer. And this love which is poured forth in our hearts must be, not only affective, but effective; and to be effective it must be operative — it must express itself in prayer.


Nine Reasons For The Necessity of Prayer – from Francisco de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life

September 19, 2011

  1. PRAYER opens the understanding to the brightness of Divine Light, and the will to the warmth of Heavenly Love–nothing can so effectually purify the mind from its many ignorances, or the will from its perverse affections. It is as a healing water which causes the roots of our good desires to send forth fresh shoots, which washes away the soul’s imperfections, and allays the thirst of passion.
  2. But especially I commend earnest mental prayer to you, more particularly such as bears upon the Life and Passion of our Lord. If you contemplate Him frequently in meditation, your whole soul will be filled with Him, you will grow in His Likeness, and your actions will be molded on His. He is the Light of the world; therefore in Him, by Him, and for Him we shall be enlightened and illuminated; He is the Tree of Life, beneath the shadow of which we must find rest;–He is the Living Fountain of Jacob’s well, wherein we may wash away every stain. Children learn to speak by hearing their mother talk, and stammering forth their childish sounds in imitation; and so if we cleave to the Savior in meditation, listening to His words, watching His actions and intentions, we shall learn in time, through His Grace, to speak, act and will like Himself.

    Believe me, my daughter, there is no way to God save through this door. Just as the glass of a mirror would give no reflection save for the metal behind it, so neither could we here below contemplate the Godhead, were it not united to the Sacred Humanity of our Saviour, Whose Life and Death are the best, sweetest and most profitable subjects that we can possibly select for meditation. It is not without meaning that the Saviour calls Himself the Bread come down from Heaven;–just as we eat bread with all manner of other food, so we need to meditate and feed upon our Dear Lord in every prayer and action. His Life has been meditated and written about by various authors. I should specially commend to you the writings of S. Bonaventura, Bellintani, Bruno, Capilla, Grenada and Da Ponte. [S. Bonaventura, Louis of Grenada, and Da Ponte's works are still available and are admirable helps to meditation. Among more modern works might be suggested Isaac Williams on the Passion, Avrillon's Lent Guide]

  3. Give an hour every day to meditation before dinner;–if you can, let it be early in the morning, when your mind will be less cumbered, and fresh after the night’s rest. Do not spend more than an hour thus, unless specially advised to do so by your spiritual father.
  4. If you can make your meditation quietly in church, it will be well, and no one, father or mother, husband or wife, can object to an hour spent there, and very probably you could not secure a time so free from interruption at home.
  5. Begin all prayer, whether mental or vocal, by an act of the Presence of God. If you observe this rule strictly, you will soon see how useful it is.
  6. It may help you to say the Creed, Lord’s Prayer, etc., in Latin, but you should also study them diligently in your own language, so as thoroughly to gather up the meaning of these holy words, which must be used fixing your thoughts steadily on their purport, not striving to say many words so much as seeking to say a few with your whole heart. One Our Father said devoutly is worth more than many prayers hurried over.
  7. The Rosary is a useful devotion when rightly used, and there are various little books to teach this. It is well, too, to say pious Litanies, and the other vocal prayers appointed for the Hours and found in Manuals of devotion,–but if you have a gift for mental prayer, let that always take the chief place, so that if, having made that, you are hindered by business or any other cause from saying your wonted vocal prayers, do not be disturbed, but rest satisfied with saying the Lord’s Prayer, the Angelic Salutation, and the Creed after your meditation.
  8. If, while saying vocal prayers, your heart feels drawn to mental prayer, do not resist it, but calmly let your mind fall into that channel, without troubling because you have not finished your appointed vocal prayers. The mental prayer you have substituted for them is more acceptable to God, and more profitable to your soul. I should make an exception of the Church’s Offices, if you are bound to say those by your vocation–in such a case these are your duty.
  9. If it should happen that your morning goes by without the usual meditation, either owing to a pressure of business, or from any other cause, (which interruptions you should try to prevent as far as possible,) try to repair the loss in the afternoon, but not immediately after a meal, or you will perhaps be drowsy, which is bad both for your meditation and your health. But if you are unable all day to make up for the omission, you must remedy it as far as may be by ejaculatory prayer, and by reading some spiritual book, together with an act of penitence for the neglect, together with a steadfast resolution to do better the next day

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