Friday, 21 February 2014

Sparklings of the Divine Light

The Pantheon in Rome, now the Church of All Saints.
"The door of the human being is the spiracle of life through which we spirate and breathe the Divine Being, eternal light and life. Now what is an opening if not a hole, an interruption of closure. In other words, ‘in’ this hole of the human being, which is the spiracle of Genesis, the human being ceases; it is interrupted. But there where man ceases God begins. Man is enclosed in his own nature as in a carapace (and this also includes, in a certain way, all of creation). Beyond this carapace suddenly begins the ocean of Divine Light. God pierces a hole in this carapace that is immediately invaded by Divine Light. Insofar as this light comes from elsewhere, it is Divine; insofar as it wholly occupies the place of the orifice, it is part of human nature. 

From this point of view there is profound analogy between microcosm and macrocosm, as is sometimes represented by medieval iconography: the stars are not so much luminous bodies fixed to the celestial vault, as openings in the firmament through which the sparklings of the Divine Light is [sic] glimpsed. Once we know what a close relationship there is, for Plato and Aristotle, between the stars and the essences of the intelligible world, this analogy is seen in all its profundity. Are Plato’s essences intelligible ‘things’? In a certain sense, yes. But, in another, they are holes in the sensory cosmos which, by their very notchings, delineate or cut out distinct luminous unities in that ocean of infinite light that is Divine Reality; how else could we withstand its brightness?

"To conclude let us add that, if the immutable essences are macrocosmic doorways to the divine, if neshamah is the microcosmic doorway, the Most Holy Virgin is its spiritual doorway, the Janua Coeli, which makes of her ‘the Mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope’ (Eccles. 24:24). Yes, spiritual intelligence comes into us through the doorway of Heaven."

*
The text is from Jean Borella, The Secret of the Christian Way, ed. and trans. G. John Champoux (SUNY Press, 2001), p. 110. See also Borella's Sense of the Supernatural, which I was proud to publish at T&T Clark some years ago. Secret of the Christian Way is included in my list of DESERT ISLAND BOOKS (i.e. indispensable metaphysics and theology) which you can find below.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Praying to the Trinity

There are three special prayers in the Christian tradition: The Lord’s Prayer, the Jesus Prayer, and the Hail Mary. These prayers are directed especially to the members of the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

This is easy to see in the case of the first two, which are explicitly addressed to the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is not mentioned in the third, although we know that he is the Spouse of the Mother of God, and St Maximilian Kolbe even refers to Our Lady as the “quasi-incarnation” of the Holy Spirit. These two – The Spirit and Our Lady – are closely entwined at the deepest level.

What we normally mean by “prayer” is talking to God (albeit silently) about things we need or things that worry us – or praising him and thanking him for this and that. Much of that kind of prayer involves thinking, imagining, conceptualizing. It is takes place in a mind full of echoes and mumblings of conversation, memories of things that have happened or fears of what may be about to, or simply random

Friday, 17 January 2014

Praying the Name

In what is surely an important ecumenical gesture, Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, one of the leading exponents of Eastern Orthdoxy in the UK, has written a booklet on the Jesus Prayer for the Catholic Truth Society (CTS). The Jesus Prayer is the most popular devotional prayer in the Orthodox Church and increasingly popular in the West. A simple and direct method of invoking the mercy of Jesus Christ by repeating his Holy Name, it is a way of obeying St Paul’s instruction to “pray always”. In an increasingly noisy and frenetic world, the Jesus Prayer offers us an oasis of inner peace and a lifeline back to God.

At the same time, a new booklet from CTS on The Name of God by Canon Michael Lewis in the Deeper Christianity series explores the basis for the Jesus Prayer in the revelation of the Name both in the Old Testament and in the New.

The following beautiful passage is taken from pp. 40-41 of The Jesus Prayer by A Monk of the Eastern Church (Archimandrite Lev Gillet).
"The Jesus Prayer must be 'breathed' continually. When the intellect has been purified and unified by it, our thoughts swim in it as merry dolphins in a peaceful sea. Then a dialogue begins in which Christ, who has become the inner master, makes known his will to the heart. When the Jesus Prayer is understood in this way, clearly its final aim is not mystical silence but the hearing of the divine word. We do not remain exterior to the name invoked, but the invocation allows us to 'participate in the holy name of Jesus.' It gives us the virtues of temperance and continence. The name of Jesus comes into our life first of all as a lamp in the darkness; next it is like moonlight, and finally like the sunrise. Being the sun of our intellect, it creates within it luminous thoughts, to which it communicates its own splendour, thoughts resembling the sun. It is love which elevates us – we should notice the part played by divine love in this process of transformation – and makes us higher than angels. To pronounce the name of Jesus in a holy way is an all-sufficient and surpassing aim for any human life."
Several postings on this theme will be found elsewhere on this site, for example under dates 3 Jan 2014, 6 Nov 2013, 26 Aug 2013, and 15 Apr 2011.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Baptism

This picture of the Baptism of Christ by Fra Angelico has great depth to it. Beyond the sweep of the river and the horizon the clouds form a kind of tunnel, through which the Holy Spirit is entering into the world. It is as though everything comes from here. The Baptist is dark, as though in shadow ("I must decrease..."), and the Saviour is light – the brightest thing in the picture, glowing by his own radiance, and at the same time illuminated by the Holy Spirit. The Baptist is pouring water from a golden bowl, like the river that flows over Christ's feet and the light that flows over his head – the Upper and Lower Waters of Genesis, the Upper Waters coming directly from heaven and the Lower following a winding path through the hills.

Angels and human beings (with the Virgin Mary and St Dominic representing the saints) await the outcome of the Baptism, which is the renewal of all things. For the moment, the new creation is held between the hands of Christ. These hands are pressed together in a symbol of peace precisely at his heart. The Sacred Heart will be pierced on the Cross to allow the Church to be born in blood and water, and the hands will be spread wide. In the painting the figure of Christ is facing us, so the whole image is oriented towards the viewer. We are challenged to respond with prayer, to enter into the biblical scene ourselves, and so to become part of the mystery.

This painting is beautifully reproduced and discussed in the January issue of Magnificat (see "Art Essay of the Month").

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Three wise men

Gold, frankincense, and myrrh are the gifts of wisdom, signifying the kingship of Christ, his deity, and his death (or virtue, prayer, and suffering). But one might also see them as representing the three stages of the spiritual life: myrrh for purification through ascetic struggle, frankincense for illumination through prayer, and gold for the final "unitive" stage – union with God.

St Bonaventure describes the three stages, corresponding to the three gifts of the wise to mankind, in The Triple Way. “First, the steps of cleansing. The first level of spiritual life, purification, is divided in this manner: You must blush because of your crimes; tremble in the face of judgment; weep for the damage done; beg for remedy; fight the enticements of the enemy (the devil); desire