"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch


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Saturday, 24 June 2017


Such a mixed bag as the English Benedictine Congregation would have probably never been founded if it had not been true in the late Middle Ages that high contemplation was found as much outside the cloister as within it.  Tertiaries of the mendicant orders, lay people living outside the cloister like St Catherine of Sienna and St Rose of Lima, lay contemplatives and anchorites only too ready to profess that they weren't monks or nuns, like Richard Rolle and the author of Piers Ploughman in England, all showed that you didn't have to live in a monastery to seek God and live a life of contemplation.  Recent authors have  even doubted the common belief that Dame Julian of Norwich was a Benedictine nun and have suggested that she was a widow whose family had been wiped out in the plague.  Finally we have the example of the Jesuits who adopted the classical principles of the religious life, but insisted that they can be fully implemented as much outside the cloister as within, and under any circumstances, and called themselves "contemplatives in the streets".   It was only a short step to the foundation of a monastic congregation whose members lived both inside the community and outside, in habits and without habits, with a sense of coherence and continuity.

This is implied in a story of the abbot St Antony who was told, one day, by God that there was a man in Alexandria much holier than he was.  St Antony asked to see this man, so he was taken by an angel to a funeral.   There were two angels among the mourners.
"Who are they?" he asked the angel.
"Oh, they are the angels of Wednesday and Friday, which are the days on which he fasted."
"I see his wife and children; but who are all those other people?"
"They are all the poor and injured whom he has helped during his life.  He keeps a portion of his earnings for his family, a portion for the Church. and the rest he gives to the poor."
From this St Antony learned that however great the contrast between his life in the Egyptian desert and that of the Alexandrian family man, holiness for both consisted in living in harmony with God's will as revealed in the concrete circumstances of each of their very different lives.  The depth and strength of that "synergy" is the depth and strength of their holiness: a mere comparison between the external details of their different life-styles would be superficial and could lead to wrong conclusions.

It is not surprising that the French Jesuit de Caussade became the facourite spiritual guide for so many English Benedictines.  

 I learnt the basic principles of his spirituality after reading Thomas Merton from Father Luke Waring in my last year in school; and it was this that persuaded me to be a monk of Belmont rather than a Cistercian.  Father Luke learnt this spirituality from monks of Ampleforth in his home parish of Leyland in Lancashire.   In my noviciate, our commentary on the Rule of St Benedict was by a monk of Solesmes.  That and other books I came across at that time were by themselves poor preparation for the life I was to lead afterwards in school and parish; but, read through the filtre of de Caussade's teaching, they became pure gold.

Both St Benedict and de Caussade identify "self-will" as our main obstacle to seeking God and conformity to God's will at all times and in all circumstances as our way forward.  St Benedict would fully agree with de Caussade in finding God's will packed into the "sacrament of the present moment", in the ordinary details of every day, but he would see this whole quest within the context of living in the monastic community: while de Caussade, in his typically Jesuit way, applies this principal to any circumstance and any context.

Thus, de Caussade provides continuity and coherence to monks who have to live their lives in a variety of settings, doing a variety of jobs in different contexts.  I remember the example of a monk who spent his whole life on parishes since his ordination; and then, after his sixtieth birthday, returned to the monastery and took to its exigencies as though he had never left, a good example to us younger monks in his attendance at choir, at lectio divina and study, and in the work the abbot gave him to do.   He never complained about his parish work and did it with relish, but he adapted his own private monastic observance to the sacrament of the present moment; and, once returned to the monastery, he did not waste time indulging in nostalgic memories, but plunged into living a very different life-style with gusto, still finding God in the present moment.

De Caussade's book, "Abandonment to Divine Providence" needs to be complemented by the teaching of the monastic fathers on seeking the presence of Jesus Christ in the heart, but the two teachings fit into one another perfectly and without strain.  If we want to, we can find Jesus wherever we look, both without and within.  Who says that Christ is far away! We are like fish swimming in the Holy Spirit that unites us to Christ; and when we breath in these waters, we do not drown but are given life.

De Caussade gives us a rich teaching which is applicable to any circumstance. Here is a small introduction to what makes many of us English monks tick. It may be useful to you. 

my source:      

Caussade on the Practice of Self-Abandonment) by Jean-Pierre de Caussade, S.J.:


On the Virtue of Abandonment to Divine Providence; Its Nature and Excellence


Sanctity Consists in Fidelity to the Order Established by God, and in Submission to All His Operations

1. Hidden Operations of God.

Fidelity to the order established by God comprehended the whole sanctity of the righteous under the old law; even that of St. Joseph, and of Mary herself.

God continues to speak today as He spoke in former times to our fathers when there were no directors as at present, nor any regular method of direction. Then all spirituality was comprised in fidelity to the designs of God, for there was no regular system of guidance in the spiritual life to explain it in detail, nor so many instructions, precepts and examples as there are now. Doubtless our present difficulties render this necessary, but it was not so in the first ages when souls were more simple and straightforward. Then, for those who led a spiritual life, each moment brought some duty to be faithfully accomplished. Their whole attention was thus concentrated consecutively like a hand that marks the hours which, at each moment, traverses the space allotted to it. Their minds, incessantly animated by the impulsion of divine grace, turned imperceptibly to each new duty that presented itself by the permission of God at different hours of the day. Such were the hidden springs by which the conduct of Mary was actuated. Mary was the most simple of all creatures, and the most closely united to God. Her answer to the angel when she said: “Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum”: contained all the mystic theology of her ancestors to whom everything was reduced, as it is now, to the 2purest, simplest submission of the soul to the will of God, under whatever form it presents itself. This beautiful and exalted state, which was the basis of the spiritual life of Mary, shines conspicuously in these simple words, “Fiat mihi” (Luke 1:38). Take notice that they are in complete harmony with those which Our Lord desires that we should have always on our lips and in our hearts: “Fiat voluntas tua.” It is true that what was required of Mary at this great moment, was for her very great glory, but the magnificence of this glory would have made no impression on her if she had not seen in it the fulfillment of the will of God. In all things was she ruled by the divine will. Were her occupations ordinary, or of an elevated nature, they were to her but the manifestation, sometimes obscure, sometimes clear, of the operations of the most High, in which she found alike subject matter for the glory of God. Her spirit, transported with joy, looked upon all that she had to do or to suffer at each moment as the gift of Him who fills with good things the hearts of those who hunger and thirst for Him alone, and have no desire for created things. 

II. The Duties of Each Moment.

The duties of each moment are the shadows beneath which hides the divine operation.

“The power of the most High shall over-shadow thee” (Luke 1:35), said the angel to Mary. This shadow, beneath which is hidden the power of God for the purpose of bringing forth Jesus Christ in the soul, is the duty, the attraction, or the cross that is presented to us at each moment. These are, in fact, but shadows like those in the order of nature which, like a veil, cover sensible objects and hide them from us. Therefore in the moral and supernatural order the duties of each moment conceal, under the semblance of dark shadows, the truth of their divine character which alone should rivet the attention. It was in this light that Mary beheld them. Also these shadows diffused over her faculties, far from creating illusion, did but increase her faith in Him who is unchanging and unchangeable. The archangel may depart. He has delivered his message, and his moment has passed. Mary advances without ceasing, and is already far beyond him. The Holy Spirit, who comes to take possession of her under the shadow of the angel’s words, will never abandon her.

There are remarkably few extraordinary characteristics in the outward events of the life of the most holy Virgin, at least there are none recorded in holy Scripture. Her exterior life is represented as very ordinary and simple. She did and suffered the same things that anyone in a similar state of life might do or suffer. She goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth as her other relatives did. She took shelter in a stable in consequence of her poverty. She returned to Nazareth from whence she had been driven by the persecution of Herod, and lived there with Jesus and Joseph, supporting themselves by the work of their hands. It was in this way that the holy family gained their daily bread. But what a divine nourishment Mary and Joseph received from this daily bread for the strengthening of their faith! It is like a sacrament to sanctify all their moments. What treasures of grace lie concealed in these moments filled, apparently, by the most ordinary events. That which is visible might happen to anyone, but the invisible, discerned by faith, is no less than God operating very great things. O Bread of Angels! heavenly manna! pearl of the Gospel! Sacrament of the present moment! thou givest God under as lowly a form as the manger, the hay, or the straw. And to whom dost thou give Him? “Esurientes implevit bonis” (Luke 1:53). God reveals Himself to the humble under the most lowly forms, but the proud, attaching themselves entirely to that which is extrinsic, do not discover Him hidden beneath, and are sent empty away.

Abandonment to Divine Providence is also available as an Electronic Book Downland and as an Audio Book on CD.

Thursday, 22 June 2017


When I first came across the Charismatic Renewal back in the early 70's, in spite of the funny way they prayed, what delighted me was their accent on the Holy Spirit.   It seemed to me that ordinary Catholic life is simply awash with the Holy Spirit, but its extent was unrecognised.   Not only does the Holy Spirit  make us Christians at baptism, change bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, forgive sins through absolution and lead us to live a sacramental life, he turns the Bible into the Word of God.    Whenever the Holy Spirit acts through the reading of Scripture and the celebration of sacraments, the celebrants, the proclaimers, the readers and the praying and singing community become instruments through whom Christ works, and he also fills Christians with his Spirit so that they can understand and be sanctified.

As Sacrosanctum Concilium tells us, Christ really does  speak when the Scripture is read in Church, and, to the extent that they are open to him, he gives the Spirit to the preacher and to those who are listening, giving them a real insight into the Word of God.

Hence I believe we can look at our celebration of the liturgy during any week and ask what Christ has been saying to us doing that week. Of course, this is a highly personal collection of thoughts, and that Christ will have used the same texts to say different things to different people.   Nevertheless, I think you will agree that he has given us a renewed understanding of the Christian life.

On becoming human

A Christian lives in two "worlds" at once.  He has been born into one and baptised into the other.  We were not asked to be born, and all of us who are so privileged will one day inevitably die.  We are made to love and be loved and to enjoy the happiness of being alive, but these gifts are imperfect and transitory.  The truth is that this world can only find its true meaning in the other world and is destined to be transformed by it so that, in the end, there will only be one world.

If the synoptic gospels give accounts of the institution of the Eucharist, St John places the Washing of the feet in their place and gives us plenty of teaching to inform us  on the significance of the Eucharist.   Within this central act of Christian worship, Christ offers himself totally and without reserve to each and all of us, as he teaches in chapter 6.  He dwells in each of us, and we dwell in him.  We share his eternal life, the life of his Resurrection, and shall be raised up on the Last Day.  This only happens because he gives himself so utterly and thoroughly.  

“Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant[c] is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

 In our turn, we must wash one another's feet.   We are his servants and messengers, and if he is able to serve humbly, being master and lord, we have no justification to withhold our humble service.  In fact, he gives us a new commandment, to love one another as he has shown he loves us.

 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Christ's love for us has its roots in his love for the Father and the Father's love for him.   If we are to love as he loved, our love too must be rooted in our love for him who dwells in us and his love for us.  This two-way love is nothing less than a participation by creation in the love of the Blessed Trinity and a reflection of the love of Blessed Trinity in creation; and, in the vocabulary of St John, in so far as it is visible and recognisable in concrete deeds and lives, it gives glory to the Father, revealing that "God is love," and also gives glory to the Son.   Thus, Christ says of his impending crucifixion:

 31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.

If we love as Christ loves, and that is our vocation as servants and messengers, we glorify the Father in the Son by reflecting God's presence in the quality of our love.   Without our Christian love, our teaching can be reduced to an abstract doctrine: our love, rooted in Christ who dwells in us, can make it for the world a living Presence.   Hence, we too share in his glory.   Jesus prays in John 17:

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

My teacher, Pere C. Spicq O.P. used to say that, in St John's Gospel, the Church is made visible by the quality of its love.  Where there is Christian love, the world can glimpse at the Church as Christ's body: without love, the Church is seen as just one other worldly institution.

Let us now turn for a moment to St Paul.  Jesus died for us and in the act of giving himself to us and, by the same act. he was offering himself in loving obedience to his Father.  This act of self-giving was total and is thus a characteristic of his risen self: he is "slaughtered and yet standing."   We are on his wavelength and capable to actively participate in his divine-human love to the extent that we share in his death to self  and his living for others with a death and life rooted in his; and in this way, we share in his resurrection. In the Eucharist, we share in his life to the extent that we share in his death, which is why we cannot separate communion from sharing in his sacrifice.

(2 Cor. 5, 14-21)
The love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died. He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer.


And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

He has given us the "ministry of reconciliation". We have become "the righteousness of God" and instruments of the Father who is reconciling the world to himself in Christ.  The presence of Christ in us by the power of the Spirit that is renewed and strengthened in the Eucharist becomes visible in the quality of our love, living for Christ and for all humanity in Christ and thus, in St John's vocabulary, sharers in God's glory.   As we share in his life in the Eucharist, "becoming what we eat," so we share in his glory by loving as he loves.  We bear witness by our lives that "God is Love", and show that all this is not just words, but a concrete reality.

In doing this, we help to transform society in this world by inserting into it the life of the resurrection, the life of the world to come.   

Thus Rome was partly transformed by the love of Christians for the poor - in the time before  the Last Coming the transformation is always partial and transient and always needs being renewed -  and the Egyptian Desert was transformed by the lives of the monks who lived there.  The transformation continues: in my country, the churches are responsible for a large part of the caring for the poor etc.  If this is rooted in their faith and in their life in Christ, this isn't just social work, but Christ showing his love through their activity. Places become transformed by the Christian lives of those who live there. The Celts talk of "thin" places where eternity can be sensed in the world of time.  Monastery guest houses get fuller every year, and more and more people go on pilgrimage, because people  experience peace, tranquility and a sense of the sacred, even many secular people.   This transformation isn't the immediate purpose of the Christian life. which is to live in communion with Christ, but it is an important effect of the Christian life. 

As we wrote above, we inhabit two world, one we were born into and the other we were baptised into.  In the first, we had no choice in being born into it, nor can we choose not to die.  Likewise, it is the product of the Big Bang and will, one day, come to an end. Although it is very beautiful and is loved by God whose creature it is, it receives its meaning from human kind whose horizons are limited by death and distorted by sin.

The  horizon is very different in the world of Christ's resurrection.   We enter it of our own free will.  Even if we were baptised as babies, we are always free to opt out: even the gates of hell are locked from the inside.  To the degree we share in Christ's death, to that degree we share in his resurrected life which is eternal and, moreover, a participation in his infinite divine life.

In the world we are born into, where my horizon ends in death, humiliation is nothing more than humiliation, suffering nothing more than suffering, pain nothing more than pain, and death is the end of it all.  In the world we are baptised into, humiliation is glory, a share in Christ's humiliation, suffering a share in his suffering, pain in his pain, and death is the gateway to eternal life  Hence Christ's words make sense:

Gospel Mt 5:38-42
Jesus said to his disciples:"You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.  Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow."

 This world, which is the reality brought about in Christ's own body by his resurrection and into which we are baptised, embraces heaven and earth by his Ascension and is called the "Kingdom of heaven" or the "Kingdom of God" in so far as it is open to God's action.   "Kingdom" does not mean a territory, as in "United Kingdom" but rather where God is actually ruling, implying God's present activity.  For St Matthew, it is where God's will is done  on earth as it is done in Heaven. It is especially present on earth at the Eucharist in which the Church on earth joins the Church in heaven in its liturgy that is both heavenly and earthly, where angel choirs and human beings on earth sing, "Holy, holy, holy.."   Living the Christian life is living the Mass.   God is Love and the Cross glorifies God by manifesting his very nature as self-emptying love as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   This love is manifested to us sinners as forgiveness. The will of God is done on earth as in heaven when we love as Christ has loved us, as God loves all of us, each of us, and his whole creation: hence the following passage:

Gospel Mt 5:43-48
Jesus said to his disciples:"You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy."  But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."

This forms the perfect context for understanding the "Our Father".  After addressing the Father and asking that his Name be hallowed, we ask that his kingdom come.  Here, it is an equivalent of invoking the Holy Spirit, the hypostasis of God's self-emptying Love, an epiclesis, so  that the Father's will is done on earth as in heaven.  Then we pray, "Give us this day our epiousion bread," which we translate as "daily bread" because it is the easiest translation though not the most probable.   The Douai Bible translated it literally as "supersubstantial bread"; but it could be translated "bread of the Coming" which, since the whole prayer is about the Kingdom, is highly probable.   As it is a Jewish prayer, it most probably has all these meanings at once.   Hence, "supersubstantial" and "bread of the Coming" mean the Eucharist.  That the central petition should refer to the central sacrament of the Christian life is very likely.  Thus there is a theme, the Coming of the Kingdom and the hyspostasis of love, the gift of the Eucharist which is vehicle of Christ's total gift of himself, our forgiving one another in love, and our deliverance from the evil one who is the very opposite of these things.

Finally, there is a warning.  All that glitters is not gold, and not every good work manifests the Kingdom.   We have noted that the kingdom is where God is active: where he is excluded by our egotism or lack of openness to God, where we are not mere instruments of God, allowing him to do as he pleases, where our works give glory to some cause or other, to our political party, to our country or to ourselves, and not to God, then these works are not works of the Kingdom and are being wasted, even if what we are doing is God's will, and the obstacle to God's activity is ourselves.  Hence:

Gospel Mt 6:1-6, 16-18
Jesus said to his disciples:"Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streetsto win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms,do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
"When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street cornersso that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
"When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.

This seems to be directly contrary to Christ's command to let your light shine among men so that they will see your works and give glory to God.  However, as kingdom people, we are mere instruments in God's hands; and, if he wants to use us as a torch, he will know when to switch us on and switch us off.  We must concentrate on renewing our resolve to be his instruments.

Finally, we have come to the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
That great feast of the divine-human love of Christ for humankind and for the whole of creation tells us that the love which holds the universe in existence is not only a divine love that is beyond our understanding, but also a human love, because of the Incarnation.

The church fathers teach us that,at the profoundest level of human existence, in each human being, there is the place where God is loving us into existence and where Christ prays to the Father in the Holy Spirit. They call it the heart.  They invite us to enter the heart and unite our prayer to that of the Spirit.

Christ is a human being and therefore has a heart in which God becomes man, and from where the Holy Spirit unites him to every human being in all times and places.  This heart is the Sacred Heart of Jesus.   Read more about the feast here. 

An acquaintance of mine who is the brother of two Chilean boys with whom I was at school constructed a huge hand in the Atacama Desert.  When I asked him why he did it, he said that it was an attempt of an artist to humanise the desert.   The feast of the Sacred Heart reminds us that, with the Incarnation, God has humanised creation.    At the heart of creation and in the heart of each one of us, in the divine Love by which all creation and each one of us are brought into being, the human heart of Jesus Christ is loving in harmony with God.

God is Love, and any time that our love is more than a chemical change in the brain shows us to be made in the image of God.    God is Love, and we cannot know him without loving him, and, as the Byzantine Rite reminds us, we cannot recite the Creed together with one heart and mind for long without loving one another.   The history of schism and heresy is, more basically a history of failure to love.   Greeks and Latins failed to love a long time before the schism, and both sides failed in charity at the Reformation.  We are able to love God and our neighbour because God first loved us and revealed his love to us on the Cross.

Reading 2 1 Jn 4:7-16Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have  loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us, that he has given us of his Spirit. Moreover, we have seen and testify that the Father sent his Son as saviour of the world.Whoever acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him and he in God. We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.
God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.
We live in two worlds, one we were born into, the other we entered through baptism: one is destined to end, the other enjoys eternal life and is destined to transform the other into itself, and we Christians have the job meantime in transforming it by our lives, little by little.   However, we will have no effect if our morality is no different from those among whom we live.   Our morality cannot be that of the scribes, the pharisees and the pagans.

Gospel Mt 11:25-30
At that time Jesus exclaimed:"I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. 
All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.
"Come to me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."

Monday, 19 June 2017



Three pillars together support Christology: Scripture, tradition, and experience. The soundness of these three determines the soundness of Christology. Our first chapter is devoted to this trio and to their reliability.

I. The Three Pillars

The first pillar is Scripture. What we know (historically) about Jesus of Nazareth derives almost exclusively (apart from a few mentions in Pliny, Tacitus, or Jewish writings) from the New Testament, above all from the Gospels. These, in turn, are traditions about Jesus, about what he did and said. The entire canon of the New Testament is reviewed, assembled, and filtered tradition. Scripture and tradition are indivisible from the very beginning; Scripture is unthinkable without tradition; it is itself a "product" of tradition.

Because almost everything we know about Christ derives from the Holy Scripture, the question of the trustworthiness of the Gospels is thus of fundamental importance. For hundreds of years, no one questioned it. People were convinced that the Gospels reliably transmitted the experiences of the first witnesses of Jesus, of his disciples, his companions, those people who were eyewitnesses and who heard for themselves. Scripture is thus itself tradition, tradition for which there is written testimony, and it transmits concrete experiences of the people who were with Jesus.

And yet this tradition continues, as traditio apostolica, [1] as the handing on of the depositum fidei. It finds its particular expression in the great councils of the early Church, which unfolded and safeguarded the Christian confession of faith. The doctrinal tradition cannot of course be separated from the tradition of Christian living. Athanasius of Alexandria (d. 373) not only defended the divinity of Christ, he also wrote the life of Saint Anthony, in whom the whole power of the mystery of Christ shines forth.

The saints are "lived Christology". Not only Christology as taught, but Christology as celebrated is part of the tradition: the liturgy is a living wellspring of the tradition of the mystery of Christ. Not only is the story of Jesus read ever anew in the liturgy, it is also celebrated and, thus, present. Tradition is thus fidelity to this testimony about Jesus by the original witnesses (Scripture) at the same time as it is brought to life by the experience of discipleship, of Christian living. Tradition thus contains within it both Scripture and experience.

Finally, the living experience of the Lord as present and active is one of the foundations of Christology. Anthony heard the Gospel story of the wealthy young man one Sunday in Church, and he heard it as something that Jesus was saying to him right now: "Follow me!" (Jn 21:22). [2] In the encounter with Scripture, in hearing and entering Into what the New Testament witnesses are saying, its meaning, its beneficial value, its importance for salvation may be opened up. The experience of individuals, but also the shared experience of a whole people are part of the history of faith and, thus, part of Christology. Such experiences never take place in isolation but are always related to others—not just contemporary experiences, but also the experiences of generations before us. Liberation theology was an attempt to make the particular experience of the people productive for Christology. Christian experience can never be separated from Scripture and tradition.

Scripture, tradition, and experience are the pillars of Christology, by which we can be sure that even today we can talk about Christ, that we can truly preach him, the same person that the apostles knew, the man who was their teacher, whose words and actions they experienced directly and transmitted.

2. The Pillars Give Way

For hundreds of years this unity was seen and lived out without any problem. The current difficulties are all the more explosive. When one of these three pillars gives way, the whole of Christology—indeed, theology altogether—starts to totter. Today Christology must face the fact that in recent centuries—to be more precIse, sInce the Reformation—one pillar after another has given way. We will now briefly outline this process, which characterizes modern Christology. In doIng so, we will also be able to show, however, that in the struggle with the foundations of Christology, the living figure of the Lord also emerges with new clarity.

The first crack is the Reformation. It calls tradition into question and from there proceeds to the supposition that the original pure teaching, the "pure Gospel", has been adulterated, that "Rome", the papacy, the Catholic Church, has no longer preserved it in its pure form. It is therefore a matter of getting back to the original—this is the approach of Martin Luther (d. 1546)—bypassing tradition to go directly to the Bible. Scripture alone is valid; it is the only criterion—sola scriptura! Yet how shall we attain certainty about Scripture if the interpretations of it contradict each other? Hitherto tradition, understood as the transmission of living interpretation of Scripture, has been the hermeneutical means to this end. Luther puts an end to that. Yet who was to tell him what was consonant with Scriptures, "what", in his own words, "promotes Christ" ("Was Christum treibet")? As Gerhard Ebeling has shown, in Luther, sola experientia complements sola scriptura. Experience thus becomes the criterion of what promotes Christ. Scripture and experience enable Luther to attack the magistri and doctores, tradition and Scholastic theology. That is how the Reformation solves the hermeneutic problem, by reducing the three pillars of Christology to two. For Luther, "Scripture and experience" are "the two unanimous witnesses that may be trusted unconditionally". [3] His own experience is the sure starting point: "Sola . . . experientia facit theologum", [4] he says. It is established as equally certain that this experience of his agrees with Scripture, or is at least suitable for understanding Scripture in the correct sense. Scripture and experience safeguard the access to Christ. The third element, tradition, has become suspect.

The Enlightenment breaks the next pillar. The sola scriptura also becomes questionable. From Hermann Samuel Reimarus (d. 1768) onward, radical historical biblical criticism puts Scripture on the side of tradition, which falsifies and retouches. [5] Scripture, too, conceals, falsifies, and covers up the original, which it is now necessary to ascertain by historical criticism: the Bible is subjected to merciless criticism. Little of the certainty that Luther believed he found in Scripture now remains. With Friedrich Schleiermacher (d. 1834) and Rudolf Bultmann (d. 1976), theology withdraws to the final sure pillar, that of experience, and abandons Scripture to historical criticism. For Bultmann it is not historical certainty concerning Jesus that is important but the existential effect.

With psychology, especially with Sigmund Freud, but even as early as Ludwig Feuerbach (d. 1872), religious experience likewise becomes problematical. It is exposed as a projection of human needs and, thus, as illusion, which basically is concealing something else that can now be laid bare: man's secret desires, which can be discovered as the real content behind these projections. Behind the religious projections stand, in reality, other needs, sublimations, and projections.

What can Christology build upon, then? If tradition can no longer be trusted, because it is seen to be merely a retouching with the tints of dogma that obscures the original simple figure of Jesus; if Scripture itself comes under the suspicion of already being tradition, which distorts the original Jesus; if, finally, personal experience is subject to the suspicion of creating the figure of a savior and redeemer from the projection of the person's own desires—what foundation is still sound? Upon what can Christology still be built?


[1] This concept is used by Vatican II in the Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, no. 8.

[2] Athanasius of Alexandria, Vita Antonii (SC 400). The story of the conversion of Anthony was also a decisive milestone on the path leading Saint Augustine to faith. Augustine, Confessions 8, 6, 14-15 (CC Ser. Lat. 27:121-23).

[3] G. Ebeling, "Die Klage über das Erfahrungsdefizit in der Theologie als Frage nach ihrer Sache", in Wort und Glaube, vol. 3: Beiträge zur Fundamentaltheologie, Soteriologie und Ekklesiologie(Tübingen, 1975), p. 12.

[4] WATR I; 16, 13 (no. 46, of 1531). For further references, see Ebeling, "Die Klage über das Erfahrungsdeflzit", p. 10.

[5] A. Schweitzer, Die Geschichte der Leben-Jesu Forschung, 5th ed. (Tübingen, 1933); trans. by W. 
Montgomery as The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Mineola, N.Y.: Dover, 2005).

Related Ignatius Insight Articles and Excerpts:

• Jesus In the Gospel of Luke | Excerpt from Jesus, The Divine Physician: Encountering Christ in the Gospel of Luke | Christoph Cardinal Schönborn
• A Shepherd Like No Other | Excerpt from Behold, God's Son! Encountering Christ in the Gospel of Mark | Christoph Cardinal Schönborn
• Encountering Christ in the Gospel | Excerpt from My Jesus | Christoph Cardinal Schönborn
• The Church Is the Goal of All Things | Excerpt from Loving The Church | Christoph Cardinal Schönborn
• Excerpts from Chance or Purpose? | Christoph Cardinal Schönborn
• Reincarnation: The Answer of Faith | Excerpt from From Death to Life: The Christian Journey | Christoph Cardinal Schönborn
• The Truth of the Resurrection | Excerpts from Introduction to Christianity | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
• Seeing Jesus in the Gospel of John | Excerpts from On The Way to Jesus Christ | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
• The Challenge of Jesus of Nazareth | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
• The Divinity of Christ | Peter Kreeft
• Jesus Is Catholic | Hans Urs von Balthasar
• The Religion of Jesus | Blessed Columba Marmion | From Christ, The Ideal of the Priest

Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, O.P., (born 1945) the Archbishop of Vienna, Austria, is a highly regarded author, teacher, and theologian.

He was a student of Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) and with him was co-editor of the monumental Catechism of the Catholic Church. He studied theology and philosophy in Bornheim-Walberberg, Vienna, and Paris. He was ordained a Dominican priest by Cardinal Franz König in December 1970 in Vienna, and later studied in Regensburg. From 1975 he was professor at Freiburg im Uechtland. In 1980, he became a member of the international theological commission of the Holy See, and in 1987 he became editorial secretary for the Catechism. He speaks six languages and has written numerous books.

Several of his books have been translated and published by Ignatius Press; see his Ignatius Insight author page for a complete listing.

David Bentley Hart on the Intersections of Scripture and Theology

N.T. Wright: The Jesus We Never Knew

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