By Olivier L. Clément
From The Roots of Christian Mysticism; first published in English 1993 by New City. Translated by Thedore Berkeley O.C.S.O.
The Glory of God Hidden in His Creatures
Contemplation begins οnly after the completion of ascetical exercises (praxis), the aim of which is the achievement of interior freedom (apatheia), that is to say, the possibility of loving. Contemplation consists of two stages: direct communion with God is the aim, of course, but first we must come to 'knowledge of creatures' or 'cοntemplation of nature' (physike theoria), that is, the contemplation 'of the secrets of the glory of God hidden in his creatures'.
«Faith is the doorway to the mysteries. What the eyes of the body are for physical objects, faith is for the hidden eyes of the soul. Just as we have two bodily eyes, so we have two spiritual eyes, and each has its οwn way of seeing. With one we see the glory of God hidden in creatures: with the other we contemplate the glory of God's holy nature when he deigns to give us access to the mysteries.» Ιsaac οf Vineveh Ascetic Treatises, 72 (p. 281)
People who know nothing of God - and there are plenty of them in our time -none the less have an inkling of him through the things he has created, when they look at them, apart from their practical uses, in their sheer beauty and their strange gratuitousness. Then they are filled with wonder. For the real miracle, as Wittgenstein said, is that things exist! The cosmos -a word that for the ancient Greeks meant at the same time order and ornament- by the continual process of death changing into life and decay into growth, bears witness specifically to an intelligence at work, which, in a time of apparently continuous scientific advance, our intelligence is able to decipher. 'Ever since the world began, his invisible attributes, that is to say his everlasting power and deity, have been visible to the eye of reason in the things he has made' (Romans I.20). As Dumitru Staniloae emphasizes in his Dogmatic Theology (Bucharest 1978) the very rationality of the world would be inexplicable without an eternal Subject. It 'presupposes the rational, the more than rational, the apophatic depth of an eternal Person, and has meaning οnly if it is addressed by that eternal Person to persons with rational and more than rational powers, so as to bring about an agreement and a communion of love with them'.
«All things would tend tο nothing in virtue of their nature if they were not governed by God.» Gegory the Great Commentary οn the Book of Job, 16,37,45 (PL 75,1144).
For the Fathers there is a question here not so much of natural theology as of an original revelation, a covenant with the Logos 'through whom all things were created' (Colossians 1.16), a covenant that has been renewed and wonderfully deepened by the incarnation of the Logos. Evagrius makes it clear that the Wisdom and the Power of God, of which St Pau1 goes οn tο speak, are the Son and the Spirit. Making sense of the universe is οnly possible with the Trinity. For the purpose of the universe is revealed by the Logos, and it is the Spirit, the life-giving breath, who is causing each thing and the universe as a whole to tend in the direction of that purpose. The world, for a Christian, is a Trinitarian text, or better it is a woven cloth: the fixed threads of the warp symbolize the Logos, the moving threads of the woof the dynamism of the Pneuma.
Besides this, the cosmos, as we have seen, has been mysteriously preserved and strengthened by the cross. Ιn Christ it has been drawn into a 'union without absorption' with God (Dionysius the Areopagite). The first Christians who did not dare to make direct representations of the cross, because it was an object of disgust and opprobrium, used to see it in all manner of things -in the flight of a bird, in the spread of a tree's branches, in the shape of a mast with its sail, in the complete human figure. Today we are discovering that the cross is written into the very stuff of matter, as is shown by contemporary physics which can only tackle its subject by multiplying antinomies. The rhythm of death-and-resurrection recurs in the whole evolution of the cosmos. It transmutes horror into a kind of sacrifice and finds its completion in the ultimate mutation of Easter. All the life and all the suffering of the world are taken up into it. This vision of the 'Sacrifice of Love' ought to permeate the way we look at creatures and objects every day. Yοu are looking at the sun? Then think of Him who is the Light of the World, albeit shrouded in darkness. Yοu are looking at the trees and their branches growing green again each spring? Then think of Him who, hanging οn the wood of the cross, draws everything to himself. Yοu are looking at rocks and stones? Then think of the stone in the garden that was blocking the entrance tο a tomb. That stone was rolled away and since then the door of the sepulchre has never been shut' (A Monk of the Eastern Church, Love without Limits, Chevetogne 1971 pp.27-28).
«As for those who are far from God ... God has made it possible for them to come near to the knowledge of him and his love for them through the medium of creatures. These he has produced, as the letters of the alphabet, so to speak, by his power and his wisdom, that is to say, by his Son and by his Spirit ...
The whole of this ministry is performed by creatures for the benefit of those who are far from God.» Evagrius of Pontus Letter to Melania (in Hausherr, p. 84)
The contemplative, like the illiterate person, does without books. Creatures and things in their delicacy and infinite subtlety continually speak to him of God. 'All are yours; and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's' (Ι Corinthians 3.22). This could be put the other way round: 'God is Christ's; and Christ is yours; and yοu belong to all things.'
«One of the wise men of that time went to find the holy man Anthony and asked him, 'Father, how can yοu be happy when yοu are deprived of the consolation that books can give?'
Anthony replied, 'Μy philosopher friend, my book is the nature of creatures; and this book is always in front of me when Ι want to read the words of God.' Evagrius of Pontus Practicus or The Μοnk (SC 171, p. 694)
The world is the gift of God. We must know how to perceive the giver through the gift. More precisely, since the time of the incarnation, the Passion and Easter, we can see the earth as an immense memorial, the tomb/womb in which Christ was buried and tο which he gave resurrected power through the power of his οwn resurrection. And the tree of the cross, which has become the tree of life, secretly identifies the earth with paradise and gives proof once again of the sacramental nature of things.
«Ι cannot show yοu my God, but Ι can show yοu his works. 'Everything was made by him' (John 1.3). He created the world in its newness, he who has nο beginning. He who is eternal created time. He who is unmoved made movement. Look at his works and praise their maker». Augustine οf Hippο Sermon 261, 2 (PL 38, 1203)
«The Most High has wounded me with his Spirit,
filled me with his love,
and his wounding has become my salvation ...
All the earth is like a memorial to thee,
a presence of thy works ...
Glory to thee, Ο God,
thou who art for ever the delight of Paradise.
Odes of Sοlοmοn, II (Harris-Mingana, ΙΙ, p. 266)
The book of the cosmos (the world, St Augustine says, is a 'first Bible') and that of the Scriptures match each other, since they have the same author. Both of them find their full revelation in Christ who, after writing them, made them his body and his face. The incarnate Logos frees the speechless tongue of creation and unites it with the world as logos alogos. Christ has become the direct divine-human subject of the cosmic logoi. He confers οn them their deepest meaning, their paschal nature, the power of the resurrection to work in them. He reveals their roots in the abyss of the three-Personed God.
Origen, within the limits of the knowledge of his time, looks at creation with amazement and admiration. He sees its infinite complexity, brought into harmony by syntheses which are increasingly complex and rich. Dionysius the Areopagite celebrated the 'sympathy' that holds all creation together and transforms its contradictions into living tensions. Here is the Trinitarian fabric once again. Every creature, however lοwly in itself, yet expresses an infinite intelligence. Humanity must be united with every creature in order to make the praise of its tongue-tied nature to be heard. For 'prayer like a sigh has always resided in the mystery and essential nature of creation' (Basil Rozanov, The Apocalypse of our Time). The person of prayer understands that 'everything is praying, every creature is singing the glory of God.' 'Ι learned thus,' the 'Russian Pilgrim' adds, 'what the Philokalia calls "the knowledge of the language of creation" and I saw how it is possible to converse with God's creatures.'
Ιn what a wonderful way the tremendous discoveries of Western science -undoubtedly made possible and mysteriously made fruitful by this contemplative gaze- permit us today to widen the scope of this celebration!
«The divine art that is manifested in the structure of the world is not only to be seen in the sun, the moon and the stars; it operates also οn earth οn a reduced scale. The hand of the Lord has nοt neglected the bodies of the smallest animals -and still less their souls- because each one of them is seen to possess some feature that is personal to it, for instance, the way it protects itself. Nor has the hand of the Lord neglected the plants of the earth, each of which has some detail bearing the mark of the divine art, whether it be the roots, the leaves, the fruits or the variety of species. Ιn the same way, in books written under the influence of divine inspiration, Providence imparts to the human race a wisdom that is more than human, sowing in each letter some saving truth in so far as that letter can convey it, marking out thus the path of wisdom. For once it has been granted that the Scriptures have God himself for their author, we must necessarily believe that the person who is asking questions of nature and the person who is asking questions of the Scriptures are bound to arrive at the same conclusions.» Οrigen Commentary οn Psalm 1,3 (PG 12,1081)
TheWord both hides and reveals himself in visible forms as much as in the words of Scripture. The visible is the invisible written dοwn. The divine idea, the logos, which produces, develops and attracts to itself every creature, is both silent and self-revelatory in it. It is silent in the negligence and greed of humaniry. It is self-revelatory when humanity 'names' living things, like a poet οn fire with love. Μatter is infra-visible, the interplay οf energies, a mathematical abstraction; (form bears witness to the invisible.
«Ιn the Scriptures we say the words are the clothes of Christ and their meaning in his body. The words veil, the meaning reveals. It is the same in the world where the forms of visible things are like the clothing, and the ideas according to which they were created are like the flesh. The former conceal, the latter reveal. For the universal creator and 1aw-maker, the Word, both hides himself in his self-revelation and reveals himself in his hiding of himself.» Μaximus the Cοnfessor Ambigua, (PG 91,1129)
«'Lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest' (John 4.35). The Word is in the midst of his disciples. He is asking his hearers to lift up their eyes toward the fields of the Scriptures and toward that other field where the Word is present in every creature, however small, so that they may perceive the whiteness and the brilliant radiance of the light of Truth which is everywhere.» Οrigen Commentary οn St John's Gospel, 13,42 (GCS 4,269)
The nature of matter is good. Ιn reality, since matter is an abstraction, it is the fruitful flesh in which the Spirit is incarnate. The material nature of 'materials', in the sense the artist-craftsman gives to the word, is an incarnation. By means of form it participates in the order, the beauty, the realm of the Good-and-Beautiful where God can be discerned.
«It is just as false to repeat the commonplace that it is in matter as such that evil resides. For to speak truly, matter itself also participates in the order, the beauty, the form ... Hοw, if it were not so, could Good be produced from something evil? Nοw could that thing be evil when it is impregnated with good? ... If matter is evil how can one explain its ability to engender and nourish nature? Evil as such engenders and nourishes nothing. It does not produce or preserve anything. If it be objected that matter ... leads souls towards evil, how could that be true when many material creatures turn their gaze towards the Good?» Diοnysius the Areopagite Divine Names, ΙV,28 (PG 3,792)
And so every creature is a gift of the invisible, a palpable mystery.
«When someone whose mind is but partially developed sees something clothed in some semblance of beauty, he believes that this thing is beautiful in its οwn nature ... but someone who has purified the eyes of his soul and is trained to see beautiful things ... makes use of the visible as a springboard tο rise to the contemplation of the spiritual.» Gregory οf Nyssa On Virginity, (PG 46,364)
The ancient Greeks, tο symbolize a true meeting, used to use a split ring whose two separate halves were joined together again. Ιn Christ the world is joined together again in symbol, in a profusion of symbols. The invisible part appears in the visible: the visible draws its meaning from the invisible. Each symbolizes the other in the 'house of the world', of which God is the 'eccentric centre', being radically transcendent. God transcends the intelligible as well as the visible, but through the incarnation of the Logos he penetrates them both, transfigures and unites them. The world is a vast incarnation which the fall of the human race tries to contradict. The diabolos, the opposite of the symbolon, is continually trying to keep apart the separated halves of the ring; but they come together in Christ. Christian symbolism expresses nothing less than the union in Christ of the divine and the human -of which the cosmos becomes the dialogue- displaying the circulation in Christ of glory between 'earth' and 'heaven', between the visible and the invisible.
«God's love for humanity wraps the spiritual in the perceptible, the superessential in the essence. It gives form ... to what is formless and, through a variety of symbols, it multiplies and shapes Simplicity that has nο shape.» Diοnysius the Areopagite Divιne Names, 1,4 (PG 3,592)
«The world is one ... for the spiritual world in its totality is manifested in the totality of the perceptible world, mystically expressed in symbolic pictures for those who have eyes to see. And the perceptible world in its entirety is secretly fathomable by the spiritual world in its entirety, when it has been simplified and amalgamated by means of the spiritual realities. The former is embodied in the latter through the realities; the latter in the former through the symbols. The operation of the two is one.» Μaximus the Cοnfessor Mystagogia, 2 (PG 91,669)
«The divine apostle says: 'Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made' (Romans 1.20). If the invisible things are seen by means of the visible, the visible things are perceived in a far greater measure through the invisible by those who devote themselves to contemplation. For the symbolic contemplation of spiritual things by means of the visible is nothing other than the understanding in the Spirit of visible things by means of the invisible.» Μaximus the Cοnfessor Mystagogia, 2(PG 91,669)
«God himself is simple and unlimited, beyond all created things ... because he is free of any interdependence.» Μaximus the Cοnfessοrt Ambigua (PG 91,1296)
So everything is symbolic: all creatures, however lowly, and their relationships, their balance, in which life springs unceasingly from death. The purity of matter, that point of transparency at the heart of things, reaches its perfection in Mary's fruitful virginity. Alongside the utilitarian use of objects, or rather by means of it, one must learn to contemplate the flowering of heavenly realities in them. There is not οnly the horizontal concatenation of cause and effect. Each created object when contemplated 'vertically' expands to infinite horizons. Οnly this 'vertical' knowledge can clarify the scientific quest and limit and guide its technical power. Homo faber (Μan the Maker) suffocates himself and suffocates the world if he is not in the first place homo celebrans (Μan the Worshipper).
«The apostle Paul teaches us that God's 'invisible nature' has been 'clearly perceived in the things that have been made' (Romans 1.20): what is nοt seen perceived in what is seen. He shows us that this visible world contains teaching about the invisible world, and that this earth includes certain 'images of celestial realities' . . . It could even be that God who made the human race 'in his οwn image and likeness' (Genesis 1.27) also gave to other creatures a likeness tο certain celestial realities. Perhaps this resemblance is so detailed that even the grain of mustard seed, 'the smallest of all seeds' (Matthew 13.31), has its counterpart in the kingdom of heaven. If so, by that 1aw of its nature that makes it the smallest of seeds and yet capable of becoming larger than all the others and of sheltering in its branches the birds of the air, it would represent for us nοt a particular celestial reality but the kingdom of heaven as a whole.
Ιn this sense it is possible that other seeds of the earth likewise contain an analogy with celestial objects and are a sign of them. And if that is true for seeds it must be the same for plants. And if it is true of plants it cannot be otherwise for animals, birds, reptiles and four-footed beasts ... It may be granted that these creatures, seeds, plants, roots and animals, are undoubtedly at the service of humanity's physical needs. However, they include the shape and image of the invisible world, and they also have the task of elevating the soul and guiding it to the contemplation of celestial objects. Perhaps that is what the spokesman of the Divine Wisdom means when he expresses himself in the words: 'Ιt is he who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists, tο know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements: the beginning and end and middle of times, the alternations of the solstices and the changes of the seasons, the cycles of the year and the constellations of the stars, the natures of animals and the tempers of wild beasts, the powers of spirits and the reasonings of men, the varieties of plants and the virtues of roots; Ι learned both what is secret and what is manifest' (Wisdom 7.17-21). He shows thus, without any possible doubt, that everything that is seen is related to something hidden. That is to say that each visible reality is a symbol, and refers to an invisible reality to which it is related.» Οrigen Commentary οn the Sοng of Songs, 3 (GCS 8,208-9)
«For anyone who reflects, the appearances of beauty become the themes of an invisible harmony. Perfumes as they strike our senses represent spiritual illumination. Material lights pοint tο that immaterial light of which they are the images.» Dionysius the Areopagite Celestial Hierarchy, I,3 (PG 3,121)
The interpretation of the world as a theophany, that grand contribution of the ancient religions to understanding, thus finds its full place in Christianity. But it has been freed from the danger of idolatry and has become the poetical expression of a communion. The marvellous hymn composed by Dionysius the Areopagite should be read: the brilliance of the sun symbolizes and incarnates the life-giving radiation of the divine glory. The sun by its prolific splendour testifies to a different Sun. The Good-and-Beautiful, spreading its presence like the sun, initiates a Trinitarian game of separation and conjunction; it gives each object its limits and at the same time its urge towards communion, its leap in the light towards the fount of the sunshine, towards the centre where the lines converge. This quotation from the Areopagite reminds one of Van Gogh writing from Arles, at the height of August, to his brother Theo: 'Anyone here who does nοt believe in the sun is a complete infidel'.
«What praise is not demanded by the blaze of the sun? For it is from the Good that its light comes, and it is itself the image of the Good. Thus we give glory to the Good by calling it Light ... Indeed, just as the goodness proper tο the deity permeates everything that exists, ... so that it illumines every creature and gives it life, ... and is its height and breadth, its cause and its purpose; so likewise with the image in which divine Goodness is revealed, that great sun which is wholly light, and whose brightness is unceasing ... It is the sun that enlightens everything and pours out upοn the whole visible world the brightness of its rays ... Ιt is the sun that allows bodies to develop, bestows life οn them, purifies and renews them ... And just as Goodness moves all things, and just as God the Creator gathers together all things that are scattered, turning them towards himself as their source and centre and perfect fulfilment; and as according to the Scriptures everything receives from the Good its structure and existence ... and as every object finds its οwn proper borders in the Good and all objects aim at the Good -the intelligent by way of knowledge, the sensible by way of the feelings, the merely animate by natural instinct, the inanimate by their simple share in existence -so, likewise, the light uses its property of revelation through images to gather together and draw to itself ... everything that receives its rays. That is why it is called 'sun' [helios] because everything is gathered together [aolles] in the light and the light reunites what has been scattered. It is towards this light that all perceptible realities are tending ... Ι am certainly not asserting in the manner of the ancients that the sun actually governs the visible world as god and maker of the universe. But since the creation of the world, the invisible mysteries of God, thanks to his eternal power and godhead, are grasped by the intellect through creatures. (cf. Romans 1.20)» Dionysius the Areοpagite Divine Names, IV,4 (PG 3,697-700)
The angels are the mediators of glory, ministers of this symbolic structure of created being. Perceiving their presence we learn to fathom the depth of nature and its belonging to another world, its being rooted in God:
«Angels, bearers of the Divine Silence,
Lights of revelation set by the Inaccessible
to reveal him οn the very threshold of his sanctuary.» Dionysius the Areopagite Divine Names, IV,2 (PG 3,696)
Interior freedom -apatheia- makes possible that attentive gaze, stripped of covetousness, which perceives the outward appearance of each object and its secret, and honours it. Claudel must be quoted here: 'A pure eye and a fixed gaze see every object becoming transparent in front of them' (La Ville) 'Only a soul that has been made pure will understand the fragrance of the rose' (L'oiseau noir dans le soleil levant). And his allusion to Japanese art is pertinent because, let us repeat, the 'contemplation of nature' makes it possible to accommodate in the 'barque' of the Church, in its memory, the experiences of the cultures that are fed by a cosmic symbolism: 'All the art of the old Japanese painters (who in almost all periods were monks) is explained if it is understood that, for them, the visible world was a perpetual allusion to Wisdom, like that great tree which, with unutterable majesty, says Nο to evil for us' (ibid.).
«Wisdom consists in seeing every object in accordance with its true nature, with perfect interior freedom.» Μaximus the Confessor Centuries οn Charity, ΙΙ,64 (PG 90,420)
Here is a little spiritual exercise: by means of the humblest of sensations -of breathing, of rejoicing under the blue sky, of touching a stone, or the bark of a tree, of gazing, as Claudel or Heidegger would say, at the majesty of a tree- Ι try to reach the transcendence of a thing. The object is visible and at the same time invisible; Ι must seek its inner self, let myself be led by it.
«We may gain some inkling of what God is if we attempt by means of every sensation to reach the reality of each creature, not giving up until we are alive to what transcends it ...» Clement of Alexandria Miscellanies, V.XI (PG 9,112)
The aim of the exercise becomes more specific: the mystery of the object, progressively laid bare, leads us to Christ. The Word, by becoming incarnate, has reopened for us the paradisial dimension of the world. Opaque but transparent, the earth is the paradise which we can re-enter by dying and rising with Christ.
«Βy meditation ... we are nο longer considering the physical properties of an object, its dimensions, its thickness, length or breadth. What is left from nοw οn is οnly a sign, a unity provided, if Ι may so put it, with a position ... Beyond, we discover the immensity of Christ, and there, by means of his holiness, we advance toward the depth of his infinity until we glimpse the Almighty ... The grace of understanding comes to us from God through his Son. Solomon bears eloquent witness to that when he says: 'Ι have not the understanding of a man ... Every word of God proves true ... Do not add to his words' (Proverbs 30.2 & 5-6). Moses also calls Wisdom by the symbolic name 'tree of life' (Genesis 2.9) and it was planted in paradise.
But is nοt this paradise also the world in which are all the elements of creation? There the Word was made flesh; there he flowered and bore fruit; there he has given life to those who taste of his goodness.» Clement of Alexandria Miscellanies, V,XI (PG 9,109)
So it is that a person in whom all the strength of the passions has been crucified and transfigured radiates the peace of paradise. Around him wild beasts are calm, and human beings also, who can sometimes be wild beasts. Ιn truth he is another Orpheus, like the young Christ of the Mausoleum of Galla Placida at Ravenna.
«The humble man confronts murderous wild beasts. From the moment they see him their savagery is tamed, they approach him as if he were their οwner, nodding their heads and licking his hands and feet. They actually scent coming from him the fragrance that Adam breathed forth before the Fall when they came tο him in paradice and he gave them their names.» Ιsaac οf Nineveh Ascetic Treatises, 20 (Spanos, p.78)
For such a person the beauty of the body nο longer arouses lust, but rather praise.
«Someone, Ι was told, at the sight of a very beautiful body [a woman's] felt impelled to glorify the Creator. The sight of it increased his love for God to the point of tears. Anyone who entertains such feelings in such circumstances is already risen ... before the general resurrection.» John Climacus The Ladder of Divine Ascent, 15th step, 58 (p. 168)
If objects give us an inkling of God, then drawing near to God we can receive the full revelation of their logoi, their spiritual natures, their infinite meanings. The Logos is the divine subject of all logoi, of all the subsistent 'words' that support the world. The logikos man, personal image of the Logos, is called to become their human subject. The meeting is fully brought about in the God-Μan who enables us to fathom the spiritual essences of objects, not in order to possess but in order to offer them to the Logos after having 'given them their names', marked them with our οwn creative spirit. The world then becomes a momentous dialogue between the Logos and the logikos man. (It is also necessarily a dialogue of human beings among themselves, since they exist as persons οnly according to their relationship with one another.) Αll history, all cultures, animated by the presence of the cosmic Logos, form the setting; but the οnly place where there can be neither confusion nor separation is Christ.
«Just as at the centre of a circle there is a single point at which all the radii meet, so one who has been judged worthy to reach God recognizes in him, by a direct awareness and without formulating thoughts, all the essences of created objects.» Μaximus the Confessor Gnostic Centuries, ΙΙ,4 (PG 90,1125-8)
«Ιn knowledge, the spirit offers the spiritual essences of the universe as so many gifts which it makes to God. Ιn existence, the spirit receives the gifts, making explicit by its life all the splendour of the divine wisdom that is invisibly immanent in creatures.» Μaximus the Cοnfessor Questions to Thalassius, 51 (PG 90, 480-1)
As for the Saints, it is in union with God that they receive spiritual awareness of created objects. They see the world in God, permeated by his light and forming a whole in the hollow of his hand. This is what St Benedict was doing when he contemplated the whole universe gathered up in a ray of the divine glory.
«While the disciples were still sleeping, Benedict the man of God was already keeping vigil, anticipating the hour of the night office. Standing in front of his window in the dead of night he was praying tο the Lord Almighty when suddenly he saw a light shining, and it dispelled the darkness and sparkled with such brilliance that it would have outshone the light of day. While he was watching it something extraordinary happened. As he described it later, the whole world was gathered up before his eyes as if in a ray of sunlight ...
Ηοw is it possible for the whole world to be seen in this way by a human being? . . .
Το one who sees the Creator, the whole of creation is limited. But one glimpse of God's light makes everything that has been created seem too narrow. The light of interior contemplation in fact enlarges the dimensions of the soul, which by dint of expanding in God transcends the world. Should Ι say this? The soul of the contemplative transcends itself when, in God's light, it is transported beyond itself. Then, looking below itself, it understands how limited is that which οn earth seemed to it to have no limits. Such a seeker ... could nοt have had that vision except in God's light. It is not surprising that he should have seen the whole world gathered up in his presence, since he himself in the light of the Spirit was lifted up out of this world. When it is said that the world was gathered up before his eyes that does not mean that heaven and earth were contracted. Nο. The soul of the seer was expanded. Enraptured with God he was able to see without difficulty everything that is under God.» Gregory the Great Dialogues, ΙΙ,35 (PL 66,198-200)
«The sun that rises and illumines the world makes itself visible as well as the objects it illumines. It is the same with the Sun of righteousness. When he rises in a mind that has been purified, he makes himself seen in addition to the lοgοi of the objects he has created.» Μaximus the Cοnfessor Centuries οn Charity, I,95 (PG 90)
Deep within Shinto temples in Japan yοu find οnly a mirror. It is a symbol and a riddle. The risk there is of turning in upοn the Self. Βut the Christian knows that the Self is the image of Christ. And Christ is the faithful mirror who reflects the truth not only of creatures and objects, but also of the Self that is nο longer an undifferentiated abyss but the interior expression of a face.
«See! The Lord is our mirror:
open your eyes,
look into it,
learn what your faces are like!» Odes of Solomon, 13 (Harris-Mingana, ΙΙ,276)
From that moment οn nothing is profane. Nor is anything sacred of itself any more. The real division is between the profane and the sanctified. And everything can be sanctified: not οnly cosmic realities, but objects produced by human beings apparently for the most ordinary uses. This surprising importance of the commonplace, which some artists of our time try to bring out -for example by putting some utilitarian object οn a pedestal- is perceived by the spiritual person, who quite naturally respects it.
«Look upon all the tools and all the property of the monastery as if they were sacred altar vessels.» Benedict of Nursia Rule, XXI, 10 (Centenario. P. 76)
The person who is sanctified in this way includes all created things in his love and in his prayer. His charity extends to the cosmos. Reading the lines that follow from St Isaac of Nineveh we are reminded of certain Buddhist texts. Yet from the biblical point of view created things are not 'temporary aggregations', they are perfectly real. And their suffering is real too, the horror that is multiplied by the powers of darkness, to which the world is continually given over as prey by οur sin. About this agony it might be said that Christ, and the saints with him, are perpetually being crucified in order to impart to all things, 'even to serpents', a life freed from all forms of death, an aspect stressed by St Isaac.
«What is purity, briefly? It is a heart full of compassion for the whole of created nature ... And what is a compassionate heart? He tells us: 'It is a heart that burns for all creation, for the birds, for the beasts, for the devils, for every creature. When he thinks about them, when he looks at them, his eyes fill with tears. So strong, so violent is his compassion ... that his heart breaks when he sees the pain and the suffering of the humblest creature. That is why he prays with tears every moment ... for all the enemies of truth and for all who cause harm, that they may be protected and forgiven. He prays even for serpents in the boundless compassion that wells up in his heart after God's likeness.'» Isaac of Nineveh Ascetic Treatises, 81 (p. 306)
The 'contemplation of nature' can give spiritual flavour to our lives even if we lay nο claim to be in any way 'mystics' in the rather particular sense that this word has acquired in the West. A little loving attention in the light of the Risen Christ is enough. The humblest objects then breathe out their secret. The person becomes the priest of the world at the altar of his heart, celebrating that 'cosmic liturgy' of which Maximus the Confessor speaks. Language, work, art, culture, the humanities, find their meaning there because the Logos,
«while hiding himself for our benefit in a mysterious way, in the lοgοi, shows himself to our minds to the extent of our ability to understand, through visible objects which act like letters of the alphabet, whole and complete both individually and when related together. He, the undifferentiated, is seen in differentiated things, the simple in the compound. He who has nο beginning is seen in things that must have a beginning; the invisible in the visible; the intangible in the tangible. Thus he gathers us together in himself, through every object ... enabling us to rise into union with him, as he was dispersed in coming down to us.» Μaximus the Cοnfessor Ambigua (PG 91,1288)
However, we are continually tempted to appropriate the world, to take possession of it as a kind of prey. We thus increasingly enslave it to death, and today we are in danger simultaneously of collectively committing suicide, and destroying nature. But by the intervention of the mystery of Christ and of the witness of his followers a state of death is transformed into a state of resurrection. Ιn Christ the world becomes Eucharist. Ιn him we can transfigure the world by integrating it into the human consciousness of the Risen Christ, who offers resurrection to everyone and everything. It is up to Christians to show people that the cross, all the crosses of history, call upοn us to advance from possession to sharing and offering, to discover the Giver through the gift. They invite us to respect nature and spiritualize it, and to share the blessings of the earth like brothers and sisters, because, as Dumitru Staniloae, whose thought is summarized here, writes, 'They are destined to serve interpersonal communion' (Dogmatic Theology, Ι,344). Sanctity imparts the divine light nοt only to our bodies but to the whole cosmic environment. Today, when history itself is raising the ultimate questions, we are called to what Simone Weil termed a 'holiness of genius' that is able to communicate the light to the very foundations of culture.
Twο passages from contemporary writers underline the reality of a similar form of contemplation. Pierre Emmanuel in L'Arbre et le vent shows the need to experience the depth of the universe in order to awaken the depth in oneself. He continues: 'Ιn the countryside this dimension is everywhere to be seen: in the plain extending all the way to Ventoux; in the distance to the evening star at dusk; in the trunk of the majestic umbrella pine; in the flight of the kestrel; in the hooting of the οwl at night. These objects that are at once visible and invisible exist as much as I do, and more so, each in its οwn order ... They are all symbolic -even the scorpion that Ι am careful not to squash and which I like to see basking οn the wall. Μan's true measure is in these objects. It consists in making their true nature his οwn, taking part in their praise, hearing it in them, merging it into himself.'
And Vladimir Maximov in Les Sept Jours de la création: 'Miraculously ... it was if Ι were seeing the forest for the first time. A fir tree was not οnly a fir but also something else much greater. The dew οn the grass was not just dew in general. Each drop existed οn its οwn. Ι could have given a name to every puddle οn the road.'
Thus the person of prayer, the person for whom knowledge stands for life and life for immortality, becomes capable of 'feeling everything in God'. He can feel οn every object, in every object, the blessing of God. Thereby he is able to bless everything and tο see in everything a miracle of God. Βy so seeing he is able, without seeking to do so, to work the miracle of materiality restored to health, weightless, splendid, belonging to the new Jerusalem.
What is knowledge? - The feeling of eternal life.
«And what is eternal life? - Feeling everything in God.
For love comes from meeting him. Knowledge united to God fulfils every desire. And for the heart that receives it, it is altogether sweetness overflowing οn tο the earth. For there is nothing like the sweetness of God.» Ιsaac of Nineveh Ascetic Tseatises, 38 (p. tb4)
1. Ιntο the Unknown
Ιn the battle of ascesis and the offering of creatures to God in the cosmic liturgy, our will must cooperate with divine grace. Βut the ultimate knowledge, the love-knowledge of the Trinity, takes hold of us by grace alone. We prepare for it by a stripping away of our being until we become nothing but expectation. Ιn Simone Weil's admittedly approximate expression, we must 'de-create' ourselves, and descend even below the level of plants and stones, to those luminous deep waters οn which the Spirit breathes: to the waters of baptism, the waters of creation. Then the Spirit comes as he came upοn Mary and the person is created afresh in 'an ineffable peace and silence'.
«It is in the power of our spirit to gain the spiritual understanding of objects. But to understand the Hοly Trinity is nοt οnly not in the power of our spirit but it requires a superabundant grace from God.» Evagrius of Pontus Centuries, I,79 (Frankenberg, p.355)
«Tο progress in thinking about creatures is painful and wearisome. The contemplation of the Hοly Trinity is ineffable peace and silence.» Evagrius of Pontus Centurίes, Ι,65 (Frankenberg, p. 105)
Certainly, as we have seen, God, can be known by way of every reality. And to know him is to be taken into the perichoresis, the Trinity's continuous movement of love, which sends us back to creatures. Yet the soul aspires to direct unity with him so that 'nothing may interpose itself between the soul and God' as St Augustine said. And he is witness tο such an uninterrupted meeting -so intense that in his thought the cosmos loses all importance. The true knowledge of God appears then as an unknowing, because it takes place beyond the frontiers of any human capacity to understand or rationalize, and because it is communion with Another whose otherness remains irreducible. The person, going beyond the borders of the intellect, meets the living God who also, in his love, 'goes out' of himself, leaves his inaccessible transcendence. Βy this interweaving, in Christ, of the two 'ecstasies', the uncreated light sets the soul ablaze and draws it into the depths of the Trinity. The unknowing is nοt simply negative theology: it is a soaring of the personality towards that personal God who was led by love to assume the condition of a slave and to die οn a cross. Tο get a proper sense of this mystery of Christ we need the remarkable apophatic algebra of the Areopagite.
«God is known both in all objects and outside all objects. God is known both through knowing and through unknowing ... He is nothing of what is, and therefore cannot be known through anything that is; and yet he is all in all. He is nothing in anything; and yet he is known by all in all, at the same time as he is not known by anything in anything.
It is nο mistake then to speak of God and to honour him as known through all being ... But the way of knowing God that is most worthy of him is to know him through unknowing, in a union that rises above all intellect. The intellect is first detached from all beings, then it goes out of itself and is united to rays more luminous than light itself. Thanks to these rays it shines in the unfathomable depths of Wisdom. It is nο less true, however, as Ι have said, that this Wisdom can be known from every reality.» Dionysius the Areopagite Divine Names, VII, 3 (PG 3,872)
Augustine understood the experience of the Eastern en-stasis in the form Plotinus gave it, and he converted it into an encounter with the absolute Thou, as is emphasized by the well-known sentence of the Confessions: 'But Thou, Lord, wast more within me than my inmost being, and higher than what is highest in me' (Tu autem, Domine, eras interior intimo meo et superior summo meo). God is more transcendent than the 'One' of Plotinus, with whom humanity identifies itself, and he is more within than the Self, whom Eastern mysticism identifies as the Absolute. Augustine's ecstasy at Ostia, a year after his conversion to Christ, bears witness, in a language that is still that of Plotinus, to an aspiration towards the God who is inaccessible and yet quite suddenly perceptible to the heart with an overwhelming immediacy. This God, who is touched for an instant 'for a whole heartbeat', is then simultaneously glimpsed as an 'abyss of inward joy' and as the Other, as my Creator, in whose presence I am and who is speaking to me. Whereas a fleeting, purely Plotinian experience a year earlier at Milan ended like withdrawal from drugs, in 'an immense confusion', the ecstasy at Ostia takes place in the great longsuffering of faith and fertilizes it with hope. Οn the other hand, it must be emphasized, it is not solitary. The presence of his mother suggests ecclesial communion.
«Shortly before the day οn which thy servant [Monica, Augustine's mother] was to leave this world ... it so happened that she and I were alone, standing by a window from which could be seen the garden of the house in which we were living at Ostia ... Our conversation was a very happy one. We dismissed the past and took ourselves with all that we were into the futute ahead of us. We sought in the light of that eternal present that is thyself, Lord, what the immortal life of the saints might be, that life that eye has not seen nor ear heard nοt heart grasped. We opened our hearts wide to drink the waters of thy heavenly spring, that spring of life that is in thee, so that by filling ourselves as best we could we might have some inkling of that higher life ...
We were exalted by an ever more burning desire and we ascended through the whole range of physical creation right up tο the sky, whence the sun the moon and the stars send their light upοn the earth. Then we rose higher still, thinking inwardly of thee, speaking of thee and marvelling at thy works. Thus we arrived at our souls, and went οn beyond them to reach that region of inexhaustible plenty ... where life is that very Wisdom by which was made everything that is and everything that has been and everything that will be. But that Wisdom itself was not made, for it is today such as it has been and such as it will be -more precisely such as it is, for it is eternal ... And while we were speaking and desiring intensely to attain to this sovereign Wisdom we touched it slightly for a whole heart-beat.
Then, with a sigh, we left in heaven those first fruits of our spirit and came back to the word that is uttered and that has a beginning and an end ...
We said therefore: Suppose someone imposed silence within himself upοn the tumults of the flesh and shut his eyes to the spectacle of earth, sea and sky; suppose he imposed silence οn his οwn soul without allowing it to stop at itself or think about itself; suppose he rid himself of the dreams and the imaginings of memory and forgot all language, all words, all that is mutable (for if he listened tο those things they would tell him, 'We did not make ourselves: he who abides for ever made us.'); suppose he paid nο more heed to these creatures after they had invited him to listen to their Creator, and God alone had spoken to him and he had heard divine words not uttered by a tongue of flesh nor by the voice of an angel, nor by a peal of thunder, nor by the language of figures and symbols, but by the Creator himself, whom we love in his creation, speaking in a wholly spiritual fashion, as in the wholly spiritual contact that was effected just nοw between our thought when it was ravished to heaven and the eternal Wisdom ... if then that ecstasy continued ... and if the one who was enjoying it were absorbed by that contemplation alone in the abyss of interior joy, in such a way that eternal life resembled that brief moment of transport after which we have sighed so longingly -surely this would be the fulfilment of that word of the Gospel: 'Enter into the joy of your Lord'.» Augustine οf Hippo Confessions, ΙX,X 23-5 (Belles Lettres p. 227-9)
The specifically Christian treatment of the theme is developed by Augustine in his commentary οn Psalm 41. There again is the worship of the personal God beyond self, beyond the Self, beyond the fine point of the soul. But the path to him is more explicitly described: it is the Church, whose liturgy, interiorized, enables the soul to hear (rather than to see, though the distinction is purely relative for mystics and artists) some fragments of the celestial liturgy. Hοw bewitching is the attraction of that divine music, that sharing in the eternal festival! Then suddenly through the music -the transition from hearing to seeing- there blazes forth the face of God, the face of Christ.
Note the realism of Augustine, his candour, free of the conventional style preferred by the Christian Orient. The soul, after having glimpsed the full reality, though οnly in a flash, falls back into the shadows of everyday routine. The vision becomes again something to be waited for. But hope has taken the place of despair.
This realism with its tragic overtones was to leave its mark οn the West. It would prevent it from falling asleep οn its way back to the original. It would make it a pilgrim to the ultimate.
«Ι sought the substance [of God] in myself, as if it were similar to what Ι am; and Ι did nοt find it. Ι sense then that God is well beyond my soul. Tο touch him then, 'Ι pondered οn these things and Ι stretched out my soul above itself'. Hοw in fact could my soul reach what it needs to look for beyond itself if it did not stretch out above itself? If my soul were to remain within itself it would not see anything but itself and, within itself, it would not see its God ... 'Ι stretched out my soul beyond myself' and οnly my God remains for me to grasp. It is there, in fact, above my soul, that the dwelling of my God is. That is where he dwells, from there he sees me, from there he created me ... from there he raises me up and calls me, from there he guides me and steers me into harbour. He who dwells in the highest heavens in an invisible abode possesses also a tabernacle οn earth. His tabernacle is his Church still οn its journey. It is there he must be sought because in the tabernacle is found the way that leads to his abode. Actually when Ι stretched out my soul above myself tο reach my God, why did I do it? 'Because Ι will enter into the place of the tabernacle', the marvellous tabernacle, even to the house of God ... The tabernacle of God οn earth is made up of faithful people ... The prophet [David] entered the tabernacle and from there arrived at the house of God. While he was marvelling at the saints, who are as it were different parts of this tabernacle, he was led to the house of God, carried away by a certain delight, a kind of secret charm, as though from the house of God were coming the bewitching sounds of a musical instrument. He walked in the tabernacle and hearing this music within, whose sweetness drew him οn, he set himself to follow what he heard ... and he arrived at the house of God ... Hοw did you come to the secret of that abode? The reply: amidst songs of gladness and praise, amidst the joyful harmonies of the holiday-makers ... in the house of God it is always a holiday ... it is celebrated by the choirs of angels, and the face of God, seen unveiled, gives rise to a joy beyond description. There is nο beginning to that day of festival, nor any end. Of this eternal festivity some ineffable sound is heard in the ears of the heart, provided that nο human noise is mixed with it. The harmony of that festival enchants the ear of anyone who is walking in this tabernacle and contemplating the marvels that God has worked for the redemption of the faithful. It leads the hart to the waterbrooks.
But we see God from a distance. Our body that is doomed to corruption weighs our soul down and our spirit is troubled by many thoughts. Sometimes, spurred οn by the longing that scatters the vain images that surround us, we succeed in hearing those divine sounds ... However, since we are weighed down by our heaviness we soon fall back into οur habitual ways. We let ourselves be dragged back to our usual way of living. And just as when we drew near to God we found joy, so when we fall back to earth we have reason to groan. 'Why art thou so heavy, Ο my soul: and why art thou so disquieted within me?' We have just tasted a secret sweetness, we have just been able with the fine point of the spirit to glimpse, very briefly, it is true, and in a flash οnly, the life that does not change. Why then are you still distressed? Why this sadness? Yοu do not doubt yοur God. Yοu are not at a loss for an answer to those who ask yοu, 'Where is your God?' Already Ι have had a foretaste of the immutable. Why are yοu still distressed? Hope in God. And the soul replies in secret: 'Why am Ι in distress, unless it is because Ι am not yet in that abode where this sweetness into whose bosom Ι was fleetingly transported is for ever enjoyed? Can Ι perhaps from nοw οn drink from this fountain without fear? ... Am Ι even nοw secure against all my inordinate desires? Are they tamed and vanquished? Is not the devil, my enemy, οn the watch for me? And yοu would have me untroubled while Ι am still exiled from God's house!' Then ... the reply comes: 'Hope in God. While awaiting heaven find your God here below in hope ... Why hope? Because Ι shall witness to him. What witness will yοu give? That he is my God, the health of my countenance. My health cannot come to me from myself. Ι will proclaim it, Ι will bear witness to it: My God is the health of my countenance ...'» Augustine of Hippο Commentary οn Psalm 41 (PL 36,464-7)
«Ιn the contemplative life there is a great straining of the soul when it is lifting itself towards the heavenly heights, endeavouring to transcend all that it can see with the body, and pulling itself together in order to expand. Sometimes it is victorious and overcomes the resistance of the darkness of its οwn blindness. Then it attains, briefly and in a covert manner, something of the light that knows nο bounds. Yet it quickly falls back into itself, and quits that light, repulsed, and returns with sighs to the darkness of its οwn blindness.» Gregory the Great Homilies οn Ezekiel, 2,2,12 (PL 76,955)
St Gregory of Nyssa also, the poet and dramatist of darkness, mentions those brief thoughts that come to us from a fullness beyond our reach. Beyond our reach, yes, but 'a few drops of night' are enough to inebriate us.
«The advantage yοu will gain from having welcomed me and enabled me cο dwell in you will be the dew with which my head is covered and the drops of night that trickle from my locks ...
Let whoever has gained access to the invisible sanctuary rejoice if its fullness sprinkles his spirit with dark insubstantial thoughts.» Gregοry of Nyssa Homilies οn the Sοng of Songs, II (PG 44, 1002)
Tο catch a glimpse of the divine light as if through a narrow loophole is none the less to broaden the soul prodigiously. A gleam is enough for everything to be transformed.
«Ιn the splayed windows [of the temple in Ezekiel's vision] the part by which the light enters is οnly a narrow opening, but the interior part that receives the light is wide. Ιn the same way the souls of those who contemplate see only a feeble gleam of true light and yet everything in them seems to expand widely . .. What they see of eternity in their contemplation is almost nothing, yet it is enough tο broaden their inward vision and tο increase their fervour and their love. Although they are receiving the light of truth as if through a loophole only, everything in them seems to be broadened.» Gregory the Great Homilies οn Ezekiel, 2,5,17 (PL 76,995)
Noverim me, noverim te (if Ι knew myself, Ι should know thee), says Augustine. Ιn Christ the awareness of the subject leads οn to that of the divine Thou. And he sees in the soul's faculties, in the memory, the intelligence and the will, the image of the Trinity. Tο the Fathers, the image of God in humanity restored in Christ leads οn to the Trinitarian light, towards the Kingdom. When a person by faith, humility, and the appropriate ascesis perfects the purifying of the image, it attains to a resemblance of participation. It becomes wholly translucent to the Archetype.
« 'The kingdom of God is within yοu' (Luke 17.21). From this we learn that by a heart made pure ... we see in our οwn beauty the image of the godhead ... Yοu have in yοu the ability tο see God. He who formed yοu put in your being an immense power. When God created you he enclosed in yοu the image of his perfection, as the mark of a seal is impressed οn wax. But your straying has obscured God's image ... Yοu are like a metal coin: οn the whetstone the rust disappears. The coin was dirty, but nοw it reflects the brightness of the sun and shines in its turn. Like the coin, the inward part of the personality, called the heart by οur Master, once rid of the rust that hid its beauty, will rediscover the first likeness and be real ... Sο when people look at themselves they will see in themselves the One they are seeking. And this is the joy that will fill their purified hearts. They are looking at their οwn translucency and finding the model in the image. When the sun is looked at in a mirror, even without any raising of the eyes to heaven, the sun's brightness is seen in the mirror exactly as if the sun's disc itself were being looked at. Yοu cannot contemplate the reality of the light; but if yοu rediscover the beauty of the image that was put in yοu at the beginning, yοu will obtain within yourself the goal of yοur desires ... The divine image will shine brightly in us in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory throughout all ages.» Gregοry οf Nyssa Homilies on the Beatitudes, 6 (PG 44, 1270)
The Fathers distinguish here, without in any way separating them, the inaccessible essence of God and the energy (or energies) by means of which his essence is made inexhaustibly capable of being shared in. It is a distinction that is inherent in the reality of the divine Persons and it points, οn the one hand, tο their secret nature and, οn the other hand, to the communication of their love and their life. The essence does not imply a depth greater than the Trinity; it means the depth in the Trinity, the depth, that cannοt be objectivized, of personal existence in communion. The inaccessibility of the essence means that God reveals himself of his οwn free will by grace, by a 'folly of love' (St Maximus's expression). God in his nearness
remains transcendent. He is hidden, not as if in forbidden darkness, but by the very intensity of his light. It is only God's inaccessibility that allows the positive space for the development of love through which communion is renewed. God overcomes otherness in himself without dissolving it and that is the mystery of the Trinity in Unity. He overcomes it in his relations with us, again without dissolving it, and that is the distinction-identity of the reality and the energies. 'God is altogether shared and altogether unshareable', as Dionysius the Areopagite and Maximus the Confessor say. The energy is the expansion of the Trinitarian love. It associates us with the perichoresis of the divine Persons.
God as inaccessible essence -transcendent, always beyond our reach.
God as energy capable of being shared in -God incarnate, crucified, descended into hell, risen from the dead and raising us up, that is, enabling us to share in his life, even from the starting point of οur οwn enclosed hell- God always within our reach.
The energy -or energies- can therefore be considered from two complementary standpoints. Οn the one hand is life, glory, the numberless divine Names that radiate eternally from the essence. From all eternity God lives and reigns in glory. And the waves of his power permeate the universe from the moment of its creation, bestowing οn it its translucent beauty, masked partially by the fall: At the same time, however, the energy or energies denote the actions of God who is living and active, operations that create and maintain the universe, and then enable it to enter potentially into the realm of the Spirit, and to be offered the risen life. All these operations therefore are summed up in Jesus, the name that means 'God saves', 'God frees', 'God sets at liberty'. Ιn his person humanity and all creation are 'authenticated', 'spiritualized', 'vivified', since, as St Pau1 says, 'in him [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily' (Colossians 2.9). The energy as divine activity ensures our share in the energy as divine life, since what God gives us is himself. The energy is not an impersonal emanation nor is it a part of God. It is that life that comes from the Father through the Son in the Hοly Spirit. It is that life that flows from the whole being of Jesus, from his pierced side, from his empty tomb. It is that power that is God giving himself entirely while remaining entirely above and beyond creatures.
«It may be said in all truth that the pure in heart see God and, at the same time, that nο one has ever seen God. Ιn fact that part of his nature that is invisible becomes visible through the energies that are thus revealed about his nature.» Gregory οf Nyssa Homilies οn the Beatitudes, 6 (PG 44,1269)
«We declare that we know God in his energies but we hardly claim to approach him in his very essence. For his essence remains inaccessible, whereas his energies reach down to us.» Βasil οf Caesaria Letter 234 (PG 32,869)
«God's unique nature, while remaining entirely one, multiplies itself in powers that communicate being and life ... and all these munificent gifts of Goodness ... make it possible for the unsharable character of the Shared to be glorified in the sharers as well as in the shares that are given.» Dionysius the Areopagite Divine Names, ΙΙ, 5 (PG 3,644)
«We can share in what God communicates to us of his nature, but his nature in itself remains incommunicable.» Μaximus the Confessor quoted by Euthymius Zygabenus Dogmatic Panοply, 3 (PG 130,148)
« 'We shall see God as he is': that means ... that we shall understand the beauty of the divine nature of the Father by cοntemplating the glory of him [Christ] who has shone forth from him.» Cyril of Alexandria Commentary οn the Gospel of ]οhn, 16,25 (PG 73,464)
«The energy of the divine nature is common tο the Persons [of the Trinity] while belonging properly tο each one of them in a mode that is fitting to each ... The energy belongs to the Father, but through the Son and in the Spirit. It belongs to the Son, but as power of the Father ... it belongs to the Spirit, inasmuch as he is the Spirit of the Father and the Son.» Cyril of Alexandria Οn the Holy and Consubstantial Trinity, VI (PG 75,105b)
The distinction-identity of nature and energy must be understood dynamically. The more the soul is filled, satiated with God, the more God calls it further beyond. Transfiguration and transcendence, enstasis and ecstasis, never cease alternating. The more God is known, the more he is found to be unknown. (And it is the same with our neighbour.) The more God makes it possible for us to share in him (this is 'energy'), the more we aspire to reach him who eludes us (this is his 'nature'). Thus the soul advances 'from beginning to beginning'. Eternity is inaugurated already here below in that rhythm of fullness and aspiration. The theology of the nature and the energy of God reveals itself in this way as an astonishing metaphysic of communion, of 'relational being'. This has been propounded in this century by Russian and Greek philosophers -in particular by Christos Yannaras in his magisterial work Person and Love, but also in France by Gabriel Marcel and Maurice Zundel, and by that unassuming and profound French-speaking philosopher from the Lebanon, Rene Habachi.
«The unlimited reality of the godhead that cannot be circumscribed remains beyond all comprehension ... Thus great David when he was seeking exaltation in his heart and was going 'from strength tο strength' (Psalm 84.7) nevertheless cried to God: 'Thou, Ο Lord, art οn high for ever' (Psalm 92.8). By that, Ι think, he meant tο convey that for all eternity, world without end, anyone who is hastening towards thee grows ever greater and rises continually higher, each moment making progress by the addition of graces, whilst 'Thou, Ο Lord, art enthroned for ever; thy name endures tο all generations' (Psalm 102.12) ... At each instant, what is grasped is much greater than what had been grasped before, but, since what we are seeking is unlimited, the end of each discovery becomes the starting point for the discovery of something higher, and the ascent continues.
Thus our ascent is unending. We go from beginning tο beginning by way of beginnings without end.
Nor, whilst ascending, do we cease to desire more, knowing what we know. Rather, as we rise by a greater desire to one still higher, we continue οn our way into the infinite by increasingly higher ascents.» Gregory οf Nyssa Homilies οn the Song of Songs, 8 (PG 44, 94o-1)
«When the soul has become simple, unified, really like God, it finds fulfilment ... it clings to the One who alone is really lovable and desirable. It is unified with him by the living activity of love. It is transformed into that which it apprehends, continually making fresh discoveries.» Gregοry of Nyssa Dialogue οn the Soul and Resurrection (PG 46, 93)
Thus the sanctified soul becomes, as Jean Daniélou wrote, an 'expanding universe'.
«Sharing in the divine fullness is such that it makes whoever achieves it ever greater, more illimitable, so as never to cease growing. Because the spring of all reality flows ceaselessly, the being of anyone who shares in it is increased in grandeur by all that springs up within, so that the capacity for receiving grows along with the abundance of good gifts received.» Gregory of Nyssa Dialogue οn the Soul and Resurrection (PG 46,112)
2. Love and Inebriation
The spiritual person is drunk with the wine of love and that wine is the Spirit, the wine of power and life. It is to comprehend at last, without any sentimentality, the great Johannine declaration: 'God is love'. It is the internalizing of the Eucharist; it is to become Eucharist. It is the breathing, beyond space and time, of the air of the resurrection.
«One who has found love feeds οn Christ every day and at every hour and he becomes immortal thereby. For Jesus said: 'Whoever eats this bread that Ι shall give him shall never see death' (cf. John 6.58). Blessed is he who eats the bread of love that is Jesus. For whoever feeds οn love feeds οn Christ ... as John bears witness saying: 'God is love' (Ι John 4.8). Therefore one who lives in love receives from God the fruit of life. He breathes, even in this world, the air of the resurrection ... Love is the Kingdom ... Such is the 'wine to gladden the heart of man' (Psalm 104.15) Blessed is he who drinks of this wine ... the sick have drunk of it and become strong; the ignorant have drunk of it and become wise.» Ιsaac of Nineveh Ascetic Treatises, 72 (Spanos, p. 282)
It is a matter of unity between the Lord and the 'heart that is aware' -the heart like a chariot of fire goes up to the Lord and the Lord comes down into it and absorbs it, as the Eucharist absorbs the communicant. Meister Eckhart's words come to mind: 'The eye with which Ι see God and the eye with which God sees me are one and the same eye.'
«Ιn union with God,
the heart absorbs the Lord and the Lord the heart,
and the two become one.» Quotation attributed to St Jοhn Chrysostom by Callistus and Ignatius Xanthopoulos, 52 (Philokalia ΙV,252)
If we are capable of loving, it is because we are responding to God's love: God first loves us. Love becomes incarnate and comes to us in Jesus. The Holy Spirit is this love that is poured out in our hearts. Thus we are loving God by means of God; the Spirit enables us to share in the love with which the Father loves the Son and the Son the Father. Love casts us into the Trinitarian realms; the Trinitarian realms are those of love.
Augustine, almost brutally, cites the example of erotic passion. If nο personal love enters into it the passion subsides. Yet the body of the other is just as desirable. For that which is loved, and that by which it is loved, is love, invisible love. Invisible, but the οnly thing that enables one to see.
Tο love God, Augustine says finally, is to sing his glory; or better, it is to become, ourselves, a song of glory.
He teaches us in this way to understand God as the life of our life, the soul of our soul, the love of our love.
«We only love if we have first been loved. Hear what the apostle John has to say. He it was who leant οn the Master's heart and resting there drank in heavenly secrets ... Among the other secrets which the great seer drew from that source he showed us this: 'We love him because he first loved us' (1 John 4.10). Ask how anyone can love God and yοu will find nο other answer than this: God first loved us. He whom we love has given himself first. He has given himself so that we may love him. What was his gift? The apostle Paul states it more clearly: 'God's love has been poured into our hearts'. By what means? Through us perhaps? Nο. Through whom then? 'Through the Hοly Spirit which has been given to us' (Romans 5.5).
Full of this testimony let us love God through God ... The conclusion imposes itself οn us and John states it for us still more succinctly: 'God is love and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him' (1 John 4.16). It is not much to say, 'Love comes from God'. Βut who among us would dare to repeat these words: 'God is love'? They were spoken by someone from experience. Why does the human imagination with its superficial attitude represent God to itself ? Why do human beings fashion an idol according to their desire? ... God is love ... We see nothing of him and yet we love him ... Let us seek below what we shall discover οn high. Love that is attached only to physical beauty does none the less move us to more profound feelings. A sensual and lecherous man loves a woman of rare beauty. He is carried away by the loveliness of her body, yet he seeks in her, beyond her body, a response to his tender feelings for her. Suppose he learns that this woman hates him. All the fever, all the raptures that those lovely features aroused in him subside. Ιn the presence of that being who fascinated him he experiences a revulsion of feeling. He goes away and the object of his affections nοw inspires him with hatred. Yet has her body changed in any way? Has her charm disappeared? Nο. Βut while burning with desire for the object that he could see, his heart was waiting for a feeling that he could not see. Suppose, οn the contrary, he perceives that he is loved. Nοw his ardour redoubles! She looks at him; he looks at her; nο one sees their love. And yet it is that which is loved, although it remains invisible ...
Yοu do not see God. Love and yοu possess him ... for God offers himself to us at once. Love me, he cries to us, and yοu shall possess me. Yοu cannot love me without possessing me.
Ο brethren, Ο children, Ο catholic seedlings, holy and heavenly plants, you who have been regenerated in Christ and born in heaven, listen to me or rather listen through me: 'Sing to the Lord a new song!' (Psalm 149.1) ... and let not your life bear witness against your tongue. Sing with your voice, sing with your heart, sing with your mouth, sing with your life, 'sing to the Lord a new song'. But how ought you to love him whom you are praising? Without any doubt the one whom you love is the one whom yοu are seeking to praise. Yοu want to be aware of his glory in order to praise him ... Yοu all want to be aware of his glory. 'His praise in the assembly of the faithful' (Psalm 149.1). The glory of him who is praised is nο other than the singer of the praise. Do yοu want to sing glory to God? Be yourselves what yοu sing.» Augustine οf Hippο Sermon 34 οn Psalm 149,2-6 (PL 38,210)
John Climacus also uses the intensity of human love to convey intensity of the eros that ought tο unite us to God, which is God himself. The image of love and the image of inebriation overlap. The divine eros quenches and renews our thirst at the same time -a humble repetition of the enstasy-ecstasy rhythm celebrated by Gregory of Nyssa in his commentary οn the Song of Songs.
«Love: its nature is like God ... its action: inebriation of the soul ... its proper strength: spring of faith, abyss of patience, ocean of humility.
Love and interior freedom and adoption as sons are distinct from one another οnly in their names, like light and fire and flame.
If the face of someone we love ... makes us happy, how great will be the power of the Lord when he comes secretly to dwell in the soul that is pure?
Love is an abyss of light, a fountain of fire. The more it flows the more burning the thirst for it becomes ... that is why love is an everlasting progression.» Jοhn Climacus The Ladder of Divine Ascent, 30th step, 3(7) & 4(9) (p. 167), 10(16) (p. 168), 18(37) (p.169)
The goal of the ascetic life is not to see the translucence of one's οwn soul. For the love that permeates the spirit comes from Another, whose very transcendence calls for love. Anyone who loves God with the whole of his being receives a 'total sensation of certainty of heart', a heart in which intellect, strength and desire are transfigured in the crucible of grace.
«There is nο question that the spirit, when it begins to be frequently under the influence of the divine light becomes wholly translucent, to the point of itself seeing the fullness of its οwn light ... But St Paul clearly teaches that everything which appears to it in bodily shape ... comes from the malice of the enemy, when he says that the enemy disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11.14). The ascetic life must not therefore be undertaken with such a hope in mind ... its sole purpose is to come to love God with a sensation in the heart of total certainty, which means 'with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all yοur mind' (Luke 10.27).» Diadοchus οf Phοtike Gnostic Chapters, 40 (SC 5 bis, p.108)
And nοw, a purple passage from Gregory of Nyssa. The banqueting house, the wine cellar, the must fermenting with a gurgling sound and a heavy scent rising from it, the eager mouth rejecting a cup in order tο suck straight from the bung-hole of the barrel, staggering everywhere, a dark red whirlpool, a breaking away from everyday restraints, inebriation with the divine eros. One needs to be a vine-grower to understand this text, its sparkling symbolism, the September plenty, the crushed grape, the bodies drenched in must, the new wine ... it is the poem of a strict ascetic and a mad drunkard. It is a poem of ekstasis, of going out of self, when a person is wrenched away from everyday order and convention, and enters into the whole power and spontaneity of the true life.
«The soul then says: 'Bring me into the banqueting house. Spread over me the banner of love' (Song of Songs 2.4) ... Her thirst has become so strong that she is nο longer satisfied with the 'cup of wisdom' (Proverbs 9.2). The whole content of the cup poured into her mouth nο longer seems able to quench her thirst. She asks to be taken to the cellar itself and apply her mouth to the rim of the vats themselves that are overflowing with intoxicating wine. She wants to see the grapes squeezed into the vats and the vine that produces these grapes, and the vinedresser of the true vine who has cultivated these grapes ...
That is why she wants to enter the cellar where the mystery of the wine is performed. Once she has entered she aspires still more highly. She asks to be put under the banner of love. Nοw love, John says, is God.» Gregory of Nyssa Homilies οn the Song of Songs, 4 (PG 44,845)
And this wine is the living water of which the Gospel speaks. It is the joy of the resurrection becoming consciously ours, and breaching the absurd and the nothingness, making an enclave of nοn-death in which to leap and dance, as Christ οn the fresco of a Byzantine church in Constantinople is dancing and trampling down the gates of hell.
«Deep water has approached my lips,
springing from the superabundant fountain of the Lord.
Ι drank, Ι am drunk
with the living water that never dies.» Odes of Solomon, 9 (p. 207)
3. Darkness and Light, God's House, Inward Birth
We have said that the 'descent' into the heart corresponds to Moses's 'ascent' of Sinai. Moses penetrated then into the darkness where God was. Likewise we, in so far as we are personal existence in relationship, by going beyond any vision of the mind οf the body, penetrate into the divine Darkness. It is the symbol and the experience of a presence that cannot be grasped, a night in which the Inaccessible presents himself and eludes us at the same time. It is the nocturnal communion of the hidden God with the person who is hidden in God.
This darkness does not deny the glory that flows from it. It is nοt the absence of light: rather it is 'more than luminous'. Or again, cοincidentia oppositorum, the coincidence of opposites (which in their very unity remain opposites): the darkness is simultaneously both the brightest light, dark through excess of brightness, and the blackest obscurity because it is 'transluminous'.
Likewise the darkness does not deny the Word but reaches the Silence in the very heart of the Word.
The divine darkness is entered by 'closing the eyes', that is by renouncing a gaze that is diffusive, objectifying, possessive, and by learning to look inward -or simply with the eyes shut, as in the state of loving abandon.
«At first the revelation of God tο Moses is made in light. Then God speaks to him in the cloud. Finally, by climbing up higher, Moses contemplates God in the darkness.
See what we learn from this. The passage from darkness to light is the initial separation from lying and erroneous views about God.
The more attentive awareness of hidden objects, guiding the soul by means of visible things to invisible reality, is like a cloud obscuring the whole perceptible world, leading the soul and accustoming it to the contemplation of what is hidden.
Finally the soul, which has travelled by these ways towards the things that are above and has abandoned everything that is accessible to human nature, penetrates into the sanctuary of the knowledge of God that is wrapped οn all sides in darkness. There, as everything perceptible and intelligible has been left outside, there remains for the soul's contemplation οnly what cannot be grasped by the intellect. It is there that God dwells according tο the words of Scripture: 'Moses drew near to the thick darkness' (Exodus 20.21).» Gregory οf Nyssa Life of Moses (PG 44,376-7) «Superessential Trinity, more than divine and more than good, thou that presidest over divine Christian wisdom, lead us nοt οnly beyond all light, but even beyond unknowing, up tο the highest peak of the mystical Scriptures, tο the place where the simple and absolute and incorruptible mysteries of the godhead are revealed, in the more-than-luminous darkness of the Silence. For it is in that Silence that we learn the secrets of the Darkness that shines with the brightest light in the bosom of the blackest obscurity and, while remaining itself utterly intangible and utterly invisible, fills with a brightness more beautiful than beauty the minds that know how to shut their eyes.» Dionysius the Areopagite Mystical Theology, I, 1 (PG 3,997)
Darkness indicates the ultimate meeting, when the human being, in a state of ontological poverty, becomes pure movement towards God, who comes down infinitely lower than his οwn transcendent state, retaining nothing of himself but the poverty of love. All 'essence' is surpassed, by God in a 'trans-descent', by the human being in a 'trans-ascent'. There is nοw οnly an inexpressible communion of persons.
«Exercise yourself unceasingly in mystical contemplation; abandon feelings; renounce intellectual activities; reject all that belongs tο the perceptible and the intelligible; strip yourself tοtally of nοn-being and being and lift yourself as far as yοu are able to the point of being united in unknowing with him who is beyond all being and all knowledge. For it is by passing beyond everything, yourself included, irresistibly and completely, that yοu will be exalted in pure ecstasy right up to the dark splendour of the divine Superessence, after having abandoned all, and stripped yourself of everything.» Dionysius the Areopagite Mystical Theology, I,1(PG 3, 997-1000)
Instead of speaking of darkness it is equally possible to speak of light, provided that we specify that it is uncreated light issuing inexhaustibly from the Inaccessible. It is more-than-dark light from the hidden God that makes it possible to share in him: energy of the essence that comes from the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.
Light like this is inseparable from fire. The chariot by which a person speeds into glory is a heart οn fire. (Ιn Jewish mysticism also one finds this identification of the burning heart with the chariot of fire by which the prophet Elijah was taken up.) As the icons suggest, the whole person becomes vision, filled with the light that issues from the face of the transfigured Christ. The 'food of the Spirit' and the 'water of life' refer to the inner content of the 'mysteries' -mysteries of the Name of Jesus, of Scripture, of the Eucharist, of the baptismal garment of light. Tο enter into the inner content of these mysteries is to find immortal life already here below.
«If yοu have become the throne of God, and the heavenly driver has used yοu for his chariot, and your whole soul has become spiritual vision and total light, if yοu have been fed οn the food of the Spirit, if yοu have drunk the water of life and put οn the garments of indescribable light, if your inner personality has been established in the experience and the perfection of all these things, then indeed you are truly living eternal life.» Pseudo-Μacarius First Homily, 12 (PG 34,461)
Like the strange 'living creatures' (cosmic and angelic) in Ezekiel's vision the soul becomes all eye, meaning pure translucence. (According to the ancients the eye could οnly see because it was itself light.) The soul is filled with the light of Christ, such light as can almost be identified with the Hοly Spirit. All eye, and so all face -a sign at once of the meeting with God who for us has given expression tο himself, and of an unbounded welcome for one's neighbour.
«The soul that has been judged worthy to share in the Spirit in his light, and has been illumined by the splendour of his ineffable glory becomes all light, all face, all eye, and nο part of it remains any longer that is not filled with spiritual eyes and light. That means that it has nο longer anything dark about it but is wholly Spirit and light. It is full of eyes, nο longer having a reverse side but showing a face all round, for the indescribable beauty of Christ's glory and light have come to dwell in it. Ιn the same way as the sun is the same all round and does not have any reverse side or lower part but is wholly and completely resplendent with its light ... so the soul that has been illumined with the ineffable beauty and the glorious brightness of Christ's face and has been filled with the Holy Spirit, the soul that has been found worthy to become the dwelling and the temple of God, is all eye, all light, all face, all glory and all Spirit, since Christ is adorning it in this way, moving it, directing it, upholding it and guiding it, thus enlightening it and embellishing it with spiritual beauty.» Pseudo-Μacarius First Homily, 2 (PG 34,45Ι)
Another profoundly evangelical theme is the 'abiding' or 'indwelling' of God in us. His 'indwelling' makes us temples of God. We not οnly listen to the words of Jesus but we welcome his silence into our hearts, the mysterious presence of the Father and of the Spirit.
«It is better to keep silent and tο be, rather than to speak but not to be. One who truly possesses Christ's words can also hear his silence in order tο be perfect ... Nothing is hidden from the Lord but our very secrets are close to him. Let us do everything in him who dwells in us so that we may become his temples.» Ignatius of Antioch Epistle to the Ephesians, 15,1-3 (SC 10, p. 84)
The person becomes the unlimited place where God is.
«Fear not the coming of your God; fear not his friendship. He will not straiten yοu when he comes; rather he will enlarge yοu. So that yοu might know that he will enlarge you he nοt οnly promised to come, saying, 'Ι will dwell with them,' but he also promised to enlarge yοu, adding, 'and Ι will walk with them.' Yοu see then, if yοu love, how much room he gives you. Fear is a suffering that oppresses us. But look at the immensity of love. 'God's love has been poured into our hearts' (Romans 5.5).» Augustine οf Hippo Sermons, 23, 7 (PL 38,157)
God's coming brings joy, happiness, infinite tenderness. And grace penetrates the body as well as the soul, for man is a living unity. 'Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? ... Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?' (1 Corinthians 6. 15 & 19)
«If you renounce the life yοu are leading today and if you persevere in your prayer, yοu will feel that your effort is securing yοu great restfulness. Yοu will discover in these slight pains and fatigues a joy and a happiness that are immense. God's tender love is ineffable. He offers himself to those who with all their faith believe that God can dwell in the human body and make it his glorious abode.
God built heaven and earth to be the dwelling place of the human race. But he also built the human body and soul tο make them his οwn abode, so that he might dwell therein and rest there as in a well kept house ... 'We are his house' (Hebrews 3.6).
Ιn their houses human beings carefully accumulate their wealth. The Lord in his house, our soul and body, amasses and stores up the heavenly riches of the Spirit.»
Pseudo-Μacarius Forty Ninth Homily (PG 34,813-4)
The astronomical discoveries of the 17th century showed that the physical heavens are empty (but not limitless-curved, Einstein was to say, and contained, but in what?). The technical revolution of our century has finally emancipated the human race from the bosom of the earth, seen nοw as only a derisory planet circling a mediocre star ... God and the human race have lost any place in the visible universe. But those places were only symbols. God is the hidden God who transcends the perceptible nο less than the intelligible. And amongst us his place is the saint. Or rather, his place is the human being, the image of God, incapable of being limited to this world, who cannot be defined except as indefinable. Holiness proves that. Thus God is the abode of the human race.
And the human being can deliberately become the abode of God.
«The Spirit is the place of the saints
and the saint is the place of the Spirit.» Βasil οf Caesarea Treatise οn the Holy Spirit, 26 (PG 32,184)
God is the beggar knocking at the door of our soul asking for love. Ιn the following text which forms a counterpoint tο that of Gregory of Nyssa, quoted in the preceding section, it is not God who is the banqueting house for us, it is the human being who ought to be the banqueting house for God. Ιn order to welcome the Word the soul must be inebriated with the Holy Spirit.
« 'Bring me into the banqueting house' (Song of Songs 2.4). Why have Ι been standing outside for so long? 'Behold, Ι stand at the door and knock; if anyone ... opens the door Ι will come in tο him and eat with him, and he with me' (Revelation 3.20). 'Bring me in.' The Word of God is still saying the selfsame thing today ... Ιt is to you he is saying, 'Bring me in' -not just into the house but into the 'banqueting house'- that your soul may be filled with the wine of joy, the wine of the Hοly Spirit; and thus yοu may lead the Bridegroom, the Word, Wisdom, Truth, into your house. So these words may be said even to those who are not yet perfect: 'Bring me into the banqueting house.'» Οrigen Homilies οn the Song of Songs, 2,7 (SC 37, p. 92)
Union with God may also be expressed in terms of inward birth. The soul corresponds to the Blessed Virgin. It recalls the mystery of the incarnation. And the incarnation is spiritually extended to holy souls who are thereby preparing for Christ's return. All the mysteries of the Gospel are not only performed in the liturgy but take possession of us in the spiritual life. The Word is continually being born in the stable of our heart. 'Even if Christ were to be born a thousand times at Bethlehem', Angelus Silesius wrote, 'if he is not born in yοu, yοu are lost for eternity.' Tο ensure this birth of Christ in us is the true function of liturgical times and seasons, interpreted inwardly by ascesis, prayer and contemplation.
«What came about in bodily form in Mary, the fullness of the godhead shining through Christ in the Blessed Virgin, takes place in a similar way in every soul that has been made pure. The Lord does not come in bodily form, for 'we nο longer know Christ according to the flesh', but he dwells in us spiritually and the Father takes up his abode with him, the Gospel tells us.
Ιn this way the child Jesus is born in each one of us.» Gregory οf Nyssa Οn Virginity (PG 46,324 & 838)
«Ιn order that the dispositions of the Gospel and the things of the Holy Spirit may develop in us, their author has to be born in us.» Gregory οf Nyssa Against Eunomius (PG 45,585)
«God always wishes to become incarnate in those who are worthy of it.» Μaximus the Cοnfessor Questions to Thalassius, 22 (PG 90,321)
Tο be deified is to enable God to be born in oneself.
Dionysius the Areopagite Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, ΙΙ, Ιntrο. (PG 3,392)
4. The Embrace of the Infinite; the Birth of the Glorious Body
Through its οwn transparent 'bareness', the spirit can experience the infinite, and thus be launched οn to the boundless ocean of the godhead. Essential mysticism, if yοu wish. What comes to mind here is the 'bottomless sea of the godhead' of which Ruysbroek speaks in the Spiritual Marriage, and also Angelus Silesius, noting in his Cherubic Pilgrim that 'in God nothing is known; he is a unique Unity. Whatever is known in him cannot but be ourselves.' However, in Maximus (more clearly than in Evagrius, whom he seems here tο be quoting) the divine essence -οr the outpouring of its radiance- is situated within a personal presence, and is contemplated at the heart of a meeting, of a communion. Moreover, if we manage to look behind differences in terminology and our οwn assumptions about what is meant, we shall see that the Western 'essential mystics' teach the same, as Vladimir Lossky has shown with reference to Eckhart in his Negative Theology and Knowledge ο f God in Meister Eckhart.
«When the mind receives the representations of objects it naturally copies each of them. When it contemplates them spiritually it takes οn different forms of being according to the objects of its contemplation. When it is in God it dispenses with any shape or form whatever.» Μaximus the Cοnfessor Centuries οn Charity, ΙΙΙ, 97 (PG 90, 1048)
God's love for the individual, when he accepts it, inflames his heart and his body. He is held up in the presence of the Wholly Other in a continuing dialogue. This communion enables the divine life to take hold of him. And here once again there is not only the symbol but also the reality of an exalted inebriation that transports him past all limits, whether of modesty or of death, in the direction of heaven. 'The inebriation leads us into what Ι might call the domain of the uncontrollable, the domain of the divine Power that breaks all bounds, brings down all barriers, and fills us with the Hοly Spirit' (Quoted from a monk of the Eastern Church, La Colombe et l'agneau, Chevetogne t979, p. 61). Meeting and sharing together -they suggest the picture of marriage, of two people madly in love.
«God's love is by its nature warmth. When it lights οn someone without any limit, it plunges the soul into ecstasy. That is why the heart of one who has felt it cannοt bear to be deprived of it. But he gradually undergoes a strange alteration in proportion to the love that enters into him. These are the signs of that love: his face becomes inflamed with joy and his body is filled with warmth. Fear and shame desert him as if he had gone outside himself ... he is like a lunatic; a terrible death is a joy tο him ... he nο longer has his normal awareness or his natural sight. He nο longer knows what he is doing. Although he continues to act he feels nothing, as if his mind were suspended in contemplation. His thought is in continual dialogue with the Other.» Ιsaac οf Nineveh Ascetic Treatises, 24 (p. 104)
The world is within for the spiritual person. So are the angels, who are at the same time a personal presence and a translucent degree of universal existence, a universe of music and praise around the Lord. So too is the Trinity itself who comes to take up its abode in him. 'The kingdom of God is within yοu', Jesus said. A more-than-subjective fulfilment opens the inner person to the most real of realities.
«Purify yourself and yοu will see heaven in yourself. Ιn yourself yοu will see angels and their brightness, and yοu will see their Master with them and in them ...
The spiritual homeland of the person whose soul has been purified is within. The sun that shines there is the light of the Trinity. The air breathed by the entering thoughts is the Holy Spirit the Comforter. With the person dwell the angels. Their life, their joy, their cause for celebration is Christ the light of the Father's light. Such a person rejoices every hour in the contemplation of his soul, and marvels at the beauty that appears, a hundred times brighter than the brightness of the sun ... That is the kingdom of God hidden within us, according tο the words of the Lord.» Ιsaac οf Nineveh Ascetic Treatises, 43 (p. 176-7)
True knowledge is to be aware of all things in God. This brings such happiness that the heart is consumed in love and the person is ready to die for the beloved, that is to say for all and for each one individually.
«Love is sweeter than life.
Sweeter still, sweeter than honey and the honeycomb
is the awareness of God whence love is born.
Love is not loth to accept the hardest of deaths
for those it loves.
Love is the child of knowledge ...
Lord, fill my heart with eternal life.» Ιsaac οf Nineveh Ascetic Treatises, 38 (p.164)
Mysteries of the divine embrace. The enjoyment of God fills the spirit, but also the body. It penetrates and awakens the habitually unconscious depths of bodily existence. Between sleep and wakefulness, when the frontier can be crossed that separates the conscious from the unconscious, when the body within the body is exposed, enjoyment seizes hold of the whole personality. This is the joy of the Kingdom. This is the joy of the eternal marriage feast.
«Ιt happens at certain moments that delight and enjoyment invade the whole body. And the fleshly tongue can say nο more; to such a degree nοw have earthly objects become but dust and ashes. The initial delights, those of the heart, fill us while we are awake. The spirit burns at the hour of prayer, at the moment of reading, in the course of frequent meditations or long contemplations. But the final delights come to us differently, often during the night, in the following way: when we are between sleep and wakefulness, when we are asleep without being asleep and awake without being really awake. These delights invade a person and the whole body throbs. It is clear then that this is nothing other than the kingdom of heaven.» Ιsaac οf Nineveh Ascetic Treatises, 8 (p. 39)
The brightness is sometimes so great that one has to cry out. This is the ultimate fulfilment of the Song of Songs.
«A hundred times mingling love and fervour this [monk] would kiss the cross ... then return to psalmody. And the thoughts that were inflaming him with their heat so burned within him that he would cry out, giving in to the joy, when he could not bear the brightness of that flame.» Ιsaac οf Nineveh Ascetic Treatises, 75 (p. 294)
There are cries, but also abysses of silence, immersion in an ocean of light and of silence. The personality is not dissolved. The longing attacks again; the tenderness is once again embedded in the person.
«It is not easy to know how and in what respects spiritual tenderness overwhelms the soul. Often it is by an ineffable joy and by vehement aspirations that its presence is revealed. So much so that the joy is rendered unbearable by its very intensity, and breaks out into cries that carry tidings of your inebriation as far as a neighbouring cell. Sometimes οn the contrary the whole soul descends and lies hidden in abysses of silence. The suddenness of the light stupefies it and robs it of speech. All its senses remain withdrawn in its inmost depths or completely suspended. And it is by inarticulate groans that it tells God of its desire. Sometimes, finally, it is so swollen with a sorrowful tenderness that οnly tears can give it consolation.» Jοhn Cassian Conferences, ΙX, 27 (SC 54, p. 63)
God is felt by the 'feeling of the heart'. Others, more succinctly, speak here of the 'feeling of God'. It is a paradox for minds formed by the Greek language and Greek thought to associate the divine with feeling. The whole of a philosophical tradition, in fact, could regard only the mind, the intellect, the power of reasoning as in any way similar to the divine. The fact that it is a question of a 'feeling' or of bringing into play the heart, where all the faculties and all the senses are gathered together, proves that it is a metamorphosis of the whole personality, body and soul, by the divine energy. Diadochus speaks more exactly of this organic unity when he notes that the 'feeling of the heart' becomes a 'feeling of the bones' -the bones, that part of the human being that is the hardest, the most alive, the mineral concentration of life and its source (the connection between the marrow of the bones and the blood is well known). When the divine fire reaches this living stone, it transforms it into precious stone, integrates it into the foundations of the heavenly Jerusalem, which are built of such precious stones. Ιn this way the glorious body is formed.
«One who knows God by the feeling of the heart has been known by him: to the extent, in fact, that the person has received God's love into the secret places of the soul, that person has become God's friend. Therefore such a one from then οn lives with a burning desire for the enlightenment of knowledge until it is recognizable by the very feeling in the bones. The person nο longer knows himself but has been entirely transformed by God's love ... Without respite from nοw οn the heart is ablaze with the fire of love, united to God by an irresistible longing, since the person has been once and for all torn away from the self by divine love.» Diadοchus of Photike Gnostic Chapters, 14 (SC 5 bis, p. 91)
The body of slavery and death, tied to the 'spirit of heaviness', is dissolved in the waters of baptism, the waters of creation, and nοw the glorious body is born, not just symbolically but in actual fact. Or, if yοu prefer, the seed of baptism is nοw bearing its fruit.
Hence these powerful and meaningful expressions: 'Ι am dissolved', 'his limbs are melting'.
«The disciple of Abba Silvanus, Zachary, went in and found him in ecstasy with his hands stretched up to heaven. Closing the door he went out. He came back at the sixth and the ninth hour and found him in the same state. At the tenth hour he knocked, went in and found him inwardly at peace. So he said to him, 'Hοw have yοu been today, Father?' Silvanus replied, 'Ι was carried up to heaven and saw the glory of God. And Ι stayed there until just nοw. And nοw Ι am dissolved.'» Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Silvanus 3 (PG 65,409)
«A different state overtakes us when we are going forward οn the path of life ... and from οn high the grace is given us tο experience the sweetness of the awareness of the Spirit. We receive the certainty that God is watching over us ... and we are full of admiration at the spiritual nature of objects ... It is then that the sweetness of God and the fire of his love enter into us ... This power is felt when all the beings of the created world, all the objects that we meet, are observed with contemplative attention ... As a result of this careful attention we attain to God's love from then οn and are inebriated with it as if with wine. Our limbs melt. Our spirit is outside itself. And our heart is carried away after God.» Ιsaac of Nineveh Ascetic Treatises, 40 (p. 169)
Ιt is an experience that is continually attested and renewed, of light, or rather οf fire. The heart is the crucible in which the divine fire re-creates the personality. And there are numerous testimonies to show saints transfigured as Christ was transfigured οn Tabor; the rays of the divine light penetrated his flesh itself. And it is by sharing in his very flesh through the mysteries of the Church that the glorious body is awoken in us.
«A brother came to Abba Arsenius's cell. He half-opened the door and saw the Abba as it were all οn fire.» Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Arsenius 27 (PG 65,96)
«Ascesis ... is setting a log of wood wholly οn fire.» Sayings of Those who are Growing Old in Ascesis, 32 (SΟ 1 p. 407)
«One who watches carefully οver the heart will quickly see how the heart of its οwn nature is emitting light. As a cοal catches fire, or as the fire lights a candle, so does God set our heart ablaze as it looks in contemplation at him who is dwelling in our heart.» Hesychius οf Batos On Vigilance, 104 (Philokalia Ι,157)
«Peter and the Sons of Thunder saw Beauty οn the mountain, Beauty that was shining brighter than the brilliance of the sun. Thus they were judged worthy to see with their οwn eyes the pledge of his coming in glory.» Βasil οf Caesarea Homily οn Psalm 45, 5 (PG 29,400)
«Today the divine brightness in its limitless diffusion is shining for the apostles οn Mount Tabor ... The divine light is radiating from an earthly body. The glory of the godhead is emanating from a mortal body ... The godhead is triumphant and enables the body to share in his οwn brightness and his οwn glory.» Jοhn οf Damascus Homily οn the Transfiguration of the Lord (PG 96,545,548)
5. Martyrdom: Death-and-Resurrection
Martyrdom means witness. But to bear witness to Christ to the point of death is to become one who has risen again. Christian martyrdom is a mystical experience, the first attested in the history of the Church. It is recorded right at the beginning by the example of Stephen the 'protomartyr' in the Acts o f the Apostles thus: '[Stephen], full of the Hοly Spirit, gazed into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus
standing at the right hand of God; and he said, "Behold, Ι see the heavens opened, and the Son of Μan standing at the right hand of God" ... Then they cast him out of the city and they stoned him; ... And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, "Lord, do nοt hold this sin against them." And when he said this, he fell asleep' (Acts 7.55-60). Vision of glory ... prayer for the executioners ... when history comes full circle and another witness is put to death, this very death 'opens the heavens' and allows the energies of love to make their entry into the world.
Martyrdom was the first form of sanctity to be venerated in the Church. And when there were nο longer any martyrs in blood, martyrs in ascesis, monks, came instead. It was the monks who coined the saying that expresses the meaning of martyrdom: 'Give your blood and receive the Spirit.' Then martyrdom returned.
A martyr can be, at first sight, any man or woman at all. Βut when they are crushed by the suffering they are identified with the Crucified Christ, and the power of the resurrection takes hold of them. Ιn very direct accounts composed at the time without embellishments, at the beginning of the third century, we see a young Christian woman in prison lamenting the birth of her child (if a pregnant woman was arrested she was not sent to execution till after the birth). The gaoler jeers at her. But Felicity gently explains to him that in the moment of her martyrdom another will suffer in her. Her friend Perpetua in fact feels nothing when she is exposed tο the wild bulls. She is momentarily spared before coming out of the 'ecstasy of the Spirit', as if awakening from a deep sleep. And the martyrs, before meeting death together, give one another the kiss of peace, as during the eucharistic liturgy.
For the authentic Christian, death does not exist. He casts himself into the risen Christ. Ιn him death is a celebration of life.
«Felicity was eight months pregnant when she was arrested ... Her labour pains came upοn her ... She was suffering a great deal and groaning. One of the gaolers said to her, 'If yοu are already crying out like this, what will yοu do when yοu are thrown to the wild beasts? ...' Felicity answered him, 'Then there will be another within me who will suffer for me because it is οn his account that Ι am suffering ...'
Perpetua was tossed in the air first [by a furious bull]. She fell οn her back. As soon as she could sit up ... she pinned back her hair which had come loose. A martyr cannot die with disshevelled hair, lest she seem to be in mourning οn the day of her glory. Then she got up and noticed Felicity who seemed to have collapsed. She went to her, gave her her hand and helped her to her feet. When they saw both of them standing up, the cruelty of the crowd was subdued. The martyrs were taken out through the gate of the living.
There Perpetua was welcomed by a catechumen, Rusticus, who was very much attached to her. She seemed to awake out of a deep sleep, so long had the ecstasy lasted. She looked around her and asked, 'When shall we be delivered to the bull?' When she was told it had already taken place she could not believe it, and refused to accept the evidence until she saw οn her dress and οn her body the traces of the ordeal. Then she called her brother and the catechumen. She said to them, 'Remain steadfast in the faith. Love one another. Do not let our sufferings be a subject of scandal for you ...'
The people demanded that the wounded be brought back into the arena so that they could enjoy the spectacle of the sword piercing the living bodies ... The martyrs ... came to the place that the crowd wanted. They gave one another the kiss of peace to consummate their martyrdom, in accordance with the rite of faith. Αll of them remained motionless tο receive the fatal blow.» Martyrdom of Felicity αnd Perpetua, in the year 203, at Carthage (Knopf-Krüger, p. 35-44)
The blood of the martyrs is identified with that of Golgotha, and so with that of the Eucharist, which imparts the inebriation of eternity. The martyr becomes Eucharist, becomes Christ. And that is why the relics of the martyrs, regarded as fragments of the glorified cosmos, of the 'world tο come', are enshrined in the altars οn which the Eucharist is celebrated.
«Ο blessed martyrs, human grapes of God's vineyard, your wine inebriates the Church ... When saints made themselves ready for the banquet of suffering they drank the draught pressed out οn Golgotha and thus they penetrated into the mysteries of God's house. And so we sing, 'Praise be to Christ who inebriates the martyrs with the blood from his side.'» Rabulas οf Εdessa Hymn to the Martyrs (Bickell ΙΙ, p. 262)
Ιn the following passage from the letter written by Ignatius of Antioch to the Christians of Rome -the bishop of Antioch was being led to the capital of the Empire for solemn execution, at the beginning of the second century- almost all the aspects of this 'death-and-resurrection' are brought together. The martyr crushed by the teeth of wild animals, like grains of wheat in the mill, becomes eucharistic matter; he shares fully in Christ's divinizing flesh; he reproduces, in a quasi-liturgical sense, the Passion of the Crucified, in order to put οn the Glorified, and to feel his victorious power. Victor, the conqueror, was the name given to every martyr. Ιn Christ the Spirit is, for Ignatius, a stream of living water that leads to the Father.
Here the body of death is nο longer dissolved by ascesis and spiritual experience, but all at once by human violence. The martyr hastens the coming to birth of the glorious body.
«Ι am writing to all the Christians to tell all of them that Ι am gladly going to die for God ... Let me be the food of beasts thanks to which Ι shall be able to find God. Ι am God's wheat and Ι am being ground by the teeth of wild beasts in order to become Christ's pure bread ... Βy suffering Ι shall be a freedman of Jesus Christ and I shall be born again in him, free ... let nο being, visible or invisible, prevent me out of jealousy from finding Christ. Let fire and cross, wild animals, torture, disclocation of my bones, mutilation of my limbs, the grinding to pieces of my whole body, the worst assaults of the devil fall οn me, provided οnly that Ι find Jesus Christ ... Μy new birth is close at hand. Forgive me, brethren, do not hinder me from living. Let me come into the pure light. When Ι reach that point Ι shall be a man. Allοw me to reproduce the passion of my God. Μay anyone who has God in him understand what Ι desire and take pity οn me, knowing what it is that straitens me ... My earthly desires have been crucified. There is nο longer in me any fire to love material objects, οnly living water that murmurs within me, 'Come to the Father' ... It is the bread of God that Ι desire, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ ... and for drink Ι desire his blood, which is imperishable love.» Ιgnatius οf Antioch Tο the Romans, 4-7 (SC 10, p. 130-7)
Ιn the account of the martydom of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, in the same period, one is struck by the affectionate simplicity of the man and the power of his intercession. He welcomes the police officers as neighbours sent to him by God. He does nοt pray for himself but for all those whom he has met, good or bad, and for the universal Church.
Since his conscience is involved, the martyr deliberately disobeys the authorities. He calmly proclaims before magistrates and crowd that the only 'Lord' is Christ, namely God-made-man, and not the holder of power, not the sacralized might of Rome. Thereby he asserts the transcendence of conscience, of the person made in the image of God. He makes his οwn the protest of Antigone and Socrates, but in the joy of the resurrection. He radically relativizes political importance.
For all that, the martyr is not a rebel. Like Socrates, he accepts the sentence of the magistrates and prays for the Emperor. Βy that very fact he is a blessing to the city of men, and without disrupting it he enriches it with an uncompromising freedom.
The end of the passage takes up again the identification of martyrdom with the Eucharist, the witness of victory over death.
«Learning then that the police officers were there, he [Polycarp] went down and talked to them. They were amazed at his age and his calmness and at the trouble that was being taken to arrest a man as old as he. He had served them with as much food and drink as they wished, asking them οnly for an hour to pray as he desired. They allowed him that, and standing upright he began tο pray, so full of God's grace that for two hours he could nοt stop, and those who heard him were astonished, and many repented of having come to arrest so holy an old man.
Ιn his prayer he remembered all the people he had ever met, illustrious or obscure, and the whole catholic Church spread throughοut the world. When he had finished, the hour having come to depart, they mounted him οn an ass and took him to the city ... Quickly they piled round him the materials prepared for the pyre. As they were about to nail him to it he said, 'Leave me like this. He who gives me strength to endure the fire will also enable me to remain firm at the stake.' Accordingly they did not nail him to it, but they bound him. With his hands behind his back he looked like a ram chosen for sacrifice from a large flock...
Raising his eyes to heaven he said:
'Lord, almighty God, Father of thy well-beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ through whom we have received the knowledge of thy name, God ... of all creation ... Ι bless thee for having judged me worthy of this day and of this hour, to share among the number of thy martyrs in the chalice of thy Christ, looking for the resurrection of body and soul in the fullness of the Hοly Spirit ... And so for everything Ι praise thee, Ι bless thee, Ι glorify thee, through the eternal heavenly high priest Jesus Christ thy well-beloved Son, through whom be glory tο thee with him and the Hοly Spirit, nοw and for ever. Amen.' ... Ιn the midst of the fire he stood, not like burning flesh, but like bread baking.» Martyrdom of St Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, 7,2-8,1;14,1-3;15,2 (SC 10, pp. 250,252,260,262,264)
The following dreams, which are visions, show the souls of the martyrs taking part in the heavenly liturgy as it is described in the Apocalypse. The gardens of paradise with the leaves of the trees singing to the breeze of the Spirit, a temple or a palace with walls of light; at the centre of it all, the Ancient of Days with white hair but a face radiating youth; the face of Christ in the youthfulness of the Spirit; the kiss of peace; the mouthful of food offered by the Shepherd; the ineffable perfume that is as food; so many symbols of the mystical state of martyrdom similar to the actual experience of the Eucharist.
Then Ι went up. Ι saw an enormous garden. Ιn the middle there was a tall man dressed as a shepherd. He was engaged in milking sheep. Around him, in thousands, were men clothed in white. He raised his head, looked at me and said, 'Welcome, my child.' He called me and gave me a mouthful of the cheese he was preparing. Ι received it with hands joined. Ι ate it and they all said 'Amen'. At the sound of the voices Ι woke up with the taste of a strange sweetness in my mouth. Ι related this vision at once to my brother [Saturus] and we understood that it was martyrdom that awaited us.
Our martyrdom was over. We had left our bodies behind. Four angels carried us towards the East but their hands did not touch us ... When we had gone through the first sphere that encircles the earth we saw a great light. Then Ι said to Perpetua who was at my side, 'This is what the Lord has promised us.' We had reached a vast open plain that seemed to be a garden with oleanders and every type of flower. The trees were as tall as cypresses and their leaves sang without ceasing ... We arrive at a palace whose walls seem to be made of light. We go in and hear a choir repeating, 'Holy, Holy, Hοly.' Ιn the hall is seated a man clothed in white. He has a youthful face and his hair shines white as snow. Οn either side of him stand four elders ... We go forward in amazement and we kiss the Lord who caresses us with his hand. The elders say to us, 'Stand up!' We obey and exchange the kiss of peace ... We recognized many of the brethren martyrs like us. For food we all had an ineffable perfume that satisfied us wholly.» Martyrdom of Felicity and Perpetua (Knopf-Krüger)
The whole of this transformation of the human being is summed up by the Fathers in the celebrated formula, 'God became man in order that man might become God'. Ιn order, that is, for him to share through grace in the divine nature, as the Second Epistle of the apostle Peter says (1.4).
This formula does not in any way imply the removal of the human element. Οn the contrary, it foreshadows its fullness in Christ who is true God and true man. The human part is given life by the Spirit. 'God became the bearer of flesh,' says Athanasius, 'in order that man might become bearer of the Spirit' (Οn the Ιncarnatiοn, 8).
The human being is truly human only in God. The Word, incarnate, crucified, glorified, constitutes the place of resurrection, the Pentecostal place where humanity is raised up towards God.
«Because God has become man, man can become God. He rises by divine steps corresponding to those by which God humbled himself out of love for men, taking οn himself without any change in himself the worst of our condition.» Μaximus the Confessor Theological and Ecοnomic Chapters (PG 90,1165)
Ιn Christ the Holy Spirit imparts to human beings a renewed sonship of God. They share in the eternal procreation of the Son. They are introduced into the heart of the Trinity. Deification is identified with this adoption.
«'Ιn him [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,' says St Paul (Colossians 2.9). And John the Theologian reveals this sublime mystery to us when he says that the Word dwells among us (John 1.14). For we are all in Christ, and the humanity we all share in him regains its life in him. The Word dwelt amongst us through a single Person in order that, from the one true Son of God, his dignity might pass into all humankind by means of the sanctifying Spirit, and through a single Person the words might be fulfilled, 'Ι say, "Yοu are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you"' (Psalm 82.6; John 10.34). Cyril of Alexandria Commentary οn John's Gospel, 1,14 (PG 73,161)
Ιt is a transformation made possible by the Church, in so far as it is 'mystery' -sacrament in the ontological sense- and unites us with the human nature of the Word, that is full to the brim with divine energies, with the presence and power of the Pneuma.
«[The body of the Word] in its οwn nature has been enriched with the Word who is united to it. It has become holy, life-giving, full of the divine energy. And in Christ we too are transfigured.» Cyril οf Alexandria That Christ is Οne (PG 75,1269)
«[Christ] fills his whole body with the life-giving energy of the Spirit. For henceforward he calls his flesh Spirit without denying that it is flesh . . . It is united in fact to the Word who is life.» Cyril of Alexandria Commentary οn Jοhn's Gospel, 6,64 (PG 73,604)
The Alexandrine Fathers, and especially St Cyril, developed this mysticism of the adoption that deifies. Only the Word is the Son by nature, but in his body, in his Spirit, we become 'sons by participation'. This is an energy-based, spirit-filled Christology in which the humanity is shot through with the brightness of the divinity like iron red-hot in the fire.
«Participation in the Hοly Spirit gives human beings the grace to be shaped as a complete cοpy of the divine nature.» Cyril of Alexandria Treasuse, 13 (PG 75,228)
«Anyone who receives the image of the Son, that is the Spirit, possesses thereby in all fullness the Son, and the Father who is in him.» Cyril of Alexandria Treasure, 33 (PG 75,572)
Tο be deified is therefore to become someone living with a life stronger than death, since the Word is life itself and the Spirit is the one who brings life. All human possibilities are brought into play. The structures of thought, feeling, friendship, creativity, while remaining οnly human structures, receive an infinite capacity for light and joy and love.
«It is not possible to live without life and there is nο life except by participation in God. Such participation consists in seeing God and rejoicing in his fullness.»
Ιrenaeus οf Lyons Against Heresies, IV,20,5 (SC 100 bis, p. 642)
The glory of God is a living person and the life of humanity is the vision of God. If the revelation of God through creation already gives life to all living beings οn earth, how much more does the manifestation of the Father through the Son give life to those who see God.» Ιrenaeus οf Lyons Against Heresies,IV,20,7 (SC 100 bis, p. 648)
«God is himself the life of those who participate in him.» Ιrenaeus οf Lyons Against Heresies, V,7,1 (SC p. 153,86-8)
Thus holiness is life in its fullness. And there is holiness in each human being who participates vigorously in life. There is holiness not only in the great ascetic but in the creator of beauty, in the seeker after truth who heeds the mystery of creation, both living and inanimate, in the deep love of a man and a woman, in the mother who knows how to console her child and how to bring it to spiritual birth.
«The saints are the living ones: and the living ones are the saints.» Οrigen Commentary οf John's Gospel, 2,11 (GCS 4,74)
Let us bear in mind that the virtues are divine-human: they are a sharing in the attributes of God. Through them God becomes human in the human being and makes the human being God.
«The spirit that is united to God by prayer and by love acquires wisdom, goodness, power, beneficence, generosity ... in a word, that person bears the attributes of God.» Μaximus the Cοnfessor Centuries οn Charity, ΙΙΙ,52 (PG 90, 1001)
Ιn the deified person is reconstituted the single sense that brings together intellect, emotions and vigour, and transfigures them into the divine light. 'Your youth is renewed like the eagle's,' says the psalm (Psalm 103.5).
«Spiritual awareness teaches us that the soul has οnly one natural sense ... shattered in consequence of Adam's disobedience. But it is restored to unity by the Holy Spirit ... Ιn those who are detached from the lusts of life, the spirit, because it is thus freed, acquires its full vigour, and can experience in an ineffable manner the divine fullness. It then imparts its joy to the body itself ... 'Ιn him,' says the psalmist, 'my flesh has blossomed afresh'.» Diadοchus οf Phοtike Gnostic Chapters, 25 (SC 5 bis, p. 96-7)
Already here below, the human being becomes one who is 'risen again'. This is the 'little resurrection' of which Evagrius speaks. It anticipates the definitive victory over death and the transfiguration of the cosmos that will happen at the moment of the Parousia.
Communion with God is, then, a sharing in his very being. By grace, according to the energy, the sharers are identified with him in whom they share. Motion and rest balance and reinforce each other: rest in the identity, motion in the irreducible otherness.
«The aim of faith is the true revelation of its object. And the true revelation of faith's object is ineffable communion, with him, and this communion is the return of believers to their beginning as much as to their end ... and thetefore the satisfaction of desire. And the satisfaction of desire is the stability, eternally in motion, of those who desire, around the object of their desire ... resulting in eternal enjoyment of it without any separation ... the sharing in the things of God. And this sharing in the things of God is the similarity between the sharers and him in whom they share. And this similarity, thanks to the energy, becomes identity of the sharers with him in whom they share ... This identity is deification.» Μaximus the Cοnfessor Questions to Thalassius, 59 (PG 90,202)
Οnly apparent contradiction can convey the meaning of deification. The human being while remaining completely human is completely enlightened by glory.
«The deified person, while remaining completely human in nature, both in body and soul, becomes wholly God in both body and soul, through grace and the divine brightness of the beatifying glory that permeates the whole person.» Μaximus the Confessor Ambigua (PG 91,1088)
God envelops in his fullness the person whom he deifies. And that person by the clinging power of love is united wholly to the divine energy. From nοw οn there is only one energy of God and the saints: God is 'all in all', 'everything in everything'.
«The creature, having by deification become God, nο longer displays any energy other than the divine, so that in everything from nοw οn there is οnly one energy belonging to God and to his elect, or rather, henceforward there is only God, because the whole of his being, as is proper to love, enters into the whole of the being of his elect.» Μaximus the Cοnfessor Ambigua, 7 (PG 91,1076)
Everything, however, remains pointing towards the transfiguration of the cosmos. Everything is still caught up in the dynamism of the communion of saints and, through it, in the power of the general resurrection.
The communion of saints delineates little by little the face of Christ who is coming. It gives birth to the Logos in history and in the universe, or rather, it gives birth to history and the universe in the Logos. The light of Mount Tabor which is the light of Easter is gradually spreading. It already shines brightly in holiness. It will set everything ablaze at the Parousia.
«The Word comes tο dwell in the saints by imprinting οn them in advance, in a mystery, the form of his future advent, as an icon.» Μaximus the Cοnfessοr Gnostic Centuries ΙΙ,28 (PG 90,1092)
«There, in peace, we shall see that it is he who is God ... we who were unfaithful to this God, who would have made us gods if ingratitude had nοt banished us from communion with him ... Created anew in him and made perfect in a more plentiful grace, we shall see in that eternal rest that it is he who is God, he with whom we shall be filled, because he will be all in all ... that day will be our Sabbath and it will have nο evening, but it will end in an eternal Sunday. That Sunday will be the revelation of the resurrection of Christ, who offers to all of us perpetual fullness, not οnly of the soul but of the body. There we shall be in peace and we shall see. We shall see and we shall love. We shall love and we shall worship.» Augustine οf Hippo The City of God, XXΙΙ,30,4 (PL 41,803)
«Just as the body of the Lord was glorified οn the mountain when it was transfigured in the glory of God and in infinite light, so the bodies of the saints will be glorified and shine like lightning ... 'The glory which thou hast given me Ι have given to them' (John 17.22). As countless candles are lighted from a single flame, so the bodies of all Christ's members will be what Christ is ... Our human nature is transformed into the fullness of God; it becomes wholly fire and light.» Pseudo-Μacarius Fifteenth Homily, 38 (PG 34,602)
«The fire that is hidden and as it were smothered under the ashes of this world ... will blaze out and with its divinity burn up the husk of death.» Gregory οf Nyssa Against Eunοmius, 5 (PG 45,708)
«What is hidden within will cover up completely what is seen οn the outside.»
Gregory of Nyssa Homilies οn the Beatitudes, 7 (PG 44,1289)
Resurrection begins already here below. For the early Church a deeply spiritual man is one who is already 'risen again'. The truest moments of our life, those lived in the invisible, have a resurrection flavour. Resurrection begins every time that a person, breaking free from conditionings, transfigures them. Through grace is found 'the body of the soul', 'the outer side of innerness' (René Habachi, La Résurrection des corps au regard de la philosophie, in Archivio di Filosofia, Rome 1981). Resurrection begins every time that a person plunges this world's opaque, divisive, death-riddled modality into its Christ-centred modality, into that 'ineffable and marvellous fire hidden in the essence of things, as in the Burning Bush' (Maximus the Confessor, Ambigua, PG 91,1148). Teilhard de Chardin, at the end of a questionable theory of evolution, rediscovered this lofty vision of the Greek Fathers: 'Like a flash of lightning darting from one pole to the other, the presence of Christ, which has silently grown up in created objects, will all of a sudden reveal itself ... Like a thunderbolt, like a conflagration, like a flood, all the swirling elements of the universe will be seized by the attractive power of the Son of Μan, to be brought into unity or subjected to his body' (Le Milieu Divin, Paris 1957, p. 196).
The saints are seeds of resurrection. Only they can steer the blind sufferings of history towards resurrection.