A preacher once stood, after matins, before a crucifix, and complained from his heart to God that he could not meditate properly on His torments and passion, and that this was very bitter for him, inasmuch as, up to that hour, he had in consequence suffered so much. And, as he thus stood with his complaint, his interior senses were rapt to an unusual exaltation, in which he was very speedily and clearly enlightened as follows: Thou shalt make a hundred venias, 1 and each venia with a special meditation of My passion, and each meditation with a request. And every one of My sufferings shall be spiritually impressed on thee, to suffer the same again through Me as far as thou art able.

And as he thus stood in the light, and would needs count the venias, he only found ninety, upon which he spoke to God thus: Sweet Lord, Thou didst speak of a hundred venias, and I find only ninety. Then he was reminded of ten others which he had already made in the Chapter House, before solemnizing, according to his custom, the devout meditation of the miserable leading forth of Christ to death, and coming before that very crucifix; and so he found that the hundred meditations had entirely included from beginning to end His bitter Passion and death. And when he began to exercise himself in this matter, as he had been directed, his former dryness was changed into an interior sweetness.

Now it was his request that if, perchance, any one else had the same imperfection, and felt the same dryness and bitterness in meditating on Christ’s Passion in which all sanctification lies, he too might be assisted, and might exercise himself therein, and not desist until he had attained salvation. And, therefore, he wrote his mediations down, and wrote them in German, because he had so received them from God. Accordingly, he gained many a bright inspiration of divine truth, whereof these meditations were a cause, and between him and the Eternal Wisdom there sprang up a tender intercourse, and this took place not by a bodily intercourse nor by figurative answers; it took place solely by meditation in the light of Holy Writ whose answers can deceive in nothing; so that the answers are taken either from the mouth of the Eternal Wisdom who uttered them herself in the Gospel, or else from the highest doctors, and they comprise either the same words or the same sense, or else such truths as are agreeable to Holy Writ, out of whose mouth the Eternal Wisdom spoke. Nor did the visions which hereafter follow take place in a bodily way; they are but an interpreted similitude.

The answer touching our Blessed Lady’s complaint he has given in the sense of St. Bernard’s words; and the reason why he propounds his doctrine by question and answer is that it may prove the more attractive; that it may not seem as though he were the person to whom the doctrine belonged, or who had spoken it as coming from himself. His object is to give a general doctrine, in which he and all persons may find every one what is suitable for himself. He takes upon himself, as a teacher ought to do, the person of all mankind: now he speaks in the person of a sinner; now under the image of a love-sick soul; then, as the matter suggests, in the likeness of a servant with whom the Eternal Wisdom discourses. Moreover, everything is expounded with reference to our interior; much is given here as doctrine that a zealous man should choose out for himself as devout prayer. The thoughts which stand here are simple, the words simpler still, for they proceed from a simple soul and are meant for simple men who have still their imperfections to cast aside.

It happened that, as the same brother had begun to write on the three matters, namely, the Passion, and the rest of it all, and had come to that part on repentance: Now then, cheer up thou soul of mine! etc., he had reclined himself one forenoon on his chair, and that in a bright sleep he saw clearly, in a vision, how two culpable persons sat before him, and how he chastised them very severely for sitting there so idly, and performing nothing. Then was it given him to understand that he should thread a needle, which was put into his hand. Now the thread was threefold; and two parts were very fine, but the other part was a little coarser, and when he would needs twist the three together he could not well do it. Then he saw close to him on his right hand our Lord, standing the same as when He was unbound from the pillar, and He stood before him with a look so kind and fatherly that he thought it was indeed his father. Now he perceived that His body had quite a natural colour; it was not very white, but of the colour of wheat, that is, white and red well mixed together (and this is the most natural colour of all), and he perceived that His whole body was covered with wounds, and that they were quite fresh and bloody, that some were round, some angular, some very long, just as the whips had torn Him; and as He thus stood sweetly before him, and kindly looked at him, the preacher raised his hands and rubbed them to and fro on His bloody wounds, and then took the three parts of the thread and twisted them easily together. Then was given to him a power, and he understood that he was to complete his task, and that God with His rose-coloured garment (which is wrought so delightfully out of His wounds) would clothe all those in eternal beauty who should occupy their time and leisure with it here below.

One thing, however, a man should know, that there is as great a difference between hearing himself the sweet accords of a harp and hearing another speak of them, as there is between the words received in pure grace and that flow out of a living heart, through a living mouth, and those same words when they come to be set down on dead parchment, especially in the German tongue; for then are they chilled, and they wither like plucked roses: for the sprightliness of their delivery, which, more than anything, moves the heart of man, is then extinguished, and in the dryness of dry hearts are they received. Never was there a string how sweet soever, but it became dumb when stretched on a dry log. A joyless heart can as little understand a joyful tongue as a German can an Englishman! Therefore let every fervent soul hasten after the first out-pourings of this sweet doctrine, so that she may learn to contemplate them in their origin, where they were in all their loveliness and ravishing beauty; even there are the in-pourings of the present grace, to the quickening of hearts that are dead! And he who thus looks at this book will hardly have read it through before his heart will needs be deeply moved either to fervent love, or to new light, or to a yearning towards God, and abhorrence of sin, or else to some spiritual request, wherein the soul will presently be renewed in grace.

– Blessed Henry Suso, The Little Book of Eternal Wisdom

Apparently one of the great standard texts on Mount Athos is Unseen Warfare, a text that came from the pen of Nicholas of the Holy Mountain; that’s a link to an account of his life by an American Orthodox deacon. He was one of the compilers of the Philokalia.

Unseen Warfare is in fact St Nicholas’s edition of Lorenzo Scupoli’s Spiritual Combat.  This pleased me immensely 🙂

 Interestingly, a lot of his stuff was published in Venice.

Now if I were more organized, I would dig out my copy of Scupoli and compare it with the text online of Nicodemus’s edition, to see what in the editing consists.

Here is part of St Nicodemus’s preface (which seems not to be included in that pdf version linked in the previous paragraph).

The arena, the field of battle, the site where the fight actually takes place is our own heart and all our inner man. The time of battle is our whole life.
With what weapons are warriors armed for this unseen warfare? Listen. Their helmet is total disbelief in themselves and complete absence of self-reliance; their shield and coat of mail — a bold faith in God and a firm trust in Him; their armour and cuirass — instruction in the passion of Christ; their belt — cutting off bodily passions; their boots — humility and a constant sense and recognition of their powerlessness; their spurs — patience in temptations and repudiation of negligence; their sword, which they hold ever in one hand, is prayer whether with the lips or within — in the heart; their three-pronged spear, which they hold in the other hand, is a firm resolve in no way to consent to the passion which assails them, but to repulse it with anger and wholehearted hatred; their pay and food, sustaining them in their resistance to the enemy, is frequent communion with God, both through the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, and inwardly; the clear and cloudless atmosphere, which enables them to see the enemy from afar, is a constant exercising of the mind in the knowledge of what is right in the eyes of the Lord, and a constant exercising of the will in desiring only what is pleasing to God, peace and quiet of the heart.

Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me. Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.
(Mt 10:37-39)

Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.
(Mt 11:28-30)

To the rock too high for me,
lead me!
For you are my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy.
(Ps. 60:3b-4; Ps. 61:4)

In God alone there is rest for my soul,
from him comes my safety;
with him alone for my rock, my safety,
my fortress, I can never fall.
(Ps. 61:2-3; Ps. 62:1-2)


(The author is writing about the meaning of vocation, and has gone on to describe the vocation to marriage and to the religous life. She continues:)

 There is a third way – consecration to God in the world. Cecila Plater-Zyberkówna writes that „it differs from the first two in that God most often makes it known only later in life”, that it often matures in the soil of what appear to be failures. Young people engaged in some task, entangled in some unusual domestic situation and responsible for it, not finding (despite their desire to do so) a person suitable for them or rejected by someone in whom they were interested – remain alone. Plater-Zyberkówna writes „this does not all happen by chance (for a Christian there is no such thing). They are circumstances permitted or brought about by Providence for rational and deep ends which should not be missed. In these ways God says to souls not to enter into marriage, but to give themselves to him for the carrying out of many tasks that can only be carried out by people in the world consecrated to God and at the same time flexible, familiar with a given area of life or society, well prepared for the performance of their profession, trade or function”. Their task is to sanctify the world from within. They do not as a rule leave their place in society. They are in families, in the work place, in social life and the life of society. The fact of consecration changes nothing on the outside. The consecration must let down roots in ordinary human life in order to bring God into it, in order to save the world by imparting to it the fire of love brought to earth by Christ and by pouring His spirit into every area of life. Christ does not wish to take them out of the world, but to guard them from sin.

Taken from a text posted by Pianticellawhom I caused to wipe four days of work sorting WYD photos by gmail-chat-quizzing her about Calvinist novels as she performed a crucial Picasa maneouvre(?sp?). 

In general, false and counterfeit purposes fall into three kinds. 1) to pray to be glorified in men’s eyes; 2) to pray to be vindicated in God’s eyes; 3) to pray to be justified in one’s own eyes.

Matta el-Maskine, Orthodox Prayer Life: the interior way (a present from a book fairy)

Best of British with the ole Lent thing, everyone.


Completely unconnected:

… you will practise therein humility, obedience, simplicity and charity: in short, more virtues than in any other single act of religion.


St Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, pt II ch. 19

(read this time in a great book called  L’art d’utiliser ses fautes, by Joseph Tissot: published in English as How to Profit from Your Faults, in Polish as Sztuka Korzystania z Własnych Błędów, etc.)

You can go through all the motions of piety but if you cling to your own will, they will bear no fruit.

Something that’s crossed my mind more than once is the point of self-knowledge. Of course, it is very useful as a tool and so on, but if that is all, then a lot of post-renaissance spirituality is not just a means, but about a means, which seems unhealthy. (I’m not putting this very well, but Things I Ought To Be Doing are waiting). At the beginning of the Dialogue, St Catherine says

[the soul] has become accustomed to dwelling in the cell of self-knowledge in order to better know God’s goodness toward her, since upon knowledge follows love.

This seems to me to be the answer to “gnothi seauton – yeah, but what for?“.  Maybe there are three books – the book of Scripture, the book of creation, and the book of self-knowledge, where we know from within, as it were, the salvation history of our own soul.

detail of Fra Angelico's Last Judgement - meeting one's guardian angel

I would like the angels of Heaven to be among us. I would like an abundance of peace. I would like full vessels of charity. I would like rich treasures of mercy. I would like cheerfulness to preside over all. I would like Jesus to be present. I would like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us. I would like the friends of Heaven to be gathered around us from all parts. I would like myself to be a rent payer to the Lord; that I should suffer distress, that he would bestow a good blessing upon me. I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings. I would like to be watching Heaven’s family drinking it through all eternity.

[Not the world’s most thought-out piece of writing]

I may have said already that I am in love with the diocese of Frejus-Toulon (healthier for the spiritual life than being in love with the bishop :))  My experience being limited to the Wonderful Petites Soeurs de la Consolation du Sacre-Coeur et de la Sainte Face and the visitors to their guest refectory (passing or longterm), I may not have the full picture, but the more I read, the more enamoured am I. The author of the two passages below, which I have roughly englished, is mostly concerned with the re-integration of the old rite and the folk who had to meet in hotel rooms and so on for years, but what gladdens my heart is the confirmation of what I saw and heard this Christmas – a bishop who is not only prepared to put up with this or that movement if he has to, but who (while not ignoring the fact that many of them have faults, and sometimes serious ones) is mostly interested in spreading the Gospel, and for whom maintenance or transformation of the internal status quo is not a question in itself [edited to add a bit I forgot:], and who therefore actively welcomes these initiatives, works with them, and encourages them to work together.

Even if our interest in, e.g.,  spreading a return to the celebration of Mass ad orientem is entirely (or even mostly) motivated by a desire to bring people to Christ, or help them come closer to Him, the clouds of dust raised by the discussion, and the time taken up by it, can leave the Main Point of the Whole Business obscured and neglected. From what I’ve seen, the neocats have some extremely serious problems in their theory and in their practice. But if the bishop were to ban them, who would evangelise the people whom the neocats have reached? And so on for so many movements (in both sense of the word), including the frickin’ loony monarchist maniple-obsessed traddy fringe, the medj-heads, the charismatics. the liberal sisters whose community prayer involves Taize tapes, … who all share this problem, of their particular “thing” obscuring and deforming the understanding of the faith, particularly of the church. Yet for the most part they are all admirable in the ways in which they are faithful. Terrifying older Irish liberal religious sister who’s pulled more than one person out of alcoholism, the charismatic groups where broken people grow back into themselves, the medj-heads who fast and pray for the conversion of sinners, the people with no label because they “just”  serve Mass or pray the rosary in their parish every Sunday for 43 years.

But if a diocese is chiefly concerned with the salvation of souls and the glory of God, then while disagreements over liturgy will not lose their seriousness (as someone points out, “It’s all the same Mass” is exactly why every single thing about it is crucially important), and everyone in it is able to work together to that end, then the One Thing that Matters is made luminously clear by the very fact of being  held in perfect accord by the (sometimes violently) disagreeing.

“Exemples de Communion”, la Nef nr 183 (June 2007):

Two recent diocesan experiences lead me to some reflections concerning the liberalisation of the traditional liturgy and the question of communion. The first example: the Communion and Evangelisation weekend organised by the diocese of Toulon last 28th and 29th April, which saw the active participation of numerous communities representative of the diversity of the church in France today: charismatic (the Beatitudes, Emmanuel, Chemin Neuf …), “classical” (the Saint-Martin community, the Sisters of the Consolation), or traditionalists, and of lay people coming also from hugely differing backgrounds. Despite this diversity, despite the fac that the liturgical celebrations in the current rite, entirely dignified, did not correspond to that which is habitually celebrated in the “classical” or “traditionalist” communities, an awesome [foul Americanism that, slanginess apart, seems to be the best equivalent of “formidable” in this case] communion ruled during these two days consecrated to mission and to the affirmation of the faith. … Bishop Rey devoted the same energy to getting to meet the different participants, to form contacts in regard to concrete projects, going from one to the other without ever making any difference, neither from the speaker’s platform, nor in the individual contacts between “traddies”, “happy-clappies” [? – “chachas”] or other, obviously very simplistic, labels, which I employ here only for reasons of commodity.

Toulon encore“, la Nef nr 186, October 2007:

….This Saturdy 22nd September … a diocesan bishop, Monsignor Rey, ordained, in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite, in his cathedral, in the presence of several dozen diocesan priests and seminarians, the first priest of a new traditionalist community, and subsequently named him curate of the personal parish already entrusted to that community, the Missionaries of Divine Mercy. [I’ve just discovered something else wonderful. More soon.]

In itself, this is a first in France in more than one way. But undoubtedly the most striking thing during the ceremony and afterwards was the profound communion and fraternity of these priests of greatly differing origins, around one shepherd, who was there truly as a father, a shepherd loving his flock, loving them with the love of Christ. The event itself aside, it was this that was most tangible, and made clearly visible the fruits which the motu proprio Summorum Pontificium can produce, that the “extraordinary” take its place in the “ordinary” life of the dioceses. The young minister of the extraordinary rite found himself naturally received by his diocesan peers without any reservation, with being required to proclaim that he is not an “enemy of the Council”, without his liturgical choice making him some kind of plague-carrier in regard to the current pastoral plan. “Vision idyllique” [not sure what the tone of that is in French] some say, “Monsignor Rey again” say others, as though his truly paternal attitude were some passing eccentricity. Nothing of the sort!

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