February 1978 talk, Serial No. 00553

Audio loading...

Welcome! You can log in or create an account to save favorites, edit keywords, transcripts, and more.



AI Suggested Keywords:


Vina Retreat

AI Summary: 





So this evening I'd like to talk for a while about asceticism and first I'll read you something from one of the sayings of the Desert Fathers. This is Abba Pullman, or pastor as he's sometimes called. There's a story about another monk that came to see Abba Pullman and he was a rather distinguished visiting monk and Pullman's brother who lived with him, his companion, brought him to see Pullman and so he expected that they'd have a good talk and share their spiritual experience and so on, but there was a disappointment. It didn't work out too well. The brother brought the guest to Abba Pullman saying, this is a great man full of charity who is held in high estimation in his district. I have spoken to him about you and he has


come because he wants to see you. So Abba Pullman received him with joy and they greeted one another and sat down and the visitor began to speak of the scriptures, of spiritual and heavenly things. The visitor was something of a theologian, maybe a contemplative. But Abba Pullman turned his face away and answered nothing. Seeing that he did not speak to him, the other went away deeply grieved. He didn't say a word to him and so the guest left and said to the brother, I made this long journey for nothing because I came to see the old man and he doesn't want to speak to me. Then the brother went inside to Abba Pullman and said to him, Abba, this great man who has so great a reputation in his own country has come here because of you. Why didn't you say anything to him? And the old man said, he's great and speaks of heavenly things and I am lowly and speak of earthly things. If he had spoken of the passions of the soul, I should have replied, but he speaks to me of spiritual things and I don't know anything about that. Then the brother came out and said to the visitor, the old man does not


readily speak of the scriptures, but if anyone consults him about the passions of the soul, he replies. In other words, he didn't like to expound the scriptures. He didn't like to play the role of the exegete, nor of the preacher. He was a technician, as it were, of a certain sector of life and that sector of life was the healing of the passions. Filled with compunction, the visitor returned to the old man and said to him, what should I do, Abba, for the passions of the soul master me? I don't know whether he was faking or not. And the old man turned towards him and replied joyfully, this time you come as you should. Now open your mouth concerning this and I will fill it with good things. Greatly edified, the other said to him, truly this is the right way. He returned to his own country giving thanks to God that he had been counted worthy to meet so great a saint. That's a story that may strike us strangely today and for a number of reasons. That preoccupation


with the passions, that preoccupation with the negative side may hardly seem Christian to us as a matter of fact. But we have to face it, that's the way the early monks were. The early monks didn't so much it seems encourage sharing about heavenly things and sharing one's insights on the scriptures and so on, but rather they were concerned with the very practical business of purifying their hearts. And that's one of the reasons why it's so hard for us to get into the Desert Father, so hard for us really to penetrate that literature, to make it meaningful for ourselves. And then there are simply problems with asceticism nowadays. It's accused of being a negative thing, of being a kind of inversion of Christianity. Asceticism is criticized for being too self-centered, too introspective. Look at God rather than


looking at yourself is often advised instead. Or being too individualistic. The early hermits were individualistic. But at the same time they had something deeper, a kind of sense of solidarity out of which we don't come. And therefore their individualism was of a different kind from ours. Their solitude was different from our isolation. I think we have to recognize also that solitude has a different role at different times, in different centuries. Solitude was much different for a man from a primitive culture who came out of a background of total solidarity, of total community, and who really had difficulty coming to the point of knowing himself as an individual separate from others. It was instinctive for him to think of himself as part of the whole. Whereas we come from a completely different background in which we're already somehow isolated and made very subjective and individualistic by our culture.


And so solitude for us may have pitfalls that it didn't have for early man. Asceticism is criticized as being anti-human sometimes, or anti-humanistic, as being a frustration of human development. Of course sometimes it has, sometimes it has been. Sometimes our monastic observances has not contributed to growth but rather frustrated it. It's also accused of being a misdirection of energy towards exterior practices, when the thing that really counts is interior. And all of these criticisms have some value of course. But they don't undercut the essential value of asceticism. Maybe the basic problem with asceticism today is it's very difficult to understand it if we're away from our own center. Once again it's a thing that depends on where we are. The meaning of asceticism for us is


going to depend on where we are, where we start from. If we're in touch with the center, if we are rooted in the center, then asceticism assumes its true meaning. If we're not, then it may seem completely paradoxical and useless and even destructive to us. Because somehow it depends on standing in a place beyond our normal ego. Standing in a place outside of the life that we are used to, especially Christian asceticism. I think that we have to look at asceticism today especially in function of the positive, that is in function of that inner dynamism that we were talking about. We quoted that saying that the business of a monk is to set wood afire, to set wood ablaze. Well the wood may be damp. You remember the image that Saint John of the Cross uses of the log being thrown into the fire.


Now he uses this as a kind of model or image for the whole of the spiritual life with its purifications. And the log first is damp and full of extraneous matter and so on. And so it's thrown into the fire and before it can really become one with the fire, before it can become unified and taken up into the fire, all of this other matter, this impurity has to be driven out of it. And so the log smokes and sputters until all of that stuff, all of the dampness and the vapor and the tar and whatever is driven out. And then it begins to burn with a gentle, noiseless but intense glow. It's become one with the fire. And so it is with us. There's this process of purification, purification of the heart. It doesn't stop at the heart because there's a kind of a purification even of the body. I found Andre Rubin very helpful in understanding how the different aspects of asceticism are


integrated into the one central dynamic of the spiritual life. He's got a beautiful chapter in here called Praying with the Body in which he puts all of the aspects of asceticism, whether it be celibacy or vigils or fasting, all of those things in function of prayer. Well, we can go a little deeper and consider them just in function of that dynamism. Whatever it is, that life of the Holy Spirit within us needs to be called, whether we call it prayer or love or whatever. Sometimes it's best to leave it nameless and let it simply exist and describe itself. But at any rate, he quotes Abba Agatho expressing the relationship between the inner life, the life of prayer, the life of consciousness and the exterior asceticism. Because the asceticism he's talking about here is that of the body, really. Not totally, but it starts with the body. Abba Agatho said, Man is like a tree. The foliage stands for the toiling of the body,


kopos in Greek. Somebody asked one of the fathers what a monk was and he said, A monk is work. A monk is kopos. A monk is work. The Desert Fathers had a very strong notion of the necessity of effort in the monastic life. We tend to take a different point of view nowadays because we are fond of finding shortcuts and instant ways to do things, of simplifying things and making things more efficient. And so we tend to belittle the need for effort and struggle itself in life. And yet in man there's built in a kind of instinct that that which he gets for nothing is not worth much more than nothing. This would seem to contradict the fact of divine grace, that everything that we receive comes to us as a gift. And yet it doesn't contradict it. It's simply the other pole in this paradox. That the only things that are ultimately worthwhile are received gratuitously and yet in some way we have to acquire them by the expenditure of effort.


And so it is in the spiritual life that what really is of value comes from God as a grace. That's the life of the spirit within us. And yet in some way we have to acquire it. We can't even tamper with that life of the spirit. We can't touch it with the things that we do, with our techniques and our practices. And yet we have to make room for it. And so what we're doing is working in our own substance, as it were. Working in our own structure, working in our humanity with the help of that grace to make room for that grace. The foliage stands for the toiling of the body and the fruit is the interior attention. And that for them was the indispensable, the essential. The interior attention, which is both prayer and watching, which is both contemplation, you can say, and asceticism. This attention, this awareness. This flame of the spirit, which is always a light. For the sake of this fruit, see that the goal is the fruit really and the sign, we have to apply


ourselves thoroughly to the attention of the heart. We need both the protection and the strength of the leaves, that is physical exertion. Thus asceticism and contemplation, physical and spiritual work, always go hand in hand. They appear on the same trunk, receive the vital sap of the roots that have the same nourishing soil. The fruit is more important than the foliage and woe to the tree on which only leaves are found. He's referring to Matthew 21 where Jesus curses the fig tree. And yet the fruit will not ripen if the foliage gives no protection or nourishment because the leaves are indispensable. The figure of speech that Abba Agathon uses here is a rich one, full of profound wisdom. So he calls it a characteristic of the Christian spiritual life that body and soul are not divided but find themselves working together, united. And both of them have to be there in this spiritual growth, which is not a Platonism, which might


try to move into the spirit at the expense of the body, to separate us from the body so that we can become spiritual. That's not Christian. And yet a lot of our Christian spiritual teaching has been written in those terms because it took over the vocabulary and the structure of Platonism. A useful tool, but it can mislead us in that way. Because what we're aiming for really is not to get out of the body and into the spirit, although it may seem like that. What we're aiming for is to integrate the body with the spirit. So that it becomes not just the instrument of the spirit, but the embodiment actually of the spirit. To arrive at a kind of interior marriage by which body and spirit, body and soul, go along together with the light of God shining through both of them. This constant interaction between the heart and the body, he's talking about the heart as if it


were the spirit and soul, which is spoken of in the monastic writings of all periods, is the typical feature of the technique of Christian prayer. A whole anthropology, a distinctive insight into the structure of man underlies it. The idea is certainly not that the physical is to make way for the spiritual and the material for the immaterial. In that case, prayer would simply cut the body right out and man with it. On the contrary, by means of grace and prayer, the body returns to its original state. It is no longer a body of sin, in the words of Saint Paul in Romans, or a body of humiliation from Philippians, a symbol of contrariety with God and with other men. From being a body of death, it becomes the body of life. The moment it ceases to be governed by sin and the seeds of perdition it carried with it. On the contrary, the body is then able to yield itself completely to the spirit, to let itself be taken over little by little by his power and the new life in Jesus.


Thomas Merton, in The Climate of Monastic Prayer, has one little chapter on asceticism. I'll quote a few words of his. Without trying to make of the Christian life a cult of suffering for its own sake, we must frankly admit that self-denial and sacrifice are absolutely essential to the life of prayer. If the life of prayer is to transform our spirit and make us new men in Christ, then prayer must be accompanied by conversion, metanoia, that deep change of heart in which we die on a certain level of our being in order to find ourselves alive and free on another more spiritual level. And of course, before we can go through that death, we have to have some kind of a foothold on the deeper level, a foothold which may not be very prominent in our experience. There's an Italian, Divo Barsatti, who wrote this phrase that I always remember, that mysticism comes before asceticism. It's a real paradox. Of course, taken flatly, it's untrue. But in some way it is true, because the grace has to come before the work. It's not as if we acquired the grace by


our work. The grace is there, and yet on a deep level. And yet in order to follow the grace, respond to it, and go through the purification, the asceticism, whatever, we have in some way to have sensed the grace, to have had some inkling, some calling, some attraction, and some strengthening from the grace. Our ability to sacrifice ourselves in a mature and generous spirit may well prove to be one of the tests of our interior prayer. So once again, like Loup, he's talking about the relationship between asceticism and prayer, one in function of the other. Where there is no sacrifice, there will eventually turn out to be no prayer, and vice versa. When sacrifice is an infantile self-dramatization, prayer will also be false, an operatic self-display,


a maudlin, self-pitying introspection. Serious and humble prayer, united with mature love, will unconsciously and spontaneously manifest itself in a habitual spirit of sacrifice and concern for others. It is unfailingly generous, though perhaps we may not be aware of the fact. Such a union of prayer and sacrifice is easier to evaluate in others than in ourselves. And so when we become aware of this, we no longer try to gauge our own progress in the matter. We're not supposed to have that kind of satisfaction. You remember that other passage, which I quoted from Martin, I think it was last night, about that one desire? All the paradoxes about the contemplative way are reduced to this one. Being without desire means being led by a desire so great that it is incomprehensible. It is too huge to be completely felt. It is a blind desire, which seems like a desire for nothing, only because nothing can content it.


And because it is able to rest in no thing, then it rests, relatively speaking, in emptiness. And when he says that, I think what he's talking about is what the Fathers called purity of heart. Purity of heart, which is a dynamism, which is a total movement towards God, a movement of love, this gravitation towards the Source, but which is also perfect quiet, in a sense. A desire which is also an emptiness, a movement which is also rest. Purity of heart, which Cachan equates with charity, as well as with pure prayer. Kierkegaard says that purity of heart is to will one thing, to desire one thing. And so this asceticism is a matter of integrating all of our desires into that one big one, which is too big even to be experienced, even though sometimes we can have an inkling of it. Like prayer, like love, like our spiritual life itself, purity of heart is given to us in baptism.


What is baptism if not the cleansing of everything contrary to the divine life in us? Gregory of Sinai speaks of two ways in which the gifts of baptism are rediscovered. First of all, through ascetic effort, and secondly, through prayer. I continually find these writers putting prayer and asceticism as sort of two sides of a ladder, two things that go together and confirm one another, and somehow between them comprehend the whole of the spiritual life. Here's a quote from Gregory. The activity of the spirit which we have already received secretly, mystikos is the word that he uses, he means sacramentally, the invisible grace that's within us, is discovered in two ways. In the first place, the gift is revealed in a general fashion through the fulfillment of the commandments with much toil and time, the emphasis on toil again. As Saint Mark puts it, I think that's Mark the Hermit probably, the more we fulfill the commandments, the more clearly the gift of the spirit shines upon us with its own radiance.


This expression, the commandments, by the way, is the typical Christian title for asceticism among the early fathers, because they saw asceticism not as kind of a technique or a practice separated from the gospel, but rather simply following out what we had been told to do by Christ. The commandments are not the commandments of the Old Testament. They're the commandments, including the counsels of Jesus, really. So for them, asceticism was the life of the gospel, the self-denial that's called for in the gospel. And typical among the commandments for them would be prayer, almsgiving or charity, and fasting or self-denial. Sometimes they're sort of summed up in those three dimensions. Secondly, it's manifested to us through the methodical and unceasing invocation of the Lord Jesus, that is, through the memory of God. The first way is slower and the second shorter. It's as if he was talking about two alternative ways here, but really they're not alternatives, they both go together.


The one is the ascetical effort, the following out of the commandments, the laborious following out of the commandments with our body as well as our heart. And the other is the interior prayer, the prayer of the heart, the invocation of the name of Jesus, which was the prayer for excellence for him. So we have two sides, two levels of unequal value, but they're both indispensable. They've often been referred to as the active and the contemplative ways, and not in the current sense where you have two congregations or religious institutions, one of which is active, one of which is contemplative, but in the sense of the life of man's exterior activity, the life of asceticism and the life of contemplation, one following the other, both going along together, and never really being completely separated because both go with a man as long as he lives.


It's Evagrius who expresses this very clearly. Remember his book, the Praktikos, that series of chapters. The first one of them is this, Christianity is the dogma of Christ our Savior, as it were, the doctrine. It's composed of three parts, he says, of praktike, the active life, of the contemplation of the physical world, or theoria physicae, by which man knows God indirectly through his creation, and of the contemplation of God, which for him is the knowledge of the Holy Trinity. For him, that contemplation of God is theology, as he calls it, is the contemplation of the Holy Trinity itself. It may seem strange to find these three put in a line that way. Cashin talks about these two levels of the spiritual life, both under the title of knowledge in that conference 14 on spiritual knowledge. He says the first kind of knowledge is practical knowledge, the active life.


He's talking about asceticism, and yet he calls it knowledge. And the second is contemplative, this theoria, or contemplation. And for him, that means the understanding of the scriptures, and the prayer that goes with that. And the practical life has to come first. Whoever then would arrive at this theoretical knowledge, contemplation, must first pursue practical knowledge with all his might and man. For this practical knowledge can be acquired without theoretical, but theoretical cannot possibly be gained without practical. And that's the principle which the Fathers are continually repeating. That's the law, sort of, that the active life is the way to the contemplative life, the praxis is the way to the theoria. And yet, even though it's a law, there are exceptions to it, because God is free to give his grace as he chooses. But there's a big difference between an isolated grace,


an isolated grace of contemplation, and the transformation of a whole life. So many people at the beginning of their spiritual life receive a great grace from the Lord, a great contemplative experience of some kind, perhaps. And they may not enjoy a repetition of that for another 10 or 20 or 30 years, or maybe as long as they live. And so this law is not an infallible law, it's not without its exception. And yet, for a person to rise to the level where that sort of thing can be habitual to him, is a far greater thing, and implies a life of asceticism. So we have to go back and go through the stages, even if we're promoted very quickly in the beginning. We've got to go through the steps anyway. A couple of contemporary views of asceticism


might be worthwhile looking at. One of them is of Karl Rahner, who writes about the passion and asceticism in the first volume of his collected works, I think. The third one it is. Rahner speaks of asceticism as the voluntary anticipation of our death. The voluntary anticipation of our death. So, man practices asceticism in the proper sense whenever he looks his death situation straight in the eye by saying yes to it. Whenever he personally says yes for whatever reason to this subjection to death, and realizes this yes existentially, by voluntarily anticipating this dying which is realized bit by bit in the whole life. And whenever, over and above this, man makes sure of his existential seriousness


and of the inner veracity of his preparedness for death, by eagerly appropriating an increase of passion as a moment of death, over and above that which fate forcibly demands of him. Because we all have to pay that debt sooner or later, of a death. Either all at once or bit by bit. Asceticism is therefore nothing other than the personal, free, voluntary grasping of his necessary being unto death, an hyphenated expression which must come from Heidegger, I guess. Christian asceticism is therefore nothing other than an existential faith exercised in a passion which can no longer be given any complete and positive this-worldly meaning. That's Christian asceticism. He talks about other kinds of asceticism. There's a moral asceticism, which you could call stoic, perhaps, of just purifying a person so that he becomes humanly more integrated, humanly more perfected.


Everybody must do a certain degree of that. There's what he calls a mystical asceticism, which is a kind of a mortification or voluntary self-denial aimed at obtaining some kind of grace from God, obtaining some kind of contemplative experience. And we find a lot of both of these kinds of things in the Christian tradition. And yet what is specifically Christian is that anchor beyond death, is that anchor beyond human life as such into the next world. In other words, that anchor in the paschal mystery of Christ, which means that asceticism is entering into the death and resurrection of Christ. So there we seem to have the key to it. Lu looks at the question of asceticism not so much from the side of death, of entering into the death of Christ, but rather entering into his resurrection. Thanks to the Passover that one of us has undergone,


that is Jesus, our body can be reborn of the spirit as spirit. Now it can itself become a vehicle of the spirit. For as our body used at one time to be a body of flesh, so now it can become a body of relma, that is a spiritual body. Saint Paul talks about that. Again in our body, once invested by the spirit, the springs of living water must well up. Just as the exalted body of Jesus on the cross in death and resurrection becomes a wellspring of the spirit, like the rock from which Moses struck running water for the thirsty travelers in the wilderness, so that same spirit in our body becomes a spring, always bubbling and rising to eternal life. For our body also is a dwelling place of the spirit and a temple of unending prayer. By way of grace and prayer, the body returns to its original state.


The same dynamic is at work in prayer as in Ascesis. It is the finest fruit and also the most essential of the Easter energy with which the world and man have been charged by the resurrection of Jesus. So for the monk it can always be Easter, just as it is always also Lent. Saint Benedict says that a monk is most himself really when he is living Lent. And of course if a person lives Lent, then gradually he should discover also that he's living the resurrection, that he's living Easter. And gradually the Easter should take the predominance over the Lenten aspect of his life. Gradually the positivity, the dynamism, the life of the spirit, the presence of God within it should predominate. And that of course is what makes asceticism take its proper place. Instead of becoming, being an obsession, instead of being a great preoccupation in one's life, it assumes its right role as one comes into his life really,


as one discovers the resurrection in himself. The Fathers call this the resurrection prior to resurrection or the minor resurrection. It may already be transfiguration, the image of God shining again in a man's countenance, a body totally involved in prayer and manifesting it quite without effort. Okay. Anthony Bloom in the little foreword to Sister Benedict's translation of the sayings of the Fathers, I think renders very concisely and well the meaning of asceticism. To recognize one's own non-entity and discover the secret of the kingdom is not enough.


The king of love must be enthroned in our mind and heart, take undivided possession of our will, and make of our very bodies the temples of the Holy Ghost. This small particle of the cosmos, which is our soul and body, must be conquered, freed by a lifelong struggle from enslavement to the world and to the devil. Freed as if it were an occupied country and restored to its legitimate king. And then he quotes the expression of Jesus about rendering unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, rendering unto God that which belongs to God. The coins of the earthly kings bear their mark, whereas man bears the imprint of God's image. So, have you ever noticed that Jesus was implicitly saying that this coin, this money can go back to Caesar because it's got his imprint on it. But you belong to God because you've got his image in you, because you are his image. So, render yourself unto God. And Anthony Bloom is saying that this is the role of asceticism.


To give us completely back to God, instead of just sort of radically and in seed through the grace that's in us. He belongs to him solely and totally and nothing, no effort, no sacrifice is too great to render to God what is his. This is the very basis of an ascetic understanding of life. But then he goes on and to explain as best he can why the fathers seem to make such an Olympic game out of this whole ascetic business. Many will be surprised by the insistence of the sayings on what seem to be incredible feats of physical endurance. Are these at the center of the spiritual life? These things seem to be accidental really. They seem to be stunts to us often, the starlights and so on. Why not tell us more about the secret inner life of these men and women? Because the life of the spirit cannot be conveyed except in images and analogies which are deceptive. Those who know do not need them and those who don't know are only led by them to partake imaginatively but not really


in a world which to many is still out of reach. So this is the meaning of the sometimes spectacular witness of the asceticism of the fathers. Man can live either by the word of God or by deriving his precarious existence from the earth which ultimately will claim back what is its own. Once again here the echo of render to Caesar what's Caesar's, to God what is God's. The more one is rooted in God the less one depends on the transitory gifts of the earth. To be rooted in God and to prove that one is rooted in God and therefore the reality of God and his life in man, the reality of Christ, the Christ event on earth, by one's independence from the needs of the earth. To describe to what degree the dwellers of the desert were free from our usual necessities is the only way we possess to convey both how perfectly rooted they were in the life-giving realm of God


and also how different the world of the spirit is from what we imagine it to be. So that's a language. The asceticism of the fathers is a language. They were not theologians of the writing or the preaching kind as we saw with Abba Pohen there. They spoke a language which was existential by what they did and a language which is not easy for us to interpret today because we're not in the same place. About the various aspects of asceticism, I said that I found Luke's book quite helpful in seeing how they all come together and the way that they come together is in the Christian perspective is in all being oriented in some way towards the risen Christ. If we take celibacy first of all, it's interesting that celibacy now is considered to be the number one element of the religious life.


That is, it's somehow theologically more basic than the other gods. We used to hear about poverty and chastity and obedience but now we hear about chastity and poverty and obedience. Somehow there's a depth to this kind of chastity to this abstinence from sexual union which goes further into our nature, further into our being than do the other gods. What's the reason for celibacy after all? Saint Paul says, I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife and his interests are divided. And so on for the married and the unmarried woman. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. So the end of this is so that one is going to be alone, one is going to be unmarried, so that he can be one in a sense,


so that he can give himself undividedly to the Lord. And of course in the scriptures we find this relationship with God, this relationship with the Lord described as a marriage union, as a nuptial relationship. A relationship used to be in the right of consecration of virgins. It was said that you have given up the image of this union with God, which is in human matrimony, in order to enter into the real thing. I'm putting things pretty drastically, but there's a truth in it. So a person is celibate with a man or woman in order to belong to the bridegroom, to await the bridegroom. It may surprise us that Jesus puts fasting into the same light. You remember when he's asked by the disciples, why do the disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees fast and your disciples don't fast? He says, how can they fast when the bridegroom is here? When the bridegroom is taken away from them,


then they will fast. And that needs a little meditation before we can understand it. But it seems that the fasting is to be kind of an external expression of another deprivation, of another kind of hunger, which is deeper. The hunger for God, for Christ, which is the same as the longing of the bride for the bridegroom. In other words, it turns out to be the same thing. Similarly, with vigils, what does the vigil represent? It's awaiting of the dawn. When Jesus talks about watchfulness, he talks about it in terms of the return of the Son of Man. He talks about it in terms of the coming of the bridegroom. Remember the parable of the wise virgin and the foolish virgin. So once again, we find that asceticism is oriented towards the coming of Christ, oriented towards the bridegroom somehow. But asceticism itself fits into this drama of the coming marriage feast,


if we want to call it that. The king arranged a marriage feast for his son. And even penitential practices are in function of this, in function of this goal. There are different levels of asceticism. A few of the sayings and stories of the fathers point this out in a cogent way. One of them is, this is Zeno. Bowman himself said, if you can be free from two things, you can be saved, from bodily ease and from vainglory. And when he said that, he was pointing out two levels, really, of the struggle against self. One level is against the body, as it were, against the appetites of the body. But the second is against the ego, vainglory. And so, they may seem to be random elements that he's mentioned, those two things.


But really, there's a continuity, there's a meaning there. In a village, there was said to be a man who fasted to such a degree that he was called the faster. Abba Zeno had heard of him and he sent for him, and the other came gladly. They prayed and sat down. The old man began to work in silence. The old man, that is, the visitor, the faster. Since he couldn't succeed in talking to him, the faster began to get bored. Well, Abba Zeno was working. The old man, that is, the visitor, the faster. He said to the old man, pray for me, Abba, for I want to go. The old man said to him, why? And he replied, because my heart is as if it were on fire and I don't know what's the matter with it. He was restless. He wasn't able even to sit still. For truly, when I was in the village and I fasted until the evening, nothing like this happened to me. So, he was hungry, for one thing. And the old man said, in the village, you fed yourself through your ears.


In the village, you fed yourself through your ears. You were able to fast because you were praised for it. So, what you gave away with your right hand, you picked up with your left hand. What you gave away on the level of the body, you got back on the level of the ego. But go away and from now on, eat at the ninth hour and whatever you do, do it secretly. He says, adopt a moderate fast now. Don't do any more stunts. But do it in quiet, don't let anybody know about it. As soon as he had begun to act on this advice, the faster found it difficult to wait until the ninth hour. Nobody was admiring him. And those who knew him said, the faster is possessed by the devil. So, he went to tell all this to the old man and the old man said to him, this way is according to God. In other words, it's better for you to be blamed and not to have that good feeling and even not to be very much of an ascetic, not to be a star, not to be an ace, than it is to have all that glory and to be fasting that much.


The two levels, the first level of the body and the second level of the ego, which is much more subtle. Abba Moses was asked, what's the use of all the fasting? What's the use of all this asceticism? And he said, the use of this asceticism is to make a man humble, is to knock a man down and make him humble. That may seem to contrast kind of sharply with the way that we usually think of it, of sort of developing a kind of a purity, developing something at least that we can acquire, that we can have, that we can hold on to, becoming more. He says, no, it's got to make you become less. So, that's a paradox in asceticism. Griffiths talks about three levels of asceticism. So, to conclude, I'll just follow this a bit. What he speaks about is three levels of dying. In every religious tradition, it has been known that in order to see God,


that is, in order to know the truth, to encounter the final reality, one must die. In fact, there is a threefold death through which everyone must pass, a death to the world, a death to the flesh, and a death to the ego. This may remind us of Cassian with his three renunciations. It's not exactly the same thing. The first one lines up very well. The second one not quite so well. The third one not at all, at least not obviously. These are the three great illusions which bind us to unreality and prevent us from knowing the truth. And in no time have they been stronger than they are today. The illusion of the world, the world of science and technology, of motor cars and airplanes, the world seems to promise all kinds of things to us today, but it doesn't fulfill the promises of radio and television, telephones and so on. All this creates a world of illusion to which one must be utterly dead if one wants to know the truth. One must at least be dead to it insofar as it's illusion,


not that all these things are damnable. And Griffiths is writing from a pretty one-sided point of view too. What he says is true. You'll find it also in Thomas Martin. From beginning to end it is a world of sense appearances, a system of idolatry. Then there is the illusion of the flesh, the endless fascination of sex, not merely cultivated and exploited by every means that art can devise, but worshipped and deified, made the center of attraction and regarded as the source of life. A thing that one may not be so aware of unless he goes out of the monastery, sees some of the advertising and so on. The third death is the death of the ego, and this is the hardest of all. One may resist the fascination of the world and the flesh, but who can resist the love of the self? That personality which everyone is so anxious to cultivate, power, reputation, success. All this is the illusion of the ego, which binds the soul more securely to unreality than any other power. It pursues the spiritual man also to the very gates of heaven.


No one is secure from this illusion except he who has died with Christ and can say the world has been crucified to me and I to the world, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. But what happens when we have died to the world, the flesh and the self, when we have seen through the illusion and faced reality? Turn the tape over now and continue on the other side. Why then we begin to live to the real world, the real flesh and the real self. This is a paradox which is so difficult to understand. It's only when you have renounced the world that you can really enjoy the world. It's only when you have renounced the flesh that you can take a pure delight in the flesh. It's only when you have renounced yourself that you can discover your real being. So I think we've all experienced that, at least in little ways. And that, of course, is the message of Christianity. The whole thing is entering into the death and the resurrection of Christ, in which not only do we rise once again,


not only do we recover what we have given up, but in some way that the whole cosmos, the whole universe rises with us. Tomorrow, perhaps, we can talk about what asceticism leads to, which is a kind of descent into the heart, which is a kind of movement into truth or into self-knowledge. Thank you. This morning and tonight also, I'd like to talk about something which, the phase of the spiritual life, or an aspect which follows logically, really, from asceticism, as we'll see. And that's the question of humility or of growth in truth. In fact, the whole of the spiritual life, in a way, can be looked at as a movement into truth, away from falsity into truth. Thomas Merton seemed to prefer to look at it that way, as a matter of fact. And we'll talk about that this evening, about his notion of the false self and the true self. Now to go back to where we were last night.


We were asking, what is the goal, the terminus of asceticism? And the first answer that comes to us from tradition is purity of heart. Evagrius would say apatheia, passionlessness, but translated into the terms of passion, that's purity of heart. And that's the term in which it's come down to us, somewhat Christianized. But we've seen that our own asceticism is likely to lead us to an impasse. There's a marvelous article by Andre Leu from Monastic Studies No. 9 on compunction and the experience of God. It's one of the best short resumes of the whole monastic life I've ever seen. And he presents certain principles in there very clearly and strongly. And this is one of them, that our asceticism reaches a certain plateau, and that's where something really begins. That's where the spiritual life itself begins to take on a whole new color.


Let's listen to a few of his words. The courage and personal energies of the monk, the good dispositions, the generosity, are only poor supplements. And these are the things that we're going on, especially in the first part of our spiritual life. Our generosity, our fervor, the spiritual physical, the nervous energy we feel within us and so on, our enthusiasm. Which is not to say that grace is not in them, but nevertheless there's a change of phase that takes place at a certain point. And this not only at a certain point, but in a kind of recurring pattern throughout our lives. I mean, this is the cycle which keeps going on throughout our lives, as we are drawn to go deeper and deeper. All ascetic effort will lead him with only brief respites to a death point where the old man in him will refuse to concur and will collapse before what it sadly feels to be impossible and absolutely beyond its strength. And then he repeats that epithem of Abba Moses that I read to you last night.


What good are fasts and vigils, an elder asked Abba Moses. And he answered, they have no other use than to knock a man down to true humility. If the soul produces this fruit, the heart of God will be moved towards him. If the soul becomes humble, then the heart of God is moved towards him. If our heart becomes humble, at that point it becomes able to have some kind of relationship with the heart of God. It's the difficulty of the battle that produces humility, contrition of heart, meekness and sweetness. Luke continues, monastic asceticism then is an asceticism of the poor. It's not an asceticism of the athletes, which is even suggested by the word ascesis, and that's where it comes from, but of the poor rather. And this may be a kind of a fork in the road between the real Christian way, the authentic way for us, and other ways, other spiritual disciplines,


which lead to a kind of expertise, a kind of mastery. It's just another road. It drives the monk in his weakness and his sin into a corner, while throwing him back at the same moment into the arms of mercy and of the strength that God alone can grant him. You can see how the framework of the monastic life could be a context arranged, in a sense, to put a person in a desperate situation. That could be, if that's handled with a lack of discretion, it can be murderous. But that is one function, really, of the monastic context, to enable a person to come up against his limits and there to be thrown in desperation into the arms of God. That's why people went into the desert in the old days. We see an analogy here of the role of monastic asceticism to the role of the law in the Old Testament. Doesn't that ring a bell somehow? It seems to be almost what Saint Paul was saying.


In Romans chapter 7, he talks about that struggle between the law and his members and the law of God. The struggle which was impossible for him to win as long as he was depending on his own efforts. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, when my will wants to do right, I think, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God and my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. The struggle between the flesh and the spirit is the same thing that the monk experiences. And unless he finds a third term in this struggle, it will drive him completely to desperation. Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death? In another place in Romans chapter 3, he talks more specifically about the role of the law in salvation.


Now, we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law so that every mouth may be stopped and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law since through the law comes knowledge of sin. Through the law comes knowledge of sin. Okay, now that's in a moral context, in the context of justification. In the monastic context, through the things that we do, the observance, call it the rule if you will, comes the knowledge of our incapacity, the knowledge of our limitedness, the knowledge of the sinfulness that's in our heart too. And then something else has to take over if it's really to become meaningful. Otherwise, we're in a deadlock. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it. And the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. And you remember that just after that chapter 7 where he's in this deadlock in Romans,


he says, thanks be to God through Jesus Christ. And then he says there's no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ and so on. So it's a matter of the discovery of grace by the discovery of our own limits. Luke speaks also of a zero point in our life of prayer. But here he's talking not of the individual case so much, but he's talking about the whole situation that we're in today. This is in his book on prayer. The truth is, he says, we are at our wits end. We have lost the scent of prayer altogether. He's talking about modern man, contemporary man. We are caught in the blind alley of an illusion. Many of us have touched zero point in our life of prayer. So you can sort of sense the death of God atmosphere there, what he's saying. And he says, thank God for now we can make a new start. That zero point can mean a reversal, a turn of the tide. For this is the saving grace of our time in the church of today, that we are now at our wits end, that the props have suddenly collapsed. That now at last we can see how little of the facade remains,


or indeed was ever there at all. And now the Lord can build everything up again from scratch. So you can only say that if you have a pretty strong gift of hope. But that's what it seems to be about. There's this process of death and rebirth, simply. Because Christians really are not just the followers of Christ, but they're the people of the resurrection, really. Christians are not the people who don't fall, but they're the people who get up again. In fact, that's sort of their thing, to get up again, to discover life right in the midst of death. To come to the end of their rope, and then to begin, really. We only really begin when we get to the end of our rope. He talks in another place about techniques in prayer. And this is just one case within the whole framework we've been talking about. He's talking about Eastern practices. The techniques of recollection and interior quiet, now reaching us from the Far East,


can put us all on the road to prayer. But they cannot, of themselves, bring us to our destination. They have first to grow beyond themselves, as it were, exceed themselves, in order to be taken up into the Paschal action of Jesus. Everything has to flow into this funnel, as it were, of the Paschal mystery of Jesus, before it can really be, shall we say, meaningful. Before it can really represent the salvation, the only salvation which is given to men. This does not simply happen all by itself. The technique must first be lowered to its zero point. The man who applies himself to that will, at some point, see his effort break down, collapse, being inadequate to the task of prayer. And so it is, I think, often with a person who takes up a method of meditation, whether it be, oh, maybe he may use Zen or yoga or something like that. And at first he has a lot of enthusiasm, and he's getting obvious results from it. He's deriving fruit from it. But then after, maybe after a few years of faithful practice,


he finds that it trails off on him and leaves him on a plateau, and he's not quite sure whether he isn't right back where he started from. And this is true with almost anything we do in the spiritual life. That's the way we experience it. And then we have to be ready to start over again. But relying once again, not on that thing that we have perfected, not on that mastery that we've achieved, but relying purely once again on God's grace. Another cycle of death and rebirth. Another removal of our false hope. Another removal of our thing which has become, in some way, an idol between God and us. A thing in which we put our hope. Because the delicate thing there is, where do you put your hope? We can use most any kind of a technique, most any kind of a practice, if it helps. But if we're reposing our hope in that, instead of in God's grace, then it's undermining our spiritual life. And of course, sooner or later, we're going to have to, maybe not give it up, but we're going to have to let go of that hope. We're going to become disillusioned in it. It's inevitable.


So we have to be sensitive to what we're putting our confidence in. That gulf between a natural technique and the gift of prayer is not to be bridged from man's side. Every technique runs up against the death of Jesus. It's faced with the foolishness of his cross, the techniquelessness of the cross. Through the faith of him who prays, it can gradually be subsumed within the vitalizing dynamic of Easter. So it has to be taken up by a deliberate focus of faith into the Christian mystery. So what we're talking about is purity of heart, now looks more like humility of heart, really. And I think really that this is the deeper sense of purity of heart, because only in this way can it be other than a possession. And purity of heart itself can be a possession if we're looking at ourselves while we're getting it. It's not purity at all at a certain point because it's full of self.


Thomas Merton had a debate with D.T. Suzuki, probably some of you have read this, in Zen and Birds of Appetite. And it was on the question of Zen emptiness and the purity of heart of passion. And it was a debate which, from Father Merton's point of view, didn't come out satisfactorily because he confessed that he had not gone deeply enough. It might have been better to compare the Christian term of humility with Zen emptiness, because what's involved is a disappearance of self, this paradoxical thing that happens whereby there's nobody there anymore to be vain. There's nobody there anymore to be patting himself on the back, to be complacent, to be watching what's going on. I'll read just a few words of Thomas Merton as he's getting towards the end of his commentary. The man who has truly found his spiritual nakedness,


who has realized he is empty, is not a self that has acquired emptiness or become empty. He just is empty from the beginning. It's not a matter of doing something, of accomplishing something. It's a matter of discovering a truth. One discovers one's nothingness, one doesn't make it. He just is empty from the beginning, as Dr. Suzuki has observed. Or to put it in the more affective terms of St. Augustine and St. Bernard, he loves with a pure love. That is to say, he loves with a purity and freedom that springs spontaneously and directly from the fact that he has fully recovered the divine likeness. But in recovering that likeness, it's not as if he could look at himself in his glory at that point. When he recovered the divine likeness, he can't see himself at all. He's become transparent, just like the water, transparent to the light of God, his poverty, his nothingness. That's what we are. And is now fully his true self because he is lost in God. He's fully his true self because the other self has completely disappeared.


His ego has just faded out of the picture. He is one with God and identified with God and hence knows nothing of any ego in himself. All he knows is love. Notice the correlation between this emptiness, between humility and between charity, which seems to be simply the other side of it. Emptiness and knowledge of one's own nothingness and love. These three terms which are really one. Saint Bernard says, He who loves thus simply loves and knows nothing else but love. Knows he doesn't look at himself. Whether or not the Desert Fathers were fully articulate in expressing this kind of emptiness, they weren't philosophers and so they didn't really write about these things in clear terms or speak about them. They certainly strove for it. And their instrument in opening the subtle locks of spiritual deception was the virtue of discretio, of discretion, discernment. It was discretion that Saint Anthony called the most important of all the virtues in the desert.


Discretion had taught him the value of simple manual labor. Discretion taught the fathers that purity of heart did not consist simply in fasting and self-maceration. Discretion, otherwise called the discernment of spirits, is indeed germane to the realm of knowledge. And he's been in a debate about two kinds of knowledge here. That's not relevant to us. It exercises its functions in the light of innocence and in reference to emptiness. If you remember the first two conferences of Cassian, of Abba Moses, the first one's on purity of heart, which is the same as charity. The second one is on discretion. The two are very closely related because discretion judges everything in terms of purity of heart. And Merton is saying here that purity of heart is this emptiness. So discretion judges everything in terms of whether or not it leads a person to this kind of emptiness, to this kind of tranquility, which really is the disappearance of the ego. It judges not in terms of abstract standards so much as in terms of inner purity of heart.


Discretion makes judgments and indicates choices, but the judgment and the choice always point in the direction of emptiness or purity of heart. You'll see Saint John of the Cross talking in terms similar to this, when he talks about the quiet or the poverty or the emptiness of the soul as being always sort of the criterion, whereas any kind of excitement or anything that we're eager or greedy about is a false path for him. Now these things often are valid at a certain level, but before that level they may not be the right advice. So these things always have to be used with discretion themselves. Discretion is a function of humility. That's what Cassian says. And therefore it's a branch of knowledge that lies beyond the reach of diabolical comment and perversion. It's invisible somehow to the evil spirits. Then there's a quote here from Eckhart, which is marvelous.


On what poverty really means. Eckhart was one of the people in the West who seems to have had the same intuition, which is kind of a universal intuition, an existential perception of, what do you call it, this emptiness or this being which is beyond self, the fullness that comes out of the emptiness. He put it in philosophical terms, as many have in other traditions. We know it in Christianity as being in the death and resurrection. We don't usually put it in philosophical terms. Here he's talking about poverty. If it is the case that a man is emptied of things, creatures, himself, and of God, even empty of God, he doesn't have a notion of God anymore. He doesn't hold on to God anymore. And if still God could find a place in him to act, then we say as long as that place exists, this man is not poor with the most intimate poverty. That's not yet real poverty.


If he's still got a place for God to enter into it. For God does not intend that man shall have a place reserved for him to work in. Since the true poverty of spirit requires that man shall be emptied of God and all his works, so that if God wants to act in the soul, he must himself be the place in which he acts. And that is what he wants to do. For if God once found a person as poor as this, he would take the responsibility of his own action and would himself be the scene of action. For God is one who acts within himself. It is here in this poverty that man regains the eternal being that once he was, now is, and evermore shall be. Which is what Martin speaks of as the true self, of course. And when we talk about the true self, we're always in this realm of paradox. This realm of paradox where opposites are no longer opposites. Where the nothing is suddenly the all, and so on. And we're beyond the ego, and we're beyond the distinction between subject and object. And that's what Martin defines contemplation to be, of course.


The kind of knowledge in which no longer is there that kind of duality. Okay. We've already seen, in Christian tradition, we've already seen asceticism in terms of death. You remember Rahner's view of asceticism as sort of anticipating one's death. So entering beforehand, accepting beforehand one's part, one's place in the Passover of Christ and his death and resurrection. Some of the Desert Fathers, they don't speak, once again, in theological terms. But that's the way I see it. Just the same. Pullman, for instance. Once Paisios, who was Pullman's brother, made friends with someone outside his cell. Now, Pullman didn't like that. I don't know whether he was jealous or just annoyed with his brother's lack of fervor or what. So he got up and fled to Abba Amonas and said to him,


Paisios, my brother, holds converse with someone, so I have no peace. And Abba Amonas said to him, Pullman, are you still alive? Go sit down in your cell. Engrave it in your heart that you have been in the tomb for a year already. My brother came to see Abba Macarius the Egyptian and said to him, Abba, give me a word that I may be saved. So the old man said, go to the cemetery and abuse the dead. And the brother went there, abused them and threw stones at them. Then he returned and told the old man about it.


And the latter said to him, didn't I say anything to you? And he replied, no. And the old man said, go back tomorrow and praise them. So the brother went away and praised them, calling them apostles and saints and righteous men. And he returned and the old man said to him, and said to him, I have complimented them. And the old man said to him, did they not answer you? The brother said, no. The old man said to him, you know how you insulted them and they did not reply and how you praised them and they did not speak. So you too, if you wish to be saved, must do the same and become a dead man. Like the dead, take no account of either the scorn of men or their praises and you can be saved. We find a lot more of the same tone in the Desert Forest. Moses also, in his counsels, he says you have to die to the world and you have to die to your brothers. But then he carefully defines what that means. It doesn't mean not to have any love for them, but it means not to be egotistically sensitive in terms of envy or jealousy or insult, those things. That's what it means to be dead to your brother.


To be dead to the world means not to have concupiscence for the world and not to be distracted by it. So asceticism, as we've seen, leads us first to this truth of our poverty. That is the asceticism of the poor. Our poverty and our utter dependence. And just when we feel that we're at the end of our resources, that we're finally enslaved by our limitations, despite all our good intentions, just when our hope and our own efforts and accomplishments is eclipsed, you know, the mountains have disappeared into the sea, we may find that we're freed from our limitations and suddenly grace appears. And we discover in our weakness the power of God. Saint Paul was the one who expressed this most clearly, outside of the manifestation of it and the resurrection of Christ.


But Saint Paul, in his own life, soon after the resurrection of Christ, experienced the same thing. 2 Corinthians 12, about this sting of the flesh. I besought the Lord three times about this, that it should leave me, but he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. It's amazing the way Saint Paul has sort of grasped this principle. Through his own experience and sort of so centrally passed this on to us. Because this is right in the core of the Gospel, I think. And he seems to be the first one to express it, not as seen in the life of Christ, the death and resurrection of Christ, but as experienced in the Christian's own life. This thing which is right in the center of our way of salvation. Right in the center of sort of the pivot point of our own spiritual life. I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.


He exalts in his weakness, absolutely. So close is he and so sure is he of this power of God. It's right on the other side of his own weakness. It's in the darkness. He doesn't see it. But this is a gift of hope. This is a virtue of hope. To have the unseen as if it were seen. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. But notice that the things he is talking about are, these are external afflictions. And even the sting for the flesh was probably some kind of a sickness. So he's not talking about a cowardly heart. It may happen, however, he does talk in places about his fears and so on. And the power of God that sustained him even in the time of his fears. But that may be part of it, too. That interior desolation, that interior helplessness. And again, earlier in 2 Corinthians.


But we have this treasure. He's just been talking about the vision of the glory of Christ. And how Christians bear that about within them. We have this treasure in earthen vessels to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed. Perplexed, but not driven to despair. Persecuted, but not forsaken, and so on. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake. So that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. And that's the sign of authentic Christianity, I think. Is life and death coexisting in the same person. But the power of life completely lifting up and supporting the person. So in spite of the death of the old man that's always going on, he's growing and living in a very positive, even a radiant way, like Saint Paul.


So there's a death of desires, and there's a death of illusions. A death of our own truth, as it were. Because strangely, we have a power to sort of control the truth. We're given power over the truth. So that we can either let the truth shine in the world. We can either let the truth into ourselves, or we can shut it out. And the way that we do it usually is by having our own truth. By having our own light, which actually may be darkness. Jesus said to the Jews, it's for judgment that I have come into the world. That the blind may see, and that those with sight may turn blind. And they say, are we blind? And he says, if you were, you would not be guilty. But since we see, your guilt remains. So a very light may be darkness, and maybe shutting out the light of God. Elsewhere in Saint Luke, he says, I thank you, Father, because you've concealed these things from the wise and the learned,


and you've revealed them to little ones, to babes, his disciples, those fishermen. And our perceptions, and our understanding, and our judgments are determined largely by what we want. By what we want to see, what we want to conclude, what we want to judge. Oftentimes we've drawn our conclusion before we've really heard the problem. Before we've really heard the question. Our understanding and our knowledge is determined by what we hope in our heart. And so that purification that we've been talking about, on the most existential level, I think, is a purification from false hopes. And that's what the monastic life seems to be about. That's what the desert seems to be about, particularly. A purification from false hopes, as it were, from idols. From the things that we support ourselves with, the things that we rest on. Those are the most actual, meaningful terms for us. Because we're dependent beings.


Because we have to stand on something. And the mightiest, and the subtlest, and the most tenacious of these false hopes is simply in ourselves. So it's a question of death to that self that we depend on, to that ego, to that I. This seems to be where all the traditions of authentic asceticism and spiritual practice converge, in this matter of death to the self and getting beyond the ego. Whether it be Zen, or Hinduism, or even Hasidism. There's a little story from the Hasidim. There was another disciple. You heard about Zusia the other day. Another disciple of the great Megid was Aaron of Carlin, a rabbi. And somebody asked him what he learned from his teacher. Zusia didn't hear anything. And they asked him what he learned from his teacher, the great Megid. And he answered, nothing at all. And so they pressed him to explain what he meant by that.


And so he added, the nothing at all is what I learned. I learned the meaning of nothingness. I learned that I am nothing at all, and that notwithstanding, I am. And maybe that's about all a teacher can teach us, is to be able to know our own nothingness, our own emptiness, and to be able to accept it. That's the thing. Those words he says, and to know that I am notwithstanding, should awaken an echo in us. Because those are the words of God at the burning bush. Remember, to Moses, I am he who is. So we, like the bush in the desert, more or less, become enabled to know our utter fragility, the utter nothingness on which we stand, and yet to accept it, even with exaltation like Saint Paul does, because we know that beneath it is that I am of God. That I am, which is the existence of the fire of God's being, but which also supports our existence, because we know that God is love.


Jesus says, unless the seed falls into the ground, it remains by itself. But if it falls into the ground and dies, it brings forth much fruit. Well, we Christians know that the ground is not just the ground. The ground is not just the soil, the earth. The ground is what? The ground is something within us, for one thing, the ground of our being. In some way, it's a matter of the ego falling into the heart, the ego falling into the roots of our being. But further than that, it's a matter of our falling into the ground of our being, which is the Father. It's a matter of our falling into the place of life, as it were. And so, this letting go, this letting go of the self and of everything that's attached to it, is a matter of letting ourselves go into God, because it's all done, as it were, in his framework. It's all done towards him. And we've got another Eckhart quote here. He speaks an outrageous language, but he brings these things out very


He's got a homily, I think, on the words about honor your father and your mother. God is neither this nor that, and nothing satisfies him but withdrawal into the innermost core of his own being, the kernel of his own fatherhood, where he has dwelt through all eternity within himself, functioning only as a father and finding companionship within his own unique unity. Remember that for Eckhart, the birth of God is the whole works, is the whole thing, as far as man is concerned. It's a matter of God's being born in us and our being born in God. And really, they're very nearly the same thing. The birth of God, which happened in Jesus and which happens in us, and which is really God coming into his cosmos. That's the one act. Now, he sees God, you see, as being basically Father, which is the way that the Fathers see God also. And so, the whole story of salvation is a matter of the birth of God in the world. The whole creation, in some way, is like a shell,


which is to become the place of God's Son. And we are the sons of God. We are the Son of God, the one Son. Because there's one Father and there's one Son. Here is the unity of blades of grass and bits of wood and stone, together with everything else. For its sake, all that nature tries to do is to plunge on into that unity, into the Father nature, so that it all may be one. The one Son, and outgrowing everything else to subsist in his fatherhood. For if this cannot be done, at least to look like his oneness. Nature is striving for oneness. God has hidden the essence of all things in himself. They are not, as they seem to be, this and that, individually distinct, but rather they are one with his unity. And so this death-to-self releases us into that reality, into that one reality. Death-to-self opens us to the birth of God in ourselves,


which we'll speak of later as the discovery of the true self in Christ. There are different ways you can go, of course. You don't have to go in the direction of the death of self, you can go in the direction of the expanding ego, too. And that's what the Fathers call vainglory. They don't distinguish vainglory from pride too clearly, usually. When I talk about vainglory, it's sort of being motivated by the praise of other people. When I talk about pride, it's attributing what the good is in oneself to oneself, instead of to God. So pride is a more absolute, more ultimate kind of sin for them. But the whole of monastic spirituality seems to be simply directed towards this loss of self and against the ego inflation type of thing. That seems to be the most distinctive mark of monastic spirituality, is to be the archenemy of vainglory.


A couple of quotes from... There's a voluminous literature on this matter of vainglory and avoiding it. And, of course, more than the sayings of the Fathers, the lives of the Fathers are the evidence of it, the way they live in their silence and so on. Sincleticus says, Just as it's impossible at the same moment to be both a plant and a seed, so it is impossible for us to be surrounded by worldly honor and at the same time to bear heavenly fruit. If you're already a plant flourishing in leaves, then you don't have any potential for growth anymore. Jesus said, How can you receive the glory of God when you are avid for the glory of men, when you receive the glory from one another? So, in some way, we have to be starved for glory in order to receive the glory of God. Just as a treasure that is exposed loses its value, so a virtue which is known vanishes, she says. That's pretty radical.


Just as wax melts when it's near fire, so the soul is destroyed by praise and loses all the results of its labor. Well, of course, the soul doesn't have to be completely naive and swallow that adulation right down. There is a possibility of defending oneself. Remember Saint Benedict in the prologue, These are they who, fearing the Lord, are not puffed up with their own good works, but knowing that the good which is in them comes not from themselves but from the Lord, magnify the Lord who works in them. Saying with the prophet, Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to your name give the glory. So the Apostle Paul imputed nothing of his preaching to himself but said, By the grace of God, I am what I am. And again, he says, He that glories, let him glory in the Lord. A little while ago, Father Stanley wrote a book entitled Boasting in the Lord, which is a book about the prayer in Saint Paul. And one of Saint Paul's favorite ways of praying or of praising God is sort of boasting in God.


There is a kind of a boasting which is completely Christian and which is completely valid. But it's a selfless kind of boasting in a way, and in great simplicity, a glorifying of the Lord. Which loses oneself in the very praise of the Lord. Saint Bernard sees the spiritual journey, of course, is consisting of three steps of truth. That's something that I found extremely intriguing and beautiful. And I think true too. Even though we can't simply see them as following one another in a completely separate fashion. First of all, acquiring the truth in oneself


through humility, through compunction, through the revelation of the gospel. The word of God. Through faith. Secondly, beginning to see the truth in one's neighbor. The truth of his misery, but no longer from the ego-centered point of view, so that we derive pleasure from the misery of another. But rather knowing that we're all in the same boat, seeing him with an eye of compassion now. Of compassion for himself and myself together, because I know we're both in the same place. And finally, the insight of the truth in God, or the truth in itself, which he equates with hope and with contemplation. So the step of compunction, of self-knowledge, the step of compassion, I'm sure most of you are familiar with.


Compassion, and finally the step of contemplation. The step of faith, the step of love, the step of hope. Different fathers, you find, putting these in different orders. The Son, by word and example, teaches humility. The Spirit pours out his compassionate love into the hearts of the humble. Note that there's a necessary sequence here, because humility is what empties us of ourselves. And then, only when we're empty of ourselves, are we really capable of accepting, receiving the gift which is God. Then there's room there, there's space there. A little, to forget Eckhart's problem for a moment. Only when we become empty of self can we become able to contain God, which is what we're made for. And the Father beatifies them through truth. Now here's a quotation from Saint Bernard. That blessed Trinity, mindful of its mercy, unmindful of our guilt,


has repaired this fall, so grave, so obscure, so sordid of our nature. There's a continual sort of triple music here, a kind of a Trinitarian music. Saint Bernard is talking about man, the soul, once again as the image of God. And here he's talking about the process by which the image of God becomes filled with the archetype. The Trinitarian image, which is man's soul, becoming filled with God. And this is, he says, how it happens. The Son of God, therefore, sent by the Father, came and gave faith. Son of God, the Word, gave us the revelation, both of God and of ourselves. After the Son was sent the Holy Spirit, who gave and taught love. And so by these two, that is, faith and love, was heralded hope of returning to the Father. Notice the correlation of hope with the Father here. Just like in Saint John of the Cross, you've got hope, purification of the memory, and the Father lined up.


And this is the Trinity, namely faith, hope and love, with a trident, a three-pronged fork. That changeless and blessed Trinity has brought back the changeable, fallen and wretched Trinity from the slime of the abyss to its lost beatitude. And faith has illumined the reason, hope has lifted up the memory, and love has truly purged the will. And of course, this recalls to us the parable of the prodigal son, who finally finds himself in the Father's arms, and with the new garment, and brought into the banquet hall. I guess that's all the time we have this morning. We can go on, maybe, with the same line of thought this evening. Thank you.