History of Christian Spirituality

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Part of "The History of Christian Spirituality" class





There's a sense of authority here, talking about authority in the Church. He talks about we, and he uses the royal we. There was clearly one person who was writing this. By the way, he never, as you notice, never names himself, I am Clement, Bishop of Rome, writing you. He simply talks about from the colony of the Church in Rome to the colony of the Church of God at Corinth. But then he talks about we, and we exhort you, and we urge you, et cetera, and with real authority, and there's moments where this authority comes through, like in paragraph 59, he says, but if there are those who refuse to heed the declarations he, capital H, has made through our lips, that it not doubt the gravity of his guilt and the peril in which they involve themselves. So there is this authority. Then he links it right up to the Holy Spirit, what he's written here. So you will afford us great joy and happiness if you will lay to heart what we have written


through the Holy Spirit. So there's a real sense of authority here, where within the first century, and someone of real authority in Rome is writing to the Church in Corinth, in the name of the Church of Rome, and saying these things. So I think this is important. The papacy was not something dreamed up in the 12th century, and this is why this missing link is so decisive. If you're going to talk about the Pope, you've got the famous Texan scripture, Thou art Peter. There you're dealing with Peter, and Protestants used to say, well, that's Peter, and maybe even Jesus wanted a primacy of Peter in the first living apostles, but that isn't handed down. But here we've got Clement, ordained by Peter, who's talking about we, and we inspired by the Spirit, and you better do what we say. So that can be exhorted, and lived spiritually also, this great joy of being in communion


with this Bishop of Rome. On the other hand, we have to be careful to do history seriously, so to not read back into the first century some categories we have. So we shouldn't imagine him there seated with his tiara, and surrounded by Monsignori, and sort of writing kind of encyclical, as we would imagine it today. Here he's, I'm hoping you will respond to the appeal for peace and harmony, which we have made in this letter. So here he is appealing, and in the name of the Word of God, that not only the Word of God we'll see, but also simply kind of natural wisdom, and divisiveness is always bad, and if you see it in nature, and cities, or anything. But he argues a whole case, and he says, now I appeal to you, this is the Word of God, this is human wisdom, get your act together, stop this divisiveness. So you can minimize what's happening here, all through the history of the Church.


We have one Church that's writing to another because it's slightly concerned about something or another. This is typical of the sister church method. Sisters are concerned about others, and if you think your sister is not behaving as she should, you sit down and you write a letter to her. That doesn't mean you think you're, who knows what, some sort of absolute monarch over her. But you appeal to her sense of Christian faith, or good sense, or whatever. So Paul is constantly, Paul is Paul a Pope, but he's constantly intervening in a much more vigorous way to Corinth than Clement is. So you can argue a maximalist case here, you can argue a minimalist, but the letter does exist. It's very decisive, very important, and as Quaston says, Quaston is a very great patristic scholar, Catholic, this is the first letter of which we know with real certitude the author, we know the date within that limits of his pontificate, and we know to whom it's addressed.


And this is all extremely helpful if you're dealing with a letter. If you don't know who wrote it, or if you don't know to whom it's written, that makes problems for understanding what's in that letter. It's still debated to whom was, to what kind of community was the letter of the Hebrews written, or the letter of 1 Peter, for instance. Now until when we get a breakthrough on that, there it was written to that specific community at that time with those problems, then we'll understand lots more. So to know, he's reading to Corinth, he's writing around 96, and this is this rather a prestigious Bishop of Rome, then, questions, comments? What's that little story about somebody, I can't remember who wrote it, but they said that, was it Clement that they think he was the little child that Jesus took and put into the breast, and gave that little thing back to the child?


I don't know that. He was Ignatius. Was it Ignatius? There's all sorts of traditions like that. Origen claims that this Clement is the Clement mentioned in one of the letters in Philippians 4.3. The author refers to a certain Clement, but there's no proof of that, so you get all sorts of traditions, and it could be him. It's interesting the way the letter begins. You remember, literally, the Church of God, which is transiently sojourning in Rome, to the colony of the Church of God at Corinth, called and sanctified by the will of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, all grace and peace to you. So he doesn't say, I am Pope Clement I, I am writing you and ordering you to do this, otherwise, he's saying, the Church here is writing to your Church.


So here we already have this sister church theology, which is there in every Pauline letter too. Church, as we use the term, as the universal Catholic Church, occurs very rarely in Scripture. I think we noted that another time. It refers especially to the local church, the church in Corinth, or the church in Philippi, or the church in Jerusalem, or the church in Corinth, or whatever. And this is the local churches, which are then in communion, the one with the other, communion of faith and of sacrament, and these clusters of churches together constitute the universal church. So here again, unity in diversity. Should we talk of one church or of many? Should we talk of one spirituality or of many? It's the same thing. There are many churches, and St. Paul normally uses church in the sense of plural, this church as opposed to that church. And you can bring it right down to the building, the church here as opposed to the church in


Salinas or something. Or you can talk about the one church, and you need both of these categories. And here he's talking about these two churches. And this is decisive, again, for our ecumenical hopes, because this gives you the possibility of pluralism of history, heritage, experience, etc., which a simple theology of one spirituality or one church just doesn't permit and simply sort of closes the door a priori to the possibility of reunion. The only possibility is individual conversions. So the Church of God, which is transiently sojourning in Rome, there's a particular flavor here of this springtime church that's living in a kind of a marginal, precarious life on


its journey to the real kingdom, which is in heaven. This is a kind of ecclesiology that's spiritually quite beautiful and certainly also quite monastic. We're on the move. We're on the journey. So we're not setting down huge foundations to build up these immense institutions. No, we're here for a while. We're here. You're there. And we're all going to the same fatherland. And this, so there again, we don't want to read too much of a kind of a 16th century pontiff there in his papal palace, writing to some bishop in his episcopal palace off in Corinth. These were little communities. And Clement was probably writing from a house, for instance, writing on a table like this, this sort of thing. So the church was not this huge institution, but it was this little colony on the move that could really be sort of sat upon any time by the, what you would call it, the persecutions.


So they're already then talking about spirituality. You have an ecclesial spirituality here. He's concerned about the church in Corinth. He's not writing to one person. How is your prayer life doing? He's worried about the ecclesial life there that's divisive and it can't possibly be divisive because the whole nature of Christian life is unity, is harmony, is communion. So you people are really messing it up as far as you're living the Christ life. So it's a very deep spirituality that's not at all individualistic, but it's radically ecclesial. And this might bother us as we approach from a very aramidical interest. And this seems to us, well, this doesn't say anything to my spiritual life. It's interesting historical document, and I'm glad that there's a hope around that early, et cetera. But it doesn't really help me in my prayer life or in my meditation. Well, if we can get into, again, different experiences of Christ, here it's certainly


implicitly, again, in a letter form also, but they're living an ecclesial spirituality, whether it be more solitude, more community, whatever. But always it's in the church that we experience Christ. We have a foretaste of the kingdom, as he stresses, as we experience the love of God, the blessedness of Christian love, et cetera. So ecclesial spirituality of community. There's quite a bit of natural wisdom here. He uses every kind of argument he can muster to get these people to get their act together again. And he says, look at nature. And nature is very harmonious. Nature has its act together, and it's not divisive. And the cosmos ruled in order of harmony, et cetera. Then he says, look at the whole political thing. If you'll think of the history of Rome or the history of Athens, how many cities have


fallen because they fought among themselves? Envy and jealousy have even overthrown great cities and uprooted mighty nations. So he's not afraid of using all sorts of what we would call natural wisdom, too. There's much Scripture here, but not just Scripture. And this is interesting. He thinks that the Christians should learn from all of history, you see. That there's a lesson for us, even in our most profoundly supernatural ecclesial life, simply from looking at nature or simply from looking at the politics of the daily newspaper, if you like. So this is interesting also in his implications. Everything can teach us. Now, this is scandalized. Some have said this is going downhill from St. Paul, who says, I vow to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. So Paul argues for unity and harmony, as he does in his letter to Corinth. It's a body of Christ, et cetera.


But there's also this human wisdom in the New Testament. There's a whole wisdom tradition in the Old. So it's also argued this isn't that. But there's also some implications for spirituality here. Can we learn from simply human wisdom, from the lessons of history, from just nature about us? Clement would say yes. So, what do you think? Clement probably had quite a tonic for people who are involved in secularism. He also knows his Greek philosophy. And as we'll get this much more explicit in later fathers. Some people think that it's the first, in him, an origin that was kind of the first bringing that Hellenism or whatever together with Christianity kind of corrupted. I think you're thinking, though, of Clement of Alexandria. Clement of Alexandria is, some say he's more Plato than he is. There's little touches of it here. But in Clement of Alexandria, who is, what, a couple of centuries later.


But we'll see that. The whole issue, certain issues come up again and again and again, all through the history of Christianity. One is the relation of the Christian and the world, or the Christian and the city, or the Christian and human values, or the Christian and philosophy. And you'll get the fathers themselves saying everything. From, we'll see Justin in Clement of Alexandria saying, philosophy can really help us to live more fully our Christian faith and our Christian spirituality. To someone like Tertullian who will say, what has Athens to do with Jerusalem philosophies or the school of heresies, etc. Though he himself is a heretical. But you've got the model of absolute opposition. We're Christians, therefore we have nothing to do with the world, nothing to do with human philosophy, with human wisdom, with creation, because we're focused on the word of God, not the word of men. The word of men is erroneous, it's false, it's at its very best distracting. He has implicitly, again, he's not working this out explicitly,


he has implicitly the idea that we can learn from human experience. It's exquisitely human. Other themes. Humility is very strong. There's a whole theology of humility here, and it's rooted to Christ, which is very beautiful. He says you can't put yourself in opposition to your bishop and each one be strutting around and doing his own thing. Christians must be humble because Jesus was humble. So here he has the one sort of archetype of our Christian spirituality, of our ecclesial life, and that's Jesus. Paragraph 16. Christ belongs to the lowly of heart and not to those who would exalt themselves over his flock. The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, the scepter of God's majesty, he plays with this paradox of majesty, was in no pomp of pride and haughtiness as it could so well have been,


but in self-abasement, even as the Holy Spirit had declared of him. This is a theme that will come up again and again in the early fathers. It's a beautiful theme, the gentleness, the humility of Jesus, and therefore Christian humility and gentleness. And I think it's pretty beautiful for our spiritual life. The common theme is this danger thus of pride because it puts us ultimately out of communion with Jesus, out of communion, therefore, with our salvation. There's no miracles mentioned here. There's no ecstatic prophets running around. There's no special gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned here. It's a kind of a calm ecclesial life. It's already settled down in a certain sense, institutionalized. There's no evidence of focusing on an imminent second coming here, as we'll get in some of the other writings.


So as one scholar said, it's a church settled down in the world, going about its tasks soberly, discreetly, advisedly, and worried and concerned that other churches do the same and not get off in wild fights, et cetera. There's some beautiful things here. Already the foretaste of the heavenly life. How blessed, how marvelous are the gifts of God, my friends. Some of them, indeed, already lie within our comprehension. For instance, the life that knows no death, the shining splendor of righteousness, the truth that is frank and full, the faith that is perfect assurance, the holiness of chastity. But what of the things prepared for those who wait? Who but the Creator and Father of eternity, the Most Holy Himself, knows the greatness and beauty of these. Let us then strain every nerve to be found


among those who wait in patience for Him, so that we too may have a share in His promised gifts. So I think this is very pure spirituality of, we already have the foretaste, and therefore straining forward to the fullness of life. This is all pure paschal, therefore. There's a whole thing on love. It's quite beautiful. There's a whole thing on salvation history. He talks about the whole history of salvation. He goes through Abraham and the prophets and Moses and David and trying to convince them to be humble of heart. Now it is not we alone who have been made better men by the self-effacement and humble submissiveness of God. It is not we who have been made better men by the self-effacement and humble submissiveness of all these famous personages, but generations of our predecessors as well, and indeed everyone who has ever received the utterance of God


in fear and truth. So here's a great vision of this whole salvation history that goes right back into the Old Testament, in through Christ, into the New Testament, and the martyrs, et cetera, the first, first people who courageously are resisting oppression. And we all benefit by this and live from this, we and everyone else who have received the word of God. So he sees himself in a context. He's not out doing his own individual thing. It's the whole history of salvation that's teaching him. We had mentioned a bit about what's our model of papal authority. This is what many Catholic theologians now are stressing. Rahner and Ratzinger have a book on papal primacy. When the Pope declares something, it's not something that just popped into his head or that he has this direct line to heaven or something. It's something that's been in the history of the Church, it's been in the theology,


it's been in the lives of Christians. He perceives it. He perceives in the Holy Spirit that this is important. So he, surrounded by all the bishops who are of accord, affirms it as a kind of the mouth of the mind of the Church. So you need someone to articulate and give focus to what the whole Church believes, and that is the papacy or that is the council. But again, it's not as if this kind of arbitrary, individualistic, absolute monarchy model, which is quite different. Louis XIV, he doesn't care what his peon subjects believe. He decrees today that everyone's going to pay double the taxes, and they have to, or he sends the army. So what we've got here is Clement speaking out of the whole history of salvation and saying, look, this is where it's at, and trying to focus this in such a strong way for the Corinthians that they'll convert themselves basically to salvation history,


not to him, but to the salvation history, which means communion, which means harmony and humility, etc. A whole theology here of the body of Christ, and it is that by that very way, dear friends, we find our own salvation, even Jesus Christ, the high priest by whom our gifts are offered, and the protector by whom our feebleness is aided. Through him, we can look up to the highest heaven and see as in a glass the peerless perfection of the face of God. This is beautiful. We see God the Father through Christ. This is this Trinitarian dynamic that we don't go on our own, but we go in Christ. Through him, the eyes of our hearts are opened. This is very beautiful. And our dim and clouded understanding unfolds like a flower to the light. For through him, the Lord permits us to taste the wisdom of eternity.


Beautiful experiential language here. So people will say, well, this isn't spirituality, but I think it is, and I think it can even be meditated in contemplative prayer. Permits us to taste the wisdom of eternity. This clearly presupposes a whole of lived experience. Is that Clement also? Yeah, this is all Clement. This is chapter 36. Take the body as an instance. The head is nothing without the feet, nor are the feet anything without the head. Even the smallest of our physical members are necessary and valuable to the whole. In Christ Jesus, then, let this corporate body of ours be likewise maintained intact, with each of us giving way to his neighbors in proportion to our spiritual gifts. This is this whole thing of diversity and unity, of each gives way to the other according to the gifts. Here there's no monopoly of, it's everyone who gives way to everyone.


St. Benedict at that one point says, everyone obey everyone else. So it's this kind of global community of authority, which is focused, however, very clearly for him, especially in authority of the one bishop. Then what does he do? Again, not the arbitrary, but he who coordinates all these gifts so that the symphony is heard, so that the body does function. That's what it's all about. He has some interesting images for spirituality. For instance, warfare. This is quite popular for the fathers of the desert. In chapter 37, right above this, he says, So now, my friends, let us go on resolutely with our warfare under his and their directions, Christ. Think of the men who serve our own commanders in the field and the prompt and orderly obedience with which they go about their duties. Here again, he goes back to just human experience, using the army as a model,


just as he goes to the body model, which is the same model that Paul pulled out. So there's this serene working with human experience as sources of insight for us when we read about these in the Word of God. So these are just a few things. Where are those texts of love? Paragraph 48 and 49. Let's see. We must fall on our knees before the Master and implore him with tears graciously to pardon us and bring us back again to the honorable and virtuous way of brothers who love one another. This is what he's calling them back to, to family, if you like, to get them to that. For that is the gateway of righteousness, the open gate to life. Why is he angry about this disobedience? Because it's kind of humiliating that the Christian army isn't all lined up?


No, because the gateway to life is this love, is this being brothers one to another. As it is written, open me the great gate of righteousness that I may go in and praise the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord. So the gate here for him is our loving one another. And he goes on. If there is true Christian love in a man, let him carry out the precepts of Christ, who can describe the constraining power of a love for God. So now he focuses on love as a kind of power which will carry us forward. Its majesty and its beauty, who can adequately express? No tongue can tell the heights to which love can uplift us. Love binds us fast to God. Love casts a veil over sins innumerable. There are no limits to love's endurance. Love knows no division. Here he's gone from this, if you like, perpendicular love to a horizontal love.


Love knows no divisions, prompts no discord. All the works of love are done in perfect fellowship, koinonia, which is this beautiful word. It was in love that all God's chosen saints were made perfect. So rich theology of love as our spirituality that will transform and sanctify us. And love of God and of the brethren. For without love, nothing is pleasing to him. And then he goes over the whole of history of salvation. It was in love that the Lord drew us to himself, because in love he bore us. See then, dear friends, what a great and wondrous thing love is. Its perfection is beyond all words. We get into kind of a mysterious apophatic thing. You can't really articulate love in a letter. But here you get a kind of little hymn to love, which recalls 1 Corinthians 13, the hymn of love in Paul.


So it's amazing how these themes come up again and again. So again, it's not just a juridical concern that we've got to have an efficient unity here. But it's because our very salvation is koinonia, is communion. Then we should be willing to make any sacrifice to safeguard this love. Even if I have to go away and leave the brethren, I should be willing to do it. Is there any man of noble mind among you, a man who is compassionate, a man who is overflowing with love? Then let such a one say, if it is I who am the cause of any disorder, friction or division among you, I will remove myself. I will go away anywhere you wish. And I will do anything the congregation says. The authority of the congregation, you see, and the kind of the ultimate criterion of the love of the congregation. Only let there be peace between Christ's flock and their appointed clergy.


And even among the heathen, they say, numerous kings and rulers. And then he goes off on his natural wisdom. So he flows back and forth between exquisitely supernatural motivation and then back to the natural. So these are some elements just to note. And then we could go on to Ignatius. I think we can stop here. But just as a kind of a method, I would suggest to try to pick out particularly succinct.