Introduction to Theology, Serial No. 01117

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Sometimes, when I've sinned, I feel guilty. This is perhaps another example, where our feeling is in fact modified, because... But the guilt is not the same thing as the sin. And sometimes I may have committed sins about which I don't feel guilty at all. It doesn't mean to say they're not sins. I suppose what I was saying is that I think that there is always a possible distinguish, I think, when one's actually dealing with a human being, between that kind of guilt, which is clearly indicative of a worry which is the result of very real effort to do what was right in a given situation. And then the likelihood is that they will not have been.

[01:05]

I mean, some people, you can just know, the more you know them, you know perfectly well they couldn't have done some of the outrageous things they imagine they have done. Simply couldn't have done those things by choice. I think this is really where, if you like, I agree with you, that the opposite thing could be true. There could be some people who get used to saying, I think I know more about this than I think blowing my nose. There are such cases, and obviously you can work yourself, by the way you live, into that kind of state of mind, so that your feelings of guilt become altogether peculiar. I think on the whole that the area of guilt, especially in the modern world, now that we know much more about the way, the kind of workings of our own interior processes, I think we can say that very often the things about which people feel most guilty have

[02:10]

nothing whatever to do with sin at all. They're often things they couldn't have done anything else about. They may feel things or desire things and so on which have, about which there's nothing reprehensible at all in itself. Yes? Isn't this also a question of guilt relying much on the state of a person's conscience? Like if you're impinged by sensations or something, then your reason... Well as I say, yes, as I've said, it's obvious that there can be a point at which one's physical condition can so diminish one's capacity to make an act of conscience. Here and now in relation to the particular act, it will diminish, at least diminish any kind of guilt there is, if not eliminate it altogether. But even if you do come to a decision of conscience, if your conscience is wrong or not fully informed,

[03:11]

so there's room, always seems to be room for development of conscience. Oh there is. I think there's no question about that. As I say, the clearest cases of where there's a duty is when somebody, for instance, it obviously is one of the reasons why if you were to go ahead with me much, much, much longer, precisely as being trained as a priest, I would have to go into some detail about all these kinds of things, and especially help you to become aware of ways in which one's own insight into oneself and to other people can be deepened, because this is in fact a duty. I think perhaps it's sometimes, I think it's not wrong of me to say that I've sometimes been worried when hearing the expressions of certain clergy who sometimes do say things which reveal that they themselves are not very well equipped to give anybody else advice,

[04:17]

because they're so ill able to judge about their own case, if you see what I mean, and they ought to know better sometimes. Perhaps it's because they're professors of moral theology who've never said to them, look, you have a rather special duty to know about certain kinds of things. And also this, I may say, perhaps one of the burdens of being a priest sometimes is that of course you have to very often, in trying to help other people, you may yourself have to investigate all kinds of psychological states and circumstances which may be profoundly upsetting for you, while you're doing it. If this is part of your duty, and you can always be quite sure when it is, I mean, I think one knows when one's doing it for fun or not, if you see what I mean, this is definitely part of one's duty. And so, of course, this again means to say that one has to be able to get in bed and

[05:27]

go to sleep and forget about it, I mean, let the thing completely drop, even if it does affect one. Because if you like, I suppose, one of the ways, at least, depends on how intuitive we are, how much we use our intuition in the way we function, but if we're extremely intuitive people, we will often intend to, we often tend to perceive what's involved in the situation with extreme liveliness, as though we've gone through it ourselves. Now, I'm not saying this is, first of all, this can't be required of every priest, because not every priest has so highly developed a gift of intuition, but some development of this is actually required, and even if it's as upsetting for them, but I think obviously that humans, I think we all of us accept, don't we, that human maturity requires us to be informed about most of the major human situations, and it can, of course, I mean,

[06:31]

I've had to act as, I'm also a fairly well-trained canon lawyer, I've had to frequently act as an advocate, and I can think, for instance, of one marriage case which I won for a client some years ago, where, of course, the nullity which was eventually pronounced by the court was based on what was very easy to prove, was that this was a very, very unusual case of a girl who was married with absolute ignorance as to what this was going to involve, and really didn't know, she just seemed like a child of six at the sexual level, and so the whole thing was a profound surprise and shock to her, and the evidence was not too difficult to produce. Well, now, obviously this is a very undesirable thing, but it happens, it just happens that sometimes it happens to be brought up like this, I mean, she, her mother had been so

[07:33]

protective of her that she'd hardly ever been allowed to leave the house, even when she was twenty, always had to be at nine o'clock at night, or something like that, and the mother always had to know exactly where she was, and this meant her experience, her ordinary straightforward human experience for entering into marriage was so inadequate that she really wasn't capable of making her marriage contract normal, and this is a very, this is a serious defect, of course, not on the part of the girl, but on the part of the mother in this case, because she was really taking a kind of responsibility which one should not take. It is actually, I suppose one could say, one of the hardest things about being a parent, is that a great number of parents find the problem of seeing the child through to let him grow up, and become who they have to be, is the most difficult part of it all. To give up the child is a very, very difficult thing.

[08:34]

I suppose in some cases, partly because the parents feel, they feel that they're entering into a phase of life where they're going to be useless, because their children will then be independent to tell them what to do, and so on, and that sometimes happens, but it is in any case, there is a very real element of sacrifice in it, and it has to be, and of course it can be sometimes particularly difficult, I think, in some of the cases of casting I can think of, where a mother or a father is left alone with a child to bring up, when it has to fulfil the role of both mother and father, it's very, very difficult indeed, and I don't think one can be too hard in any way, so they haven't failed, if they've obviously been doing their best. Yes? Can I say something else? Yes. In the article 79, when you were talking about the application of a specific situation, conscience,

[09:38]

and you said that we do the best that we can, what came to mind at the time was that in our present culture and society, there are a great number of things which are breaking down from language to family to conventional structures, and it's almost commonplace in both religious writing and in various kinds of social writing, that the human capacity is shrinking in certain ways, and so the doing of the best that one's, and you're speaking that there's also moral duty in certain cases, to do certain things, well, given that sort of sliding scale, where people are no longer able to endure hour-long sermons, or people are no longer able to do this, that, or the other, where does the best that we

[10:44]

can do, and the moral obligation to challenge and to stretch and to grow, how does that work out in this particular case? Well, it does seem to me, I can see it's a very sensible kind of question to put, but it's rather like, I think it's not unconnected with something Peter's been asking about anguish about, of conscience, about what one has actually done, if you like, there's a limit to which it's sensible to go on with it, and for instance, if I've got, shall we say, to decide, before I go to bed tonight, about something that has to be done tomorrow, which is going to involve a number of people, is good. If it's something which, shall we say, involves some medical matter, or some piece of economic information which is relevant to the situation, I ought to do my best to find it out, and I might have to ring it up. In fact, there was one period when I was living in London, I used to pray towards seven o'clock at night, when the telephone rang, it wouldn't be Mike, who was a social worker, who was there to the end of his day's work, to ring me up and say, what would you do about so

[11:46]

and so, and I knew I was in for half an hour's session, while I went through one of his more difficult cases, but he was doing the right thing, and I never cut him off, because, because I think he was doing the best he could, and I was often doing the best I could, and sometimes I solved a case by saying to him that the question I would have asked is so and so, and once I, just to give you the first example that comes to my mind, he said, what would you say about somebody who was having great trouble because he was impotent? And I said, well first of all, the first thing I should put to him is, are you always impotent? That was the leading question, he hadn't thought of asking, and in fact when he asked it, then he discovered what was very necessary to understand this chap's psychological problem. So I see, if you like, the word can, obviously does really mean what is possible, for instance,

[12:52]

we in this house haven't, if we've got time to do it, when we're confronted with a moral difficulty, or even a piece of information which we feel we ought to have, either for ourselves or somebody else, we can come and look it up, within reason, but we may not, for something, either the abbot may fall down dead at our feet and we have to pick him up, just like a letter from Mike saying, you know, I've just got to go and bother a man who's had a really bad fall on the ice, and so on, so there's some things you can't do. So, can is determined by all kinds of physical and moral circumstances, and also your own capacity to take things in, for instance, it's no use having a library full of books on moral problems, all written in Latin, if I can't read a word of Latin, is it? There's no question, there's no problem about that at all, there's no can at all, is there? Can is what I personally can do, it doesn't mean to say, you see, that's the whole idea

[13:53]

of the real interest of morals, I suppose, and the thing which makes, if you like, our personal maturity so fascinating, is the fact that it is so very personal, that not everybody can be a good doctor, I think I could have been a reasonably good one now, I couldn't have done it as a child, I used to faint at the sight of anybody mention blood, and I've even known, actually, a very able pilot who did, if people mentioned blood at the table, he used to have to leave the table at once, he had to leave the room, because he couldn't, although he was, you know, he was doing quite dangerous work, but as I've gone, partly because I suppose I'm fascinated by medicine, and as I've got over there, I think now, I can, if somebody gets their head cut off, I can clap it off, at the time, I don't mean to say I don't have a reaction to it afterwards, but I mean, I would not like to go flat out as I would have done as a child, and so I never thought of being a doctor then, so I regret it now, I must say partly because I suppose I've had to do a great deal of counselling

[14:57]

in the 30 odd years that I've been a priest, this year it'll be 32 years, I've had to do a great deal of counselling, and I suppose one of the things I've, partly because of the kind of thing Peter's been asking, just a moment ago, I've often said to myself how much I would like to have a training in general medicine, because, as well, because sometimes I would like to be able to know, I couldn't do more than the general practitioner would do about this, of course, to guess, in fact I will, in certain circumstances I will, even though I'm not a doctor, ask somebody, have you got a temperature, because this is quite a relevant sort of question to ask in certain circumstances, it may lead you to discover that there is something which even a layman can recognise as being a modifying physical condition which affects the person's capacity to judge or act, or something like that, so

[16:01]

as I say, this is only just an amplification of what the word can mean in certain circumstances, it certainly varies from person to person, there's not any one of us in this room who has the same capacity to bring our minds to bear on moral dilemma, absolutely not, we're not, and we shan't, on the day of judgement, we shan't be judged because we couldn't do what some special kind of man could do, and we mustn't have anguish of soul about it if we don't in fact happen to know, because I suppose one of the ways one gradually learns is through the experience, sometimes the experience of realising one could have known more than one did, and then make it one's business to find out what one ought to know about that thing, and there are certain areas of life, of course, which one is always going on educating oneself, I suppose every serious doctor and I think every serious priest ought to go on

[17:04]

educating themselves about certain things all their life, because the more we know about human beings, the more relevant it is to know what are the aspects of these things which they are not really very free about, because as I say, I don't think that civil law in most countries is wrong in taking these matters into account, and of course as you probably know, it's not by, for instance, I don't think I shall break a secret by saying that I've, in the last, even in the last year I've had to speak to a superior religious house who had a kleptomaniac in the house amongst her community, and this was really what had been a very real social consequences, and I really had to discuss this case very thoroughly with

[18:05]

her, because she obviously wasn't quite capable at the time, in the way she ought to have been, of realising that perhaps this was something that did really need the assistance of a practitioner who knew what he was handling here, because there were various aspects of which he obviously hadn't occurred to her, the person who is a kleptomaniac is quite advisory, there's a wonderful book which I'm sorry I parted with, it's a very very good book by an American journalist called Saj Terkel who wrote a book on working, and I remember one of the interviews which fascinated me was with an obviously very intelligent woman sitting at a cash register in a supermarket, who said, you notice that customer over there, she's constantly seating me, and I know she can afford to pay for it, and there you have a clear psychological case, I mean, so very often, there's no doubt about it, it's a very humdrum kind of thing to say,

[19:06]

but very frequently such people have been denied something when they're young, and they get it back when they're old in this way, they don't know there's a connection between the two things, and in fact in the case of this particular religious, when these sort of things occur, as they do in religious communities, it's alright, there's a complete blank between that this really is a Jekyll and Hyde thing, and the woman who steals the thing doesn't know when she's not doing it, so it's no use stopping in the corridor, you know, telling her off, because she'll deny the whole story, and with a good conscience, because it's not conscience that's at issue there, but consciousness isn't it, which is a rather different thing, because you don't see what I mean. And now that we know that it's possible for people to have blanks of that kind, Ken was talking about this when we were outside, that's the moment to look out,

[20:09]

now that we know that it's possible for it to happen, you've got sometimes to know that you've got to take that into account, once you find, once you feel suspicious that this may very well be something which is worth this, that you deal with the morals when you get to where morals begins, and not try to deal with something which perhaps the doctor ought to deal with. Well I expect we're a bit tired, a bit late, is there anything anybody else wants to say? Isaiah, have you got anything else going through your head you want to bring up? No. Let's have a quiet night then, I hope you'll enjoy what I'm preparing tomorrow for tomorrow, I hope it won't shock you too much, but I think it's kind of, careful when you look at the pieces, it's very well known, I think it's very very valuable, extremely valuable, there's extraordinary kind of bravery about it I think, which doesn't easily come across if you just teach the restoration of the image doctrine in the abstract, but it has to be brought into

[21:15]

life, and I think this is one of the wonderful things, those great writers of that early ascension school were able to do, was to really to show how first in self-knowledge, which is coming back to the Athanasian thing which appealed to you all so much I think, and then in relationship to one's neighbour, one matures to the loving God in a generous and uh selfless way, and so I hope to be able to be conscious enough after this was to finish that, it's nearly finished I'm dare to say, and fortunately I knew my St Bernard well enough to put my finger on things I wanted to do, as far as I know, you may be able to tell me some more, I hope so anyway, and I hope you weren't bored by it, because I think it's always good to have a new look at old things, I'm afraid my own way of learning has always been to read again and again the same books,

[22:18]

because there are always things you miss, even however carefully you read, or you suddenly, suddenly you see the thing in a quite new way, so have a quiet night and come to a perfect end, but I hope you won't do it today, I'd like to see you all in the morning, come Holy Spirit fill the hearts of those who believe in you and kindle within the fire of your love, send forth your spirit and they shall be created, let us pray, may the outpouring of your Holy Spirit, O Lord, cleanse our hearts and make them fruitful by the inwards sprinkling of his dew, through Christ our Lord. So today I'm going to give you another approach, another approach to becoming what we were called

[23:21]

to be, having done my best to give you a sketch of the dogmatic situation, with regard to the doctrine of man, and a glimpse of the view of the human factors at work in his dynamism, as presented by St Thomas, which I think sufficiently covers most of the vital matters we need to bear in mind, in any approach we may take to the assistance of our spiritual becoming, I make no apology for trying to give you a more monastic approach to all this, which will be inevitably very strongly coloured by the enormous influence the early succession of school has had on my entire inner formation. The best things from it never weary me, and I hope most of you already feel, or will come to feel the same. But since it's clear that the view of things which is closest to the Greeks

[24:26]

has found an echo in all of you, I'd like to open with one reassertion of the principles of this point of view, from an essay of Father Stenroy, which I only read the other night, Revelation as Gift and Promise, published in Romanian in 1969, and translated in this little volume I referred to earlier called Theology and the Church. I'm quoting from page 165. Father Stenroy says, Through the New Testament revelation a pledge is given already in this life the first fruits of what is to be. And this pledge is of the same nature as the complete fulfilment in the Kingdom of Heaven. In the age of the New Testament we receive a pledge of the Holy Spirit, the first fruit of the Spirit, whereas in this respect the Old Testament remained always a promise. Let's examine how the New Testament revelation is present as a pledge,

[25:30]

and as a promise, by the three kinds of means that it uses, acts, words and types. The acts of the New Testament revelation no longer possess the nature of historical acts, strictly speaking, as did those events in the life of the Israelite people, which were types of the saving acts. Instead they are acts of salvation in the strict sense although it is true that they are not without effect on history and indeed their effect is even greater. It will I remember how in my first lecture in this series I tried to insist upon the aspect of the eternal now about these acts. I think this is really what Father Stenroy is saying there, that the effect of the work of redemption goes on, its availability is there for us always. Continuing Father Stenroy, at the present time God does not merely guide history

[26:36]

towards that stage in which he himself will make his appearance, but he has come in fact directly into history in order to work from within it at every moment. He becomes incarnate, is crucified, rises, ascends as man to heaven, sends the Holy Spirit, founds the church at the place of his sacramental but real presence. All this in order to work continually upon the world. I'm going to come back to this on our last day I think. He truly raises up our humanity to the natural condition of his divine hypostasis, frees it from sin on the cross, elevates it to eternal life through the resurrection and exalts it upon the throne of God. Yet he does not preserve this condition only for himself as man, but he makes us part of it to a certain extent now, granting us his Holy Spirit who was poured out from his divinity into his

[27:37]

humanity. Therefore it is now no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. This passage strikes me as being the kind of fruit of Lectio Divina, of which St Andrew speaks in his little book on the Cessation Way. I'm quoting it from the French, which is what I happened to pick up, I didn't know until there had been an English translation. The power which is at work in Lectio, as in prayer, belongs exclusively to the Word of God, likewise their fruit, the new being they produce. The Word of God looks indeed like a human word, but in reality the power which animates it is properly that of God. And so of course St Andrew would insist that perhaps the most fundamental of all ascetic practices is learning to read with the heart.

[28:37]

I expect you'll remember that page, it's the section on Lectio Divina. Well of course it seems to be a very good book, like everything he's written I think. I'm not so sure that it always translates so well, but I haven't really looked very carefully at any of the translations. The last time we were actually physically together, we were having a meal on Ali's birthday at Shevdon, and we suddenly realized that we were all talking French, and none of us was French by birth, about five or six from different places. And although he is Belgian, he really comes from a Flemish-speaking family. A close accompaniment of that way of thinking is, I think, the business of discerning the thoughts.

[29:40]

I was struck one early morning here by a piece of writing attributed to Adix and Fautiquet, which may very well not be a very reliable text, as far as I can see, by looking at the Source-Cretien edition, which I borrowed from Mother Gerard. And I'm afraid the complications of the textual situation made my head go round a bit. But I pass on here what I actually read in my own translation, because I think it reports something that many early monastic writers say, in whatever way they say it, and I think they use the same kind of images, usually. The light of true knowledge is to discern without fail the good from the evil. And when this is done, then the way of justice which leads the spirit to the God, the Son of Justice, introduces the soul further into the infinite illumination of God.

[30:45]

Knowledge like sea. Knowledge like searching love accompanied by faith. For those who struggle should keep so from the flood of disturbances. For when the sea is clear, fishermen can see to the bottom of it. But it belongs then to the Holy Spirit alone to purge the soul. There's of course a lot more like that in Dorotheus of Gaza. I think in that passage we have that combination of active and passive in the spiritual life, which we shall necessarily meet all the way through. Nor should we be too concerned to analyze which of these factors is operative when we feel moved to act or to receive.

[31:49]

Either, I think, may come from the Holy Spirit. It's one of the aspects when some of you eventually get to look at the writing of Decaussade. I think it's one of the things to get quite clear about that Decaussade is not really teaching a kind of pure passivity, but teaches that when you feel you should act or undertake something, then this may be the movement of the Spirit too. So although he's not the person who makes you very busy, he is not one who underestimates making efforts when it's appropriate. In any case, I suppose, in the relatively short run, what is really operative will be shown by its fruits. But this generally occurs more readily in the setting of the common life. For there, virtue is, or should be, daily tested by their yielding to either the acts

[33:06]

either the needs or facts of others, which are, of course, let's not forget, as so many aspects of the infinite variety of God. The setting of all this for monks is, of course, their own common life, especially as it's depicted in the one chapter of the Rules of Bendic, which we now know with reasonable certainty is a personal composition and possibly even a mature afterthought. I mean, of course, chapter 72 of the Rule. And I'm thinking perhaps rather especially of the phrase about supporting one another's weaknesses of body or behavior, weaknesses whether real or only apparent, which arise from the fact that the ladder of humility, which Benedict transmitted in the carefully edited form in chapter 7, has two sides, remember, our body and our soul. We may naturally feel we'd like to introduce the third factor of spirit, a New Testament element which needs to find its way, I think, back into a wholly satisfactory

[34:10]

Christian anthropology. But the shorthand of the text of the Rule will not lead those who remain aware of this, I think. Because it was, again, although one might have it there in the theory, and it would be a more New Testament anthropology if one had it there, I'm not sure that one would be very clear when it was operative, you see, and I think the theoretical structure is rather different from the experiential one. And I don't think one can look too closely at what is at work, when one is doing, as we were saying yesterday, the best one can about a given situation. Just what comes from nature and what comes from grace one can't always know. Now it's here that it's long seemed to me that the opening section of St Bernard's first work on the Steps of Humility, the bit before we start on the Steps, is of almost incomparable value.

[35:11]

It's extraordinarily rich and wonderful work. He was only so young, early 30s I suppose. But I think it needs reading very closely, and I hope that even you who know it well will bear with one more, perhaps rather personal, reading of those pages, for the sake of seeing the relationship to the task and the assesis of the restoration of the living likeness to God in our souls. It will, I believe, also confirm that intuition of Athanasius, to which I promise to return, that the natural starting point for seeing everything in the world, signed with the wisdom of God, is our own souls. St Bernard, you'll remember, begins with a section which is, in fact, almost a little treatise in its own right, really. It runs from just after the preface,

[36:19]

through something over 20 paragraphs. Yes, finishing a paragraph, 27. It's very obviously the fruit of very prolonged reflection on scripture, where it's very, very ingenious, and I think original, in the way it looks at the text, and the little bits of patristic reading which show through. In John Eclair's edition, of course, you've got them all fairly clearly indicated. I did work, what I'm presenting here is my own translation, I did work with the

[37:21]

Cessation Studies one at my side, and I must say I was a little disappointed to find although it's not bad, it's not, somehow it lacks the edge of the Latin. It's always very difficult, this to do, that it almost makes me want to sit down and just do that bit again by itself as a whole. Perhaps I will one day, we'll see. Bernard begins from the words of our Lord in John's Gospel, chapter 14, verse 6, which would naturally bring back a thought of Augustine's reflections on John, to which we already referred in an earlier lecture. As Bernard tells us, as our Lord says that he is the way, the truth, and the life,

[38:24]

our Lord puts before us both the trouble of the journey and its reward. He says that the way is humility which leads to truth, and if one is in doubt whether one should say that one leaps at the way is humility, Bernard points to perhaps the one text where the Incarnate Christ actually proposes himself as a model human being. It comes, of course, in verse 29 of Matthew 11, and succeeds some verses about our Lord's relationship to his Father, which are, for the Synoptic Gospels, singularly Johannine. You remember the end of chapter 11 of Matthew, it's a rather unexpected thing in the whole Synoptic Gospels in its very Johannine character. And yet these words are clearly pointing to our Lord's attitude to his Father precisely as Son of Man, because whether according to his divine or his human nature, our Lord's relationship to his

[39:31]

is one of complete love and trust. The yoke he proposes to those who would follow him is, in fact, easy. Learn of me for I am meek and humble of heart. I'm not really quite sure that I would have known how to speak of our Lord as a model, except in something like these terms. There's another bit that comes a bit later, which seems to me, again, very striking that Bernhard has found this way of doing this, because I think that there are so many ways in which, obviously, we can't really hope to imitate our Lord, and would be very discouraged if we attempted it. But this way is a possible way. And I say, the other ways that might occur to one, I think, would only be virtuous if somehow the acts that preceded somehow flowed out of humility

[40:37]

before the claims of love. To follow in this path is to walk in the light of life and leads to truth. And what sort of truth is this? It's the very Athanasian intuition about the prologue of St. John, verse 9. It's the light which enlightens every man that comes into the world. If you like, it's the light of the wisdom of the word impressed upon every human being, made in the image of the word, who expresses in person the fullness of what God is. There's luminous simplicity about this intuition, and so Bernhard's thoughts turn him back to the same chapter 11 of Matthew, in which, in verse 25, our Lord has thanked his Father for hiding these things from the wise and prudent. In this, says Bernhard, the truth appears, that is, hidden from the proud, but shown to the humble.

[41:50]

So it's time to define what humility is. It is, says Bernhard, the virtue by which a man in truest, in truest self-knowledge, becomes poorer in his own eyes. Notice the important combination of being deflated, but in absolute truth. In other words, to make my point blindingly clear, Bernhard is not talking about something which can even be rather sick. There is here none of that comparison of our portrait of ourselves with the glowing appearances which others sometimes seem to wear, which can lead us to the vice of envy, and to that sort of depression about ourselves makes the pursuit of virtues more difficult. Humility is a virtue of truth.

[42:57]

And hence does not mind, as we shall see in a moment, seeing ourselves poor in ourselves, but rich in what others have to show and give us. Some of you will remember how Herod, another early Circassian, often likes to compare, goes all to different plants, and to the garden or trees in the orchard. One kind of fruit can be very tasty, but we have to eat it every day. When I look at you all and appreciate how much you've shown me the way I have to go in this little course, I feel rather undeservedly rich. It's very extraordinary how one's constantly seeing new things through other people. In fact, I've often thought I can't understand anything unless I can see it in somebody, rather than in a book. As Bernard says, the Lord gives to those who need it the way of humility

[44:02]

as a law by which we return to the knowledge of the truth. We are naturally, all of us, brought back to this again and again. And what a relief it is when it happens. For then we have the quiet peace of the truth, instead of the enormous burden of exaggerated and inappropriate desires. And what is the refreshment which our Lord promises to those who ascend this Jacob's ladder of humility? Is it perhaps love itself? Bernard thinks the answer must be yes. And notice that he thinks that it's placed I think this is one has to get the physicality of this to get around. Bernard thinks that it's placed in the middle of the dish of Solomon. It is if you like an all-round diet. And those in the middle, those who are growing and going forward,

[45:07]

get sweet little tastes of the full meal charity which is to come. It's another kind of thing which these writers all delight in these little ideas of little morsels, tasty bits. I believe this is important as my good friend Charles Dumont has to me convincingly shown in some talks he gave at Laval which as far as I know have never yet been translated into English. And I've left the French at home not knowing that I was actually going to talk about this. And I shall send it to a brother or this I shall send the reference to our brother Don Baptist who apparently has contact with Laval perhaps we'll be able to get a copy of it.

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In the meanwhile I probably will write to Charles Dumont and ask him whether I may translate it. It's a very very striking study of the ladder of humility and I think he's right in saying that although charity is only explicitly mentioned at the top of the ladder to which we quickly come. Remember of course the law says mocks quickly quickly we come to get very quickly if we move up or down this ladder it cannot be at the top if it is in no way at the bottom too. Like the spark under the coals. It doesn't suddenly blossom there but it must be there before. One doesn't taste it and except in little bits. So in paragraph five we get a complementary scheme

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which for later books becomes a classical scheme of spiritual development. Going along with progress along the way of humility namely the first fruit food of humility is purgatorial purging with bitterness. The second step is that of charity of a consoling kind with sweetness to it. Why this is so we shall see in a moment. And the third step is contemplation of a solid kind with strength and substance to it. I suppose you know this scheme which appears in most of the later kind of books of the spiritual life. I think in any whichever way you look at it through whichever writer because it's been

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Hughie's and John's of course who Lewis uses this scheme too. I think it's extremely important to remember that they aren't really meant to come one after the other. In fact I was honoured last time from brother John to have been with you for one season or perhaps life begins in a humility way and it goes on to be a I think it would be quite a mistake to try to find out which stage one's at at any given point. And it's very possible I think that lots of the truth that comes through is very purgative quite late on. The Lord does spoil us usually at the beginning. Perhaps he would never go forward if we didn't get a fair amount of encouragement when we start.

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I suppose whether we think of this first stage of growth in terms of humility or love we can see that it gives us the kind of glimpse of self-truth which makes us know the kind of littleness expressed in psalm 8 or 138. And so it's sometimes very purgatorial because like the psalmist in psalm 138 we know we can escape from it. And of course like all the stage schemes in the spiritual life it's something to which we keep getting thrown back when God thinks it's good for us. I remind you how St Teresa when she's already quite a long way along the road of her personal development said there were some days when she hadn't the strength to crush a beetle. I think that probably comes in what I consider to be the very best travel book ever written,

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Her Foundations. I don't know why people don't read it more. It's very great fun. Many years I have it as a bedside book and it's an absolutely marvellous book. And if you haven't got to the stage of feeling that you haven't the strength to crush a beetle, well you will. Don't worry. It may happen when you least expect it. And so with paragraph six Bernard comes as it were out into the open with his three degrees in the perception of truth. Well we are looking for the truth first in ourselves, then in our neighbours, and then in itself. Now this of course is really very, very, and although this is parallel to that one, it's very, very much more, it's very much more heightened, very much more existential, it's very much more

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what life is like. Truth in ourselves, in our neighbour, in himself. So we've already seen that the first stage is purgatorial anyway. Though even there the Lord will give little taste of good things to come. Without the purgatorial aspect of self-knowledge we should never be able to get, go down with our neighbour into what he suffers. And this second stage of compassion is the second important way in which Bernard gives us Christ as

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a model. You see why I'm underlining this, because we've developed a very Christocentric looking kind of theology, and I think if you want a very Christocentric Assises it's much clearer in this little first bit of the steps of humility than any other writer I know. It strikes me as being extremely brave of Bernard, and few people are brave enough to accept it, that Bernard insists that in the list of the Beatitudes, the merciful are spoken of before the pure in heart. Bernard is none of what I call that ghastly clean hands spirituality, which can so easily become the blight and bane of religious life. It's, you know, that kind of business of being preoccupied with this scheme,

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to such an exquisite extent that one doesn't really know anybody else, which is a sore point. And of course never involving oneselves in any of the risks, any of the risks that this speech, these first two, are likely to be illuminated about, because one always avoids every kind of relationship which is likely to be in the least exacting. For the merciful quickly grasp the truth in their neighbors as they extend their feeling towards them, when out of love they conform themselves to them, so as to feel the good and evil they suffer as though it were their own. With the weak they are weak. And this kind of loving clarifies the sight, because you see in others the same dilemmas that you yourself know. The bearing with it in charity really does purify the heart in its depths.

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Bernard is very insistent on this, it really does purify the heart. I think especially what it does is purified of egotism. It means death to the egotistic self-concern, and we cannot really bear all this without divine charity, which is really why it's a very purifying process. Of course it's bad enough to have to try and deal with ourselves, it's a thousand times more exacting to deal with somebody else as patiently as one has to learn to deal with oneself. Mind you of course this is one of the ways one does learn patience with others. With oneself is by extending it to other people, because then one sometimes knows how far one has to go. Now of course this involves risks, but at the same time as Bernard says elsewhere,

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better to have lost your virginity and be humble than to have kept it to be proud. It astonishes me how people manage to keep these things dark, they've been in so print for so many centuries. Bernard has a very clear cool mind, and the passage I'm thinking of comes of course not in this work, but in the eighth paragraph of the first of the homilies in the praise of the Virgin Mary. And Bernard is very explicit, as he is about the Beatitudes, that it's a question of priorities and getting those right. In case you've forgotten what he says, and perhaps even don't know it, I'm going to translate a sentence or two towards the end of paragraph eight, where he says, If perhaps you cannot follow him wherever he goes, at least follow him where he came down to you. That is, if you cannot enter from this blind path of virginity, at least follow God by the safest way of humility. For a humble soul staying with sin follows the Lamb, and so does a proud virgin,

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but neither follows him wherever he goes. Still, a sinner has chosen a healthier part to follow him in humility than someone who is proud in virginity. For a humble satisfaction purges the one of his impurity, and his pride stains the purity of the other. In this matter, St Bernard's thought is surely of one mind with the Gospel. Neither he nor our Lord himself are inciting us to lives of license, when they point out that the harlots often get to the kingdom of heaven for a generosity unknown to those who keep themselves preserved in egotistic amber. And to return to the text of the steps of humility, For these wretched people who have never known what real compassion is, the common proverb, says Bernard, is aptly applied. The man who is well doesn't know what the sick man feels,

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or the well-fed one what the one with the empty stomach suffers. And the nearer a sick man is to another and to a hungry man, and a hungry man to another, the more closer they feel for each other. For just as pure truth is not seen except by a pure heart, so the unhappiness of our brother is more genuinely felt by another unhappy heart. But as you may have a pitiful heart for someone else's unhappiness, you ought first to recognize your own. That you may find your neighbor's state of mind in your own, and from your own experience understand how to help him. After the example of our Savior, who wished to suffer, he might know how entering into suffering to become pitiful, he might learn how to have pity. That in the same way as it is written of him that he learned obedience from the things he suffered,

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so that he might learn mercy too. For he'd previously been ignorant of being merciful, whose mercy is from age to age, that's not what I'm saying. But that what he knew by nature from eternity, he learned by experience in time. But that word experience here, which is typical of all these early social writers. O. St. Bernard, of course, feels the hesitations people will have about all this kind of talk, for he continues, but perhaps it seems a hard thing to you that I've said that Christ, Christ, the wisdom of God, learned mercy. Alas, I'm afraid this assertion is found everywhere, just slightly taking the edge of sharpness of what Bernard actually says in Latin. It's, I tried to make it a bit too pious. It's well worth learning enough Latin to read the original if you possibly can,

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it's so much sharper. Oh, he continues, if a paraphrase, if a paraphrase for a few sentences, I can see the kind of complaint you want to make. Then in paragraph eight, to turn to his own words, I do not deny that this way or other way of understanding is maybe right. But from another place in the same letter, my first interpretation seems to win approval, where it says he never took the nature of angels, but on the seed of Abraham, so that he might be like his brethren in every respect and become merciful. So that he might learn by real experience to be merciful and compassionate by suffering and being tempted in similar ways. I'm not saying that he became wiser by this experience, but that he seemed to be nearer insofar as he did not despise the weak sons of Adam, who became and were called his brothers. I don't think we can ever get into the spirit of Odysseto until we can follow the thrust of this particular way of thinking.

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It's the feeling of Tisabli, of course, in the entire history of spiritual writing, unique in its expression of the importance of the sense of being one's brother's keeper. Cost what it may in developing the virtues which this requires, if it is to be genuine, of course. Well, it isn't enough. It's only just a sentimental thing. It must be something that really is a sense of responsibility, co-responsibility. And this seems to me to be very, very strong. And I can't think of any other expression of it in spiritual writing, which is quite so strong and quite so clear and quite so firmly based on the New Testament. I hope I haven't expressed that too badly. And if you want to ask about it in discussion, please do.

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But I think I'm right in seeing that this is something quite, quite special of its kind. It's a real, as he says, because it's a feeling of real involvement with others in the pursuit of virtue. So with a leap to paragraph 12, he became merciful, I say, not mercy itself, which he had happily remained from all eternity, but which by suffering he found in our likeness. For the work of tenderness, which he began by that, he completed by this. Not that that alone could not have brought it about, but because it would not have been enough for us without the other. That's perhaps a little bit dense to grasp.

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He's saying that he, as God, he is mercy itself. But by putting himself in the situation, which does seem to be following the thought of the he makes himself, he puts himself in a condition which fulfills our need to see that he's there like that. As he says, when he goes on, both were necessary, but this was the more appropriate. Is the one that the virtue and the other the actual embodiment? Yes, yes. The virtue, of course, is what God is himself, necessarily. Was our speaker of a conception of tenderness? He says. Now, where's the sentence now? Yes, Oene fabris pietatis ex cogitatia.

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Ex cogitatia, yes. I suppose it's an expression, really. Thinking out. But with paragraph 13, he goes on, we must return to our purpose. If, then, he made himself pitiful, who was not so, that he might experience what he knew before how much more, I'm sorry, what he knew, but this is my failure of punctuation here. If, then, he made himself pitiful, who was not so, that he might experience what he knew before, how much more should you, I do not say make yourself what you are not, but simply take account of what you are. For you really are pitiful. We cannot know it otherwise and learn to be compassionate. I need hard to say, there are always too few willing to expose themselves very much

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to this kind of humility. In this connection, Bernard quotes the lovely words of St. Paul in Galatians 6, verse 1. A man, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness, in spiritu lenitatis. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. And so, in paragraph 14, it's right to consider how well the disciple follows the order of the master of truth. In the Beatitudes, as I've already noted, just as the merciful comes before the pure in heart, so the humble come before the merciful. Right, just as helping the brethren develops mercy, so doing it in gentleness develops humility.

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And this is naturally what prepared one for the final step of paragraph 19. If we persevere in these three things that we've been spoken of, that is in the sorrow of compunction. A desire of justice and the works of mercy, the depths of their hearts will be cleansed from the three impediments they have contracted, either through ignorance or weakness or habit. Notice how this is really something which is evidently healing the wounds of original sin. Because the, really to the Beatitudes, we shall have to do this some other time if you want to do the kind of theology of the Beatitudes, but you'll remember these are, they're very special gifts to

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the Holy Spirit and they are, they do bring us, if you like, in this present world back to the sort of thing Father Stan and I was talking about in the introduction to the Beatitudes. I started with where, if you like, the person who is experiencing them sees themselves as they really are and yet these wounds don't interfere with what God is doing through them. It's the feeling I suppose that St Paul sometimes expresses, it's something one doesn't first of all get to see so clearly in St Paul, but it often comes up that if God could have chosen somebody weaker it would be even better but it had to be somebody weak and God absolutely flatly refused, although he'd given him a very special conversion, he absolutely flatly refused to remove from him

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something or other which Paul found very humiliating and this I suppose is the way to the share in the special supernatural gifts in this world. And so the soul is then ready to pass by contemplation to the third grade of truth. Bernard then goes on in paragraph 20 to compare this final stage to entrance into the life of the economic trinity and there's of course this wonderful bit that comes near the end of the

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