October 1978 talk, Serial No. 00674

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In a very general way, you find an astonishing correspondence there, you find that the triple of the Jews out of Egypt and through the desert and into the Promised Land is exactly what we go through, what we're going through all the time. And you find that when St. John of the Cross talks about the night of the senses, you know, the night of the spirit, he's talking about the same thing. In other words, what's night for him is desert for her, for the Scripture. And so you find that that thing happens in every one of us, and that's the story of the Christian life. Now this is not just in a way in which you'd say it and there it is, but a way in which you can meditate on that time and time again, you know, through your whole life, and you keep finding new lights and new reassurance in it. So that's the level of symbolism, and it's extremely rich. Daniel Lewis, one who's written a lot about this, he's got one, in a lot of his books he writes about it. The one on origin, for instance, he goes through this thing of desert and spiritual life in the last chapter in his book on origin, the chapter on the spiritual life. And he's got another one called Shadows and Reality, which he talks about the types of


Jesus in the Old Testament, the images of Christ in the Old Testament, how they're fulfilled in him. When you begin to see how so many things reflect the coming Messiah, reflect Jesus in the Old Testament, then the whole of Scripture begins to take on a mysterious sort of glow for you too, you see. You expect to find something under every stone after that. Very often you do. But it's only when the Holy Spirit lights it up. But anyway, so there's a kind of a unitary thing beyond all the games of allegories. The allegories are sort of the play, the game, that keeps you entertained with it while you remain in contact with the deeper symbolism, the totalistic thing, the total picture. And the reason why this, one reason why this is important is because it shows us that all of reality is one in some way, and everything in reality on one level reflects something on another level. So the Old Testament reflects the New Testament already, and our spiritual life is reflected in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. And so on. And even in nature.


Okay, we'll go into that some other time. So many of the Fathers seem to go on and on about nothing at all. I find the envies over a tree. I don't know who asked these questions. It may be as difficult as for me. We've already talked about them. Sometimes if it's too dull, you just have to change to something else. And it may be that they're just talking about a matter that doesn't interest you, and they had to talk about it for a good reason. There's something here the bishop was preaching and something had happened in his church, and they talk about that. And sometimes it's just because we're not where they are. And it's possible for every speaker, every writer, to be dull sometimes. I find it very difficult to get worked up about things that are fast and finished. Now, this may be a shallow notion of history, you see, because the fact is that the things that the Fathers are talking about are very often the same things that exist in our time, and we don't recognize it because we don't know history. Consider Gnosticism, for instance. Hieronaeus wrote these vast tracts against the Gnostics, fire folks against the heretics.


And if we look around it, we can say, well, that's archaeology. We don't have any Valentinian things. But if you look around, you'll find that there's a whole jungle full of Gnosticism in the world today that's running rampant around the borders of Christianity and also in Solomon's. If you don't know history, and if you don't have some acquaintance with the Fathers, we repeat the errors. We go around in the same circles, you see. We keep making the same mistakes that were made in the early centuries. We keep falling into the same pits. It's been said that everything has been tried, you know, that it can all be found in history. You can argue with that statement, but at least to some extent it's true. That every false path has already been explored. And so sometimes we're going to find that the Fathers when they're out beating some narrative, or talking exactly to some mistake of our time, to which I myself may be inclined. And what they're doing is trying to steer the Church back into the middle road, back into the right path. Some of those things, of course, can be pretty complex.


We get into that question of grace and free will between Passion and St. Augustine, and we get into a complicated thing, which is not easy, even nowadays, to straighten out completely. But the problem is very alive with us still, you see. In the way that I operate in my own spiritual life, whether I sort of live as if I were doing it all under my own steam, or whether I have a substantial opening for grace and for faith, whether my life is simply sort of a fallacious environment, whether my life is a self-centered ascetical striving, or whether it is an openness to God's activity and a following of His activity. I shouldn't go on so long. So a lot of these things are very contemporary. Other ones are not contemporary, and so we can pass them by. But ordinarily, the first time we read about these things, we don't understand their significance for us today, you see. The first time we read, we don't understand the significance.


But we have to maybe study it anyway. Now here I'm talking more about the study of Church history than I am about reading the Fathers. We have to go through it anyway, and then later on we find the significance. But if we don't have that acquaintance with it, in the history, or in the Fathers, we won't get the significance when it comes up. A good book for that is The History of Christian Life. I've never read that. I don't know if we have it. I brought a copy. We'll have to find out about that. A good book is Lectures. I think there's another one. I don't know if it's just written. Martin, in some of his writings, is like the new man. He points out a lot of those. Some of those are his writings. There's a Promethean spirituality in some of his writings. I don't know if he's talented. Difficulty 10.


The writings of the Fathers are riddled with Platonism. I find it difficult to profit from writings permeated with a philosophy that I cannot accept. Okay, now this is a very thorny question. It's true that there's not only Platonism but Stoicism, plenty of it in the Fathers. But what do the Fathers do? What do they represent? What distinguishes the Fathers from Scripture? Largely the fact that they represent a world of thought which is not the world of thought of the Bible. And they're reading the Bible and they're trying to arrive at a synthesis between those two thought worlds. Now the world that they come from is the Greek, Roman, Eastern world of thought. Which is not Jewish. So you've got the collision, the confrontation of those two worlds of thought. One the biblical, the other usually the Greek, the Hellenic. So what's the answer? Do you just filter out the Greek element and throw it away? Do you filter out, siphon off the Platonism and throw it down the drain?


Or maybe does it have something to offer also to us? That's a big question. Because there are certain people who say, no, you've got to get all of the Hellenism, all of the Platonism and everything out of Christianity or any other factor of Christianity. And yet Platonism may have been providentially designed as a vehicle for Christian thought. And a lot of the Fathers thought that too. St. Augustine thought that. Thought that Plato, for instance, was like a prophet. Not a prophet, but like a prophet. Pre-destined by God to offer a form in which the thought of the Gospel could be conveyed to all people. Not just to the Jews anymore. But what happens when Judaism and the Jewish form of thought and the Gospel in, say, Aramaic meets up with a world of all different kinds of thought? Does it have to be translated into another thought language? Not just into another world? So that's a controversial point.


But we don't want to discard the Platonism nor the Stoicism to ignore the Neoplatonism and the Gospel. St. Augustine was one of the Neoplatonists. But often those ways were the only ways in which the new reality of Christianity could be expressed so that people could understand it in that way. It's very hard to express, really, the heart of Christian theology simply in the words of the Gospel. Especially for people who are not familiar with that thought world. And Platonism often was a very suitable way. It emphasizes a certain aspect. Then in the 13th century you get Aristotle coming along accepted by scholastic theologians and Thomists and a different point of view. So you've got a tension between those two. Now we've pretty well moved away from the Platonist point of view today but we're still pretty much saddled with the Aristotelian point of view. One is down to earth, which is practical, which is empirical, which is rational, and so on.


But Plato is more ethereal, more contemplative, you see. And some people are moving away from the contemplative point of view upon this switch from Medieval Platonism and Platistic Platonism over to Aristotle and his down to earth, contemplative, secular type of thought. So we don't want to be too rash about throwing out Platonism as a product. You'll find a lot of proof in that. You've got to be careful of it though. We've found plenty of it in fashion, right? Plenty of it in fashion. With this sort of contempt for the flesh and so on and the exaggeration of division between spirit and body. This exaltation of contemplation sometimes over excessively putting other things in the shade. The whole movement away from earth towards heaven. Which nowadays we very much criticize and reject.


It's very difficult to find a balance. You can see the exaggeration here but if we throw out entirely that point of view we're just as wrong. It'll be like in some parts of the day we'll steal that. Teilhard, there's another example of a new thought form coming in as a vehicle for Christian thought. But it itself has to bear the confrontation with Christianity. How well can it convey the whole Christian message? Teilhardian thought. What have you got here? You've got another input coming from contemporary science plus a certain Eastern input which is pretty subtle in Teilhard's thought and certain metaphysical scenes more or less intelligent than this. There are difficulties there in trying to convey the whole Christian message in a good way, Teilhard. I don't think it's there in adequate form.


Because certain aspects are just put in shades and other sexual aspects of Christianity. You get a false impression that you get your Christianity clearly through Teilhard. But every form is imperfect because the gospel, the word of God extends beyond all the confines of human thought so that no one thinker or one school can design a language or a vehicle a motive for how to put the carrier there. It explodes the limits of human thought. Whether it's a statistical thing or whatever we can't contend ourselves with these problems and simply want to learn. And yet it has something very important to offer us. Fr. Roberts for now at least wrote a book as a matter of fact the scope of which was to synthesize or show the grounding and conformity of the thought of Teilhard to the thought of the Father. A great fellow. And their


sort of view of cosmic Christianity Christ as being the world, the universe as being the body of Christ that's kind of the bodacious thought of Teilhard. Eleven The world has changed since the days of the Fathers. We have to do what they did and find solutions to our problems and these are specific to our own time. As usual there's a little truth in that in that anybody who sticks as we said to the thought world of the Fathers is going to be very ill-equipped to confront his own problems of today. This happens sometimes, no? Because monks have been occasionally formed too much in the patristic tradition or formed too much, say, on the rule of Saint Benedict. So they study the rule and they swallow the rule whole and they meditate on the rule and they read all the commentators on the rule the old commentators on the rule and then they're completely helpless when they have to confront a problem like authority


and obedience today or something like that because they haven't kept one eye open on the evolution of man the evolution of thought the needs of today, the signs of the time all the things that came out of Vatican II. So you can get unbalanced in that way too. Nevertheless as I said, many of the problems of today are problems which have existed in other times. You've got to remember that man is fundamentally the same. Human nature is the same. We're still on the same earth. We're still confronted with very much the same existential situation between person and person. How much has that changed? The relations between two men since the days of Saint Augustine or since the days of Jesus. Well, they've changed, yeah, but that much? How much? Fundamentally, the reality seems to be the same. Yeah, people are the same and yet they're different. If they're the same, if man has a nature which is stable, yet there's a change there's a difference, there's an evolution.


So we can't settle for either one of those statements. The statements are dialogical. Man is the same, man has a given nature man has developed, man is no longer the same. Man is an evolutionary creature. His mind, his consciousness even his body and soul. You have to hold it to intention, but neither one. See, those are the kind of statements that appeal to our simple mind because we feel, now I've got it. There's a point I want to hold it down. But the truth is never that way. The truth is somehow synthesis. So, a lot of their problems are also our problems. And yet we have to translate their way of thinking into our way of thinking. If you read Cashin, for instance, and then you try to apply his principles of asceticism to your own life you can easily run into problems. Where are these ideal thoughts in my own life? That's not my problem. My problem is I can't sleep. Or something like that. My problem is that nothing makes any sense to me that I'm disoriented, that I don't have a sense of identity. So what good is


Cashin's ideal thoughts going to do to me? I don't know the truth. Merton could. Merton could build a bridge between the two, you see. But it's not sufficient just to think in their terms. But at a certain point we're going to find that they're talking exactly about us, first of all. There are matters of depth here, too. Because we've got our psychological hang-ups where we come from. Those are peculiar to the 20th century because they've been created by our own society, our own condition. Now, that's one level. Once you get those things healed up, get to another level in which you're closer to the Fathers, you see. Because then you're confronting basic human problems the same as they were. And you get to a deeper level. You get to the intimate spiritual level and then you're right where they were. You're right where St. Bernard was, for instance. Or you're right where Cashin was. And so on. So it's a matter of levels. And as a person progresses into spiritual life and gets his more superficial problems maybe clarified, worked through a bit,


he finds himself closer and closer to the Fathers as he goes on. Closer and closer to the Scripture, too. So that both of them tend to light up and have much more meaning for him than they did at first. And you see, he's made a trip. It isn't just a matter of translating them into his language or bringing them to us. It's a matter of really traveling to get where they are. What if... Is there anything that you can say about your problems with, say, reading Cashin? Or the taste that you have? Maybe you'll have better difficulties than most of the characters do. My problem for a long while was that I didn't know they just didn't relate to my own experience. And sometimes it was just a blur. Sometimes just a blur and just teetering by reading. Almost by reading something in another language that doesn't make much sense to me.


There's not much I can say about that. Sometimes I find I'm coming on much too strong. If you're... Depending on where you are, you see. If you're in a place where week-to-week fasting is not exactly the indicator of medicine for you, and you start reading St. John Chrysostom somebody who's very harsh at that particular moment they start to turn you off completely. You say, well, this is a paper. It says nothing to do with it. It's not for me. The same thing can be true of St. John the Apostle. I didn't want to generalize on St. John Chrysostom by saying I might have picked somebody up for it. But sometimes you find a particular work of the Father was very unbalanced because he wrote it for a particular need at a particular time. Just like he's saying to the fathers of the world he says, go and sit in your cell and listen to each other. Well, that was great for that monk. It probably was for him, but for me it might tell me. It might drive me crazy.


Something that makes me feel when you mention especially when I speak about the demons There's a danger. Well, for one thing I think it's important because it makes you question your own thinking. It makes you question modern day thinking. Well, the Fathers believe in demons 100%. We tend to believe in them 0%. Where's the truth? It's important that that happens. If you read the New Testament, you find demons all over the place. And you ask yourself who's right? Is it true when some of the exegetes say that this is just a figure of speech for some psychological infirmity? This possession that Jesus is continually dealing with is simply a metaphor of St. Matthew or of Jesus himself for psychosis or something like that. Is that true or not? The question is, it's important that it be raised


because you see, if we remain where we start our world is incomplete. If we don't include those spiritual realities in our world, then our world is incomplete and it's not really the Christian world. It's not really the biblical world. So it happens with the Fathers and it happens also with Scripture. Or the matter of angels. We don't see many of them. If you didn't read anything but contemporary literature and even spiritual writing you might never really come across the notion of the existence of other spiritual beings. It's true, it's not important. It's a whole section of reality which is somewhere between us and God in the world which we may be completely unconscious of. Now it may not have enormous practical consequences in your life, but for one thing if you don't, this is kind of a cycle kind of a vicious circle if you don't believe that, then you're going to have a big skepticism about a lot of the things in the Scripture I'm saying. I mean, if that doesn't


if you explain that away explain away the angels explain away the demons, you've arrived at a level of skepticism about the Scriptures which is very dangerous. Because then you're going to start explaining everything away which is supernatural. Sometimes you need to explain away all miracles. No matter what miracle it is, you don't know We've got a natural explanation for that. There's a thing that happens in the Red Sea every 11 years that causes it to open up and destroy You arrive at that level of skepticism and you can't get the thing out of the Scripture anymore. You kill the Scripture because you're right about that. Because the power of God can't break through anything. Because by that time you've reduced it completely to the limits of human thinking of human reason. Well, God can't get away from this He knows what we're reading. So that's another aspect.


The Fathers, sometimes make those things more meaningful to us. In other words, if Cashin tells me about the experience of the demons which he and the other monks had that can make it more real for me than merely reading about it in the Scripture if I'm following it kind of like the Loose Fathers. Yes, I do. And it's all very convincing as to what you think about human psychology and all those things. It's been very accepting. And now I saw the healing myself and it's healing for better or for worse. You get to a point where you realize there's two different minds there and there's two different spiritual leaders the one of faith and the one of human reason.


Or human reason also is just a dash of deception. Now we can reduce that. Let's call it human reason. What does St. Paul say? He says the things of the spirit are impermeable to the mind of the flesh. The mind of the flesh, what does it mean? It doesn't mean a carnal, sinful ugly, black mind. It means really the natural mind without the spirit of God in it. The natural man can't understand the things of the spirit. He can't and won't at the same moment. He can't understand because he doesn't want to understand. And the fact that the spirit isn't inside there illuminating the spirit. Because there are things that we can't know without God knowing in us those things. The spirit of God in us knows those things that he teaches. And if that spirit isn't there or isn't active there what we see is the surface what we see is the lower. Oh there's


there's another talking about psychology we're talking about Lexio there's one way of reading too we can work with our rational mind we can analyze and so on there's another kind of consciousness even on the purely natural level, setting aside the action of the spirit intuitive consciousness intuitive mode of understanding you've got the rational and you've got the intuitive and they're quite different one is more active, analytical the other is more receptive and synthetic in the sense that it tends to see things as totality and more unitive in the sense that a person's experience tends to be united with what he's understanding or talking about. It's not just a matter of that thing out there and me over here I have to have some relationship with the thing if I'm going to understand it. Now this is very largely the mode of understanding by which we understand God and divine things including the word of God including the scriptures. We need both ways both kinds of consciousness and understanding


but that's the way in which we really get into contact. You talk about understanding of the brain, understanding of the mind, you talk about understanding of the heart. The understanding of the heart where the object is no longer really separate from the subject where you understand by being one with the thing and you're one by understanding Nowadays they talk about the two sides of the brain and they say if your rational understanding and your verbal understanding and what they call linear understanding is rooted in one side of the brain the left side the left hemisphere and it refers to the right side of your body. The right side is the dominant masculine active side. And they say that the intuitive mode of consciousness is related to the left side which is the more plumbly side they call that the feminine side, the more receptive side. Whether or not that's true though are these two modes of consciousness and there's a whole sort of a double column that you can make of qualities of consciousness which line


up in this way. Now we have to realize therefore that we may have to switch when we begin to do Lectio from one way of thinking to another although not exclusively not exclusively we don't completely stop being critical or reason when we listen to the scripture. Indeed if you read some of the fathers they ask you to do a lot of reasoning because you've got to reason out their parables and reason out their allegories and reason out their arguments but then there's a certain moment at which they put something before you and they just leave it there and you can reason all you want and you won't get any closer to it. You have to use the other mode the intuitive mode of understanding which also is the aesthetic mode, it's the artistic mode they call it the spatial understanding rather than words the disculture that's probably oversimplifying but there is that distinction even on a natural level and it's put by Ornstein called the psychology of consciousness you've got two columns


and I'm not sure that all of these elements certainly are not of equal value some of them would be very controversial so this is how the two columns line up he equates the analytical consciousness the rational consciousness with day and the other one with night which is already giving a certain twist to it which may affect it because the intuitive consciousness may be extremely brilliant and the rational consciousness may be wavering all the time over a cloud so that metaphor is a little bit dangerous and may mislead us as we go along day and night that is the rational and the intuitive intellectual and sensualist well there again that's debatable because if you look at the intellect in medieval theologian terms the intellect is the intuitive mind intellectus intelligentsia is the intuitive mind


and ratia is the reasoning mind when we refer to the intellect we mean the reasoning mind but what the ancients meant was the intuitive intellect the contemplative intellect that's an extremely important distinction intellectual and sensualist so when he puts the intuitive on the side of sensualist it's debatable and actually what he's doing these are not his own thoughts these he's getting from a bunch of different people so they don't necessarily have to fit together time and history eternity and timelessness active and receptive I think that one goes for the world the active mode of consciousness and the receptive the paper that he recommended in the Bosch program that was something that he took the bimodal consciousness and relating that to the two ways of meditation to the what we were talking about was the meditational world the dimension of the world


which is concentrated and the other one which is I think he simply calls it receptive concentrated where you focus on an object receptively explicit and passive or implicit analytic breaking down and gestalt the right side of the body the left side of the body left hemisphere right hemisphere lineal and non-linear it goes with logical or analytical non-logical sequential, simultaneous focal focusing on an object diffuse masculine feminine time space verbal spatial I think this holds intellectual


intuitive better to say rational causal argument logic experience so we're moving over to the right hand column and we move into what's the other one so we may have to change our anyone who is used to reading literature will be used to this already if you read poetry for instance usually you've got to do it with that intuitive moment we have to use both kinds of consciousness and alternate them but really when we penetrate we're going to be using the intuitive moment that tends to be where we get now we talked about meditation we talked about lecture today it's largely a parallel process you see when we talk about concentrating or focusing on the meditation even analytical kind of breaking things down illuminating and then we talk about a purely receptive


simple, quiet, empty type of meditation we talk about a rational kind of working with the word and then we talk about the receptive first off there's something different from reading what we ordinarily do so I recommend to you some of the articles periodically I like to consider several of them more to this point rather briefly the first one is that one by Casey Eleven Difficulties in Reading the Thoughts now there's a problem when you talk about the difficulties in reading because a person who's doesn't know what his difficulties are all he gets is a fog, he gets a blur and he says well this isn't going for me, I'm not getting anything out of it but he can't explain to you why he can't tell you whether the translation is wrong you know, or is imperfect or what it's only from inside that you can tell


what's wrong in the communication process so it turns out that the difficulties the questions that he raises here seem rather trivial but we can go from there and get to something however his other article is very good the one on the principles of activity we use this sort of as a string board to deal with our own questions he makes a big point about the fact that Lectio Divina is something different from ordinary reading now since it's so closely connected with faith now our ordinary reading we sort of assimilate things to ourselves but Lectio Divina in a certain sense is assimilating us to the Word of God in other words we have to move we have to move a distance a learning into kind of motion and it's likely to challenge the idea that we have now it would be oversimplifying to say that that's the only thing that happens but it works in both ways we take the Word to ourselves


but at the same time and that's where the Word sort of comes in we find our con-naturality at the same time however the Word changes us the Word confronts us and demands that we move so that we're not where we were in the beginning but we move to where the Word is so there's both an absorption a con-naturality and there's a confrontation and a demand that we move and go where the Word is you see the Word comes to us but it demands that we go to the Word as well now the same sort of thing is true in any kind of learning because you add what you're learning onto what you know and yet to some extent you have to abandon your previous knowledge and you move towards something new it's especially true when you take up a new sphere but if you're studying a science if you're studying physics or something like that well, normally as you go along what you learn is going to add pretty well onto what you know already it may not add well onto your other prejudices and so on but it will add onto the physical knowledge that you're learning now however this sort of thing especially when you're entering a new sphere it's something different


and it's always that way with the Word of God it always demands that we move and so we have to make more than one kind of effort of understanding it's not just an effort of trying to break down this Word and say translate it into my language and say what does this Word really mean this particular concept in scripture but it's a question also of my getting to the place where I can hear it but maybe the Word can't be heard by me where I am and who I am so I have to go where it is so I can hear it so we'll talk about that in a moment so the fact is then that we have to be prepared to make a big change of mentality to make some big steps to make a journey when we start reading the Word now this is true of the Word of Scripture but it's also true of the Word of the Father you see the scriptures we're ready to accept that because we say well this is the gospel that's the basis of our faith of course I have to be converted to hear the gospel but is the same thing true of the fathers and is it true only if it is true of the fathers


is it true only on the level of the things that they say that are that are of the faith that we have to believe because it's part of the Christian history no not necessarily there's a double effort one is the effort of that kind of conversion to the Christian truth and the other is the effort of conversion to another world of thought why because I want to live in the fourth century no but because that's part of me already and yet I don't recognize it and because somehow getting into another world that way is one of the ways of getting out of my own little world my own mental confinement how can you get out of your own mental confinement unless you move into another world so there's a conversion which is what do you say a spiritual conversion but also an intellectual conversion I think Lonergan the theologian likes to talk about different kinds of conversions he talks about a moral conversion and to be able to hear the gospel we have to make a moral conversion


because a sinner he can't hear the gospel somebody who's really not sunk is really in a mess of sin the gospel runs off him just like water off a stone you can't hear it because he doesn't want to hear it because his heart is focused on something else so there's that moral conversion and Jesus is talking all the time about the people who have ears that they don't hear and then you have an intellectual conversion which is something different now we're pretty stuck on our ideas but we don't even know it because we don't know those ideas as distinct things in other words we've got all sorts of mental predispositions and presuppositions and prejudices that we don't know about and we don't realize we have them until somebody challenges them and then we think well no this is the truth and I've always believed this it must be true it's like standing on a stone and suddenly you lift it away from the ground and you find out it's not the ground it's just something that's standing and the ground is somewhere else that happens to us when we get challenged now in reading the Fathers we're going to find ourselves challenged continually


and we're going to have to ask ourselves well who has to give way here is this just an antiquated mode of thinking or really is it my mental constriction that makes it impossible for me to understand what he's saying and it works both ways because he's a dialogue and then there's another kind of conversion that seems to happen which you might call more a transformation and that's finally the conversion of feeling where not only do you begin to understand what the person is saying but also your heart resonates with what he's saying so that you like to read it now you prefer it to anything else it's like people people who wouldn't touch the bible with a ten foot pole and then they get converted and not only do they have a moral conversion so that they can bear to listen to the word because it doesn't condemn them the intellectual conversion is something else it's a slower process of course the holy spirit can make breakthroughs but still it's a long process that has to take place but there's this conversion of feeling which can be instantaneous in their case


because the scripture has this special dynamism the same thing is true of the Fathers in a somewhat more subdued sense so that it's the long term process you know the scriptures it can be over now a person's feeling can be completely illumined by the scriptures so they just love the bible maybe the russian pilgrims so that's the proof so with the Fathers generally it's a slower process because you've got these other obstacles to get through too but that conversion of feeling is very important really to develop an affinity so that the Fathers become your friend that's a preferred occupation and the understanding of tradition is very important where we start from we really have no conception at all of the meaning of tradition because modern man tends to


think that he was born yesterday in the sense that he thinks that tradition starts with him in a certain sense everything that went before was sort of a mistake but now finally we have the tools to get to the truth and we're going to work things out in our centuries and modern man, modern American especially has really cut off from this tradition and that's one of the reasons he has such a flourishing mind of all kinds of factors in different religions he doesn't have a sense of his own of where he stands, of his own soil his own ground now the Fathers are are our tradition they are our tradition it takes us a long while to learn what that means really and one of the difficulties in seeing it is because it's hard to see what you are how can you see what you are unless you get outside yourself some of the Fathers were so habituated to their thought like St. Augustine, St. Augustine has been so plowed into the soil of Christian tradition it was very hard for us to separate him off and see actually the originality


of the specific character of what he's saying, to distinguish his insights because his insights have become our commonplace and yet he's so much part of us that we find it hard to listen to him but he's too dull this is true of St. Augustine, St. Gerda and so on. Well something happens though there's a kind of a freshening of interest after a while and you begin to rediscover the elements of your own tradition and what's really inside of you in some way as if you were meeting it for the first time so no longer is it something like, I don't know, a lot of the things that we're too familiar with that way we've never really seen in themselves they're just part of the big blur which is our which is our ordinary world so that's another process that has to take place so the tradition becomes real for us in some way and that's not easy a lot of things that we've just that have been built unreflectively into our pattern of thinking have to be removed and looked at again and then allowed to to move back to where they were


so it has to be taken apart and put back together again okay some of the difficulties that people bring up we'll go through these quickly and then maybe talk a little more in general difficulty one, the fathers wrote in Latin, Greek and Syriac and when the translations are available they're often nearly as unintelligible as the original one thing is the language difficulty just knowing what the words mean that's not such a bad difficulty because we have a lot of good translations now that one that we were using for Cassian was a hundred years old some people have a lot of trouble with it and yet you can really find out what he's talking about there are a few ambiguous places a few mistakes but generally you can get the meaning pretty well the meaning on one level but the real difficulty lies deeper because when you're getting something translated from Greek into English you can't translate the way a Greek thought in the 4th or 5th century into the


English of the 20th century and then understand it unless you spent years and years probably trying to assimilate that manner of thinking so the real difficulty is not on the level of the individual word but just getting the meaning the surface meaning sort of but the real difficulty is getting into the mind the mind that wrote the words which is the same thing as being able to think like he thought and until you do that you can't really feel a sort of friendship for what he's saying you can't really have that resonate in you until in some way you can reproduce the same thinking process or the same insight in yourself which involves a lot more than just knowing what that word means. So when we talk about these terms, a lot of them purity of heart or hezekiah or compunction or any of those things that's something else because those are distinctly spiritual and monastic things, but any of those words archaic words we have a big journey to make fortunately


it's helped very much by the Holy Spirit so it's not just a matter of becoming an archaeologist a specialist in 4th century Greek thought, that's a horrible thought because if you did that then you couldn't be a monk anymore really, only on the side but the Holy Spirit somehow helps us to get a unitary understanding in which we begin to see the place of all of those terms and all of those ideas and the total mystery the total complex but it's good for us to understand how far they are from us now that's a first thing you see because I don't know, when I started to read this stuff I sort of thought, well they were men who thought just as I do it's just a matter of translating into our language more or less like a scientific treatise you translate translate a German chemical paper into English and there's no problem there with the world of thought because a modern student of chemistry in America thinks just the way a modern student


of chemistry does in Germany I suppose, because you're in such a technical framework, you see, that it constricts your thought to that extent that it's perfectly reproducible but this isn't true with these people, you see, because there you're talking about the heart, and you're talking about the totality of a man who's involved in what he's saying, not just his brain, and not just with physical experiments and so on, the totality of a man, and so you've got somehow to try to penetrate into the way a man thought and felt in most ways which isn't easy and the only way that you do it really is by acquiring this sort of love for that thought, which is partly a literary thing in other words, some people enjoy reading Greek dramas you know, Greek poetry of 2,500 years ago, they acquire a love for it and because they have a love for it they begin to really understand what it means and vice versa, as they understand it, they'll learn to develop and develop the same thing is true here, there's a literary level but through the literary level comes the Holy Spirit who really makes it in cash flow and puts it all together puts it all, draws it all into one we don't want to despise


the literary level, it's important it's a very human thing we're doing as well as being spiritual okay, difficulty two there aren't any good introductions well, he says yes there are so that one's too simple difficulty three I tried to read the father's letter but I didn't like it there's a brilliant challenge so he says well not every father will appear to everybody and that's true just as if you start reading modern poetry you're going to find that you like a particular poet you can't stand another one, it just doesn't make any sense so it'll be with the father you'll find your own favourite one except for Isaac of Nineveh because everybody likes him and a couple of others like him but you'll probably find somebody that has a certain harmony with your own just with your own mental structure


or with your own experience some people like Evagrius, other people can't stand him to come further up today some people like St. Toulouse and some people like St. John the Cross just like Jack Scott and his wife one of them writes in a much more cold, intellectual seeming way with a kind of depth of fire that St. John the Cross and the other one writes in common sense, down-to-earth terms for a very vivid kind of experience of the heart and it's as if you divide people into two groups when you talk about history not that the same person can appreciate both it's the same over the father that article of Hausher on the great currents of eastern spirituality is very useful in that way because you begin to see where your own affinities lie he talks about the intellectualist current of origin and Evagrius and so on the spirituality of the heart and a couple of other things the spirituality of obedience and so on without much mystical emphasis and so on and so on a bunch of different columns


and a person finds that one is congenial to him of a certain kind, he can follow that but he should never exclusively follow that because then he's going to stunt his growth he's going to confine his own his own horizon and one of the points in reading the father is to broaden your horizon to get out of your own limitation ok the task of reading the father seems so vast that I don't know where to begin it is a big thing did you ever see Minya's pathology Latina or Greco in the Latin there are two hundred and some big ones this tall and that thick so it's a whole library of writing and then the Greek has another hundred and hundred and eighty volumes these are writings of the fathers in the original languages the Latin fathers


and the Greek fathers translated into Latin but that's an enormous thing to look at now, it might not be so enormous if those were 19th century novels you know, you could zip through one in a few days but it's different with the fathers because it's almost archaeology to get into what they're thinking sometimes, some of them are extremely difficult technical words so it is a big thing it is a big thing so one would be foolish just to throw himself into that ocean of literature and try to swallow it all what you have to do is start very modestly in one corner and something that's good for you, that works for you at this moment and you'll stick with that and gradually move along but nobody has to read it all it's incredible, those editions that they made I don't know how you did that how he edited them not all the editions are very good they're just the same it's almost a room full of books that's just what he does


you need some guidance so you need a little guidance on something to start on and then experiment you follow one thing for a little while and say, well, this helped me, this didn't help me here we go from here it's not that big a problem it's only that people, they tend to get lost when they launch out on their own they want to read everything or, you know, wandering too much from one place to another, just being hypnotized by the diversity the same thing can be true in any kind of study next difficulty this article is worth reading especially because of the references it gives you difficulty five it seems that I have to also, if you read a book about one of the fathers


say that book on Origin by Daniel, that's excellent because it really gives you a taste of Origin it brings out the beauty in his writing Chadwick's book on Cassian or Johnny Brando's Introduction to the Valley or something like that there are things like that let's say Thomas Martin's Origin of the Bible if you read his introduction to the saying of the father there and then you read the saying of the father and then you get into something like that you begin to like it, you get a taste for it and then you follow with that and then pretty soon you try a neighboring sector you try something that's close to it Spokonians, something like that you go on this way for years and years and sometimes you don't seem to be getting anything and sometimes, after a while you may really break through and seem extremely rich to it so that everything seems to be there everything seems to be unscripted in some form it's a matter of integrating it with your life too because it's not much good if it doesn't somehow connect with your life with what you're doing and integrating it also with your prayer


is trying to understand by keeping some relations between prayer and meditation and this reading into a kind of parallel thread it seems that I have to keep working at the father's a long time before I begin to reap any spiritual value from reading him he's got spiritual underlines where I suppose he's distinguishing that from the cultural or intellectual values he says this is true there may be long times where it seems just a desert or you might be reading the wrong thing but you might be reading the right thing and it just isn't it isn't lighting up for you at all it's okay it's okay, you can keep on with it the same but you need other reading to bring you more savor and excitement at the time, you don't want to just get yourself into something so totally crazy and not have anything with him now but you have to keep working on it you have to keep working on it and make sure you're working in the right area something that is going to have meaning for you and just keep at it it's that way with a lot of things that we study


at first they attract us because they're new and exciting but then we get into them and we find oh my gosh this is dead we're not interested at all but if you stay with it you build a kind of mentality on that pattern and then it makes sense to it's a matter of building something inside of us of constructing something inside the structure of thought the different terms of reference you build a kind of a world in there and then it makes sense to speak to that world getting spiritual nourishment from the writings of the fathers takes more time and demands more application than reading modern books this may be true if you read a little essay by Merton you get a lot more of a charge out of it than spending five hours with that could be and yet as you go on you're going to find somehow that in order to get really deep


you have to go back into those earlier works if you really want things to fit together you have to begin to penetrate into that mentality of tradition into that mind of tradition just as you may find Merton or who's another good example is incisive you may find it a lot more exciting than the scripture you know but if you just read for instance somebody who's in love with mysticism when he reads Saint Teresa she really sets him on fire and really gets drunk on Saint Teresa and he sets aside the scripture well what about that if he keeps doing that after a while he's going to find himself living on a pretty superficial plane he's going to find that he's just sort of entertaining himself with reading about this stuff but it's nowhere near his life not really near his prayer because he may be trying for this kind of experience but he's not getting there he's not getting there you really have to get back to the center


and the circles that are closest to the center are the scriptures and the fathers I use the example of the scriptures because that's an obvious one if somebody doesn't read the scriptures and just reads other things he's going to have malnutrition something's going to go wrong on the other hand if he just reads the scriptures and doesn't read anything else he also, he may find that his life turns very grim and that just nothing fits together for him because sometimes the scriptures are too remote from his own way of understanding because he's not concentrating but we need both same thing is true of the fathers the father's person doesn't have to start reading the fathers right away, immediately but when somebody comes into the monastic life it's important that he try to enter into that world quite soon we'll see more about that when we look at the whole article just briefly but the monastic life is really grounded in the fathers for instance if you just read the scriptures and then you live your


monastic life, you're going to have a lot of problems about justifying your monastic life simply in the light of the scriptures unless you justify it unless you explain it, rationalize it or whatever also in the light of the lives of the saints in the light of what has been written by the fathers, what's in tradition there's something that don't come out clearly merely in the scriptures, but come out only in subsequent tradition clearly because tradition too is a word of God okay seven, I'm sure that the content of patristic writings is very good what puts me off is their flowery style play on words and endless allegory there are a couple of things to be said about this there is a stylistic difficulty, we have to remember being a different age, they didn't have a lot of books in those days, there wasn't any printing in those days, and so you had a whole different manner of communication no printed page not a lot of literature so sometimes oratory


speaking had to be entertainment as well as information and everything else, you see so they had a lot of different things to do with their speaking most of these things tended to be oral well the same thing is not true for us when we read now we've got different functions, different purposes and useful things there and also the literary style of that time is bound to turn slow a lot of it it just doesn't seem suited to us it seems like a waste of time sometimes but there's something else that balances that a little there does seem to be a lot of wasted words and wasted time on the other side we find a density and a kind of a centrality of understanding very often which makes it all worthwhile in other words at one level on which a lot of games are played and a lot of time is wasted and a lot of useless words on another level they're right on they're completely on target


because their understanding of zero is centred and one balances the other off which doesn't mean that you should read every artistic work no matter how dull it seems to you it just means that because of the rightness of the underlying mentality a lot of what seems to be a waste of time may be very useful and often you can be absorbing on a deeper level even when you seem to be wasting your time on the surface level but part of it is a matter of spending time in contact with the word it's not just what you think you're getting what you think you're understanding at the moment, but it's spending time in contact with the word the word of God which is latent in that which the Father gives us at the same time now by that I don't want to excuse over you the excess of the Father another thing about this allegory we're turned off by when Saint Augustine explains there's a hundred and fifty two three fish remember that the disciples caught in some hole completely out of the world he does, he says


well a hundred represents this and a fifty is this and a three is this and there we are remember the shore when he disappeared those numerical games they always seem to be using the same poker chips faith, hope and charity if it's three and if it's two then it's the body and soul they always seem to be using they're putting it in the scriptures they're not taking it out, they're putting it in it's called exegesis instead of exegesis exegesis is to lead out and exegesis is to put in the detail they're playing games, that's what they're doing so yeah, consider it like music and in music you've got one you've got a violin up here doing all sorts of variations and down here you've got the steady bass drop and a string quartet so while that violin is playing its games up there, it may not interest you too much, something very significant is going on at each level


as this thing moves along and so it's working on several levels one of them may seem very trivial to you, but meanwhile something else is going on in the middle with the allegory for instance if you look at the detailed allegories which they're using they can very often discuss them because they seem childish is he kidding anybody with what he's saying? St. Augustine especially but if you look at the symbolism which they're seeing in a more simple and totalistic way often you see it as a very great text of truth the way that they see reality as being symbolic the way that they see Christ as represented for instance in the figures of the Old Testament in David or in Solomon or in Moses or whatever and if you look at all the Fathers together you see that there's a great convergence in the symbolism and so it's rash to say that they're just wasting time even though they can be turned off time and time


again by the seeming games of the allegory, they are games but it's alright to have entertainment on one level while something else very serious is going on on the other level and once again it's a matter of spending time in contact with the world so we have to try to keep our ear open not only to the level of allegory but also to people and one of them is the level of symbolism, there's a big difference between symbolism and allegory allegory is where you take a story for instance and you relate every element in that story to some truth Jesus uses allegories in a couple of places the parable of the sower is an allegory the parable of the sower is an allegory he goes on and explains it he gives a parable and then he explains it he says the seed is the word of God I don't know if he says the sower is the son of man but on the ground he tells you what that is he tells you what the stone is, he tells you what the apple is


what the thorns are but that allegory is very solid, it comes from place to place and therefore everything has its depth of meaning and in the fathers you don't always have that depth of meaning for every one of the elements of the allegory the difference between that and symbolism allegory you have a bunch of details and each detail has a deeper meaning but the meaning may not be that deep and the whole thing may be very artificial but in symbolism you look at something in a general way and find its deeper significance like the connection between the spiritual life and the exodus ok the moving of the Israelites to the desert, that can either be allegory or symbolism Origen makes allegory out of it because he says that each of those 30 some stops of the Israelites in the desert represent a particular point in the spiritual life so he makes a Holland's cross [...]