Bread of Life

BREAD OF LIFE
 this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. (john 6: 50)
The miracle of God’s physical presence to us at every Mass is the truest testament to Christ’s love for us and His desire for each of us to have a personal relationship with Him. Jesus Christ celebrated the first Mass with His disciples at the Last Supper, the night before He died. He commanded His disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). The celebration of the Mass then became the main form of worship in the early Church, as a reenactment of the Last Supper, as Christ had commanded. Each and every Mass since commemorates Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross through the Holy Eucharist. Because the Mass “re-presents” (makes present) the sacrifice on Calvary, Catholics all around the world join together to be made present in Christ’s timeless sacrifice for our sins. There is something fascinating about continuing to celebrate the same Mass—instituted by Christ and practiced by the early Church—with the whole community of Catholics around the world…and in heaven.

THE REAL PRESENCE

Why does the Catholic Church believe Christ is really present in the Eucharist?
The Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence is the belief that Jesus Christ is literally, not symbolically, present in the Holy Eucharist—body, blood, soul and divinity. Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist because Jesus tells us this is true in the Bible:

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh." The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them,

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” - John 6:48-56
Furthermore, the early Church Fathers either imply or directly state that the bread and wine offered in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is really the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In other words, the doctrine of the Real Presence that Catholics believe today was believed by the earliest Christians 2,000 years ago!

This miracle of God’s physical presence to us at every Mass is the truest testament to Christ’s love for us and His desire for each of us to have a personal relationship with Him.

Friday, September 16, 2016

SEXUAL SIN AND SANCTIFICATION

Introduction

Sexual immorality runs amok in our culture today. Temptations to depart from God’s sure path of blessing in the realm of sexuality are epidemic. The anonymity of the Internet and wireless technology has allowed people to pursue sexual immorality more than ever before.

Today, pornographic images and movies can be viewed with ease, sexually explicit music is common, and extramarital sexual activity is seen by many as normal. Perhaps more than at any other time, promiscuity both in thought and deed is accepted and condoned.

However, in sharp contrast to the trend of the world, God calls His people to be pure (1 Corinthians 5:1–13; Ephesians 5:3–17; 1 Thessalonians 4:3–7). They are to shine as lights of personal holiness and moral virtue for His glory (Matthew 5:13–16). The Lord designed sex as a wonderful expression of love between a husband and wife (Hebrews 13:4), but those who use sex selfishly and apart from the Lord’s design will experience untold heartache and personal ruin.

The Consequences of Sexual Sin

Christians are certainly not immune to temptations to lust and sexual sin. The consequences of repeated failure in this area are devastating, and a believer who sins sexually brings shame to the name of the Lord. A child of God must seek to reflect his Father’s true character (1 Peter 1:14–19).

Impurity in thoughts and actions is diametrically opposed to the purpose of God for salvation—to bring Him greater glory. The following are but a few examples of the far-reaching, destructive consequences of sexual sin.

A man who is unfaithful to his wife cannot serve as an elder in the church because the Lord intends him to be a model of godliness in all areas (1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Peter 5:3). The most important qualification for a man who desires eldership is his being above reproach.

His reputation and example both within and outside the church must be exemplary (1 Timothy 3:2, 7). The importance of sexual purity among these qualifications is seen by its placement at the top of the list (1 Timothy 3:2). A man’s opportunity for service in the church can be permanently removed because of the lasting reproach of his sexual sin.

Sexual sin also causes intense personal pain. Proverbs repeatedly warns of the far-reaching and agonizing consequences of sexual immorality:

Death (Proverbs 2:19; 7:22–27)

Loss of wealth (Proverbs 5:10)

Enduring regret (Proverbs 5:11–14)

Entrapment (Proverbs 5:22)

Painful punishment (Proverbs 6:27–29)

Shame and destruction (Proverbs 6:32–35)

Within marriage, sexual immorality will also destroy trust between husband and wife and defile the sanctity of their own sexual intimacy.

Forgiveness and Hope

If you have already sinned sexually or are currently struggling with the temptation to lust, take heart! The Lord is always ready to forgive and cleanse those who turn to Him in confession and repentance (1 John 1:9), but understand that lasting holiness in your life will become a reality only as you faithfully pursue it according to the principles of God’s Word. The Lord promises, “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6), but you must be a willing and eager partner in His work of sanctification.

The follower of Christ must recognize there is divine help and hope for victory over the strong passions and evil desires associated with sexual sin. Scripture tells you there are powerful resources from God that enable you to conquer sin and live a life of purity (Philippians 2:13; 2 Peter 1:2–4). The mighty working of the Holy Spirit in your heart will enable you to faithfully pursue holiness.

The Gradual Process of Sanctification

Your heart is the first and most important battleground in conquering lust and sexual sin. Victory over sexual immorality begins with a new heart. Scripture tells us one of the ways we know if a person is truly a child of God is by looking at the pattern of his life. First John 2:3–5 says, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.

The one who says, ‘I have come to know him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him.” This doesn’t mean a child of God never sins, but it surely does mean a saved person will not continue in an unbroken pattern of sin. To do that would be unnatural for a child of God.

Many people become frustrated in their struggle to overcome sexual sin because they never seem to achieve lasting purity. Has that been your experience? Part of the reason you may not overcome sexual sin as quickly as desired is your misunderstanding about the location of the battle. The physical manifestation of sexual sin is simply the outworking of what has already been going on in the heart for some time. The focus of your struggle must be internal first and foremost.

The Holy Spirit immediately and permanently indwells each person He regenerates. Romans 8:9–10 is written to those who are saved: “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.

If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.” Ephesians 4:22–24 instructs you “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

From where does the power come to reject sinful habits and to imitate the righteousness and holiness of God? Listen to the liberating truth taught in Romans 6:3–7: “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?

Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.”

As a Christian, you have been given both the responsibility and the power to stop sinning. You are able to do that because you have been spiritually joined to Jesus in His death on the cross and in His resurrection from the dead. If you are genuinely saved, you have new and pure life by which you can please God.

The power that raised Jesus from the dead is recreating you into His likeness (Colossians 2:9–14). God has worked a miraculous transformation in your heart, and now He wants you to draw on the spiritual resources He gives you as you pursue holiness (see Romans 6:12–23; 2 Timothy 2:22; Psalm 19:7–14; 119:9–11).

Fighting against sin and temptation, as well as pursuing greater obedience to God’s Word, is a process that happens gradually, day-by-day. The temptation to succumb to your struggle with sin—even sexual sin—is not unusual for the believer. The apostle Paul writes of his struggle with sin in Romans 7:14–25, speaking of it as “bondage to sin” (Romans 7:14).

While your fight against sin is constant and difficult, it is a battle you can win if you humbly rely on the resources the Lord gives you—meditation on Scripture, devotion to prayer, and fellowship in a biblical church. Experiencing and rejoicing in the gradual defeat of sin depends upon faithfully nurturing your heart toward purity.

A believer’s struggle with sin is like getting rid of weeds from a garden. If you keep cutting the weeds off at the ground level, they will keep growing and coming back. If you want to remove the weeds permanently, you must kill them below the surface of the ground—at the root level.

That is how it works with sin. You must see your sinful tendencies as dead remnants of your past life that must be rooted out, as Colossians 3:5 teaches: “Therefore, consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.”

If you try to stop sinning merely in an external way—not dealing with the root problem at the heart level—you will not develop long-term holiness. As the great Puritan preacher John Owens wrote, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

The key to consistent purity in your life is developing definite, tangible patterns of faithfulness in holiness (Galatians 5:16). It is when you begin to curtail patterns of prayer, diligent Bible study, and the pursuit of an intimate relationship with God, that you will be far more vulnerable to lustful temptation. Could it be that a season of sexual sin is the direct result of becoming lax in your pursuit of the Lord, especially after the remorse of the previous sin has begun to wear off?

You will grow in personal holiness in direct proportion to your intake of God’s Word and your commitment to prayer. In John 14:15 Jesus says, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Let your fight against sexual sin be the overflow of the love and devotion you have for your Lord and Savior.

Biblical Resources for Overcoming Sexual Sin

In Ephesians 6:10–17 you learn of the powerful weapons the Lord Jesus has given you for your fight against sin. The “sword of the Spirit,” the Word of God, is the greatest weapon for your fight against the devil (Ephesians 6:17). In Psalm 119:9–11 we read, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. With all my heart I have sought You. Do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart that I may not sin against You.”

In addition to filling your heart with the Word of God, you must actively flee every temptation that seeks to threaten your purity. In 2 Timothy 2:21–22, Paul commands Timothy to continually flee sinful desires. It is utterly foolish to take the issue of sexual sin lightly or to overestimate your ability to resist temptation. Just as Joseph fled the daily seduction of Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:6–12), you too must avoid those times, places, and situations in which you know sexual temptation will arise.

In addition to reading, studying, and memorizing the Bible on a regular basis, please listen to John MacArthur’s sermon, “Aggressively Attacking the Sin in Our Lives.” It contains pertinent Bible teaching about overcoming habitual sins like sexual immorality.

You may also want to read this article on sexual sin and biblical sanctification.

Finally, to grow spiritually and to overcome temptation, you must regularly and actively participate in the ministries of a biblically-grounded local church. The Lord has designed our spiritual growth to be carried out through the loving, mutually edifying ministry of a church committed to expository preaching and regular accountability (Ephesians 4:11–16; Hebrews 10:23–25).

When you are pursuing temptation and self-gratification, your thoughts and efforts are consumed with selfishness. But taking initiative to serve others on your own or through the ministries of the church takes your attention off yourself. You must strive to develop the habit of loving and serving others instead of yourself. As you do this, you will become more like Jesus.

Conclusion

Sexual fulfillment expressed within a Christian marriage is a wonderful gift from God. The Lord has designed sexuality as a way to express love by a husband and wife, but when it is used selfishly and outside the bounds of His design, it will produce untold heartache. If you are a true Christian and have sinned sexually, please know the Lord has forgiven you on the basis of Christ’s work on the cross.

If you confess your sins and pursue righteousness, He is faithful to cleanse you from sin and give you a renewed desire to please Him. The Lord makes the following promise to all those who bow the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God. . . . For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.

So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but God who gives His Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thessalonians 4:3–5, 7–8). May the Lord empower you to have increasing victory over sexual sin for His glory and for your good.

Friday, September 2, 2016

THE SLIPPERY SLOPE OF SEXUAL SIN

By: Robert Ian Williams

The issue of gay bishops and gay unions dominated the news and concerns of our Anglican brethren in 2003. As a Roman Catholic and convert from Anglicanism (of the evangelical variety), I have found that the issue of homosexuality must be placed in a wider moral context.

Sexual sin is serious, whether homosexual or heterosexual.

For instance, in 2002 the Church of England officially threw out its belief in the indissolubility of Christian marriage, a belief that had forced King Edward VIII to abdicate the throne sixty years ago and Princess Margaret to give up the man she loved forty years ago. This change on marriage hardly raised a protest from Anglicans.

Even the conservative Anglo-Catholics made little of the change; indeed, they have been virtually silent on the gay issue, as it is a problem that riddles their own constituency.

Despite the divorce of Henry VIII, which gave rise to the Church of England, remarriage after divorce had been forbidden by the canon law of the Church of England.

(An excellent recent study of the Anglican witness to the indissolubility of marriage, The Great Divorce Controversy, has been written by Edward Williams—no relation—a concerned Anglican who holds to the traditional and biblical view.)

As I write, I have before me two books written by clerical members of a conservative Anglican lobby group called Reform. In Church and State in the New Millennium, Rev. David Holloway asserts that the New Testament teaches that marriage is an indissoluble union and remarriage after divorce is adultery. He asserts that this is biblical and traditional Church of England teaching.

The other book, The Hundred Top Questions, is by Rev. Richard Bewes, rector of All Souls, Langham Place (John Stott’s old church), who asserts that marriage can be dissolved in the case of adultery, in which case the innocent party may remarry. Yet both of these men affirm that the Bible is clear on all the fundamentals.

What, I ask, can be more fundamental than the holy bond that joins man and woman? Anglicans have no consensus as to what constitutes the sin of adultery, a sin so serious that, according to the Bible, it can just as much exclude one from heaven as can homosexual sex (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9).

Although Reform makes statements affirming "lifelong heterosexual marriage," nowhere does the movement officially define whether or not marriage is an indissoluble bond. Members of the movement are hopelessly divided. They have never broken ranks over the difference, since it would make a mockery of their stand against the homosexual lobby and their claim that the Bible is clear on morality.

Anglicans within Reform have concealed their differences and have made common cause on the gay issue. The resolution drafted by the 1998 Lambeth Conference, a worldwide gathering of Anglican bishops, states the following:

"This conference, while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialization and commercialization of sex; [and] cannot advise the legitimizing or blessing of same-sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same-gender unions" (Resolution I.10 d, e).

Bishops who do not sign up to this resolution are to be ostracized and boycotted. Witness what happened in the Worcester diocese when Fr. Charles Raven and his congregation left the Church of England, or the boycott of the bishop of Newcastle by conservative Anglicans.

Yet these same conservatives hold up Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney, Australia, as the very model of a Reformed Anglican bishop—and yet he asserts that Christian marriage is not indissoluble and believes in divorce.

While some Anglicans were denouncing the current Prince of Wales’s adulterous relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles, fellow Anglican Lord George Carey (archbishop of Canterbury, 1990–2002) was telling Prince Charles not to leave his mistress but to marry her.

He also sent his congratulations to Bishop Mark Santer, who, while bishop of Birmingham, married the divorced wife of one of his clergymen in a registry office. No reference at the time was made to Paul’s admonition that a bishop must have a blameless family life, in sharp contrast to the barrage against V. Gene Robinson, the openly homosexual bishop at the center of the 2003 Anglican furor.

Conservative Anglicans always are pushing the Lambeth declaration of 1998, which, "in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union" (Resolution I.10 b). Note the careful wording of this statement: There is no mention of indissolubility, since the Anglican communion is divided over the issue of divorce.

There are some provinces of the communion (which in reality is not a communion but a federation) that still hold true to the traditional teaching, while others have long abandoned it. The American Episcopal Church did so as early as 1808. There may be only one openly gay Anglican bishop, but there are dozens of divorced and remarried ones of both sexes.

But Lambeth declarations, besides having no binding authority, can be superseded and contradicted. For instance, take Lambeth 1948, which condemned female ordination, and Lambeth 1908, where contraception was declared to be sinful and a threat to Christian morality.

In 1930 that latter declaration was overturned, and contraception was allowed for serious reasons. The Anglican communion became the first major Protestant denomination to give way on this issue. In 1958, even the "serious reasons" proviso was scrapped, and sex became primarily recreational bonding with children as an option.

In 1930, there was much controversy and conservative opposition, and Anglican bishop Charles Gore predicted a sexual revolution as a result. All the nations that have accepted contraception (including nominally Catholic ones) are in sharp decline in both morality and population.

In Britain, births are exceeded by deaths in Scotland and Wales. In England, if it weren’t for massive immigration and high fertility among the immigrants, it too would be below replacement levels. So desperate is the British government, with the looming pensions and welfare crisis caused by this population implosion, that the doors are to be opened to limitless immigration.

As for Anglicans, contraception is now a non-issue, or at most a Vatican conspiracy to fill the world with Catholics. Many Anglican books on sex and marriage advocate contraception, masturbation, and oral sex. So ingrained is the contraceptive mentality that few Christians (Catholics included) now want their quiver full of arrows; instead they defer to a "comfortable" lifestyle.

Anglicans may assert that Catholics are against the pleasures of the flesh, but it was the sixteenth-century Reformer Thomas Cranmer who took out of the English marriage vows the wifely pledge to "be bonny and buxom in bed and board"! Catholic theology, on the other hand, views the unitive and procreative.aspects of marriage as inseparable.

What the Anglican communion fails to see is that acceptance of contraception by society also opened the door to homosexuality. If sex is primarily for bonding and recreation and can be engineered to be deliberately sterile, how can we deny the legitimacy of the ultimate sterility of same-sex relationships?

The late Lord Robert Runcie (archbishop of Canterbury, 1978–1990) cited this fundamental change in the Anglican view of sex in order to justify the fact that he had ordained active homosexuals and lesbians to the Anglican ministry.

In contrast, Catholic teaching on marriage and procreation is biblical and consistent with historical tradition and scriptural teaching. Christ turned marriage into a sacrament that, validly entered into and consummated, only death can put asunder. Furthermore, the sexual union that ensues must be open to the gift of life. Of course, the Bible rules out homosexual sexual practice completely.
Conservative Anglicans are fond of Paul when it comes to doctrines of grace, headship, the role of women in ministry, and homosexuality. After all, he is an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was our Lord who said of his apostles, "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me" (Luke 10:16).

But there is one area of Paul that conservative Anglicans are as neglectful of and embarrassed about as the liberals: the teaching in 1 Corinthians 7 that the unmarried state allows for a more dedicated service to God.

Conservative Anglicans need to reexamine their entire teaching about what constitutes human sexual relationships, marriage, divorce, and the family. As our Lord taught, it is easy to criticize the speck in your brother’s eye when you have a log in your own.

Surely adultery and the holiness of marriage is as fundamental an issue as homosexuality. With a selective attitude toward sin and Scripture, Anglicans have little chance in converting homosexuals, let alone fulfilling their noble aim of winning the world for Christ.

Robert Ian Williams is a former Anglican whose conversion story can be found in the book Home at Last (Catholic Answers, 2000). He writes from Wales, Great Britain.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

COMFORT CATHOLICISM

Comfort Catholicism Has to Go; It is Time to Prepare for Persecution

We are at war for our own souls and the souls of people we love. We are at war for the soul of this culture and nation. And like any soldier, we must train to fight well.

BY MSGR. CHARLES POPE

Jean-Léon Gérôme, “The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer” (c. 1863-1873)

There is a growing consternation among some Catholics that the Church, at least in her leadership, is living in the past. It seems there is no awareness that we are at war and that Catholics need to be summoned to sobriety, increasing separation from the wider culture, courageous witness and increasing martyrdom.

It is long past dark in our culture, but in most parishes and dioceses it is business as usual and there is anything but the sober alarm that is really necessary in times like these.

Scripture says, Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle (Psalm 144:1). Preparing people for war — a moral and spiritual war, not a shooting war — should include a clear setting forth of the errors of our time, and a clear and loving application of the truth to error and light to darkness.

But there is little such training evident in Catholic circles today where, in the average parish, there exists a sort of shy and quiet atmosphere — a fear of addressing “controversial” issues lest someone be offended, or the parish be perceived as “unwelcoming.”

But, if there ever was a time to wear soft garments, it is not now.

The Church of the 1970s-1990s was surely well described as the era of “beige Catholicism” (a term coined by Bishop Robert Barron, and not by way of flattery either). Those of us who lived through that era, especially in the 1970s, remember it as a time when many parish signs beckoned people to “come and experience our welcoming and warm Catholic community.”

Our most evident desire was to fit in and be thought of as “normal.” Yes, Catholics were just like everyone else; and we had been working very hard to do that, at least since the early 1960s when John F. Kennedy was elected. Catholics had finally “made it” into the mainstream; we had been accepted by the culture.

Church architecture and interiors became minimalist and non-descript. Music and language in the liturgy became folksy. Marian processions, Corpus Christi processions, many things of distinctive and colorful Catholicism all but disappeared.

Even our crucifixes disappeared, to be replaced by floating “resurrection Jesus” images. The emphasis was on blending in, speaking to things that made people feel comfortable, and affirming rather than challenging.

If there was to be any challenge at all it would be on “safe” exhortations such as not abusing the environment or polluting, not judging or being intolerant, and so forth.

Again, if there ever was a time to wear soft garments, it is not now. It is zero-dark-thirty in our post-Christian culture. And while we may wish to blame any number of factors for the collapse, we cannot exclude ourselves.

We who are supposed to be the light of the world, with Christ shining in us, have preferred to hide our light under a basket and lay low. The ruins of our families and culture are testimony to the triumph of error and the suppression of the truth.

Monday, August 15, 2016

SEEING IS BECOMING

The Mirror of Contemplation in St Gregory of Nyssa’s Commentary on the Song of Songs

By Fr. Matthew Baker in The Sounding

St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Commentary on the Song of Songs offers a profound contemplative theology in which the category of vision occupies a central place. To see correctly for Gregory involves a process in which exegesis and askesis, a proper interpretation of scriptural images and the purification of the soul’s eye, are inseparable, having as their common goal the vision of God.

All vision is tied to imitation, and subject to the free direction of the will. Human nature is mimetic through and through: a person becomes what he beholds. This spiritual insight is expressed most powerfully by Gregory’s use of the image of the mirror.

“Beauty” is perhaps for Gregory the most summary characteristic of God. Much as in his Homilies on the Beatitudes, in his commentary on the Song of Songs Gregory regards the vision of this divine beauty given to those who are purified as taking place not directly, but as reflected in “the mirror of our souls.”

Even a man perfect in virtue is unable to look at the sun; “rather he sees it within himself.” A reflective vision of God is made visibly manifest in the life of virtue, from which we obtain a knowledge of the good and an image of the beauty of the divine archetype. Read rightly, the Song of Songs is an instruction on the way towards the restoration of this beauty, which is that of the divine bridegroom, to the bride.

For Gregory, the “bride” of the Song of Songs is at once the individual soul and collectively the whole Church. To see the Church truly is to see, as in a mirror, a face with the very same features as Christ. By giving herself to the beloved bridegroom, the bride receives the beauty of her beloved.

The restoration of divine beauty — the return to the original divine likeness given in creation — takes place through the free and uncompromising pursuit of virtue. “The end of a life of virtue is likeness to God.” Human nature has an inherent capacity to reflect divine beauty; it is like a mirror, which “takes on different appearances according to the impressions of free will.” As Gregory elaborates:

“If gold is held up to the mirror, the mirror assumes the appearance of gold and reflects the splendor of gold’s substance. If anything abominable is held up, its ugliness is impressed on the mirror… Thus the mirror represents in its own being whatever is placed before it. So too the soul, when cleansed by the Word from vice, it receives within itself the sun’s orb and shines with this reflected light.
St Gregory’s analogy of the mirror underscores that the life of Christian virtue by which the soul is restored to divine beauty is not only active, but equally contemplative. This life consists of a continual looking to Christ alone: “How can one behold a beautiful sight in a mirror unless the mirror has reflected the image of a beautiful form? Human nature is also a mirror, and it was not beautiful until it drew near to Beauty and was transformed by the image of the divine loveliness.”

As we have shown, Gregory accords great power to sight, for both good and ill. According to him, the eyes are the most honorable part of the body. Commenting on the verse, “Your eyes are doves” (Song of Songs 1:5), he writes:

“Persons skilled in studying natural phenomena say that the eye sees by receiving the impression of images emanating from visible objects. For this reason the beauty of the bride’s eyes is praised since the image of a dove appears in her pupils. Whenever a person gazes upon an object he receives in himself an image of that object.”
In Gregory’s interpretation, the “dove” here represents the impression of the Spirit upon the one who is purified of carnal vision, an impression which enables one to behold the beauty of the bridegroom Jesus Christ.

As this example suggests, Gregory holds that it is the object seen, according to its own intelligible form, that enables vision: “Images of visible reality striking the purity of the eye’s pupil effect the act of seeing, that is, a form impresses itself upon the eye like a mirror.”

Seeing has a mimetic, formative character, under the sway of whatever is seen. “Those who gaze at the true God receive in themselves the properties of the divine nature.” And contrariwise, “those who attend to the vanity of idols are changed into what they behold and become stone instead of men.”

A crucial place is occupied also by the human will in the act of seeing. The soul is not only a mirror, but “a living mirror possessing free will,” which must thus prepare itself morally for vision. Only the pure in heart see God, and virtue purifies the eyes. Conversely, however, Gregory underscores that it is the vision of God itself that purifies and gives virtue.

This delicate balance – in reality, an asymmetric play of divine grace and human free will – gives a dynamic character to Gregory’s theology of divine vision. And here it is Moses, who “sought God as if he had never seen Him,” who is Gregory’s prototype of the God-seer.

Divine vision begins with the visible images of Scripture, but passes beyond this to darkness, and finally to spousal union. The purified eye penetrates into the future. Yet the restoration to the beauty of the divine likeness must pass through conformation to the likeness of Christ’s death.

The “shadow” of Christ’s body acts as mediator of divine light for us who live in darkness. In “looking to above” to behold the form of God and his divine goodness, Gregory reminds us, the soul’s mirror must reflect that form of a servant which Christ the mediator assumed in becoming man.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

THE GLORY OF GOD HIDDEN IN HIS CREATURES

From The Roots of Christian Mysticism; first published in English 1993 by New City. Translated by Thedore Berkeley O.C.S.O.

by Olivier L. Clément

Darkness and Light, God's House, Inward Birth

We have said that the 'descent' into the heart corresponds to Moses's 'ascent' of Sinai. Moses penetrated then into the darkness where God was. Likewise we, in so far as we are personal existence in relationship, by going beyond any vision of the mind οf the body, penetrate into the divine Darkness.

It is the symbol and the experience of a presence that cannot be grasped, a night in which the Inaccessible presents himself and eludes us at the same time. It is the nocturnal communion of the hidden God with the person who is hidden in God.

This darkness does not deny the glory that flows from it. It is nοt the absence of light: rather it is 'more than luminous'. Or again, cοincidentia oppositorum, the coincidence of opposites (which in their very unity remain opposites): the darkness is simultaneously both the brightest light, dark through excess of brightness, and the blackest obscurity because it is 'transluminous'. -

Likewise the darkness does not deny the Word but reaches the Silence in the very heart of the Word.

The divine darkness is entered by 'closing the eyes', that is by renouncing a gaze that is diffusive, objectifying, possessive, and by learning to look inward -or simply with the eyes shut, as in the state of loving abandon.

«At first the revelation of God tο Moses is made in light. Then God speaks to him in the cloud. Finally, by climbing up higher, Moses contemplates God in the darkness.

See what we learn from this. The passage from darkness to light is the initial separation from lying and erroneous views about God.

The more attentive awareness of hidden objects, guiding the soul by means of visible things to invisible reality, is like a cloud obscuring the whole perceptible world, leading the soul and accustoming it to the contemplation of what is hidden.

Finally the soul, which has travelled by these ways towards the things that are above and has abandoned everything that is accessible to human nature, penetrates into the sanctuary of the knowledge of God that is wrapped οn all sides in darkness. There, as everything perceptible and intelligible has been left outside, there remains for the soul's contemplation οnly what cannot be grasped by the intellect.

It is there that God dwells according tο the words of Scripture: 'Moses drew near to the thick darkness' (Exodus 20.21).» Gregory οf Nyssa Life of Moses (PG 44,376-7) «Superessential Trinity, more than divine and more than good, thou that presidest over divine Christian wisdom, lead us nοt οnly beyond all light, but even beyond unknowing, up tο the highest peak of the mystical Scriptures, tο the place where the simple and absolute and incorruptible mysteries of the godhead are revealed, in the more-than-luminous darkness of the Silence.

For it is in that Silence that we learn the secrets of the Darkness that shines with the brightest light in the bosom of the blackest obscurity and, while remaining itself utterly intangible and utterly invisible, fills with a brightness more beautiful than beauty the minds that know how to shut their eyes.» Dionysius the Areopagite Mystical Theology, I, 1 (PG 3,997)

Darkness indicates the ultimate meeting, when the human being, in a state of ontological poverty, becomes pure movement towards God, who comes down infinitely lower than his οwn transcendent state, retaining nothing of himself but the poverty of love. All 'essence' is surpassed, by God in a 'trans-descent', by the human being in a 'trans-ascent'. There is nοw οnly an inexpressible communion of persons.

Exercise yourself unceasingly in mystical contemplation; abandon feelings; renounce intellectual activities; reject all that belongs tο the perceptible and the intelligible; strip yourself tοtally of nοn-being and being and lift yourself as far as yοu are able to the point of being united in unknowing with him who is beyond all being and all knowledge.

For it is by passing beyond everything, yourself included, irresistibly and completely, that yοu will be exalted in pure ecstasy right up to the dark splendour of the divine Superessence, after having abandoned all, and stripped yourself of everything.» Dionysius the Areopagite Mystical Theology, I,1(PG 3, 997-1000)

Instead of speaking of darkness it is equally possible to speak of light, provided that we specify that it is uncreated light issuing inexhaustibly from the Inaccessible. It is more-than-dark light from the hidden God that makes it possible to share in him: energy of the essence that comes from the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.

Light like this is inseparable from fire. The chariot by which a person speeds into glory is a heart οn fire. (Ιn Jewish mysticism also one finds this identification of the burning heart with the chariot of fire by which the prophet Elijah was taken up.) As the icons suggest, the whole person becomes vision, filled with the light that issues from the face of the transfigured Christ.

The 'food of the Spirit' and the 'water of life' refer to the inner content of the 'mysteries' -mysteries of the Name of Jesus, of Scripture, of the Eucharist, of the baptismal garment of light. Tο enter into the inner content of these mysteries is to find immortal life already here below.

If yοu have become the throne of God, and the heavenly driver has used yοu for his chariot, and your whole soul has become spiritual vision and total light, if yοu have been fed οn the food of the Spirit, if yοu have drunk the water of life and put οn the garments of indescribable light, if your inner personality has been established in the experience and the perfection of all these things, then indeed you are truly living eternal life.» Pseudo-Μacarius First Homily, 12 (PG 34,461)

Like the strange 'living creatures' (cosmic and angelic) in Ezekiel's vision the soul becomes all eye, meaning pure translucence. (According to the ancients the eye could οnly see because it was itself light.) The soul is filled with the light of Christ, such light as can almost be identified with the Hοly Spirit. All eye, and so all face -a sign at once of the meeting with God who for us has given expression tο himself, and of an unbounded welcome for one's neighbour.

The soul that has been judged worthy to share in the Spirit in his light, and has been illumined by the splendour of his ineffable glory becomes all light, all face, all eye, and nο part of it remains any longer that is not filled with spiritual eyes and light. That means that it has nο longer anything dark about it but is wholly Spirit and light.

It is full of eyes, nο longer having a reverse side but showing a face all round, for the indescribable beauty of Christ's glory and light have come to dwell in it.

Ιn the same way as the sun is the same all round and does not have any reverse side or lower part but is wholly and completely resplendent with its light ... so the soul that has been illumined with the ineffable beauty and the glorious brightness of Christ's face and has been filled with the Holy Spirit, the soul that has been found worthy to become the dwelling and the temple of God, is all eye, all light, all face, all glory and all Spirit, since Christ is adorning it in this way, moving it, directing it, upholding it and guiding it, thus enlightening it and embellishing it with spiritual beauty.» Pseudo-Μacarius First Homily, 2 (PG 34,45Ι)

Another profoundly evangelical theme is the 'abiding' or 'indwelling' of God in us. His 'indwelling' makes us temples of God. We not οnly listen to the words of Jesus but we welcome his silence into our hearts, the mysterious presence of the Father and of the Spirit.

It is better to keep silent and tο be, rather than to speak but not to be. One who truly possesses Christ's words can also hear his silence in order tο be perfect ... Nothing is hidden from the Lord but our very secrets are close to him. Let us do everything in him who dwells in us so that we may become his temples.» Ignatius of Antioch Epistle to the Ephesians, 15,1-3 (SC 10, p. 84)

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