An Infinity of Love

JMJ

Spillway at Fontana Dam, North Carolina

At our monthly meeting, the Dominican Tertiaries were discussing Aquinas’ Summa, Part 1, Question 12. How God is known by us. I noted that this was where Aquinas and Palamas parted company. Article 1 states clearly (after ditching a few objections):

Unde simpliciter concedendum est quod beati Dei essentiam videant.
Hence it must be absolutely granted that the blessed see the essence of God.

But then there are 11 articles of rolling it back and what we discover is that Aquinas says, ok, the blessed can see God’s essence but everyone is not equally blessed. This discovery of a hierarchy in heaven stressed our conversation for a while. It was agreed that the Theotokos as “higher than the Cherubim” – a title we do not use for any other saint – indicates a hierarchy; and it was also agreed that to us, here, anyone in that blessed dance is equally blessed because we cannot, from here, even look at the light directly. There was also concurrence with the idea that a humble Christian soul taking her place in that assembly would simply say – without envy or pride – this place and no other by his grace is where I dance to the divine Komos.

But then the conversation ended and we moved on to other topics.

Thomas goes on to explain theosis, and the intellectual process (the learning process) by which grace reveals to us the Divine Essence, first through hints, then through actions and, in the final analysis, through direct contact. Thomas calls theosis deiformitate in Latin, “deiformity,” and says we shall grasp the divine essence to the degree of our deiformity.

Hence the intellect which has more of the light of glory will see God the more perfectly; and he will have a fuller participation of the light of glory who has more charity; because where there is the greater charity, there is the more desire; and desire in a certain degree makes the one desiring apt and prepared to receive the object desired. Hence he who possesses the more charity, will see God the more perfectly, and will be the more beatified.

I left it there until today when we came to the feast of St Bernard of Clairvaux.  In today’s Office of Readings we cite St Bernard, writing 200 years before Aquinas as saying,

The Bridegroom’s love, or rather the love which is the Bridegroom, asks in return nothing but faithful love. Let the beloved, then, love in return. Should not a bride love, and above all, Love’s bride? Could it be that Love not be loved?
 Rightly then does she give up all other feelings and give herself wholly to love alone; in giving love back, all she can do is to respond to love. And when she has poured out her whole being in love, what is that in comparison with the unceasing torrent of that original source? Clearly, lover and Love, soul and Word, bride and Bridegroom, creature and Creator do not flow with the same volume; one might as well equate a thirsty man with the fountain.
  What then of the bride’s hope, her aching desire, her passionate love, her confident assurance? Is all this to wilt just because she cannot match stride for stride with her giant, any more than she can vie with honey for sweetness, rival the lamb for gentleness, show herself as white as the lily, burn as bright as the sun, be equal in love with him who is Love? No. It is true that the creature loves less because she is less. But if she loves with her whole being, nothing is lacking where everything is given. To love so ardently then is to share the marriage bond; she cannot love so much and not be totally loved, and it is in the perfect union of two hearts that complete and total marriage consists. Or are we to doubt that the soul is loved by the Word first and with a greater love? 

Bernard has us wonder how it is possible that we – mortals as we are, and finite – can Love God, who is infinite and Love himself. How it must this relationship be ordered since it cannot be one of equals. How will she match “stride for stride with her giant” in love? Bernard sees that the bride loves the bridegroom by virtue of his love for her: God’s love pouring into us allows us to love God – and others.

This, then is the heavenly hierarchy: CS Lewis and Dante see it extending through Purgatory and Hell. Our capacity to love – possessing more agape – is the degree to which we can be “Deiformed”.

The smallest part of infinity is also infinity.

If our heart is open to God’s love we can love him with the infinity he pours through us. We can love him as he loves us at least briefly.

The saints love us in the same way: with that infinite love that is not their own – yet is.

It pours out of them more perfectly on to us, for the act of Kenosis is the supreme act of charity. The saints shed on us God’s love for us as we, opening, begin to pour it back and on our neighbours like streams of living water rising from within us.

Baptism begins the flow, Eucharist and Confession, prayer and meditation, contemplation and adoration, open and flow out the spillways on to those around us and return it thereby back to God. We cannot love infinitely from here, but we can love infinitely if God loves through us.

Here, in this place and no other, by his grace will I dance.

Hashtag BernOp

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of St Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church
Monday in the 20th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Ait illi Jesus : Si vis perfectus esse, vade, vende quae habes, et da pauperibus, et habebis thesaurum in caelo : et veni, sequere me.

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”


In the sixth century, St Benedict went to Rome and found corruption and vice. So he moved to the country and started a community of monks to be saved despite all the problems. Benedict, like every great reformer, but salvation, his and other’s, first, before culture, or even before the institution of Church. His order grew, becoming not only the salvation of the Catholic Church, but also of the culture of Europe, storing up knowledge lest it be lost in the final collapse under invading barbarians. 600 years along, however, it was the order that needed saving.

The recent scandals in the church seem a perfect attack: dividing brother against brother and giving ammunition to those who would spread heresy and immorality. It adds fuel to the fires of those advocating both for a change in sexual morality and those who are advocating for a near Donatist purge of the church from all they deem evil and impure; even sometimes including the laity in a sort of “red scare” sort of mentality. At the same time, this is all playing into the hands of those on the outside who would weaken the Church not by virtue of laws or persecution, but rather by attrition, both of population and moral authority. This active inculcation of indifference is as deadly as a “culture war” without any of the blood or emotions.

We have to admit that a wealthy, comfortable, culturally ensconced church, not only embedded in the world, but down right in bed with it, is without moral authority any way. 

So here’s St Bernard, the man who took the Order of St Benedict and spun it back to its roots because it (the Order) had grown fat, powerful, and lazy. This Spiritual Obesity had led to hardening of the arteries, and an advanced case of necrosis in several places. This was echoed in the Church as well: for when the monastic orders begin to fail the Church is unhealthy at her heart. Bernard put salvation first.

Yesterday, Fr Joseph Illo preached a homily I hope will end up online (update: here it is) calling out the darkness in the Church and noting that he would rather sell the parish and the school if it would mean the defeat of the corruption in the Church. Salvation first.

I’m a new Catholic. I’m not as familiar with the names of those involved as I would have been if this were Orthodoxy or the Episcopal Church, but I’ve lived through the same sort of thing in both of those Churches. And in both the Bishops stayed in denial. No one talked about the financial and sex scandals in ECUSA, ditto in Orthodoxy. Everyone is talking about it in Rome just now, so maybe it will mean something else. 

And yet, at the same time, as Christians, the world will still try to bully us into following the world’s rules.

The Church is not the 100% Pure Virgin Bride, she is the Abominable Bride. But she is growing more and more pure as this moves. I take great comfort that the report in PA covers events that are nearly all before 2002. The Church can move forward. But at the same time, the Cardinal McCarrick affair is ongoing. Most churches in SF (even the most conservative ones, Orthodox and Catholic) have gay couples in them. In most cases not only the pastors but also prelates are aware. And this article by Fr Dwight was a painful eye opener, but I was already aware of this particular issue by virtue of friends who had dated clergy, and clergy who had counselled me to be sure to use condoms…

It’s all the same culture: the laity have no place to call out the clergy (and vice versa) as long as we each have our own favourite sins. For every clergyman acting out, there’s a couple with condoms, or a pro-choice Catholic politician taking communion from a knowing pastor. We’re dying from the inside – but it’s all of us together, not just from the top down. And I’m not above tying some of this (but not all) to grandstanded, irreverent liturgies partaking of the Heresy of Formlessness. 

So, there we are. That’s the Church we have just now. The Abominable Bride. I’m too new: I don’t know everyone’s names, but I’m not angry, I’m just being realistic. We are Christians and we must save – and forgive – even those who are here with less than honorable intentions, even nefarious ones. We must love them. Fully. In the hopes that some of the weeds can become wheat again. Salvation first. At one time, with her own courts, the Church knew that salvation required honesty about sins and yet avoiding the secular power structures. St Thomas Becket died to preserve the Church’s right to her own courts – even in the case of murder.


Sadly we’re not there any more. And Paul’s counsel not to bring one another before the secular courts (in front of non-believers) fall now on deaf ears. Yet Fr Illo reminded us that God can use even the secular courts as a scourge, as certainly as God used the Philistines, Nebuchadnezzar, and Darius. So we’ve set ourselves up for this one. Fr Illo is right: because a church devoid of riches, social position, and political power would be far less attractive to folks who are not here for anything else. And Pope Benedict XVI agrees:

From today’s crisis will emerge a church that has lost a great deal. It will no longer have use of the structures it built in its years of prosperity. The reduction in the number of faithful will lead to it losing an important part of its social privileges. It will become small and will have to start pretty much over again. It will be a more spiritual church and will not claim a political mandate flirting with the Right one minute and the Left the next. It will be poor and will become the Church of the destitute.

We need a Bernard to loop us back to the very beginning. To pull us, again, towards Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel: sell all you have and come follow me. We need one fast, before God lets the world force us to do so.


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