14 January 2009

Hugh of Balma: The Lord's Prayer

It is prayed at every Mass; it is prayed in the Divine Office; it is prayed in the Rosary. It is prayed countless times privately and/or for personal intentions. It is the Lord’s Prayer. But how often do we attempt to raise our souls to understand the meaning of this prayer given to us by Him Who is Risen? Hugh of Balma, a thirteenth century Carthusian, invites us to examine this prayer through an anagogical lens, id est, a mystical interpretation of this prayer. And certainly our Lord Jesus Christ, the Giver of this prayer, would like nothing more than to elevate our souls and draw us to a more intimate union with Him. This first post looks at what Hugh of Balma refers to as the “three main commendations of the Beloved.”

Most minds when thinking of the word “Father,” as Hugh of Balma conveys, turn to the “literal sense” when a man “engenders a son” biologically. Turning towards “the anagogic sense,” however, means engendering “many sons adoptively, rather than naturally, from the seed of deifying love He has emitted.” He goes on to say that “this seed of deifying love gives perfect nativity to the human spirit.” In other words, this adoptive love is called deifying love because it says to the recipients: I choose you. And coming from Almighty God makes it a perfect choice. As chosen sons and daughters of God, Who “richly radiates life from on High” we can and should offer ourselves to Him because to those Who accept His love, He “mercifully shapes and forms… out of His Fatherly affection – until in the end” when we shall see “Him face to Face.” Hugh closes out this portion of his reflection by saying that “this is the hidden or mystical significance of saying ‘Father’ – for He is the Fountainhead of all life.”

“Next comes ‘Our’ which praises the outward sharing of… enclosed Goodness, as if one were to say, ‘By reason of Your widespread goodness, not only do You pay attention to individuals but You also do all You can to let Your radiance draw all rational spirits to Yourself.’” Thus God does not reach out only to a chosen few who have climbed to elevated levels on the spiritual ladder, for He loves us all equally and desires that even the willfully disobedient will come to know Him, love Him and experience His love. Those who have are the “rational spirits.” Hugh then continues with something we all know by calling God “the Fountain and Source of goodness.” This “is the thrust of ‘Our’ taken in an anagogic … uplifting sense.”

“Who art in heaven” is the next section. Hugh of Balma writes that “here goodwill is gained by reason of a surpassing and lofty dwelling-place.” He continues by sharing that “there are three ways that heaven excels other things: It is continually in motion, it remains steadfast and it is adorned with a variety of constellations shining brightly within it.” Looking at this mystically he says that “the bride,” or the Church, “should adorn herself with this threefold characteristic in the hidden storeroom of her heart as she converses with the Bridegroom in her chamber.” We as the Church are “steadfast” by acknowledging that God, “Who art in heaven,” dwells in us “in the present, potential and essential way” but also He inhabits “the inward bed-chamber of some human spirits,” meaning that He is “truly in Himself.” Id est, the Most Holy Trinity is “a guest Who brings rejoicing and comfort, making” Himself “at home with those who have given other vices and delights” the heave-ho “for the sake of gaining” His “love more effectively.” These human spirits “live in love, set free from hindrances by sighs and bonded to” our Lord “by the adhesive of gentlest love.” The love of these exceptional souls is “as strong in them as death.” These blessed souls are sustained “with affections that cannot be beaten back” because the Source of these affections is “the Beloved.”

In the Lord's Prayer “Our Father Who art in heaven” are the “three main commendations of the Beloved.” First, as “Father” He is praised “as the Origin of complete and spiritual life.” Secondly, in “Our” God “widely diffuses His goodness.” And third, “Who art in heaven” is “the worth of His dwelling-place” and is commended “for so excellent a King would not deign to dwell except where there is a firm abode, or tabernacle, variously and suitably furnished on the inside.

Future posts, God willing, will look at Hugh of Balma’s mystical explanations of the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.