03 December 2009

Sinful, Deserving Punishment... and yet a Temple of God

This piece comes from the heart and mind of Guigo de Ponte and his work titled, “De Contemplatione.” Guigo de Ponte was a monk of Chartreuse and this thirteenth-century writing in its original was in Latin. The English translation was done by Dennis D. Martin, a teacher of historical theology and Church history. This particular work was not widely known or distributed. It was, however, influential to another Carthusian writer, Ludolph of Saxony, as well as Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. Three names are mentioned in this piece, two of whom are well-known, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and Saint Anthony, while the other perhaps is not so familiar to many, Hugh of Saint Victor. Hugh was a theologian, philosopher and a writer on Christian mysticism. He was the author of several influential works in the twelfth century. This post from the writings of Guigo de Ponte focuses on the human soul, her contemplative and active natures, and that she is a temple of God, even though she is sinful.

A soul which truly has both the contemplative and the active is not unjustly called a temple of God, a royal court, angelic, divine, the bride of Christ, and similar things. Saint Anthony was such a person.

Discipline is especially pertinent to the active life, and, as Hugh of Saint Victor says, “Discipline of God consists of three things, namely in commandments, in temptations, and in afflictions. In commandments God tests your obedience, in temptation he tests your steadiness, and in afflictions he tests your patience.”

Then too the godly spirit herself, shut off from exterior concerns and thoughts and adorned inwardly with holy virtues, is a temple of God, a royal court, a nuptial chamber, and a regal and fragrant apartment.

Because she invisibly receives the good wine poured into her, the wine of divine graces flowing into her from on High, she is beyond doubt also a wine cellar: The King brought me into His wine cellar (Song of Songs 2:4), that is, He gives the grace of returning to one’s heart (cf. Isaiah 46:8) so that one’s inward ears might hear what the Lord God will speak within me, for He will speak peace to His people and to those who are converted to the heart (Psalm 84 [85]:9).

Yet the godly spirit is called a temple of God or wine cellar and the like, not out of arrogance or presumption but because of the unspeakable dignity of the heavenly King. Far from diminishing that dignity, God’s application of these names to man actually highlights God’s glory.

To keep from becoming proud, the faithful soul should always remain aware of and keep in view what she is in her own right, using discipline to own up to these lowly things even while she renders to God the things of God (cf. Matthew 22:21) that God has given her. For just as the tent of Kedar (cf. Song of Songs 1:4 [5]), as far as she is concerned, is sinful, weak, muddy, given to vices, deserving the punishment of eternal damnation, subject to countless traps, so also by grace of divine dignity and of her divine espousal she is a light in the Lord, justified by faith, strong, clean, and virtuous in the Lord Who frees and rescues our souls from death, our eyes from tears, our feet from the fall (cf. Psalm 114:8 [116:8]).

She should faithfully and constantly offer all these things, both the good and the bad, to the Creator through worthy consideration. As Bernard says of the human person, “How lowly! How sublime! A tent of Kedar yet also a sanctuary of God, a terrestrial habitation yet a celestial palace, a house of clay yet also a royal apartment, a mortal body yet a temple of light, a source of contempt to the proud yet also a bride of Christ” (Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermo XXVII).

Thus the godly spirit is the temple of God, the daughter of the Prince; she is not only a dark wine cellar but a well-lit chamber. For in this stage a certain divine light reflects back to her and in its brilliance she sees well enough to walk in that state, to walk in the midst of her gloom, indeed, sometimes, to step beyond her gloominess until in that reflected light she can see the Supreme and Eternal Light (cf. Psalm 35:10 [36:9]).