03 September 2010

Preparing a Pathway to Contemplate the Substance of Eternity

On this feast of Saint Gregory the Great, at Matins the Carthusians listened to a lengthy reading from ‘Moralia in Iob’ written by this day’s honoured saint. Here is a piece of what was proclaimed in the hallowed Charterhouses.

The human soul, because of the sin of the first of mankind was banished from the joys of paradise, lost the light of the invisible, and poured itself out entirely in the love of the visible, and was darkened to interior contemplation, in proportion as it was dissipated without, to the deformity of itself. From there it comes to pass that it knows nothing, saving the things that it acquaints itself with by the palpable touch, so to say, of the bodily eyes. For man, who, had he been willing to have kept the commandments, would even in his flesh have been a spiritual being, but by sinning was rendered even in carnal soul, so as to imagine such things only as he derives to the soul through the images of bodily substances. For the body is the property of heaven, earth, water, animals, and all the visible things, which he unceasingly beholds; and while the delighted mind wholly precipitates itself into these, it loses the fineness of the inward sense; and whereas it is now no longer able to erect itself to things on High, it willingly lies prostrate in its weakness in things below.

But when with marvellous efforts it strives to rise up from material things, it is great indeed, if the soul, thrusting aside the bodily form, be brought to the knowledge of itself, so as to think of itself without a bodily figure, and by thus thinking of itself to prepare itself a pathway to contemplate the substance of Eternity. Now in this way it shows itself to its own eyes as a kind of ladder, whereby in ascending from outward things to pass into itself, it strives to penetrate God. For when the mind abandons bodily images, entering into itself, it mounts up to no mean height; for though the soul is incorporeal, yet because she is incorporated with the body, she is known by that property of hers, which is confined within the local bounds of the flesh. And whereas she forgets things known, acquaints herself with such that are unknown, remembers what has been consigned to oblivion, passes from sadness to joy, finding serenity, she herself shows by her own diversity in herself, how widely she is removed from the Substance of the eternal Essence of God. All these fluctuations indicate that the nature of the soul is very different from the substance of God, always equal to itself, present everywhere, invisible and incomprehensible, and is by the longing mind discerned without seeing, heard without uncertainty, taken in without motion, touched without bodily substance, held without locality.

And so because the mind is carried away into unaccustomed ground, when it pries into the Essence of the divine, it is rightly said: There stood one whose countenance I knew not ~ Job 4:16. And it is well said, it stood still; for every created thing, in that it is made out of nothing, and of itself tends to nothing, has not the property to stand, but to run to an end. But a creature endowed with reason, by this very circumstance, that it is created after the image of its Creator, is fixed that it should not pass into nothing. No irrational creature is ever fixed, but only, so long as, by the service of its appearing, is completing the form and fashion of the universe, it is delayed in passing away. For though heaven and earth abide now and forever, still they are at this present time of themselves hastening on to nothing, yet for the use of those, whom they serve, until they are renewed and recreated in a better state.

To ‘stand’ then is the attribute of the Creator alone, through Whom all things pass away, but Himself never passing away, and in Whom some things are held fast, that they should not pass away. Thus our Saviour, because of the fixed state of His Divine Nature could not be comprehended by the human mind, He showed this to us as it were in passing, by coming to us, by being created, born, died, buried, by rising again, and returning to the heavenly realms. This is well-expressed in the Gospel by the enlightening of the blind man. The Lord heard him screaming as He was passing, but he recovered when He stopped. Jesus passes as a man, but stops according to His Divine Nature which is everywhere. The Gospel states that Jesus, in passing, heard the cries of our blindness, because as a man He has compassion on our misery. But when He stops, He gives sight to the blind, because through His unchanging divinity, He illuminates the darkness of our infirmities. It is well then that, after it has been said: Then a spirit passed before my face but I could not discern the form thereof ~ Job 4:15-16.