09 October 2010

Our Lady's 'Doctor Ecstaticus'

One of the most prolific writers of the Carthusian Order was Denys van Leeuwen, but perhaps better known simply as Denys the Carthusian or his Latinized name, Dionysius. Denys was Belgian and a model Carthusian to say the least. After being educated in theology, philosophy and Sacred Scripture from the University of Cologne, he entered the Carthusian way of life in 1423. The many hours involved daily in praying the Divine Office, saying Mass, praying Our Lady’s Office, as well as other devotional practices -- all staples of the Carthusian charism – Denys also nearly on a daily basis spent many hours reciting the Psalter in its entirety. In addition to this, he was no stranger to spiritual reading. A couple of years before his death the list of what he read began to surface. He read nearly every ecclesiastical writer leading up to his time in life. Another monk revealed that Denys also read nearly every summa and most commentaries on Scripture; he was also fond of reading the works of Greek and Arabic philosophers. His favourite writer was Dionysius the Areopagite. As incredible as all this seems, perhaps more mysterious and even miraculous is how he found the time to write so much himself. Like all Carthusians, he was very fond of our Lady. Here are some of his thoughts concerning our Blessed Mother:

From his work, De Prœconio, one should be convinced that as long as Mary is present in the life of a sinful soul, that soul need not despair:

‘You are the consolation and the hope of the most guilty of men. He who has recourse to you can never complain of your severity and harshness. To your sons, even to the most ungrateful, you are kindness and tenderness itself; for all, you have the heart of a compassionate and indulgent Mother. Despite your high estate and the exalted privileges which you enjoy in heaven, if the most wretched, the most impure, the most despised of sinners appeals to you for help with a truly contrite and humbled heart, far from disdaining him you welcome him with a Mother’s love. You take him into your arms and, holding him close to your heart, you communicate to him a new warmth and then make his peace with the Judge he fears. How many are the afflicted, the sinners, the utterly abandoned, who rejoice that they have found in you, O Mary most merciful, salvation and life’!

In Volume VII of his Opera Omnia, Denys explains why we pray, ‘Blessed are you among women’, for Mary is indeed ‘full of grace’.

‘Many women have gathered together great spiritual treasures, but you, O Virgin most admirable, have surpassed them all. For if, according to Saint Jerome, no one is good when compared to God, in like manner no virgin is perfect in comparison with you’.

Also from his Opera Omnia in Volume XXXII, Denys tells the story of a Cistercian’s encounter with our Blessed Mother:

‘A Cistercian religious had such a great devotion to our Blessed Lady that he would never sit down to table until he had recited on his knees five decades of the Rosary. Now one day, when his relatives had come to see him, and he was about to share their meal in the company of a few friends, he suddenly remembered that he had not fulfilled his customary tribute to his heavenly Mother. Immediately he arose and withdrew from the company. And as he prayed, whom did he see but our Lady herself, clothed with a magnificent cloak studded with Ave Marias, in letters of gold. He was filled with confusion when, with a sweet smile, the lovely apparition said to him: See all the Aves you have said to me. Then, with a gesture she threw open her cloak and, showing him the inside, added: When your Aves have covered this side also, I shall come for you, and take you to my Son’s Kingdom’.

What a marvellous assurance that as we pray the Rosary, our Lady is indeed listening! With all of Denys literary achievements, none of it took precedence over his commitment to prayer. Perhaps there’s a lesson there, in that, if we are committed to prayer, all those other things in our life that we deem as necessary, our Lord, if He also deems it necessary, will see to it that it is accomplished. Finally, it should be noted that Denys the Carthusian was quite privileged in receiving ecstasies, many of which involved levitation. Because of this, he has been given the title of Doctor Ecstaticus.