Tuesday, 29 September 2015

St. Benedict- On the Spirit of Silence

From the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 6
Let us do what the Prophet says: "I said, 'I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue. I have set a guard to my mouth.' I was mute and was humbled, and kept silence even from good things" (Ps. 38[39]:2-3). Here the Prophet shows that if the spirit of silence ought to lead us at times to refrain even from good speech, so much the more ought the punishment for sin make us avoid evil words. 

Therefore, since the spirit of silence is so important, permission to speak should rarely be granted even to perfect disciples, even though it be for good, holy edifying conversation; for it is written, "In much speaking you will not escape sin" (Prov. 10:19), and in another place, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue" (Prov. 18:21). 

For speaking and teaching belong to the mistress; the disciple's part is to be silent and to listen. And for that reason if anything has to be asked of the Superior, it should be asked with all the humility and submission inspired by reverence. 

But as for coarse jests and idle words or words that move to laughter, these we condemn everywhere with a perpetual ban, and for such conversation we do not permit a disciple to open her mouth.

Friday, 18 September 2015


The title of my blog was originally chosen, in the inability to think of anything else more profound, to indicate my purpose here as a pursuit of philosophical and theological knowledge. Much - nay, most - of what I have written, however, concerns the sacred liturgy. At first, I was afraid this might not fit the title perfectly, but I have since changed my mind. The common phrase in the Easter rites is "Wisdom! Be attentive!" The liturgy indeed has a direct relationship to wisdom. In his commentary on the Gospel of John, St. Thomas, following Origen, writes that the divine worship is somehow a participation in the divine wisdom. In other places, following Psuedo-Dionysius, he writes that the liturgical signs have the purpose of turning our minds to God in contemplation. Contemplation itself, moreover, is founded on the gift of wisdom, a gift of the Holy Spirit. This being the very purpose of the liturgy, the connection to wisdom is essential. Hence, by a sort of accident, the liturgical focus of my blog has indeed come to square with my original title.

The liturgical orientation to wisdom involves above all things a profound sense of wonder at the mysteries of faith, the ineffable greatness of God that manifests itself under the veil of sacred signs. The liturgy is essentially sacramental - it is a complex of signs and symbols, intended to bring our minds into contact with certain hidden, divine realities. That contact, that touch, that "taste" of the divine sweetness is wisdom, or the contemplation that flows from wisdom. The Latin word for wisdom is sapientia, which comes from sapere - "to taste." Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, our knowledge of the divine truths is elevated to something more powerful than abstract knowledge: it becomes experiential. Our contemplation of these truths moreover has the effect of making us grow in charity, in devotion, in the union of ourselves to God - our divinization. This occurs principally through the contemplation of Christ's humanity - a sacrament, of sorts, of His divinity - which itself is signified through the sacramental rites of the liturgy - principally the Eucharist. Wisdom and sacramentality are intricately united in the liturgy.

They are also united in nature and the arts, and in things not supernatural. St. Thomas distinguishes three types of wisdom: that of the philosopher, that of the theologian, and that of the saint. The first is acquired through study and effort in the pursuit of truth, under the natural light of reason, using the principles of logic, metaphysics, and so forth. The philosopher seeks, as far as he is able, to know the highest causes of the universe. But this comes along also with an appreciation of the beauty of things. Beauty and truth are both objects of contemplation, inasmuch as truth has an intelligible beauty of its own, for which we are prepared to contemplate by the contemplation of the sensible beauty of created things. Nature thus assumes a kind of sacramentality of its own, so indispensable to the vocation of the natural theologian. The famous passage of Romans chapter 1 verse 20 comes to mind: "From the visible things of the world the invisible things of God are seen." Wisdom 13 asks, "Should they not learn to recognise the Artificer by the contemplation of his works?...Such great beauty even creatures have, reason is well able to contemplate the Source from which these perfections came." The philosopher thus has at his disposal the whole of the created world and its beauty, from which to gather up knowledge and contemplation of the higher realities. The fourth proof for the existence of God, given by St. Thomas, relies on this comparison of earthly beauty to its heavenly exemplar.

The second type of wisdom, that of the theologian, is likewise acquired by study and effort, but on the basis of faith, rather than the light of natural reason. Like the philosopher, the theologian seeks the highest causes, or Cause, of things, and he proceeds in a scientific manner to the knowledge of that Cause. Moreover, he too sees the created world as a source of knowledge, a sign of higher things; but he looks at the world also under the light of revelation, which elevates his knowledge to something supernatural. He sees now in the world a reflection of those truths which are not accessible to reason alone. He sees all of creation praising the Lord in the manner depicted so often by the Psalms, and thereby he finds himself better able to participate in the joy (and sorrow) of the Christian mystery. Moreover, the theologian knows by revelation the humanity of Christ, a sensible sign of divinity. The physical actions of Christ as man are known by the theologian as being also the spiritual works of God for the redemption of man. The liturgy, for the theologian, as well as the expressions and concepts of his science, are further signs which participate in the sacramentality of Christ's humanity, as means for the theologian to access the knowledge of God.

The third type of wisdom, which is the infused gift of the Holy Spirit, is on that account not acquired by human effort. It still makes use of created things in some way, as signs of higher realities, but the knowledge of those realities is of a different order completely. The theologian and the philosopher knew these realities still in a human mode, inseparable from discursive reasoning and reflection; the contemplative saint knows them in a divine mode, as God knows Himself, and all things in Himself. The saint participates in a very real way in the knowledge of God, in a manner more like to vision than speculation - albeit not with the clarity of Beatitude. For this reason, the contemplative soul makes use of material signs in such a way that he does not remain so bound up in them as the philosopher and the theologian do, but rests in a much more perfect degree in the purely spiritual comprehension of God. The liturgical signs especially, along with all created things, are the opportunity for the soul to receive from God the grace of such an intimate knowledge, a knowledge by connaturality with God, by "suffering divine things."

Each of these forms of wisdom is a foretaste of that Wisdom which is the Beatific Vision.