Spirituality, Christian (History of)
SPIRITUALITY, CHRISTIAN (HISTORY OF)
A history of spirituality is a history of the problem, always newly posed in a dynamic and changing civilization, of how the soul may live as integrally as possible the life of Jesus Christ. This article presents a general survey of ancient sources and early forms of spirituality and of the evolution and formation of multiple currents in the schools of spirituality from early ages to the present.
Scriptural origins. The Jewish religion was above all the religion of the covenant. This covenant was the source of unshakable trust in God's divine power and of the nearness of God, who condescended to make Himself the companion of His people. The prayers of the Jewish religion were permeated with the sense of God's nearness and at the same time of His elevation.
Jesus' first preaching was the good news of the Reign of God. This reign was revealed as the re-creating intervention of God, offering to every man the grace of being made a child of God. In Jesus the divine perfection, the perfection of the love that gives itself totally, was put within man's reach. He expressed this total self-giving by taking on Himself the weight of the sins of men and redeeming them from those sins through His death on the cross. The poverty involved in total self-giving, which is the agape of the Gospel, makes one blessed. Blessedness was to be the result of carrying the Messiah's cross, His easy yoke and light burden.
In the preaching of the primitive Church, the Resurrection was seen as the fruit of the cross and the principle or source of the effusion of the Spirit into men's souls. St. Paul taught that by Baptism man is made one with Christ in assimilation to His death, in view of His Resurrection. St. John, on the other hand, frequently used the images of life and light. He taught that the Word is the life proper to God, the life which God communicated by creating through the Word, the life which He came to restore and which is also the light.
Patristic period. The principal consideration of Christian spirituality in the beginning was the problem of eschatology, the expectation of Christians of Christ's second coming. By the end of the 2d century, it was realized more clearly than before that the Christian life is situated in a paradoxical intermediate state. In the risen Christ, the Church has already gained everything that it is to possess after the last times.
Martyrdom. Martyrdom was for the first Christian generations the ideal instance of union with Christ in trial, leading to perfect union with Him in the life of charity. The importance of martyrdom arose from the fact that it offered a possibility, by assimilation to Christ dead and risen again, of attaining and, in a certain sense, of anticipating the eschatological event. It was Jesus whom the martyr sought (see martyrdom, theology of).
After the persecutions, the question arose whether there was not some substitute for martyrdom as a way of being united to Christ, and Origen maintained that a fervent preparation for death, being a life of self-sacrifice, could be a true though unbloody martyrdom. And Clement of Alexandria pointed out that anyone could make his death a martyrdom if he prepared for it with the fitting dispositions.
Gnosis. In the meeting with Hellenism, Christianity had to cope with the dualistic and intellectualistic views on which Hellenic spirituality was based. By its intellectualism gnosticism thought to find salvation simply in the recognition of a radical opposition between the world of spirit, fundamentally good, and the world of matter, essentially imperfect. St. Irenaeus (d. 120) became the great spokesman of the Church's rejection of this heretical pseudo-gnosis. According to gnosis in its orthodox form, everything, matter as well as spirit, is to be saved. Orthodox gnosis is intimate knowledge of and participation in the love that is communicated by God to men through Christ; and it surpasses all natural knowledge to lose itself in the fullness of God.
The Alexandrian School. The Christian school of Alexandria, particularly as represented by Clement and Origen, had great importance in the field of spirituality. For clement of alexandria (150?–215?), the supreme state is that in which one knows the God of love by loving as He loves. The attainment of the summit of the gnostic life, i.e., assimilation to God, was made possible by apatheia, a term he introduced into Christian language. By this term, he meant a domination, acquired through grace, over everything that is opposed to charity. The resulting stable condition is, as it were, a foretaste of eternity.
origen (185?–254?) taught that the soul must struggle to uproot itself from the world in which it is buried by its egoistic desires. This struggle is carried out by an imitation of and participation in the life of Christ. Like Clement, Origen wrote about vocal prayer, saying that as it is interiorized, it goes beyond itself into the prayer of silence, which characterizes the state of union with God and liberation from the body.
Formerly, persecutions caused faithful Christians to retire to the desert and there freely lead a life of the most precarious kind. As the State made its peace with the Church, a world that without changing its ways had become friendly to Christianity led many Christians to return to the desert to find once more the detachment, austerity, and fervor they had known but could no longer know in a life suddenly become too easy.
The retreat of early Christians to the deserts of Egypt did not express just a simple desire for tranquillity, leisure, or extended contemplation in the sense the term had in Greek philosophy. The monk went to the desert to fight against the devil. Solitude allowed him to discover and face all the obscure forces he bore within himself. These religious men knew that one must suffer to be a monk, but they did not hesitate to condemn rigorous austerities whenever, instead of freeing the spirit, they weighed it down. The asceticism particularly of Egyptian monasticism was an exercise of liberation, of disengagement from the bonds of the flesh and of the world.
But in Syria austerities took forms unknown in Egypt. Stylites lived on columns; hermits used iron chains to inflict punishment on themselves, or had themselves buried alive. Solitaries exposed themselves to the elements. Yet, rather than suffering, it was indifference to everything unessential that was sought.
Monasticism. Gradually hermits were joined by others to whom they communicated what they had received. Around the idea of the abbot, or spiritual father, the transition was made from pure anchoritism, with its complete solitude, to mitigated anchoritism, in which solitaries were grouped about a spiritual father, and finally to cenobitism (see monasticism). In the beginning the abbot had no official function. He was simply the perfected spiritual man.
It became a theme, traditional until the end of the Middle Ages, that the monastic was the continuation of the apostolic life. And the apostolic life was understood by all antiquity as primarily a life in which Christians persevere together in prayer, in community of goods, and in the breaking of bread. In the period when monasticism in general came to be organized, the practice of consecrating one's virginity to Christ was solemnized by profession and public consecration before the Church. By virginity the Christian sought to achieve the reality of which marriage offers an image: the union of Christ and the Church.
Two or three generations had gone by before monasticism provided itself with a theological teaching. This teaching came through the Cappadocians. They rectified and broadened the thought of Origen and furnished monasticism with a well-wrought theory. The influence of the Cappadocians, and particularly of St. gregory of nyssa (330?–395?), on monasticism has not always been as clear as now. Gregory of Nyssa's thought was transmitted in two different ways: one was more learned, and the other was more popular and practical. In Syria what was most personal in this thought came to be the seed of a new development: the Areopagitical writings.
According to pseudo-dionysius (4th or 5th century), the soul finds God by going beyond itself, by rejecting all particular knowledge and by being united to Him, who is transcendent, in the luminous darkness where He awaits it. Spiritual writers were very numerous in the East during the 5th and 6th centuries, and certain of them were masters whose influence was considerable throughout the later history of spirituality. But only with St. maximus (580?–662) was a new departure sketched out: that of Byzantine spirituality.
St. Augustine. Meanwhile, St. augustine (354–430) had been dependent on the whole spiritual heritage of the Christian East. But his manner of rethinking and synthesizing was often so personal and creative that his work became the starting point of a renewed tradition. Moreover, the works of Augustine had a preface, so to speak, in the works of SS. ambrose and jerome. Augustinian wisdom is something other than the gnosis of the Greek Fathers, in spite of certain affinities. It is distinguished particularly by its psychological, reflexive orientation. It does not deal directly with the mystery of God in Christ, but with the mystery of men's selves that Christ helps them to discern. The sense of the meditation on Scripture was changed in his spirituality. An element of anthropocentrism was introduced.
Augustine's work included significant endeavors regarding monastic life. When he had become bishop, he organized the whole life of the clergy around him in a quasi-monastic fashion. This example of Augustine was fruitful in propagating a new type of monasticism. Side by side with this new monasticism in the West, however, the older type also spread. There were monasteries of laymen, strangers both to the concern for intellectual culture that had always been Augustine's and to the pastoral care that would be added later on.
Cassian. It was John cassian (360?–435?) who transmitted to the West the monastic practices and types of organization first developed in the East, as well as the best distillation of its teaching. Throughout the whole work of asceticism, the monk is not to seek anything but the kingdom of God. He will attain this kingdom by purity of heart, which is the condition and counterpart of the full development of charity. The summits of Cassian's mysticism are described by him as a constant prayer, a prayer of fire wholly inspired by the Gospel.
St. Gregory. From the time of the invasions in the 6th century, a new world began in the West. The life and action of St. gregory the great (540–604) pertain to the patristic period, but the doctrine he elaborated in contact with this tradition became the principal source from which the Middle Ages drew its spiritual program. By its simplicity, its lack of speculation, Gregory's doctrine was suited to the needs of the new people of the barbaric world after the invasions.
Middle Ages. The spirituality of the early Middle Ages was necessarily that of the cloisters, for it had developed in the dark ages, when conditions were such that civilized life hardly existed elsewhere. During the period from the pontificate of St. Gregory to the middle of the 8th century, monks maintained a high ascetical ideal and gave an example of prayer profitable to the laity, clerics, and bishops. These centuries in which the new Christian peoples arose out of barbarism manifested an intense need for exterior penance. Devotions at this time were directed to the cross, the relics and tombs of the saints, and the Mother of God.
Carolingian Period. In the Carolingian epoch the influence of the Benedictine Rule became almost exclusive. Among the laity, groups of penitents, oblates, and fervent Christians were organized; they became especially numerous around the monasteries. The two traits that marked Carolingian piety were interest in the Bible and love of the liturgy.
The 10th and 11th Centuries. In the 10th and 11th centuries, to prevent abuse and obtain the spiritual freedom necessary to carry on the tasks of the Church, the abbeys began to join in groups, but they were bound by very loose juridical bonds. These federations were made around key monasteries and gave rise to congregations of monasteries and to the first religious order, the Order of Cluny. The life of the medieval monk consisted in keeping present before the world the value of Pentecost: the holiness of God communicated to men. All his asceticism and the entire system of observances that constrained him had as their goal his liberation.
In Italy, attempts were made to organize a quasieremitical form of life. SS. romuald at Camaldoli and elsewhere, john gualbert at Vallambrosa, and peter damian established groups of followers who led lives of austerity, perpetual silence, and strict enclosure, without manual labor.
At this time, too, men filled with violent passions turned more spontaneously toward extreme forms of penance. Long, tiring pilgrimages and self-flagellation were ways of showing one's love, generosity, and desire for martyrdom.
Meanwhile, John of Fécamp (d. 1079) was one of the most widely read spiritual writers up to the end of the Middle Ages. In his system, quiet meditative reading occupies the mind with thoughts about God; the thoughts give rise to acts, to affective prayer, and this in turn becomes simplified until it merges into a contemplative prayer.
The Cluniac movement in the course of time made many additions to the original Benedictine Office, and as a result manual labor practically ceased (see cluniac reform). The Cistercian Order founded by St. robert of molesme in 1098 removed most of these additions and returned to the primitive manual labor of the fields.
Although Cistercian spirituality was fundamentally the same as that of the black monks, the early Cistercian writers, such as St. bernard and william of saint-thierry, cultivated a theology of the mystical life. St. Bernard (1091–1153) considered the soul as the image of God because of its gift of free will; but when it is in sin this likeness is obscured. The soul can turn again to the Word to be reformed in itself and conformed to Him. This conformity weds the soul to the Word. Already like Him by nature, it shows its likeness to Him through its will, loving even as it is loved. In his sermons to his monks, Bernard was intensely concerned with Christ in His infancy and in His Passion; this gave him the reputation of having introduced devotion to the humanity of Christ into the spiritual life.
The institution of the Carthusian Order by St. Bruno in 1098 established on a wider basis the quasi-eremitical life begun earlier in Italy. Instances of extraordinary phenomena are to be found in the German nuns SS. hilde garde and elizabeth of schÖnau in the 12th century, and SS. gertrude and mechtild in the 13th century.
The 12th Century. In the 12th century, Saint-Victor, outside Paris, became a well-known theological and spiritual center and also the birthplace of a congregation of canons regular. The intellectual movement of scholasticism had some impact on the writers of this school, who are known as the Victorines (see victorine spirituali ty); nevertheless, they remained within the monastic tradition. Their symbolist view of the universe, taken from St. Augustine, led to an intuitive rather than a dialectical method of approaching God and naturally to greater emphasis on contemplation. The principal writers of this school were hugh of saint-victor, richard of saint-victor, and thomas gallus.
There also appeared in the 12th century a kind of exasperated reaching toward the pure ideal of the Gospel. Social, political, and religious leaders were pushing to extremes the demands of radical poverty and an opposition to all formalism and legalism. By the 13th century, sections of the laity were criticizing the existing social conditions and the lives of the clergy, and they were fostering a neo-Manichean movement represented first by the Waldenses and then by the Albigenses.
The 13th Century. SS. francis (1181?–1226) and dominic (1170–1221) remedied these spiritual ills through their ideal of the practice of poverty and the active service of the Church. Dominic provided his Preachers with a background of traditional cloister life that was to serve as a safeguard and a source of strength. Accordingly, St. thomas aquinas (1224–1274) taught that the highest life was that which combined contemplation with preaching: contemplata aliis tradere.
St. Francis' original idea had been the imitation of the life of Christ in all its simplicity and poverty. As the number of the Franciscan friars increased, organization became necessary. St. bonaventure (1221–1274) established the balance. There were to be three elements in the Franciscan way of life: following Christ through the evangelical counsels, especially poverty; laboring for the salvation of souls by preaching and hearing confessions; and contemplation. Likewise, in the footsteps of Bernard and Francis, a movement of Christocentric and affective piety stirred Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries.
The 14th Century. About the beginning of the 14th century, a new current in spirituality began in the Rhineland, the Low Countries, and England, involving a new attitude toward contemplation and an attempt to analyze it. The greatest influence on the new school was that of Pseudo-Dionysius. Because of his identification with the Areopagite mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (17.34), his works had a quasi-apostolic authority throughout the Middle Ages, but it was only after Thomas Gallus had translated and commented on these works in the 13th century that they began to exercise a strong influence in the West. Those mainly influenced were three German Dominicans (Meister eckhart, tauler, and henry suso) and the Flemish ruysbroeck, a canon regular of St. Augustine. The chief concern of these men was the soul's union with God, which was at its fullest in contemplation. Thus they made a highly intellectual analysis of contemplation based on theological principles. They demanded as necessary preparation for this union the abandonment of all thought of creatures.
The unknown English author of The cloud of unknowing gave perhaps the clearest practical exposition of this. A group of other English spiritual writers during this century, such as Richard rolle and Walter hilton, belonged essentially to this same school. A little later, the northern school found its most coherent theorist and efficient propagandist in the Franciscan henry of herp, better known as Harphius.
Spiritual writers up to the 14th century were interested more in the conditions of contemplation than in its redemptive effects. St. catherine of siena (1347–80), however, was more obsessed by the needs of the Church. Yet she was always aware that her prayer and penance did more for the Church than her public acts.
The need for widespread reform in the Church by the end of the 14th century began to be met in the Low Countries with the formation of the brethren of the common life by Gerard groote. The spirituality of this movement was known as the devotio moderna. Instead of speculative analyses of contemplation, affective and empirical spirituality engaged its interests. The one great work the movement produced was The imitation of christ by thomas À kempis.
Renaissance. The years that witnessed the upheavals of the humanist Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation were fertile in spirituality, but medieval tendencies actually continued for a long time, and new ideas were grafted into them without violence. Attempts to organize private prayer began to be faced and achieved a decided advance at the beginning of the 16th century with García de cisneros, the Benedictine reformer. St. ignatius of loyola (1491–1556) brought a technique to its full perfection of form in his spiritual exercises. The fundamental elements of this systematized prayer were a methodic use of the imaginative powers, deliberate incitement of the affections, and ascetic and moral application.
Many of the Christian humanists were sympathetic toward mysticism; and, faithful to its heritage of the Middle Ages, mysticism persisted throughout the century. Christian humanists were also working in their own fashion toward a restoration of the Christian life. Love for classical antiquity and an optimistic view of human nature characterize what has been called devout humanism. The spiritual works of erasmus (1467–1536) provide an example.
The ideas of Erasmus found firm support in Spain and began to join with the vigorous mystical tendencies of the alumbrados. After 1525, in Spain, the anti-mystical reaction took the form of suspicion. The Index of Valdes (1559) proscribed all the Rheno-Flemish mystics and also the majority of vernacular books on spirituality. In the first decades of the century, the writings of francis of osuna and bernadino of laredo gave free expression to mysticism, but later the writings of louis of granada, Bl. john of avila, and Luis de leÓn, etc., were more restrained in regard to mysticism. In 1583 Cardinal Quiroga published an Index that was more liberal; this made possible the appearance of works left unpublished by SS. Teresa and John of the Cross.
St. teresa (1515–1582), a mystical writer of the first rank, has left a fine analysis of the stages of prayer, which has had an exceptional influence upon subsequent theologians. However, since for Teresa prayer consists essentially in an exchange of love with God, she insisted upon the concrete proof of this love, upon the soul's effort to practice the virtues, leaving to God the communication of His extraordinary graces, when and how He wishes.
St. john of the cross (1542–1591), a companion of Teresa in her work of reform within the Carmelite Order, is held by many to be the greatest of the mystical writers. The importance of his contribution lies in his analyses of the soul's active and passive purifications, and his explanations of the life of union with God.
Spanish spirituality became theoretical and scientific with and after John of the Cross, but Italian spirituality was more practical. There were fervent groups in Italy desirous to reform the Church, revive interior life, and inspire the clergy with a sense of their duties. Models of this type of spirituality were SS. Philip neri and Charles borromeo. catherine of genoa (1447–1510) had a marked influence throughout two centuries. The substance of her writings seems to have come from notes taken by another during her ecstasies. She compared the state of the souls in purgatory to the trials of the mystical life. Some other Italian writers of this period were SS. Mary Magdalen dei pazzi, catherine of ricci, and Robert bellarmine. There is noticeable in many of the Italian writers a tendency to aspire to God through the contemplation of creation and its wonders, and also a kindly feeling for human nature.
Post-Reformation. Spirituality in France, because of the troubles that so long divided it, remained more or less underground. The saintly Mme. Acarie (1566–1618) became a center of devout circles in Paris. The extraordinary phenomena of her life, together with the influence of her holiness, helped to gather around her a group of spiritual persons, including such figures as Benet of Canfield, Dom Beaucousin, and Cardinal de bÉrulle (1575–1629), who became the origins of the religious spring that revived French Catholicism in the early years of the 17th century.
The task of bringing the piety of the cloister into the world fell to St. francis de sales (1567–1622), a representative of the Counter Reformation who frequented the entourage of Mme. Acarie. He sought to show Christians that, whatever their place in society, their lives must be imbued with the religion they profess.
Devotion to the Word Incarnate and a special regard for the virtue of religion are traits of Bérulle's teaching. His most famous disciples were Charles de condren, St. vincent de paul, Jean Jacques olier, St. John eudes, and St. grignion de montfort. These representatives of the French school were fiery opponents of Jansenism. Jansenism was a reaction away from the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales toward rigorism, exaggerating the austerity and the more threatening aspects of Christianity.
The prayer of simplicity was practiced almost everywhere in France about 1670. Among its most famous advocates was a Carmelite lay brother, lawrence of the resurrection. Many spiritual authors, however, regarded this prayer as mystical and recommended it to all indiscriminately, thus unwisely impelling them to passive prayer.
fÉnelon's teachings on pure love and the absolute sacrifice of salvation were condemned by the Holy See in 1699, but his errors were not as gross as those of the Spanish quietist, Miguel de molinos, or of Mme. guyon. Molinos taught that nonresistance to temptation is allowable to contemplatives and he also contrived a general system based on the total inertia of the soul that has attained the "interior way." In opposition to the quietists, bossuet (1627–1704) taught that, rightly understood, abandonment makes the soul apply itself energetically to its religious exercises and other duties.
After the condemnation of Fénelon, many thought the best thing to do was not to talk about mysticism at all. Since the censuring of the quietists was considered a personal victory for the Jansenists, Jansenistic spirituality spread its influence widely. At the very time when quietism was corrupting the traditional idea of Christian piety and Jansenism was making fear the only motive for moral activity, Our Lord revealed the treasure of love in His heart to St. Margaret Mary at Paray-le-Monial, and asked that religious veneration be made publicly to His divine Heart.
St. alphonsus liguori (1696–1787) has been called an Italian Francis de Sales. His spiritual writings, which restored the true idea of piety that Jansenist pessimism had deformed, are mainly affective and give much attention to divine love.
Modern period. After David Augustine baker (1575–1641) revived mystical traditions in England, there were few English spiritual writers until the 19th century. One of the causes of the Oxford Movement was the longing for closer contact with God. Devotion to the Holy Spirit was characteristic of the Oxford converts, who felt the hidden action of the Spirit guiding them toward truth. The inspiration for the writings of Frederick William faber (1814–1863) was drawn from the Italian and French schools. Cardinal Newman (1801–1890), however, preferred English habits of devotion and belief. Though spirituality was not a special concern of his intellectual activity, Newman touched upon it in his sermons and writings.
During the 19th century, mysticism and holiness inspired a prodigious apostolic activity of re-Christianization. There existed on all sides an extraordinary effervescence of religious and spiritual works: instruction in schools, care for the sick, catechizing, foreign mission work, and care of the poor. Through these works, souls expressed their love of Christ and reached union with God. Many congregations of sisters devoted to education were founded, and the work of education attracted many generous souls. A French saint active in the Christian revival at this time was Jean vianney, curé of Ars (1786–1859), to whose confessional came hundreds of thousands. His spiritual life was characterized by a deep hatred of sin and an acute, intense sadness, like that Our Lord knew during His agony.
At the end of the 19th century, the errors of Americanism were pointed out by Leo XIII, and a little later impassioned disputes over the boundaries of mysticism and asceticism began after Augustin poulain, SJ, published his Graces of Interior Prayer.
The spiritual biography that surpassed all others in popularity was that of St. thÉrÈse of lisieux (1873–97). Her "little way of spiritual childhood" has won many followers and has become the source of deep theological studies.
Under the influence of modern individualism, the worship of the Church had been increasingly relegated to the background. Spiritual life had assumed a largely subjective and private character. Thus there arose the effort to regain what had been set aside; this became known as the liturgical movement and spread throughout the world.
The findings of modern psychology also brought new insights to the field of spirituality through deep analyses of human behavior and understanding of the values of interpersonal relationships. Finally, scientific and technological advances made man master of the universe in ways that were not previously imagined. No longer were many areas of existence regarded as outside man's personal responsibility. There developed in consequence what might be called the spirituality of involvement. The Christian came more to regard his professional life, his work in organization, commerce, production, and science, if done according to God's will, as a true contribution to the building up of the city of men. It became clear that when Christians love one another and bear together the burden of building the community, God reveals Himself to them as Lord, Redeemer, and Father.
Late twentieth century. The most striking and perhaps also the most significant effect of the renewal inaugurated by Vatican Council II has been an intensified interest and desire to share in the spiritual life. The average practicing Catholic has been most affected by the reform of the liturgy. The Mass was always fairly central in Catholic spiritual practice, but its pervasive influence in the lives of the faithful has been greatly enhanced with the general introduction of the vernacular and other reform measures. Previous to Vatican II, a relatively small number were directly nourished by the liturgical texts and action. When the priest came down from the high altar to a small table facing the people and invited them to sing popular hymns, do the readings, lead the congregation, bring the gifts, generally plan the liturgy, and sometimes even have the liturgy in their own living rooms, more and more of the faithful began effectively to hear the Word of God proclaimed and to interiorize the sentiments of the liturgical action. One result has been a renewed study and use of the Scriptures in the private devotional lives of Catholics. Concomitantly with the renewal of the Mass form came a more independent attitude on the part of the lay Catholic in moral judgment, leading to an increased freedom in receiving the Eucharist. The emphasis on this as a shared meal rather than an awesome communion with the Transcendent has also greatly affected the role the Eucharist plays in Catholic spirituality today, reducing those practices which largely emphasized adoration: exposition, benediction, processions. In great measure what elements remained in the Western liturgy of mystery and awe before the Almighty have been eliminated and spirituality has been centered more on an incarnate God within community. The renewal of the Sacraments with their emphasis on communal participation and celebration has fostered the same attitude. The transformation of Extreme Unction into the Sacrament of the Sick has even brought the lonely act of dying more into the supportive presence of the Christian community and opened the way to communal healing services (see healing, christian). The most recent reform, the new rites of Penance, which has become the Sacrament of Reconciliation, has not yet had impact, but may, especially in its communal celebration, help the Catholic community to refind ways of expressing conversion and self-denial that have generally been lost with the end of most of the common obligations of fast and abstinence. More important perhaps is the opportunity this renewed rite offers to refind the value of the personal guidance and care of a spiritual father, the need for which many Christians have been discovering in the charismatic community with its emphasis on "headship," in Eastern religious traditions, or just in a sincere quest for a deeper prayer life. The American Jesuits especially have been trying to respond to the need through the establishment of several programs for the formation of competent spiritual guides.
The Charismatic Movement. Undoubtedly the liveliest spiritual movement in the American Catholic Church since Vatican II has been the charismatic movement. The ecumenical impetus that opened the Catholic community to a wide use of Protestant hymns in the renewed liturgy and a greater emphasis on scriptural reading, study and prayer, also opened a certain segment of people to a particular form of evangelical enthusiasm that broke in on American Protestantism early in the 20th century—the willingness to receive and use certain of the gifts of the Spirit commonly seen among the faithful since the first days of the Church, praying and singing in tongues, prophecy, and healing. The renewal for the most part has for Catholics blended well with the renewal of liturgical piety. The communal element has been greatly emphasized, the place of Scripture in spiritual formation and prayer is almost exaggerated, and Mass and the Sacraments are celebrated with an unparalleled fullness (see charismatic renewal, catholic).
The Meditation Movement. Only a segment of the Catholic community has been attracted to the lively, extraverted form of piety that has characterized the charismatic movement in the Church. Unfortunately little was being offered to those who were attracted to a more quiet, interior experience of the Transcendent. Catholic retreat centers had suffered a period of decline and are only now beginning to experience new vitality as centers of prayer. Contemplative monasteries have been attracting large numbers, but their teaching programs are virtually nonexistent. The result has been that large numbers of young Christians, and those not so young, have turned to Eastern religions and traditions to satisfy their desires in this direction. The movement is having one notable semantic effect. For the Catholic "meditation" has usually signified a discursive process of reflecting on a truth to evoke affective and volitional response, while "contemplation" meant a quiet, loving "presence to." In the Eastern traditions the words are used in the opposite sense, contemplation being a discursive process and meditation involving the silent presence, though not usually including love because of the absence of interpersonal relationship. So pervasive has been the influence of the Eastern meditation movements in the West that now even among Christians, the term "meditation" is coming to be the prevalent name used for inner prayer and presence and the term "contemplation" is falling somewhat by the wayside.
Only gradually is the Christian community beginning to recover its contemplative dimension, which was largely lost in the 16th century, and respond to this spiritual attraction. The Cistercians as the strongest contemplative group in the Church have been taking a lead. To foster the return to Christian sources, they began publishing the great 12th-century spiritual and mystical texts that stand at the head of their tradition (The Cistercian Fathers Series ) and the classic texts of monastic spirituality through the centuries (from evagrius ponticus and Dorotheos of Gaza to Jules Monchanin—The Cistercian Studies Series ) to complement the Fathers of the Church series (The Catholic University of America) and the Ancient Christian Writers series (Newman-Paulist). The way had thus been prepared for the very significant series inaugurated by the Paulist Press in January of 1978: The Classics of Western Spirituality. In 1973 in collaboration with Western Michigan University, the Cistercians established the Institute for Cistercian Studies and three years later the Center for Contemplative Studies. In the following year the Paulists, joining hands with the Jesuits, opened in Boston the Isaac Hecker Institute of Applied Spirituality to come to grips with the notion and reality of a distinctive American spirituality and also to further the integration of the values and methods of Eastern traditions that have come to be very present in America.
The Cistercians, especially those of Saint Joseph's Abbey, Spencer, Massachusetts, had been pioneering in this area of integration of spiritualities, bringing to America the fruits of the study and experience of Jean-Marie Déchanet, OSB, (Christian Yoga ), Francis Ancharya, Dom Bede griffiths, OSB, Abhisktananda (Father Henri Le Saux), William Johnston, SJ (Christian Zen) and E. Lassalle, and working in collaboration with Swami Satchidananda (Integral Yoga Institute), Joshua Sasaki Roshi (Mount Baldy Zen Center), and the tran scendental meditation movement of the Maharishi Mehesh Yogi. In June of 1977 at the request of the Secretariat for Non-Christian Religions, the Spencer monks organized the Petersham Meeting, which led to the establishment of the North American Board for East-West Dialog. A symposium of spiritual masters West and East was held in June of 1978, and an international seminar on the use of Eastern methods in Christian prayer was scheduled for August of 1979. The aim of all these activities was not only to foster the evolution of a global spiritual culture to give a base to worldwide political, economic, and ethical accord, but to help the large number of Christians who have found values in Eastern spirituality to integrate these in a renewal of their Christian faith.
Perhaps the most significant contribution of the Spencer monks to the recent evolution of Catholic spirituality in America has been the promotion in collaboration with the Conference of Major Superiors of Men USA and other similar Catholic organizations of a Christian meditation movement. A simple method for entering into nonconceptual prayer that belongs to Western Christian tradition is now being taught in centers across the country. This particular method arises from Saint John Cassian, finds its most popular expression in The Cloud of Unknowing, and is commonly called Centering Prayer, a name drawn from the writings of Thomas merton—undoubtedly the most popular and influential Catholic spiritual writer in English of the age. The English Benedictines have taken up this method and are teaching it in centers in England and Canada. It is gradually moving into other language areas within the Church and other similar methods are being developed (see prayer, centering).
Balancing Factors. Within the Christian meditation movement much of the emphasis in the quest for spiritual perfection has centered on the search for experience of the Transcendent, with the conviction that such experience will humble, enlighten, and lead to the growth of all the virtues. But side by side with this popular current there remains a faithful and strong advocacy of the ways of the Carmelite Doctors of the 16th century, of Saint Ignatius Loyola—whose more contemplative methods are being rediscovered and whose 30-day program is quite popular, especially among religious—and some of the other particular schools of spirituality. Centers of Jesuit, Carmelite, and Franciscan studies have been established and programs for publishing the classics of these traditions and studies on them are actively being carried out.
George Maloney, SJ, of the John XXIII Center, Fordham University, has been a leader in promoting a balanced and fruitful use of Eastern Christian prayer within the American Catholic community. The Jesus Prayer especially has become popular through the publication of The Way of the Pilgrim. Very valuable insights from the behavioral sciences, especially from the field of psychology, have been effectively applied to the spiritual life in a popular way by such writers as John Powell, SJ, Henri Nouwen, and Morton Kelsey. At the same time, there are those who look upon this emphasis on prayer and spiritual development as excessive and insist on the Christian way of fraternal love and service as having, if not the primacy, at least a predominant role in the quest for spiritual perfection. This is found especially among the active religious of the United States and has led recently to a fraternal warning from their brother and sister religious of Canada who have affirmed that "Religious life has a future among us if it is the experience of God shining forth in all we do …" (Third Interamerican Conference of Religious, Montreal, November 1977).
In theory, there is no controversy as to what spiritual perfection ultimately means for the Christian, but there is relatively little theorizing today. The way to attaining it is centered in practice and experience. The social and political emphasis of the 1960s expressed itself in an emphasis on finding God in creation, in one's brethren who are to be loved and served. With the waning of the hopes of the 1960s, there has been a turning to seeking the transcendent, immediate experience of God in himself. Meditation, prayer, is seen as the surer and more practical way to right action, universal brotherhood, peace on earth—whatever perfection man can hope to attain. As usual the large institutions—the hierarchy, the clerical ministry, the religious orders—are slow in moving with these popular shifts. In this they help the Christian community to preserve a more balanced outlook, so that the pendulum does not swing to extremes and a truer picture of what integral Christian holiness is remains to guide the faithful and have its overflowing effect on all persons of good will.
Bibliography: p. pourrat, Christian Spirituality, tr. w. h. mitchell et al., 4 v. (Westminster, Md. 1953–55). l. bouyer et al., A History of Christian Spirituality (New York 1963—), tr. f. cayrÉ, Spiritual Writers of the Early Church, tr. w. w. wilson (New York 1959). g. sitwell, Spiritual Writers of the Middle Ages (New York 1961). l. cognet, Post-Reformation Spirituality, tr. p.h. scott (New York 1959). e. o'brien, Varieties of Mystic Experience (New York 1964). j. walsh, Spirituality through the Centuries (New York 1964). h. brÉmond, Literary History of Religious Thought in France, tr. k. l. montgomery, 3 v. (New York 1928–37). h. c. graef, The Light and the Rainbow (Westminster, Md. 1959). f. vernet, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique (Paris 1932—) 1:625–659. c. baraut et al., ibid. 4:1089–1192. j. de guibert et al., ibid. 1:936–990. j. fontaine et al., ibid. 5:785–997. j. lebreton et al., ibid. 2:1643–2193. f. cayrÉ, Patrologie et histoire de théologie, v.3 (2d ed. Paris 1950). j. m. dÉchanet, Christian Yoga, tr. r. hindmarsh (London 1960). d. goleman, The Varieties of the Meditative Experience (New York 1977). b. griffiths, Vedanta and Christian Faith (Lower Lake, Cal. 1973); Return to the Center (Springfield, Ill. 1977). g.a. maloney, The Breath of the Mystic (Denville, N.J. 1974); Inward Stillness (Denville, N.J. 1976). h nouwen, Reaching Out (New York 1975); The Spirituality of Compassion (New Haven, Conn. 1977). m. b pennington, "Looking East-Seeing West," America 134 (1976) 180–182; "Spirituality for a World Culture," ibid. 137 (1977) 100–103; Daily We Touch Him (New York 1977); ed., Prayer and Liberation (Canfield, Ohio 1977). l. j. suenens, A New Pentecost? (New York 1974).
m. b. pennington]
"Spirituality, Christian (History of)." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 15, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/spirituality-christian-history
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