Spirituality, French School of
SPIRITUALITY, FRENCH SCHOOL OF
"French School" is a popular term applied to a doctrine of spirituality that developed in France during the 17th century. Cardinal de bÉrulle and Charles de con dren of the French Oratory, along with Jean Jacques olier, founder of the Sulpicians, were the masters of the school. In addition to these three leaders, two other men developed specific aspects of French School theology into Catholic devotional life: St. John eudes, the devotion to the Sacred Heart; St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, true devotion to the Blessed Virgin.
General Characteristics. The founders of the French School shared an extraordinary love of the priesthood, and were entirely dedicated to the work of priestly sanctification. To accomplish their high purpose, these men were inspired to explore deeply and profoundly St. Paul's doctrine of the mystical body. Their teaching constitutes a considerable development of this doctrine. They were able to synthesize christology and spiritu ality by proposing man's incorporation into Christ as a code of perfection, and in this were innovators in a postscholastic, post-Reformation Latin Church. Both in spirit and in expression the French School writers were closer to patristic times, to St. Augustine and the Greek Fathers, than to theologians and writers of their own time.
Even the slightest sketch of the spiritual doctrine of the French School must include the following points: Christianity is a mystery; the events of Christ's life are mysteries; the heart of each mystery is that inner state or disposition of Christ in the mystery; of these various states the most fundamental of all is Christ's state of "infinite servitude" to God in the hypostatic union.
From these premises the masters of the French School drew the most characteristic principles and practices of their spiritual teaching: their markedly Christo-centric and theocentric concept of religion; their special insight into the doctrine of the Mystical Body in terms of Christ's "heavenly sacrifice," His priestly and victim life in heaven and in the Church; and finally, their Christian way of life and prayer as an actual sharing in the mysteries of Christ.
The Christian Mysteries. Christianity is before all else a mystery in St. Paul's sense of the term. As mystery, Christianity is a divine action. This divine action is essentially the Incarnation, life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, as realized in the person of Christ and in His Mystical Body, the Church.
Each event in the life of Christ, e.g., His death and Resurrection, is also a mystery insofar as it is a sign containing and communicating an inner reality and a principle of grace for men.
In every mystery or event of Christ's life there is an exterior aspect, the sign, and an interior aspect, the reality that is signified and communicated. There is the historical fact, the event, that took place in time and under definite circumstances; Christ was born, He lived in Nazareth, He taught, He suffered, He died, He rose from the dead. This exterior aspect of the mystery was passing and transitory; it took place and now it is over. The inner aspect of the mystery is the state or disposition that Christ had in His soul when He lived the mystery.
These inner states or dispositions of Jesus are simply what He is in the Incarnation and what He has as an immediate consequence of what He is. Jesus is first of all Son of God. Always in the bosom of the Father, He is Son. In His Incarnation He is Son by the communication of His person to a human nature. This is His condition and state in the very depth of His being.
By the same communication of the Word to His human nature Jesus is constituted, at one and the same time, perfect worshiper of his Father, priest and victim of His sacrifice, prophet and king. These are the states of Jesus in the most typically Berullian sense.
The State of Servitude. The French School writers singled out as central and fundamental to all Christ's states His state of servitude. In the complete possession of Christ's humanity by the divinity wherein the humanity of Christ lacks its own subsistence, its own personality, they saw the absolute condition of self-renouncement and clinging to God. From this state of "infinite servitude" they drew the most fundamental characteristic of their spirituality—the deep, total renunciation of self that is at the same time total adherence to Christ and being possessed by Him.
Jesus is subsisting religion; simply by being what He is He establishes the creatural position of man before God, which is adoration. Adoration, then, in the Berullian sense, is a persisting state of renunciation, of self-surrender, a constitution of the creature in the most elemental condition of its being. This state exists independently of any thought or act, and by the very value it has as being, gives worship to God.
In its development of the concept of the state of adoration, the French School penetrated more deeply into the central mystery of divine grace in the soul. By the simple fact that he is in the state of grace, a Christian is already in a state of adoration; he is already in some way "consumed in God." Habitual grace in him is a created copy of the state of servitude of Christ in the hypostatic union.
Through its concept of the state of servitude, the French School probed more deeply into the relationship of Christ to His Mystical Body. As head of His body, Christ is the spiritual "subsistence" of all its members; He is a "divine capacity for souls." In the supernatural order and in a mystic way, the members of Christ's body bear to Him the same relationship that a perfect human nature bears to its own proper subsistence. The members of the Church need Christ and require Christ as an individual nature needs and requires its own act of subsistence, its own personality. In the Mystical Body the relationship of the members to the head is a created copy of the relationship of Christ's own humanity to the Person of the Word in the hypostatic union. They depend on Him, and are perfected by Him as His own humanity depends upon and is perfected by the Person of the Word.
Christ's Priestly and Victim State. The writers of the French School celebrated Christ as head of His Mystical Body most of all in terms of His priestly and victim state in heaven, in terms of the "heavenly sacrifice" of Jesus. They cherished the heavenly life of Jesus as that phase of His life most complete and effective for God, for Himself, and for man. In His risen life Jesus returns to His Father as priest and victim, bearing in all its fullness the accomplishment of perfect religion, to give to God for all eternity the glory and worship that accrues from His life and His sacrifice. In His risen life Jesus returns to His Father as victim and conqueror, to have declared for His humanity all the glory that was His and was always due Him as Son of the Father. In His risen life Jesus, priest and victim, becomes the source of all life and grace He has merited on earth for men.
Participation in the Mysteries. In the most complete sense of the word, then, the French School conceived the way of Christian perfection to be the actual living of the life of Christ, by participation in the mysteries of His life. Christ and His members form one single living victim offered to the glory and the praise of God. Jesus, the head, traveling the course rigorously marked out by religion and sacrifice, became the victim of God. In His death He was immolated and returned to His Father to be made forever gloriously a priest and victim in heaven. It is His desire, and the inexorable pattern of religion and sacrifice, that His members go with Him through the same course. There is no other way. For this He sends His Spirit to consecrate them in Baptism as members of His body and to reproduce in them a most intimate sharing in all of His mysteries.
In virtue of this union of members with head in the Mystical Body, the sacred humanity of Christ is the efficient cause of grace in men. Christ in His humanity, made available to men in the Church especially through the sacramental signs, is not only a moral cause of their sanctification. The humanity of Christ working through His mysteries operates in men as an efficient, instrumental cause, actually producing grace. Living in communion with Christ, adhering to the states of the Incarnation, of itself actually causes grace in men. In addition, each mystery is also an exemplary cause of grace; each mystery contains and confers its own special grace, especially at the time of the celebration of that mystery.
Man cooperates with the Spirit of Jesus, producing in himself the states of Jesus by using his faculties of mind, heart, and will to yield himself to the Spirit of Jesus, to abandon himself to Him, to appropriate the states of Jesus, and to express them in daily living. In this union the person desires to make Christ's life flourish in him at the expense of his own. This is the work of prayer and the practice of virtue.
The form of prayer of the French School is admirably adapted for participating in the mysteries of Christ. It consists simply in "having our Savior before the eyes, in the heart, and in the hands." As Olier says ("Introduction," 4.62): "Christianity consists in these three points;… to look upon Jesus, to unite oneself to Jesus, and to act in Jesus. The first leads us to respect and to religion; the second to union and to identification with Him; the third, to an activity no longer solitary, but joined to the virtue of Jesus Christ, which we have drawn upon ourselves by prayer. The first is called adoration; the second, communion; the third, cooperation."
Olier easily summarized the spiritual vision of the French School in an "elevation" characteristic of the style of the school. The entire design of Christ, our head, is "to make of the whole world but one Church, to make of all men but one adorer, to make of all their voices but one voice of praise, and to make of all their hearts but one victim in himself, who is the universal and unique adorer of God, his Father" (J. J. Olier, Grand' Messe, 8.3.433).
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[e. a. walsh]