Friday, June 3, 2011

We're Back --And Back on the Question of Clergy Maturity

Pierre de Berulle, a leader in the seventeenth-century
French Spiritual Revival
Well, I am back from my time in the Czech Republic.   I had very limited access to the internet so I was not able to post any entries in the last week and a half, but am back and ready to post.  While I was away I I had an inquiry from a correspondent of mine, a priest who is doing doctoral work at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, as to reasons why there is a renewed interest today in seventeenth century French Spirituality.  I think he was trying to get me to do an exam question for him, but I thought I might share some of the reflections that I sent him with you.  
I think there are both good and not-so-good motives behind this recovery of what is a very rich spiritual tradition.  Note, I did not say bad—even if the reasons themselves may not always be healthy, the recovery of the French Tradition—the authentic tradition not its Jansenist or Quietist aberrations—will hopefully return an interest in spirituality to the contemporary Church which has too often, at least here in the United States, confused spirituality with a rather heady mixture of moralism and piety—what I am inclined to describe as the Tanquerey approach to spirituality  as opposed to the Garrigiou-Lagrange approach.  Alphonse Alfred Tanquerey, S.S., (not to be confused with the Gin) was a moral theologian ; Réginald Garrigiou-Lagrange ,O.P. was a systematic theologian.  Most twentieth century spiritual theology, at least before Vatican II, followed the one or the other of these two theologians.  Tanquerey seemed to have undue influence in English language countries and his thought, most of which I admittedly only know “second-hand,” seemed to have far too much emphasis on moral “perfection” and was far too shallow in regards to the nature and place of contemplative prayer, seeming to think that we should content ourselves with pious practices, leaving contemplation to “the professionals.”   This may be a caricature of this thought, but it does match both my memories of the priestly devotionalism of the mid-twentieth century and the exaggerated piety which see so much of today among the recently ordained graduates of such seminaries as (among others) “the Mount” in Emmitsburg, SJV Denver, or Kenrick-Glennon in St. Louis.   Not that these—and other—seminaries may not be good orthodox theological faculties, but a genuine crisis facing the Catholic Church in the United States (among other Churches in the Developed World) are priests who may know their dogma but have not been formed as spiritually and psychologically mature adults capable of speaking to a laity that is sometimes, and perhaps even often, more advanced in the spiritual life than many of their pastors.   If we can learn anything from the Fathers of the Church—and after all that is the Tradition part of our Catholic “Scripture and Tradition” as the two sources of Revelation—it is that sanctity will produce orthodoxy but orthodoxy will not necessarily produce sanctity.  But let us move on.           
I think the first reason—and the best—for the revival of seventeenth century French spirituality is that the everyday practical down-to-earth spirituality for the common man (and woman) as typified by the spiritual teaching of its “greats” and, in particular,  Francis de Sales  is undergoing a huge revival today as more and more ordinary people (not just monks and nuns)  are looking to deepen their spiritual life.  Of course de Sales drew on the rich tradition, especially Saint John of the Cross and and Saint Teresa of Avila, that preceded him but he had an incredible ability to make the highest teaching very practical in the everyday world.  For the secular priest and for the lay person in the world, one can probably not find a better introduction to the devout life than Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life. 
Secondly, the Incarnational thrust of seventeenth century French Spirituality (again, the authentic Parti Dévot strain, neither the Jansenist nor Quietist aberrations) meets the needs of today’s people to come to the infinite love of God through the mediation of the human heart of Jesus.  Incarnational
spirituality speaks to people today in their everyday lives.  Yet, I believe (and as you know by now, I am no sack of pious manure) too often in the last forty years, an emphasis on the humanity of Christ has lacked the appropriate reverence and dignity due—in love—to Our Lord.  A return to the French Tradition, a very courtly tradition, models a balance between intimacy with God rooted in the human nature of Christ and the awe due to the mystery of God- become-human.   Saying that, I think that the particular expressions of that reverence used in seventeenth century France or sixteenth century Spain are artificial in twenty-first century America (and indeed point to the spiritual immaturity of those who fall back on antique and monarchical piety), but we have our own ways of expressing an authentic  
admiration in the classic sense of the Latin ad –mirari.  Mirari, of course, is not only the Latin root of admire but also of “miracle.”   In “admire” it refers to the astonishment in the heart or the soul caused by love.  But enough of that.   That we will save for the spirituality blog when I get that revived.   

A third reason—and I suppose in some seminaries, the primary reason—for the revival of seventeenth century French Spirituality is a rediscovery of the priestly spirituality centered around the thought of Pierre de Bérulle, especially stressing the sanctity of the priesthood.  This became a “stamp” of Frech Spirituality, not only in the influence of Bérulle but of his disciples, Jean Jaques Olier and Jean Eudes.  A revival of priestly spirituality is much needed today.  In the North American Church this is sometimes exaggerated in an unhealthy way in which the holiness is attributed solely to the sacramental character of the priesthood without paying sufficient attention to the moral, psychological, and emotional maturity of the individual who may be finding a refuge from his own psychological and moral immaturity in the sacramental identity of the priesthood.  Nevertheless, today we need a new emphasis on the holiness of the priest to recover from the scandals of the last twenty years.  Of course such holiness must be cultivated within the individual priest and seminarian and not just supposedly super-imposed on him with the reception of the sacrament.  The holiness of the priest is found in neither the biretta nor the stole, but the heart filled with Charity—as Eudes would be the first to tell us.  So these are just a few thoughts on the revival of French Spirituality.  Perhaps once we get back to our Roots of the Reformation and make some more progress on that we can look at the very rich tradition of French Spirituality originating from the seventeenth-century parlor of Madame Acarie and still with much to us today. 

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