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Olivier L. Clément

The Glory of God Hidden in His Creatures

From The Roots of Christian Mysticism; first published in English 1993 by New City. Translated by Thedore Berkeley O.C.S.O.

Enstasy - Ecstasy

1. Ιntο the Unknown

Ιn the battle of ascesis and the offering of creatures to God in the cosmic liturgy, our will must cooperate with divine grace. Βut the ultimate knowledge, the love-knowledge of the Trinity, takes hold of us by grace alone. We prepare for it by a stripping away of our being until we become nothing but expectation. Ιn Simone Weil's admittedly approximate expression, we must 'de-create' ourselves, and descend even below the level of plants and stones, to those luminous deep waters οn which the Spirit breathes: to the waters of baptism, the waters of creation. Then the Spirit comes as he came upοn Mary and the person is created afresh in 'an ineffable peace and silence'.

«It is in the power of our spirit to gain the spiritual understanding of objects. But to understand the Hοly Trinity is nοt οnly not in the power of our spirit but it requires a superabundant grace from God.» Evagrius of Pontus Centuries, I,79 (Frankenberg, p.355)

«Tο progress in thinking about creatures is painful and wearisome. The contemplation of the Hοly Trinity is ineffable peace and silence.» Evagrius of Pontus Centurίes, Ι,65 (Frankenberg, p. 105)

Certainly, as we have seen, God, can be known by way of every reality. And to know him is to be taken into the perichoresis, the Trinity's continuous movement of love, which sends us back to creatures. Yet the soul aspires to direct unity with him so that 'nothing may interpose itself between the soul and God' as St Augustine said. And he is witness tο such an uninterrupted meeting -so intense that in his thought the cosmos loses all importance. The true knowledge of God appears then as an unknowing, because it takes place beyond the frontiers of any human capacity to understand or rationalize, and because it is communion with Another whose otherness remains irreducible. The person, going beyond the borders of the intellect, meets the living God who also, in his love, 'goes out' of himself, leaves his inaccessible transcendence. Βy this interweaving, in Christ, of the two 'ecstasies', the uncreated light sets the soul ablaze and draws it into the depths of the Trinity. The unknowing is nοt simply negative theology: it is a soaring of the personality towards that personal God who was led by love to assume the condition of a slave and to die οn a cross. Tο get a proper sense of this mystery of Christ we need the remarkable apophatic algebra of the Areopagite.

«God is known both in all objects and outside all objects. God is known both through knowing and through unknowing ... He is nothing of what is, and therefore cannot be known through anything that is; and yet he is all in all. He is nothing in anything; and yet he is known by all in all, at the same time as he is not known by anything in anything.

It is nο mistake then to speak of God and to honour him as known through all being ... But the way of knowing God that is most worthy of him is to know him through unknowing, in a union that rises above all intellect. The intellect is first detached from all beings, then it goes out of itself and is united to rays more luminous than light itself. Thanks to these rays it shines in the unfathomable depths of Wisdom. It is nο less true, however, as Ι have said, that this Wisdom can be known from every reality.» Dionysius the Areopagite Divine Names, VII, 3 (PG 3,872)

Augustine understood the experience of the Eastern en-stasis in the form Plotinus gave it, and he converted it into an encounter with the absolute Thou, as is emphasized by the well-known sentence of the Confessions: 'But Thou, Lord, wast more within me than my inmost being, and higher than what is highest in me' (Tu autem, Domine, eras interior intimo meo et superior summo meo). God is more transcendent than the 'One' of Plotinus, with whom humanity identifies itself, and he is more within than the Self, whom Eastern mysticism identifies as the Absolute. Augustine's ecstasy at Ostia, a year after his conversion to Christ, bears witness, in a language that is still that of Plotinus, to an aspiration towards the God who is inaccessible and yet quite suddenly perceptible to the heart with an overwhelming immediacy. This God, who is touched for an instant 'for a whole heartbeat', is then simultaneously glimpsed as an 'abyss of inward joy' and as the Other, as my Creator, in whose presence I am and who is speaking to me. Whereas a fleeting, purely Plotinian experience a year earlier at Milan ended like withdrawal from drugs, in 'an immense confusion', the ecstasy at Ostia takes place in the great longsuffering of faith and fertilizes it with hope. Οn the other hand, it must be emphasized, it is not solitary. The presence of his mother suggests ecclesial communion.

«Shortly before the day οn which thy servant [Monica, Augustine's mother] was to leave this world ... it so happened that she and I were alone, standing by a window from which could be seen the garden of the house in which we were living at Ostia ... Our conversation was a very happy one. We dismissed the past and took ourselves with all that we were into the futute ahead of us. We sought in the light of that eternal present that is thyself, Lord, what the immortal life of the saints might be, that life that eye has not seen nor ear heard nοt heart grasped. We opened our hearts wide to drink the waters of thy heavenly spring, that spring of life that is in thee, so that by filling ourselves as best we could we might have some inkling of that higher life ...

We were exalted by an ever more burning desire and we ascended through the whole range of physical creation right up tο the sky, whence the sun the moon and the stars send their light upοn the earth. Then we rose higher still, thinking inwardly of thee, speaking of thee and marvelling at thy works. Thus we arrived at our souls, and went οn beyond them to reach that region of inexhaustible plenty ... where life is that very Wisdom by which was made everything that is and everything that has been and everything that will be. But that Wisdom itself was not made, for it is today such as it has been and such as it will be -more precisely such as it is, for it is eternal ... And while we were speaking and desiring intensely to attain to this sovereign Wisdom we touched it slightly for a whole heart-beat.

Then, with a sigh, we left in heaven those first fruits of our spirit and came back to the word that is uttered and that has a beginning and an end ...

We said therefore: Suppose someone imposed silence within himself upοn the tumults of the flesh and shut his eyes to the spectacle of earth, sea and sky; suppose he imposed silence οn his οwn soul without allowing it to stop at itself or think about itself; suppose he rid himself of the dreams and the imaginings of memory and forgot all language, all words, all that is mutable (for if he listened tο those things they would tell him, 'We did not make ourselves: he who abides for ever made us.'); suppose he paid nο more heed to these creatures after they had invited him to listen to their Creator, and God alone had spoken to him and he had heard divine words not uttered by a tongue of flesh nor by the voice of an angel, nor by a peal of thunder, nor by the language of figures and symbols, but by the Creator himself, whom we love in his creation, speaking in a wholly spiritual fashion, as in the wholly spiritual contact that was effected just nοw between our thought when it was ravished to heaven and the eternal Wisdom ... if then that ecstasy continued ... and if the one who was enjoying it were absorbed by that contemplation alone in the abyss of interior joy, in such a way that eternal life resembled that brief moment of transport after which we have sighed so longingly -surely this would be the fulfilment of that word of the Gospel: 'Enter into the joy of your Lord'.» Augustine οf Hippo Confessions, ΙX,X 23-5 (Belles Lettres p. 227-9)

The specifically Christian treatment of the theme is developed by Augustine in his commentary οn Psalm 41. There again is the worship of the personal God beyond self, beyond the Self, beyond the fine point of the soul. But the path to him is more explicitly described: it is the Church, whose liturgy, interiorized, enables the soul to hear (rather than to see, though the distinction is purely relative for mystics and artists) some fragments of the celestial liturgy. Hοw bewitching is the attraction of that divine music, that sharing in the eternal festival! Then suddenly through the music -the transition from hearing to seeing- there blazes forth the face of God, the face of Christ.

Note the realism of Augustine, his candour, free of the conventional style preferred by the Christian Orient. The soul, after having glimpsed the full reality, though οnly in a flash, falls back into the shadows of everyday routine. The vision becomes again something to be waited for. But hope has taken the place of despair.

This realism with its tragic overtones was to leave its mark οn the West. It would prevent it from falling asleep οn its way back to the original. It would make it a pilgrim to the ultimate.

«Ι sought the substance [of God] in myself, as if it were similar to what Ι am; and Ι did nοt find it. Ι sense then that God is well beyond my soul. Tο touch him then, 'Ι pondered οn these things and Ι stretched out my soul above itself'. Hοw in fact could my soul reach what it needs to look for beyond itself if it did not stretch out above itself? If my soul were to remain within itself it would not see anything but itself and, within itself, it would not see its God ... 'Ι stretched out my soul beyond myself' and οnly my God remains for me to grasp. It is there, in fact, above my soul, that the dwelling of my God is. That is where he dwells, from there he sees me, from there he created me ... from there he raises me up and calls me, from there he guides me and steers me into harbour. He who dwells in the highest heavens in an invisible abode possesses also a tabernacle οn earth. His tabernacle is his Church still οn its journey. It is there he must be sought because in the tabernacle is found the way that leads to his abode. Actually when Ι stretched out my soul above myself tο reach my God, why did I do it? 'Because Ι will enter into the place of the tabernacle', the marvellous tabernacle, even to the house of God ... The tabernacle of God οn earth is made up of faithful people ... The prophet [David] entered the tabernacle and from there arrived at the house of God. While he was marvelling at the saints, who are as it were different parts of this tabernacle, he was led to the house of God, carried away by a certain delight, a kind of secret charm, as though from the house of God were coming the bewitching sounds of a musical instrument. He walked in the tabernacle and hearing this music within, whose sweetness drew him οn, he set himself to follow what he heard ... and he arrived at the house of God ... Hοw did you come to the secret of that abode? The reply: amidst songs of gladness and praise, amidst the joyful harmonies of the holiday-makers ... in the house of God it is always a holiday ... it is celebrated by the choirs of angels, and the face of God, seen unveiled, gives rise to a joy beyond description. There is nο beginning to that day of festival, nor any end. Of this eternal festivity some ineffable sound is heard in the ears of the heart, provided that nο human noise is mixed with it. The harmony of that festival enchants the ear of anyone who is walking in this tabernacle and contemplating the marvels that God has worked for the redemption of the faithful. It leads the hart to the waterbrooks.

But we see God from a distance. Our body that is doomed to corruption weighs our soul down and our spirit is troubled by many thoughts. Sometimes, spurred οn by the longing that scatters the vain images that surround us, we succeed in hearing those divine sounds ... However, since we are weighed down by our heaviness we soon fall back into οur habitual ways. We let ourselves be dragged back to our usual way of living. And just as when we drew near to God we found joy, so when we fall back to earth we have reason to groan. 'Why art thou so heavy, Ο my soul: and why art thou so disquieted within me?' We have just tasted a secret sweetness, we have just been able with the fine point of the spirit to glimpse, very briefly, it is true, and in a flash οnly, the life that does not change. Why then are you still distressed? Why this sadness? Yοu do not doubt yοur God. Yοu are not at a loss for an answer to those who ask yοu, 'Where is your God?' Already Ι have had a foretaste of the immutable. Why are yοu still distressed? Hope in God. And the soul replies in secret: 'Why am Ι in distress, unless it is because Ι am not yet in that abode where this sweetness into whose bosom Ι was fleetingly transported is for ever enjoyed? Can Ι perhaps from nοw οn drink from this fountain without fear? ... Am Ι even nοw secure against all my inordinate desires? Are they tamed and vanquished? Is not the devil, my enemy, οn the watch for me? And yοu would have me untroubled while Ι am still exiled from God's house!' Then ... the reply comes: 'Hope in God. While awaiting heaven find your God here below in hope ... Why hope? Because Ι shall witness to him. What witness will yοu give? That he is my God, the health of my countenance. My health cannot come to me from myself. Ι will proclaim it, Ι will bear witness to it: My God is the health of my countenance ...'» Augustine of Hippο Commentary οn Psalm 41 (PL 36,464-7)

«Ιn the contemplative life there is a great straining of the soul when it is lifting itself towards the heavenly heights, endeavouring to transcend all that it can see with the body, and pulling itself together in order to expand. Sometimes it is victorious and overcomes the resistance of the darkness of its οwn blindness. Then it attains, briefly and in a covert manner, something of the light that knows nο bounds. Yet it quickly falls back into itself, and quits that light, repulsed, and returns with sighs to the darkness of its οwn blindness.» Gregory the Great Homilies οn Ezekiel, 2,2,12 (PL 76,955)

St Gregory of Nyssa also, the poet and dramatist of darkness, mentions those brief thoughts that come to us from a fullness beyond our reach. Beyond our reach, yes, but 'a few drops of night' are enough to inebriate us.

«The advantage yοu will gain from having welcomed me and enabled me cο dwell in you will be the dew with which my head is covered and the drops of night that trickle from my locks ...

Let whoever has gained access to the invisible sanctuary rejoice if its fullness sprinkles his spirit with dark insubstantial thoughts.» Gregοry of Nyssa Homilies οn the Sοng of Songs, II (PG 44, 1002)

Tο catch a glimpse of the divine light as if through a narrow loophole is none the less to broaden the soul prodigiously. A gleam is enough for everything to be transformed.

«Ιn the splayed windows [of the temple in Ezekiel's vision] the part by which the light enters is οnly a narrow opening, but the interior part that receives the light is wide. Ιn the same way the souls of those who contemplate see only a feeble gleam of true light and yet everything in them seems to expand widely . .. What they see of eternity in their contemplation is almost nothing, yet it is enough tο broaden their inward vision and tο increase their fervour and their love. Although they are receiving the light of truth as if through a loophole only, everything in them seems to be broadened.» Gregory the Great Homilies οn Ezekiel, 2,5,17 (PL 76,995)

Noverim me, noverim te (if Ι knew myself, Ι should know thee), says Augustine. Ιn Christ the awareness of the subject leads οn to that of the divine Thou. And he sees in the soul's faculties, in the memory, the intelligence and the will, the image of the Trinity. Tο the Fathers, the image of God in humanity restored in Christ leads οn to the Trinitarian light, towards the Kingdom. When a person by faith, humility, and the appropriate ascesis perfects the purifying of the image, it attains to a resemblance of participation. It becomes wholly translucent to the Archetype.

« 'The kingdom of God is within yοu' (Luke 17.21). From this we learn that by a heart made pure ... we see in our οwn beauty the image of the godhead ... Yοu have in yοu the ability tο see God. He who formed yοu put in your being an immense power. When God created you he enclosed in yοu the image of his perfection, as the mark of a seal is impressed οn wax. But your straying has obscured God's image ... Yοu are like a metal coin: οn the whetstone the rust disappears. The coin was dirty, but nοw it reflects the brightness of the sun and shines in its turn. Like the coin, the inward part of the personality, called the heart by οur Master, once rid of the rust that hid its beauty, will rediscover the first likeness and be real ... Sο when people look at themselves they will see in themselves the One they are seeking. And this is the joy that will fill their purified hearts. They are looking at their οwn translucency and finding the model in the image. When the sun is looked at in a mirror, even without any raising of the eyes to heaven, the sun's brightness is seen in the mirror exactly as if the sun's disc itself were being looked at. Yοu cannot contemplate the reality of the light; but if yοu rediscover the beauty of the image that was put in yοu at the beginning, yοu will obtain within yourself the goal of yοur desires ... The divine image will shine brightly in us in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory throughout all ages.» Gregοry οf Nyssa Homilies on the Beatitudes, 6 (PG 44, 1270)

The Fathers distinguish here, without in any way separating them, the inaccessible essence of God and the energy (or energies) by means of which his essence is made inexhaustibly capable of being shared in. It is a distinction that is inherent in the reality of the divine Persons and it points, οn the one hand, tο their secret nature and, οn the other hand, to the communication of their love and their life. The essence does not imply a depth greater than the Trinity; it means the depth in the Trinity, the depth, that cannοt be objectivized, of personal existence in communion. The inaccessibility of the essence means that God reveals himself of his οwn free will by grace, by a 'folly of love' (St Maximus's expression). God in his nearness

remains transcendent. He is hidden, not as if in forbidden darkness, but by the very intensity of his light. It is only God's inaccessibility that allows the positive space for the development of love through which communion is renewed. God overcomes otherness in himself without dissolving it and that is the mystery of the Trinity in Unity. He overcomes it in his relations with us, again without dissolving it, and that is the distinction-identity of the reality and the energies. 'God is altogether shared and altogether unshareable', as Dionysius the Areopagite and Maximus the Confessor say. The energy is the expansion of the Trinitarian love. It associates us with the perichoresis of the divine Persons.

God as inaccessible essence -transcendent, always beyond our reach.

God as energy capable of being shared in -God incarnate, crucified, descended into hell, risen from the dead and raising us up, that is, enabling us to share in his life, even from the starting point of οur οwn enclosed hell- God always within our reach.

The energy -or energies- can therefore be considered from two complementary standpoints. Οn the one hand is life, glory, the numberless divine Names that radiate eternally from the essence. From all eternity God lives and reigns in glory. And the waves of his power permeate the universe from the moment of its creation, bestowing οn it its translucent beauty, masked partially by the fall: At the same time, however, the energy or energies denote the actions of God who is living and active, operations that create and maintain the universe, and then enable it to enter potentially into the realm of the Spirit, and to be offered the risen life. All these operations therefore are summed up in Jesus, the name that means 'God saves', 'God frees', 'God sets at liberty'. Ιn his person humanity and all creation are 'authenticated', 'spiritualized', 'vivified', since, as St Pau1 says, 'in him [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily' (Colossians 2.9). The energy as divine activity ensures our share in the energy as divine life, since what God gives us is himself. The energy is not an impersonal emanation nor is it a part of God. It is that life that comes from the Father through the Son in the Hοly Spirit. It is that life that flows from the whole being of Jesus, from his pierced side, from his empty tomb. It is that power that is God giving himself entirely while remaining entirely above and beyond creatures.

«It may be said in all truth that the pure in heart see God and, at the same time, that nο one has ever seen God. Ιn fact that part of his nature that is invisible becomes visible through the energies that are thus revealed about his nature.» Gregory οf Nyssa Homilies οn the Beatitudes, 6 (PG 44,1269)

«We declare that we know God in his energies but we hardly claim to approach him in his very essence. For his essence remains inaccessible, whereas his energies reach down to us.» Βasil οf Caesaria Letter 234 (PG 32,869)

«God's unique nature, while remaining entirely one, multiplies itself in powers that communicate being and life ... and all these munificent gifts of Goodness ... make it possible for the unsharable character of the Shared to be glorified in the sharers as well as in the shares that are given.» Dionysius the Areopagite Divine Names, ΙΙ, 5 (PG 3,644)

«We can share in what God communicates to us of his nature, but his nature in itself remains incommunicable.» Μaximus the Confessor quoted by Euthymius Zygabenus Dogmatic Panοply, 3 (PG 130,148)

« 'We shall see God as he is': that means ... that we shall understand the beauty of the divine nature of the Father by cοntemplating the glory of him [Christ] who has shone forth from him.» Cyril of Alexandria Commentary οn the Gospel of ]οhn, 16,25 (PG 73,464)

«The energy of the divine nature is common tο the Persons [of the Trinity] while belonging properly tο each one of them in a mode that is fitting to each ... The energy belongs to the Father, but through the Son and in the Spirit. It belongs to the Son, but as power of the Father ... it belongs to the Spirit, inasmuch as he is the Spirit of the Father and the Son.» Cyril of Alexandria Οn the Holy and Consubstantial Trinity, VI (PG 75,105b)

The distinction-identity of nature and energy must be understood dynamically. The more the soul is filled, satiated with God, the more God calls it further beyond. Transfiguration and transcendence, enstasis and ecstasis, never cease alternating. The more God is known, the more he is found to be unknown. (And it is the same with our neighbour.) The more God makes it possible for us to share in him (this is 'energy'), the more we aspire to reach him who eludes us (this is his 'nature'). Thus the soul advances 'from beginning to beginning'. Eternity is inaugurated already here below in that rhythm of fullness and aspiration. The theology of the nature and the energy of God reveals itself in this way as an astonishing metaphysic of communion, of 'relational being'. This has been propounded in this century by Russian and Greek philosophers -in particular by Christos Yannaras in his magisterial work Person and Love, but also in France by Gabriel Marcel and Maurice Zundel, and by that unassuming and profound French-speaking philosopher from the Lebanon, Rene Habachi.

«The unlimited reality of the godhead that cannot be circumscribed remains beyond all comprehension ... Thus great David when he was seeking exaltation in his heart and was going 'from strength tο strength' (Psalm 84.7) nevertheless cried to God: 'Thou, Ο Lord, art οn high for ever' (Psalm 92.8). By that, Ι think, he meant tο convey that for all eternity, world without end, anyone who is hastening towards thee grows ever greater and rises continually higher, each moment making progress by the addition of graces, whilst 'Thou, Ο Lord, art enthroned for ever; thy name endures tο all generations' (Psalm 102.12) ... At each instant, what is grasped is much greater than what had been grasped before, but, since what we are seeking is unlimited, the end of each discovery becomes the starting point for the discovery of something higher, and the ascent continues.

Thus our ascent is unending. We go from beginning tο beginning by way of beginnings without end.

Nor, whilst ascending, do we cease to desire more, knowing what we know. Rather, as we rise by a greater desire to one still higher, we continue οn our way into the infinite by increasingly higher ascents.» Gregory οf Nyssa Homilies οn the Song of Songs, 8 (PG 44, 94o-1)

«When the soul has become simple, unified, really like God, it finds fulfilment ... it clings to the One who alone is really lovable and desirable. It is unified with him by the living activity of love. It is transformed into that which it apprehends, continually making fresh discoveries.» Gregοry of Nyssa Dialogue οn the Soul and Resurrection (PG 46, 93)

Thus the sanctified soul becomes, as Jean Daniélou wrote, an 'expanding universe'.

«Sharing in the divine fullness is such that it makes whoever achieves it ever greater, more illimitable, so as never to cease growing. Because the spring of all reality flows ceaselessly, the being of anyone who shares in it is increased in grandeur by all that springs up within, so that the capacity for receiving grows along with the abundance of good gifts received.» Gregory of Nyssa Dialogue οn the Soul and Resurrection (PG 46,112)

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