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DOMINICAN MONASTIC SEARCH
DOMINICAN MONASTIC SEARCH is published by the Conference of the Nuns of the
Order of Preachers of the United States of America. The Conference is an organization of
independent monasteries whose purpose is to foster the monastic contemplative life of the nuns
in the spirit of Saint Dominic.
Sr. Catherine Mary, OP. (Newark)
Sr. Mary Dominic, OP. (Elmira), Coordinator
Sr. Susan Early, OP. (North Guilford) (Third editorial position vacant)
Sr. Mary Catharine, OP. (Summit)
DOMINICAN MONASTIC SEARCH is a spiritual and theological review written by the nuns.
Its purpose is to foster the Dominican monastic contemplative life by the sharing of insights
gained from study and prayer. It is published once a year as a service to the nuns. It is also
available to the wider Dominican Family and others upon request. A donation of $8.00 to aid in
the cost of printing would be appreciated, when possible.
Dominican Monastic Search welcomes all its readers to contribute articles for publication.
We ask that manuscripts be prepared with concern for literary and intellectual quality.
Appropriate subjects for DMS include scripture, theology, philosophy, spirituality, Dominican life,
and the liberal arts insofar as they contribute to our Dominican vocation. Serious poetry
reflective of these categories may also be submitted, though only a small amount can be used.
A theme for each issue of DMS is usually announced in advance, but is not intended to limit the
scope of articles. Before submitting a manuscript, please refer to the page of guidelines at the
end of the most recent issue of Dominican Monastic Search.
Articles for publication should be sent to Sr. Mary Dominic, O.P., Monastery of Mary the
Queen, 1310 W. Church St., Elmira, NY 14905-1998.
Donations and additions/changes for the mailing list should be sent to Sr. Mary Catharine,
O.P., Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary, 543 Springfield Ave, Summit, NJ 07901-4498.
CONFERENCE OF NUNS OF THE ORDER OF PREACHERS OF THE
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
All Rights Reserved
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TABU OF CONTiHTS
From the Editor 1
Papers Presented at the Fourth General Assembly
of the Conference of Dominican Nuns of the U.S.A.
St. Stephen's Spiritual Life Center
Dover, Massachusetts, May 21-31, 1996
Understanding the Contemporary Theology of the Human Person
Sr. Mary Jeremiah, O.P. (Lufkin) 5
Sr. Mary Catherine Hilkert, O.P 10
Philosophical Influences Shaping Life Today
Sr. Maria Agnes, O.P. (Summit) 23
Fr. Michael Demkovitch, O.P 29
Contemporary Views On Morality and
its Effect on Society and the Contemplative Nun
Sr. Ruth Bernard, O.P. (North Guilford) 39
Fr. Michael Demkovitch, O.P 45
Fr. John Corbett, O.P 52
The Use of Psychology in the Life/Development of the Nuns
Sr. Mary Vincent O.P. (Farmington Hills) 63
Dr. Halite Moore, M.D 67
The Effects of Modern Economics on Our Way of Life
Sr. MaryAmata, O.P. (Washington) 85
Fr. Boniface Ramsey, O.P 93
Understanding Enclosure in Contemporary Society
Fr. William Barron, O.P 101
Sr. Lee, O.P. (Bronx) 122
List of Member Monasteries 139
Guidelines for Contributors 141
Sr. Mary Catherine, O.P. (Farmington Hills)
Conference Theme Page Design
Sr. Mary Grace, O.P. (Farmington Hills)
Calligraphy pages 3, 21, 37, 61, 83, 99
Sr. Mary Michael, O.P. (North Guilford)
FROM THE EDITOR
This issue of Dominican Monastic Search traditionally presents all of the talks
given at the 1996 General Assembly. This year for the first time, each topic was
addressed twice: by one of the nuns and by a visiting speaker, thus exploring each
subject from wider dimensions and complementary points of view. Some of the
presentations have been refined for publication by their authors, and so may not
appear verbatim as they are heard on the audio tapes. Due to the large number of
papers, no additional articles could be included in this issue.
The Assembly topic DISCERNING THE GOOD: Dominican Contemplative Life
in Conversation with Contemporary Culture encapsulates one of the most urgent tasks
of our historical moment. We can dialog well only if our listening and speaking arise
from hearts attuned to the Gospel. By using "the bridge that is Christ," we will cross
over into the new millennium with clearer insights and goals for the renewal and
flourishing of Dominic's vision for our role in his order of evangelical preachers. Each
one of us has been chosen by the Lord to live Dominican life precisely in these times,
to have a part in the conversation and the discernment. We accomplish it, not so much
in occasional historic gatherings or notable public deeds, important as these can be,
but rather in our daily small personal choices to here and now live our consecration to
the full. Each of the Assembly papers has much counsel and encouragement to offer
us for these moments of grace.
Your new board of editors extends their gratitude to our outgoing president and
editors for their four years of excellent work. We aspire to follow their example of
dedication and to help DMS continue to thrive.
Do you notice a "new look" about this issue? Acting on some helpful
suggestions, we are trying for a more unified style throughout the journal. In response
to the request of the General Assembly, we offer a reformulation of guidelines
regarding the content of papers. Our goal is to make DMS as attractive and readable
as possible, and to facilitate the contribution and editing of articles. The process is still
fluid, and we welcome your comments.
Sister Dominic, O.P.
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CONTEMPORARY THEOLOGY OF THE HUMAN PERSON
Sister Mary Jeremiah, OP
I feel very happy and grateful to be here with you. Preparing for this Assembly
and my talk has been a very enriching and exciting experience.
And I really believe that the theology of the human person is extremely
important. Last month I received a magazine in the Print Shop where I work that had
five ads in which people were depicted as mechanical heads. The person frequently
seems to be brought to the level of a machine and clearinghouse for information.
But another image of the person came to mind from our sister, St. Catherine of
Siena. She records in the first chapter of the Dialogue these words of our Lord (Word):
Open your mind's eye and look within me,
and you will see the dignity and beauty of my reasoning creature.
But beyond the beauty I have given the soul
by creating her in my image and likeness,
consider those who are clothed in the wedding garment of charity,
adorned with many true virtues:
They are united with me through love.
So I say, if you should ask me who they are,
I would answer, that they are another myself;
because they have lost and drowned their own will
and have clothed themselves and united themselves
and conformed themselves with my [will].
This morning I want to share with you some of the reasons I think this topic of
the human person is so crucial for Cloistered Dominican Nuns
+ It affects our ministry of adoration of God and mediation (intercession) for our
+ It touches every aspect of the lives of human persons. Each of the following
presentations will, in some way, be a discussion of the human person, (economy,
philosophy, psychology, enclosure...)
+ The women entering our communities come from our contemporary culture
and are deeply affected by it, even if they themselves never embraced it.
+ And the many changes we have made in our monastic life-style reflect a
deepening positive understanding of the human person; but we can also be
influenced by the negatives elements of our contemporary culture. We need to be
I believe our understanding of the human person may be THE most important
topic of our times.
At the dawn of Christianity, the Church struggled with questions about the
Personhood of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, as well as the Personhood of God. 1 Today,
as we approach the the Third Millennium of Christianity, we are still pondering the
reality of personhood. But as is so characteristic of recent centuries, our eyes are
focused upon ourselves — our personhood. What does it mean to be a human person?
And especially, what does this mean for Dominican nuns on the threshold of the 21st
Pope John Paul II has written:
Undoubtedly our age is the age that has written and spoken the most
about the human being... But paradoxically it is also the age of people's
deepest anxieties about their identity and destiny; it is the age when
human beings have been debased to previously unsuspected levels,
when human values have been trodden underfoot as never before. 2
So, a solid understanding of the human person is crucial, because it radically
influences all the crises of the times: abortion, contraception, euthanasia, gender
issues, materialism, terrorism, war. All these issues have a common denominator: a
struggle for the truth and dignity of the human person.
How does society present the human person? What are some of the
characteristics of our culture - positive and negative? How are we to help redeem and
transform them in Christ?
First, some Negative aspects of our culture:
-person is machine with body parts and tool to get things done
-pervasive mindlessness due to too much TV, violence, the information glut
-toys as grotesque objects
-radical femininism sometimes seems to reveal a hatred of self & others as God
Culture says - we are all equal person who just happen to
be in a male or female body. Gender has nothing to do with one as
a person. The body is incidental to one's identity. Sexuality is not
subject to absolute norms. It's a matter of "your choice."
As we know this is the opposite of the teaching of our Catholic faith.
1 (Christology - 2 natures in one Person; and the Trinitarian theology - One Essence, 3 Persons.
2 John Paul II, "Opening Address at the Puebla Conference," I, I, 9, in Puebla and Beyond , ed. John
Eagleson & Philip Scharper (Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books, 1979), p. 63.
-Society's emphasis upon the environment sometimes tends towards a kind of
pantheism. This is not to say there is not a valid need to care for the earth
and be stewards of creation.
- animals are portrayed with spiritual qualities
- birds, whales are more important than humans
-Our culture also focuses on instant self-gratification and indulging the body and
-Adam & Eve wanted the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It
is still a great temptation for humans as seen in the indiscriminate craving
for information. We, too, can be pulled into it.
BUT - Monasticism can offer a delicate balance:
-know what is going on and keep in touch with progress
-yet discern what fits in with the sublime ideals and goals of our vocation, and
drop the rest
What are the Positive aspects of our culture?
-a new emphasis on relationships and treating others with respect
-building community, solidarity, better communication for unity
-the many peace and justice issues, speaking for the voiceless and
marginalized: the "little ones"
-we are beginning to see hints of a return to simplicity of life-style and a
renewed appreciation for the traditional family unit
-there has been a positive response to radical feminism which presents
authentic and important feminine values
-and there is a renewed interest in and hunger for spirituality
Pope John Paul II
I would like to indicate some of the areas of discussion in contemporary
theology of the human person by highlighting them in the teaching of Pope John Paul
II because most of his philosophical and theological writings have been concerned
with the human person.
Christ has entrusted His Church as the guardian of the mystery and truth about
the human person. This truth is God's truth and we cannot change it.
And the Truth of the human person is that the person is created in the "image
and likeness of God" (which means we have the desire and capacity to know and
be known / love and be loved and expressing ourselves in freedom). Through the
Incarnation and Redemption by Christ, humanity has been raised to a "dignity beyond
compare. "3 Humanity can only understand itself in Christ, because Christ is the only
perfect and complete human being, the archetype of all human beings. He has
uniquely penetrated and embraced the fullness of human life and its mystery.
The human being is "the only creature that exists for its own sake." 4 and
should never be used or regarded as a thing (even God respects our freedom). We are
3 John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis #8, cf. GS #22.
4 Cf., GS #24.
not self-sufficient; but dependent upon God who determines human destiny, as well as
the norms of life and morality.
Humans reflect the trinitarian life of God by being made for communion with
other persons.... in a family of relationships. A person "...cannot find self except
through a sincere gift of self..." 5 in relationship.
John Paul's teaching on sexuality is made for our times. Young people are hit
from all sides with counterfeit ideas on personhood, love and sexuality They hunger
for the truth. Our monastic lives, our vocation, witness to the fact that a Christian life of
"dynamic orthodoxy" may be hard and sacrificial, but it is also the truth, and hence,
gives a profound sense of security, well-being hope and joy.
John Paul II has done an invaluable service for the dignity of women in his call
for a "new feminism. "6 He emphasizes the equality of men and women; but also their
complementarity. Woman has "a certain primacy in the order of love." She is the first to
receive love and the first to give love. Woman by her nature has a capacity to be an
expert, prophet, of love... LOVE is the very essense of God & the purpose of all human
Women are called by God to be a "support and source of spiritual strength for
other people." ( Mulieris Dignitatem #30)
The pope believes that the unique contribution of women is essential for the
future of civilization. 7 He wrote in his Letter to Women last year, "In giving themselves
to others each day, women fulfill their deepest vocation. Perhaps more than men,
women acknowledge the person, because they see persons with their hearts." 8
Women, cooperating with the grace of Christ, intuitively know the path for
restoring the image and likeness in humans; of enabling others to feel they are loved
and belong; that someone cares, listens and understands them. The deepest realities
for which people are hungering correspond to the gifts and "genius" of women. 9
Human beings are not meant to be the victims of structures, but have personal
responsibility for their actions through the gift of freedom. The pope frequently
describes the condition of the human heart as wounded by sin. God's original plan
was not for [people] to be enemies [but brothers and sisters], not in a dialectic of
confrontation, but of love. 10
In the pope's teaching, love, not struggle, has the final word.
Because every person is redeemed by Christ; every person and every aspect of
human life is entrusted to the care of the Church. Since we nuns have a special duty of
intercession, every person, then, is the object of our concern and prayer.
5 John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis. #1 3, GS #24.
6 John Paul II, Evanqelium Vitae . #99, 1995.
Ajohn Paul II, Angelus Message of June 18, 1995.
8 John Paul II, Letter to Women, July 10, 1995.
1 °John Paul II, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, #2.
Our vocation as Dominican nuns on the threshold of the Third Millennium
involves being experts in what it means to be a human person; what it means to be a
Christian, a woman, a consecrated woman.
The Holy Father's recent apostolic exhortation, Vita Consecrata. challenges
religious to become icons of holiness - conformed to Christ crucified.
We and every human being are invited to "denization." Our monasteries are
pulsating with this divine life. I would like to leave you with two images representing
our contemporary culture and our monastic life.
The SUPER INFORMATION HIGHWAY is an image of our culture. Many people
are taken up with the daily proliferation of new products and projects. If you want to get
"anywhere," you must be "on-line."
This image of the super highway conveys:
-outward expansion and movement
-people going in all directions; rushing everywhere and going nowhere parallel,
-isolated in one's own vehicle, passing one another; moving farther apart
-never touching or stopping
-go, go; more, more; faster, faster
But there is another image »
A Monastery is like a magnet:
-solid and stable.
-It has an invisible drawing power.
-There's a certain mystery about a magnet.
A magnetic field is caused by the intense activity, or motion, of electrons
orbiting within an enclosed area radiating energy - electricity. The
magnetic field, or gravity, holds the universe together.
-There is a tremendous dynamic energy and power within our monasteries
because of the intensity of the inward focus attracting others to itself and to God its
source of magneticism.
Our Constitutions calls us to be vibrant women of the Church, radiating the
energy of love, holiness, strength, touching other people's lives and drawing them to
As we deepen our understanding of the human person through the various
presentations, and as we reflect together upon these issues, may the Spirit show us
ways to strengthen our magnetism to radiate to the ends of the universe the divine
presence and at the same time, draw all creation to the Father through the Son in the
Holy Spirit. *<
CONTEMPORARY THEOLOGY OF THE HUMAN PERSON
Sr. Mary Catherine Hilkert, OP.
1 Given this vast topic of The Contemporary Theology of the Human Person and your
specific focus on how that relates to a vibrant living of contemplative Dominican life today, I
chose to select three different theological perspectives; all of which, I think, provide wisdom for
Dominicans who are trying to live contemplative lives in the contemporary world. I am going to
speak about Karl Rahner first of all. Anyone who wishes to speak of Catholic theology in the
twentieth century stands on the shoulders of the giant, Karl Rahner. He is probably the major
Catholic theologian of the 20th century. You may remember that quite a while a go now there
was even in The New York Times Sunday Magazine an article about him shortly before he died
that was called "The Quiet Mover of the Catholic Church. ,a I think we are all deeply indebted to
him, for without sacrificing the Catholic tradition (and we as Dominicans are particularly
appreciative that he did not sacrifice the Thomistic tradition) he was given in a singular way the
deep grace to truly move us into contact with the modern world. Rahner will be the main focus
of this presentation.
Then I would like to speak more briefly about the contribution of our brother Edward
Schillebeeckx, the Flemish Dominican. In some ways he stands on the shoulders of Rahner.
His early book, Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God 3 has a sacramental perspective
that is very similar to that of Rahner. Often described as a contemporary political theologian,
Schillebeeckx moves us further by bringing in the social and political dimensions of the human
person. His focus is not just the human person, but the human community , and what he calls
the humanum . that is, what constitutes a truly "livable humanity" in the face of the radical and
senseless suffering and injustice in our world. Schillebeeckx's contemporary writings have a
different starting point and answer different questions from those of his earlier sacramental
theology. We will look briefly at how Schillebeeckx's contribution offers insights that go beyond
Then this evening I would like to speak about the contribution of women theologians. 4
There will not be one name in particular, although I will be drawing to a large extent from a
theologian who has done great work in our own country, Elizabeth Johnson. Two of her recent
books I would highly recommend: her book on the Trinity entitled She Who Is 5 which is a
retrieval of Thomas in ways that many people thought were unthinkable. From the context of
feminist theology, Johnson "braids a footbridge" not only to Thomistic theology, but even to
Thomistic philosophy. She gets the name for the book, in fact from a feminist gloss on Aquinas's
naming of God as Qui est. Yet that always has been translated "He who is." Johnson retrieves
the whole idea of God as the dynamic act of Being, and asks: "Could we think of God as the
dynamic Relational Love at the heart of the universe — Compassion-poured-out on the
universe"? What would happen for our spirituality and for the dignity and respect for women that
Sr. Mary Jeremiah spoke about, if we could also image God, not instead of "He who is" but in
addition to "He who is" as "She who is"? Can the female images and speaking about God, in
fact, open up to us in new ways the incomprehensibility of God who is beyond male and female?
She also has done another small book called Women. Earth and Creator Spirit 6 which does a
fine job of incorporating the ecological perspective also emphasized by Sr. Mary Jeremiah.
Theology in a New Context
To put all this in context I'd like to make reference to the work of Bernard Lonergan, the
Canadian Jesuit who died in the same year that Karl Rahner died, 1984. Bernard Lonergan
wrote an important article called "Theology in its New Context" 7 In this article Lonergan refers
to "the shift from classical to historical consciousness." Lonergan draws attention to the fact that
theology, at the beginning of this century (the way both he and Rahner would have been
schooled, for example, as good Thomists in their seminary training) was a form of Thomism now
That approach to our topic did not speak about the human person, but rather about human
nature. Nevertheless, when you focus on the Summa Theologiae itself, rather than on later
seminary manuals, you see the richness of Thomas engaging the questions of his day. Thomas
was not afraid to deal with one whom Luther called "that damn pagan Aristotle." Thomas was
convinced that we must search for and engage truth wherever it is to be found. For him this
meant grappling with Aristotle as well as being open to Islamic thought. In our own day we are
just entering into Christian-Muslim dialogue; Thomas was engaged in it in the thirteenth century.
Thomas encouraged his students to be open to the many opinions that did not agree with one
another and to engage them always in the form of questions so as always to be open to greater
truth. Only then would Thomas, who was rooted in his own contemplative life and prayer and
tradition, make his own critical judgment. He realized that it was a limited judgment, that he did
not have the fullness of truth, but he embraced the responsibility that we all have to speak the
truth as we see it. We do that in community so that we can be challenged by each other's
perspectives in the common search for truth.
Lonergan emphasizes that with Thomas we had a searching for truth through questions,
but in the later manuals the process was reversed. The manuals took Thomas's answers which
came from the thirteenth century and made them the answers. Then Scripture and tradition were
used to show the truth of the "official answers" of Church teaching. In the modern context of the
Enlightenment we again began to trust the power of human reason to question and to doubt.
In one sense this can be seen as a return to the basic method of asking questions and searching
In terms of anthropology, a traditional Thomistic perspective, rooted in Aristotelian
philosophy, spoke of human "nature" and the "essence" of what it meant to be human. Lonergan
notes that one of the major shifts in the modern perspective is to begin to talk about the human
person rather than unchanging, universal human nature. When we spoke in terms of "natures"
for instance, we talked about the human being as a "rational animal." It is certainly true that we
have intellects and wills and that we share a great deal in common with the animals. We belong
to that genus. Yet, when we talked about the human person as "composed of body and soul,"
and having an unchanging, universal human essence, all sorts of other aspects of being human
did not come to the fore. For example, the facts that we each have a history and live in different
periods of history seemed somewhat incidental because we focused on unchanging nature. The
fact that we come from different cultures was also considered an "accident" in that system of
essences and natures. The fact that someone is from the Philippines or from South Africa or
from Northern Ireland or from Germany or from different regions of the United States or from
different ethnic groups (what we now call "social location") was all considered incidental, rather
than essential, to who we are. Gender and race were also not so important because we have
a "common human nature." All these things that are becoming such a focus in our day in terms
of the human person were not attended to in that system. They were not important; they did not
make a fundamental difference in terms of our human personhood. The emphasis was on
unchanging human nature or essence composed of a body and soul, human nature as rational,
and human freedom in terms of free will.
KARL RAHNER: Starting with the Human
I would like to take just those three pieces from Lonergan's article and shift to Karl Rahner
and try to highlight some of his major emphases that he shifted in terms of our understanding
the human person. You will note a number of connections with what Sr. Mary Jeremiah said
about the image of God, divinization, our experience of grace, and our call to share the
First, human nature versus history. Rahner stressed that we exist in history; that is the
very way by which we become a person. It is also the very way by which Jesus became a human
person. So when Rahner speaks about the Incarnation, for example, he says it took all of Jesus'
lifetime for him to live out a history of being who he was. That does not mean he became God
at the end of his history. We are not talking about the heresy of Adoptionism. What we are
talking about is an historical mind-set that says I am not yet who I am called to be, because it
takes my whole history, all the decisions of my life, for me to become the person whom God has
destined me to be. 8 History refers not to our surroundings; but to our very opportunity to become
who we are, to say our fundamental "yes" or "no" to God. We do that with the whole of our life.
At death our history is sealed. He have been given so many days, and so many years. At the
moment of our death what we have made of our whole life is a fundamental "yes" or "no" to God.
At the same time this is also a fundamental "yes" or "no" to our neighbor and a fundamental "yes"
or "no" to our own deepest truth and happiness. Thomas' insight from the very beginning was
that life is a quest for happiness. Our vocation is to become genuinely free, which is to become
the very person whom God wants us to be. One of Rahner"s important contributions to the
theology of the human person is that the human person becomes who he or she is destined to
be through his/her history.
Second, rather than speaking of the human being as composed of body and soul, Rahner
refers to the human person as body-spirit. We are not spirits "caught" in a body. We are not
Platonists. It is not the idea that we are souls entrapped in a body just waiting to get back to our
truly spiritual home. This concept takes the Incarnation totally seriously and says that God's plan
includes creation and incarnation. We are, as some philosophers and theologians would say,
a mysterious combination of the bodily and the spiritual. But this involves a profound unity of
spirit and matter. God then, is to be discovered for us as human beings, because we are not
pure spirits, but we are body-spirits. We cannot meet God as angels or as pure spirits. We
always meet God in and through our bodies; in and through our social world; in and through our
history; in and through creation. That is the basic idea of sacramentality — the mystery of God
who remains incomprehensible is made known to us in and through creation. Augustine says,
the footprints of the Trinity are to be discovered everywhere in creation and in a privileged way
in the creation that is the image and likeness of God - the human person. So we discover God
in relationship to one another. This is at the heart of Rahner's further insight that love of God
and love of neighbor are in fact the same love. He takes very seriously that idea from the first
letter of John: 'The one who says that he or she loves God but hates a neighbor is a liar." (1 Jn
4:20) Rahner says the reason that is the case is that we meet God in and through our neighbor.
Our neighbor is often the one whom we least suspect; it is the stranger, it is those often to whom
we are not immediately attracted, the other, the poor, the little one. It is in and through love of
our neighbor that we love God. This insight is of course rooted in Matthew 25 where we are
reminded that Christ is to be discovered in the hungry brother or sister, in the person who is sick
and longing for a visit, in the dying, in the poor, in the prisoner. The mystery of God is to be found
embodied in God's creation and in all of God's creatures, and in particular in the human person
A third insight of Rahner*s relates to the notion of freedom. In the classical mind-set a
person is a rational animal who has a free will. Rahner shifts that language and says: to be a
person is to be a center of self-consciousness and freedom.
In Rahner"s essay on "Theology of Freedom" 9 he says freedom isn't something we have;
rather, "we are freedom." In the core of our being we have been created as profoundly free, but
as Augustine taught us, that is "freedom for something." Freedom is not just the ability to choose
this or that. Freedom is freedom for God, which is at the same time freedom to become who we
are destined to be, and freedom for our neighbor. So it is the freedom to be who I am meant to
be and freedom for my neighbor which is in fact freedom for God. Rahner"s response to the
question "What is demanded of me?" is: "I am." In other words, it is not that God has some
blueprint of what I should do in all the turning points of my life. It is more profound than that.
God has a vision of who I am called to be.
In another essay on a "formal existential ethics" 10 Rahner addresses the question from
moral theology: "is there something which is demanded of all human beings by our very nature?
That is the whole idea of the natural law. Rahner argues that the notion of an "individual ethic"
as a fundamental option is much more demanding. Whatever is humanly decent and right and
good is still demanded of me. But that does not begin to touch what my vocation is. That's just
the bottom line. In fact beyond that there is the unique vocation of every individual human
person. Each of us had been called by name. Each of you has received the vocation to be a
cloistered Dominican sister, but it goes beyond that because you are called to be "Sister
Margaret" and "Mother Rose" and that is a different reflection of that same vocation. So each
of us is called to be faithful to the God who speaks to us in the depths of our hearts.
THE ONE MYSTERY: God Is Love
In all of his writings Rahner expressed a deep pastoral concern, as the following quotation
I believe that all the difficulties which men and women of today experience have a
common basis. Theological expressions are not formulated in such a way that they
can see how what is being said has any connection with their own understanding of
themselves which they have derived from their experience. 11
Rahner is saying that in his day Catholics thought that there were a number of truths or dogmas
they had to believe on the (ultimate) authority of the God who was doing the revealing and the
(proximate) authority of the magisterium that defined those dogmas. On the one hand were
"mysteries" or "dogmas" that you have to believe. On the other hand people have their own
human experience. In terms of our focus on the human person we have on the one hand,
Christian teaching about what it means to be human, and on the other hand, our own social and
cultural perceptions of what human life is all about. Most people don't see any connection
between the two. Rahner made it his life project to say: "There not only happens to be some
connection between the two; it is an essential connection. There is a necessary connection."
In fact, Rahner argued that, properly understood, "all theology is anthropology." For Rahner, all
theology begins with human experience. That makes some people very nervous. They think it
is reductionistic to focus on "the human." They fear that theology will become self-centered
rather than God-centered. Rahner, however, was convinced that if we explored the mystery of
the human person in depth, we would discover the mystery of God. Faith is not a matter of
believing a number of different mysteries. There is only one mystery at the heart of it all. All
those dogmas, all those mysteries go back to the One Mystery, that is the mystery of the Trinity.
What is this mystery of the Trinity, which is the mystery of God? Rahner says quite simply, in
the words of St. John, it is the three words, "God is love." (1 Jn 4:8) This is the heart of what
people really need to know, he says, that "God is love."
Now where did we, as Christians learn the truth that God is love? We learned it through
the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the Word made flesh. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus,
we discover that this God who is love is self-communicating love. In other words, God is not a
distant, absent love, but a God who pours God's self out even to the point of death. Therefore,
one way into the mystery of God is by studying the mystery of Jesus or Christology. But Rahner
says, how can we even have the openness to follow Jesus or even to hear the name of Jesus?
How do we receive the Word that is proclaimed to us? This is possible only because the Spirit
has been poured forth in our hearts, making us open. We have been anointed with the Spirit.
Here we are approaching Pentecost. So all the richness of the liturgy points out to us this whole
idea of what the Spirit does. It melts what has been frozen; it makes supple, open and flexible
what has been hard, rigid and stiff. 12 The Spirit opens up not only our hearts, but also all of
creation. The Spirit is operative in the world and certainly the Spirit is operative in the Church,
but also the Spirit is operative in the heart of the human person. In Jesus and in the Spirit we
have come to know the one mystery of God who is love. And Rahner says that every other
mystery or dogma you want to talk about is somehow connected to the heart of the matter - the
God who is self-communicating love.
While those insights resonate with those who are deeply committed Christians and
Catholics, those who have embraced a deep spiritual life, and a "religious life," Rahner remarks
that that is not the experience of many people. For many people it would be better to start by
saying what does it really mean to be a human person?" The way Rahner analyzes the human
person is to point out what Thomas got from Augustine: it is in our knowing and in our loving that
we most profoundly image the God who is the Word, or the knowledge of God, and the Spirit
who is the love of God poured forth. So the way we image God as human persons is in our
consciousness or in our knowing and in our loving.
Rahner begins his analysis of the human person with the simple observation that, "A
human person asks questions." 13 But did you ever not know enough to ask a question? We've
all had that experience. And Rahner says, that's because to ask a question presumes
something is there already. In other words, there is a dynamism to asking a question. You know
a certain amount and you leam something new; and all of a sudden it does not fit together.
That's when you have a question. There is something there that is giving energy and that is
rising up, so that you ask a question. If we analyze that process of human beings asking
questions we can see that what Rahner calls "the mystery of being" is already within us; that we
already have contact with what it is we are searching for.
Rahner says the core of the human person in biblical terms is our heart. This human being
has a question. But the reason this human being has a question is because what we are
searching for is a horizon beyond us. But that horizon is already deep within our hearts, rising
up and prompting us to ask that question. So we try to answer our questions by going to school,
or inviting in theology speakers, or talking to someone we consider wise, or reading a book, or
taking a correspondence course, or asking our parents or friends, or in numerous other ways.
Thafs how we try to answer our questions. But we are not just questions, we're not just minds.
Rahner says, more profoundly, we are all searching for love. It is not just knowing that shows we
are moving toward something beyond us; it is our loving and our desire for love. So we befriend
our brothers and sisters. The first love is the love of our parents and our family for us. Then we
go out of ourselves and we make friends. And maybe we fall in love. We also befriend the poor
and the needy and are befriended by them. In all of these experiences, when we are going out
of ourselves in knowing or in loving we are seeking what seems to be beyond us, but the only
reason we are seeking is because, in fact, that horizon of love is already within us prompting us
to search for love, or prompting us to seek answers to our questions. Very simply, Augustine
said it long ago: "Our hearts are restless until we rest in Thee."
Many philosophers might agree that human persons ask questions and seek for love. But
at this point in his analysis Rahner admits that there are two possibilities. One of them is that
human life is absurd, because we spend our whole life in this searching for what appears to be
beyond us. Nevertheless the most intimate human relationship in marriage or otherwise, does
not fulfill our deep longing for love. With our closest friend or in experiences of community we
still have a fundamental loneliness and quest within us for love. We never find an answer, in
spite of the information glut, to all those questions that are deep within us. So one possibility is
that the human person is absurd because we spend our lives seeking, but we never resolve that
search. We die and that is the end. That is one philosophical position, which ultimately ends
in nihilism. There is nothingness and we are at best, tragic heroes. But Rahner points out that
nihilism is as much a faith option as is Christian faith; neither can be proven to be true. Christian
faith wagers that life is not absurd. We long for God precisely because we have been destined
for what is beyond us - the Infinite. Beyond death we fall into the hands of the living God who
is the answer to our search. If in fact, God is self-communicating love, then the questions that
we are (Rahner says we just don't have questions, we are questions) are questions toward God.
There fore as human persons destined for God, we can trust our restlessness, trust our doubts,
trust our questions, because they may be leading us toward a deeper experience of the mystery
of God. We are questions. But God is, we believe in and through Jesus, the answer to those
questions. For Rahner the Incarnation is at the center of that connection.
The Incarnation as Key
Most of us have the idea that in Christ the humanity and the divinity are like a see-saw.
If we really believe in the divinity of Jesus we think he can't be quite human in the way I am. He
didn't really experience this. He didn't really struggle with loneliness or with his sexuality or with
anger or with not liking certain people; whatever might be one's own way of naming the struggle.
He didn't really go through it the way the story is told of Gethsemane, of really not wanting to do
the Father's will. Yes, in the end "Thy will be done," but first "take this cup from Me." He didn't
really mean that — that is only for our edification. We think in terms of dualism and oppositions.
But Rahner maintains that the Incarnation reveals to us that divinity and humanity do not operate
in inverse proportion. They are not opposites. In fact, if the Incarnation is true, then what that
means is divinity and humanity operate in direct proportion. In other words, the closer to God
one is, the more fully human that person is.
Think for a minute of the most profoundly spiritual sister that you have met in your
monastery, or person you have met in your life. Who is the most deeply religious person you
have ever met? Now think for a moment who is the most deeply human, compassionate and
earthy person you have ever met? What Rahner is getting at is that you should be able to think
of the same person. In other words, being fully, authentically human, rather than taking us away
from God or distracting us from God, in fact leads us more deeply into the mystery of God. And
closeness to God makes us more profoundly human.
Rahner also reminds us of a key insight from the Greek early Christian tradition: God
became human "so that we might become divine. " 1J Second Peter 1:4 says, "we become partak-
ers in the divine nature." Rahner has a very positive, graced view of the human person. He sees
us as not only questions toward God, but also as openness for the Incarnation, or desire for God.
That is the way we are created, every single one of us. That is the heart of what he means by
the "supernatural existential." Quite simply, all it means is that every human person, not just the
baptized, from the first moment of his or her existence is offered friendship with God. We are
all bom as destined for God, oriented toward God, called to God's grace. How do we respond
to that offer? We do it with the whole of our human lives, by the way we respond to our
neighbors, by the way we respond to the events of our lives and the people we were given in the
limited time that we have. That is how we say "yes" or "no" to that deep call that has been there
from the first moment of our existence. In that process of growing in grace, responding to grace,
saying our "yes" to God, we are in fact divinized.
Here Rahner picks up the Eastern tradition. We learned so much about grace in relation
to sin, because we got a lot of that from the Western tradition through Augustine, who was much
more sin-centered in his theology of grace. He talked about grace as redemption and
forgiveness and that is certainly true and essential; but at the same time the Eastern tradition
(eg. Irenaeus, Athanasius) emphasized another aspect of the mystery of grace, i.e., divinization.
We are not only forgiven and redeemed, we are called to participate in the divine nature. To put
it in terms of Jesus: "he is by nature what we are by grace." Therefore Rahner talks about
"ordinary" mysticism; who Christ is, is who we are called to become. We are called to the very
same relationship with the Trinity that Jesus had, which is participation in the divine nature.
Rahner makes his meaning more concrete in his article "The Experience of Grace. " There he
highlights that everyone has access to the experience of grace. Many have had experiences
of grace, but they never name it "grace." They do not have that language for it.
Let me quote one lengthy paragraph from Rahner on what the experience of grace feels
like or looks like in many people's ordinary lives. Rahner asks:
Have we ever kept quiet, even though we wanted to defend ourselves when we
were being unfairly treated? Have we ever forgiven someone, even though we got
no thanks for it and our silent forgiveness was taken for granted? Have we ever
obeyed, not because we had to, and because otherwise things would have become
unpleasant for us; but simply on account of that mysterious, silent, incomprehensible
Being we call "God" and God's will? Have we ever sacrificed something without
receiving any thanks or recognition for it, and even without a feeling of inner
satisfaction? Have we ever been absolutely lonely? Have we ever decided on some
course of action purely by the innermost judgement of our conscience, deep down
where one can no longer tell or explain it to anyone; where one is quite alone and
knows that one is taking a decision that no one else can take in one's place and for
which one will have to answer for all eternity? Have we ever tried to love God when
we are no longer being borne on the crest of the wave of enthusiastic feeling; when
it is no longer possible to mistake ourself and our vital urges for God? Have we ever
tried to love God when we thought we were dying of this love and it seemed like
death and almost negation? Have we ever tried to love God when we seem to be
calling out into emptiness; when our cries seemed to fall on deaf ears and it looked
as if we were taking a terrifying jump into the bottomless abyss? Everything seemed
incomprehensible and absolutely senseless. Have we ever fulfilled a duty when it
seemed it could be done only by a consuming sense of really betraying and
obliterating one's self? When it could apparently be done only by doing something
terribly stupid for which no one would thank us? Have we ever tried to be good to
someone, who did not show the slightest sign of gratitude or comprehension, and
when we were not rewarded by having that feeling of having been absolutely selfless
or decent? Let us search for ourselves in such experiences in our life. Let us look
for our experiences in which things like this have happened to us. If we have had
such experiences, then we have experienced the Spirit in the way I mean here. 15
Once when I read that passage in a Master's level class, a young mother asked: "Does he
ever talk about mothers and diaper pails? I've got kids at home, and I have these pressures, and
I am trying to finish this degree because I think I'm called to be a minister." I said to her: " You
have to write that article." Rahner wrote out of his own experience as a Jesuit seeking to find
God in all things. But we have to write other descriptions of grace from our own different
experiences of life.
Encountering God in History and Suffering
When Schillebeeckx was in the Dominican novitiate in Belgium, he wrote home to his
parents, who were parents of fourteen children, and told them of this profound religious
experience he had had when the brothers got up during the night to pray before the Blessed
Sacrament in the dark. He never before had had such a close experience of God, he said. His
father wrote back and said: "My boy, your mother and I have to get up three or four times a night
to calm a crying baby, and that is less romantic than your night office. Think about it: religion
is not an emotional state but an attitude of service." 16
Schillebeeckx's early theology, like Rahner*s is profoundly sacramental. The title of one
of Schillebeeck's early books captures this sacramental leitmotif: Marriage: Human Reality and
Saving Mvsterv . 17 The point of the whole book is summed up in the word "and." In other words,
the human reality of marriage is at the same time the sacramental encounter with God. The
sexual experience, the raising of the children, the wrestling with the relationship and trying to stay
faithful over ail those years, the working out of the difficulties of marriage, the dailiness, the
changing of diapers, the making of meals - all of that is the context for the experience of the
grace of marriage. There is not some portion of our lives where we go to church on Sunday or
pray or withdraw in a retreat experience, and that is our "spiritual" life while the rest of life is
"secular." Grace flows throughout our lives, and we encounter the mystery of God in the
concrete experiences of our lives. Schillebeeckx's early works all reflect this notion of
sacramentality: the mystery of God is encountered in the one human world in we live.
But in his later writings, Schillebeeckx grappled with the reality that two-thirds of the world's
humanity suffers injustice in some way. Schillebeeckx now does theology always in the context
of radical and senseless suffering. He admits that some suffering draws us closer to God; it is
a genuine experience of the cross and of being profoundly united with God. But not all suffering
does that. His focus is on how we can talk about God or full human life in the face of the kind
of suffering that is truly de-humanizing and in the face of the global injustices that in fact destroy
human persons. One example would be the use of rape, for instance, as a weapon of war in
Bosnia. That horror was meant both to destroy a people ethnically, and also to dehumanize and
dominate the people and specifically the women. In that kind of suffering there is nothing of
God. There is no way we can say, "Let's find God's mysterious purpose here." The reality of
rape is evil; it is not of God. Schillebeeckx talks about the concentration camps, the Holocaust,
or racial discrimination as examples of radical suffering. In the movie Romero there is the young
woman toward the end of the movie who was an activist for the reign of God, preaching the
Gospel in those social and political circumstances. Before she was murdered, she was raped
and her tongue was cut out so that she couldn't even scream. Her tongue was what she had
used to speak out against the injustice. The effect of that kind of torture is the kind of thing that
Schillebeeckx means by "radical and senseless suffering."
In the light of that kind of experience, can we speak of the mystery of God to be found in
everyone's experience? Or do we have just privileged experiences of those who live comfortable
and religious lives to which we can apply this kind of theology that says God is found in our
ordinary experience? Schillebeeckx shows that perhaps we need another way of thinking of the
experience of God. He introduces a term about God being found in negative experiences -
experiences of radical suffering, of injustice, of genuine evil. God is to be found in those
experiences, but he calls them "negative-contrast experiences." because they are the exact
contrast of what God wills for humanity. The will of God for human beings as Irenaeus described
it was full human happiness: "the glory of God is humanity fully alive." 18 God's desire is the
flourishing of human persons and the flourishing of ail creation. Anything that destroys a human
person or part of a human person or destroys creation is a violation of God's will.
That is why Schillebeeckx takes the cross as the paradigmatic negative contrast
experience. He has quite a different theology of the cross from Karl Rahner. Schillebeeckx
begins with the human life of Jesus, the preacher of the reign of God. Jesus treated every
human person with dignity and invited even sinners and outcasts into intimacy with God and the
celebration and joy of the kingdom of God. But both political and religious leaders were
distressed by the social and religious revolution that was the reign of God he proclaimed.
Schillebeeckx says that from a human perspective the death of Christ was evil: it was brought
about by political and religious leaders rejecting the God that Jesus preached. Where then was
God to be found in the "negative contrast experience" of the cross? Schillebeeckx identifies the
Spirit as the one who enabled Jesus to go through what was an experience of evil and absurdity
and meaninglessness, but to fill that experience with love - the love of God outpoured. Jesus
died trusting in Abba, remaining faithful to his mission, and expressing solidarity with all who
suffer, symbolized by his dying between two thieves. God is to be found not in the human
injustice that caused the cross, but in the Spirit of God who sustained Jesus to go through the
experience of darkness, rejection, and death, and to trust Abba to be faithful.
Finally, God is to be found in the resurrection. We as Christians only celebrate the cross
because we believe that it has been defeated in the resurrection. The resurrection says that God
has the final word and that God is a God of life. Schillebeeckx reminds us that that promise
extends to all the rest of the crucified people of our world, and to us when we go through
experiences of radical suffering or injustice. God is the power of love who sustains and enables
us to endure, to protest, and to hope. The grace and action of the Spirit enables us to resist and
to try to change whatever structures make God's creation suffer. But also God is there as the
promise of the future. The resurrection says that God can and will make all things new and bring
life even out of death.
One major contribution of Schillebeeckx's theology of the human person is that he attends
to the suffering of humanity. Schillebeeckx and the social and political theologians remind us
that we meet God in community, not only in our religious communities, but in the community of
human kind and of creation. Schillebeeckx's concern about salvation extends not only to the
individual human person but to human communities and structures and to the earth, particularly
wherever injustice or evil has been done to God's beloved creation. All of that has to be the
focus of our prayer and of our compassion, of our concern and activity on behalf of the reign of
God. 19 x
1. This talk was transcribed from the tape and reviewed by Sr. Mary Catherine.
2. Eugene Kennedy, "Quiet Mover of the Catholic Church," New York Times , Section 6, September
23, 1979, 22-24, 31-32.
3. Edward Schillebeeckx, Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God (New York: Sheed and
4. The evening presentation is not included in this transcription of the talk.
5. Elizabeth A. Johnson, SHE WHO IS: The Mvsterv of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (New
York: Crossroad, 1992). See also Johnson, "The Incomprehensibility of God and the Image of God
Male and Female," Theological Studies 45 (1984) 441-65.
6. Elizabeth A. Johnson, Women. Earth and Creator Spirit (New York: Paulist, 1993).
7. Bernard J.F. Lonergan, 'Theology in its New Context," A Second Collection , ed. William F.J. Ryan
and Bernard J. Tyrrell (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974), 55-67.
8. From a theological perspective it should be emphasized that these decisions are ways in which
we cooperate or fail to cooperate with grace.
9. Karl Rahner, "Theology of Freedom," Theological Investigations Vol. 6 (New York: Seabury, 1974)
10. Karl Rahner, "On the Question of a Formal Existential Ethics," Theological Investigations Vol.
2 (New York: Seabury, 1975) 217-234.
11. Karl Rahner, "Theology and Anthropology," in The Word in History , ed. T. Patrick Burke (New
York: Sheed and Ward, 1966) 18.
12. See Sequence of the Mass of Pentecost.
13. See Karl Rahner, Spirit in the World (New York: Herder and Herder, 1968). For helpful
introductions to Rahner*s anthropology, see Anne E. Carr, "Starting with the Human," and William
V. Dych, 'Theology in a New Key," in A World of Grace , ed. Leo J. O'Donovan (New York: Seabury,
14. Irenaeus, Against Heresies . 4.28.1.
15. Karl Rahner, "Reflections on the Experience of Grace," Theological Investigations Vol. 3 (New
York: Seabury, 1974), 86-90.
16. John Bowden, Edward Schillebeeckx: In Search of the Kingdom of God (New York: Crossroad,
17. Edward Schillebeeckx, Marriage: Human Reality and Saving Mystery (New York: Sheed and
18. Irenaeus, Against Heresies , 4.20.7.
19. The presentation on Schillebeeckx's theology continued in the evening session, but that portion
of the talk was not recorded. One helpful resource for fuller discussion of this topic is Edward
Schillebeeckx, On Christian Faith: The Spiritual, Ethical, and Political Dimensions (New York:
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SHAPING LIFE TODAY
OUR CONTEMPLATIVE QUEST FOR TRUTH FROM A DOMINICAN PERSPECTIVE
Sr. Maria Agnes, O.P.
We are all familiar with the story of St. Antony of Egypt who left his cell in
the desert to go and visit a fellow hermit, St. Paul of Thebes, who was then a
hundred years old and had not seen a human being for years. Paul probably asked
Antony, "How are things going in the world? Do people still build towns and
cities?" In this assembly we are asking one another the same question. "How are
things going in the world today and what are we doing about it?"
The world we live in is being configured by demographics, global economy,
multicultural evolution and a rapid explosion of knowledge in every field due to
science and technology. People now have access to all parts of the earth through
modern transportation and through the electronic superhighway: the internet,
computer modem, E-mail, fax machine, and television to name a few. Behind us
are centuries of scientific progress, philosophical diversity and 2,000 years of
Christianity. The twentieth century has been deeply wounded by two world wars,
the experience of concentration camps, natural disasters, social and economic
upheaval, the nuclear threat to our planet, ecological crisis and horrendous attacks
on human life. The idolatry of ancient civilizations is prevalent in our society in a
modernized version. The secular image of man looms over the horizon of
cyberspace. Modern man sees himself as his own creation and as one who is in
charge of life and death. There is a lack of stability, regulation and permanent
commitment in our society. The image of the Trinity as model of community has
been distorted by the break-up of family life. In the realm of religious belief, many
people think that all religions are equally valid because for them, religion is but an
expression of a particular culture and a projection of man's subjective
consciousness. The cultural climate of our age is characterized by theological
pluralism, moral relativism, secular humanism, and a large marketplace of
philosophies of different color, texture and flavor.
During our century, many books and articles have been written and
published about the cultural crisis of our time. The philosophical influences that are
shaping our culture have been diagnosed, examined and discussed in seminars,
lectures and workshops. There are lights and shadows, good and evil, life and
death in our culture. We can look at these polarities from two different
perspectives: from below, through science and philosophy, and from above,
through revealed truth. We are looking at the world through faith and reason, not
in juxtaposition but in convergence. Reason without faith is rationalism. Faith
without reason is fideism.
This morning, we are at the intersection of philosophy and culture. Culture
is the context for philosophy and philosophy interprets culture. The fundamental
and ultimate questions in philosophy have not changes through the centuries. The
burning issue at the heart of philosophy is the question: what is truth? We belong
to a Religious Order dedicated to the study, contemplation and preaching of truth.
The fullness of truth cannot be possessed by a neutral mind. Truth is in the
language, in the thought, in moral decision, in human action. Crisis in truth leads
to crisis in faith, in morals, in contemplation. Truth is profoundly dynamic because
it is a way of life, a praxis, according to the vision of St. Dominic whose Religious
Order grew out of his passion for truth. St. Dominic bore witness to truth, the
Word of God, in his being and through his preaching. Over the centuries, we
Dominicans have pursued this ideal in philosophy and theology, in the arts and
sciences, in liturgy and contemplation.
St. Thomas Aquinas, the medieval philosopher, theologian and poet,
accepted the universality of truth. He drew from Sacred Scripture, the Greek and
Latin Fathers of the Church, the Arabian, Jewish and Neoplatonic philosophers,
and the works of Aristotle in laying down his great synthesis of the Christian faith.
His metaphysics of personality, creation and divine providence are based on
Aristotelian philosophy. For St. Thomas, anything true is a reflection of the first
and ultimate truth even if it is discovered by a pagan. On the other hand, a
falsehood does not become true when uttered by a Christian. The writings of St.
Thomas were influenced by the scientific worldview and the doctrinal
controversies of his time. His cultural milieu was shaped and enriched by the
flourishing universities in Europe, by the Roman Curia, the court of King Louis IX
in France and the grandeur of Gothic architecture and polyphonic music. The
dignity, balance and harmony of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris are cultural
symbols manifested in the order, logic and synthesis of the Summa Theologiae.
As a poet, St. Thomas wrote some of the eucharistic hymns in the liturgy.
St. Catherine of Siena, the fourteenth century mystic, discovered her true
self and the beauty of the human soul in the fountain of the gentle first Truth.
Catherine lived in a world of materialism, heresy, false mysticism and political
turmoil both in the Church and in society. She taught her disciples to seek the
truth, to love the truth, and to live by the truth. In her mystical prayer, Catherine
experienced altered states of consciousness that open out to infinite realms of
truth. Her active apostolate was totally influenced by her mystical experience of
truth as a Person.
Blessed John of Fiesole, the artist, lived at the time of the great revival in
art, literature and learning in Europe. It was a period of transition from the
medieval to the modern world. Fra Angelico preached his gospel homilies through
the splendor of early Renaissance art. The encounter between the truth of the
gospel and the culture of his time became the focus of his paintings and prayer
Bartolome de las Casas, the social reformer, witnessed to God' s truth,
justice and compassion during a period of evangelization, colonization and
expansion of European culture in the New World. De las Casas confronted the
ignorance and falsehood in the Church and the injustice in his own government.
He followed Christ who is truth. He preached the Word of God who is Truth
Incarnate and who had become flesh in the native peoples of the Americas. In his
rapidly changing world, de las Casas listened to and acted upon the Word of God
already present in his culture.
Monasticism has a pearl of great price to offer the Church and the world
today. The Dominican monastic contemplative life embodies much that is good in
contemporary thought: a spirit of openness to dialogue, a respect for the dignity
and uniqueness of the human person as embodied in our Rule and Constitutions,
an affirmation of pluralism and diversity in our community life, a democratic form
of government, a concern for freedom and authenticity in our monastic
observances, and a desire for simplicity of life in oneness of mind and heart.
Monastic erudition combined with discretion is our non-polemical response
to the philosophical influences that are shaping our culture. Dialogue is possible
through love. Love is not blind and is able to see the truth. No philosophy is
totally false. There are grains of truth mixed with errors and deficiencies
in ancient, medieval and modern philosophy. It is our task to separate the cockle
from the wheat. It is possible to find a philosophy which is compatible with our
Christian faith if we remain faithful to our search for truth wherever it may be
found. According to Hans Urs von Balthasar, "Both the tradition and modern
philosophy are so rich that living water can be drawn from the rock at innumerable
points provided only that an original thinker is at hand to strike the rock." St. Paul
tells us to"test everything and retain what is good" (Thess. 5:21). He also speaks
of "taking captive all human systems of thought for the truth of Christ" (2Cor.
10:5). Jesus Christ taught us the way, the truth and the life as embodied in his
own Person. All aspects of truth are a reflection of the innermost core of truth
as it is presented to us by Christ through the teaching of the Church.
There is a natural level of philosophy accessible to all of us. This
commonsense philosophy is refined through study and reflection. Through study
we learn how philosophy, theology and contemplation are interrelated in revealing
the mystery of Christ. The study of natural and divine truth enables us to deal
with theological pluralism, moral relativism and secular humanism. Philosophy
interprets the different periods and cultures in our Dominican history and shows
us how these affect our monastic life today.
A sound metaphysics of being is necessary both for the understanding and
the practice of our Catholic faith. Our culture has shifted from the mystery of
being to the pragmatic reality of doing and producing. The truth of a philosophy
depends on the extent to which it recognizes being as a gift from God who is the
source of all being. The daily eucharistic liturgy bears witness to a created
universe which brings up the reality and absoluteness of God. We proclaim the
preamble of our faith at the Creed of the Mass. In our present culture, the mastery
of the earth is being exercised by people whose minds have been darkened by the
absence of God, thus resulting in ecological disaster. At the Offertory of the Mass,
we affirm our stewardship of the fruits of the earth symbolized by the bread and
wine. We affirm the dignity of creation and of human labor in the presence of the
iving God. The Consecration of the bread and wine is the supreme moment of
encounter between faith and reason, between God and humanity in the mystery
of Transubstantiation. At Holy Communion, we proclaim the truth that love and
being are inseparable. Being is creative love and love is the essence of being.
At the Liturgy of the Hours, we assert the primacy of God in praise,
adoration, dependence and thanksgiving. Through the use of our body in worship,
after the example of St. Dominic, we affirm the unity of matter and spirit in
response to the dualism between mind and body in modern philosophy. Prayer is
the official language of a creature. Our monastic search for God in prayer and
lectio divina is also a revelation of God. Contrary to the teaching of some
philosophers, we put ourselves in contact with God when we pray because God
is both inscrutable and knowable; he is both hidden and manifest. God is a Person,
the object of our quest for truth, of our love and perpetual adoration in the Blessed
Philosophy is a love of wisdom. It is also the wisdom that is loved.
Moreover, philosophy teaches its own wisdom because it is the synthesis of all
knowledge operating in the light of faith. According to St. Augustine, the true
philosopher is one who loves God, the divine wisdom. St. Thomas says the same
thing in different words: "The entire purpose of philosophy is the knowledge and
love of God." The ultimate end of our search for truth is union with God who is
the absolute fullness of truth. Truth is the God of love. In the light of the monastic
paradigm, this search for truth through study, contemplation and silent preaching
is our on-going response to the philosophical influences that are shaping our
The core message of the above Introductory Talk is contained in my
previous article, THE PHILOSOPHICAL SPECTRUM OF THE TWENTIETH
CENTURY IN THE LIGHT OF THE MONASTIC PARADIGM which was published
in the 1 995 Fall-Winter issue of the Dominican Monastic Search. I refer the reader
to the bibliographical notes at the end of that article. My presentation of truth
through the lives and legacies of our Dominican brothers and sisters has been
inspired by PERSPECTIVES ON TRUTH IN THE DOMINICAN TRADITION, a
graduate course designed and taught by Sister Ruth Caspar, O.P., Ph.D., Professor
of Philosophy at Ohio Dominican College. Sister Ruth had given me permission to
use and develop this insight in my Introductory Talk. I am grateful to Father Kurt
Pritzl, O.P. and Father Norman Fenton, O.P. of the Dominican House of Studies for
sharing with me their expertise through our correspondences. Lastly, my
collaborative work with Father Michael Demkovich, O.P. in preparing for the
General Assembly has been a most uplifting and enriching experience for me.
Thank you, Father Mike. Through these exchanges and collaborative effort,
philosophy truly comes alive when it is understood at the intersection of truth and
the culture out of which it grows.
SHAPING LIFE TODAY
Michael Demkovitch, O.P.
Province of St. Albert
Contemplation, as a personal discipline, does not require the existence of God. One can
contemplate mathematics or physics and never glimpse God. On the other hand, religious
contemplation holds that there is something more and yet to the Sufi, the Buddhist and the
Christian the object of contemplation, this something more, can be quite different. In the Catholic
tradition, in which the Dominican Order stands, the object of contemplation is always marked by
the Incarnation, or God's revelation in human history. There are two premises I wish to stress.
First, Catholic contemplation responds to divine revelation (tradition), some Thou actively
disclosing the Divine self throughout history, to a person or people, able to receive this disclosure
in a fashion proper to their nature (quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur).
Theologically, the Incarnation, as divine revelation, means something greater than the Nativity
(itself a great mystery). I disagree with those who understand the Incarnation to mean
Christology, and inadvertently reduce revelation to humanist anthropology. Such a reduction
eclipses revelation found in human nature, in the Institutions of the Church, and that found in a
hierarchy of existence or creation. My second premise is that Dominican contemplation qua
Catholic is ordered to an absolute goal or telos, and human existence is part of that ordered
movement. Dominican contemplation, as Aquinas tells us, is about ultimate blissfulness,
(beatitudo, l-ll Q.3 art. 5), the contemplation of the highest good. Catherine, in her great
Dialogue acknowledged the human soul's ultimate striving as a "hunger for the honor of God and
the salvation of souls". Both of my premises can be simply stated as: (1) the enormity of
revelation and (2) the absoluteness of the Thou. To borrow from Meister Eckhart "God is in the
homeland and we are in the far country".
Now allow me to turn to the task of this paper, the philosophical influences shaping our
life and a Christian critique of them. I wish to comment on three points (1) the relation of
philosophy to theology in the Roman Catholic tradition; (2) philosophy as a tool for understanding
contemporary culture; and (3) the genuinely contemplative character of the speculative intellect.
PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY IN THE ROMAN CATHOLIC TRADITION
Since the days of Anselm, the standard definition of theology as faith seeking
understanding (fides quarens intellectum) has well-served Christianity. It was the Council of
Nicea in 325 which moved beyond Biblical understanding alone to Hellenic concepts of the One
(hen), and substance (ousia), much to the displeasure of Tertullian. St. Augustine, the premiere
authority (auctoritas) in the Christian West, was as much a student of Plato and Neo-Platonism
as he was of the Gospels and Ambrose of Milan. And clearly no thinker has matched the
magnificent synthesis of Aristotelian philosophy with Augustinian Christianity than has the
Angelic Doctor, Thomas Aquinas. So, the role of philosophy, at least for the first thirteen
centuries of Christian thought, was that of theology's handmaid and theology itself was the queen
of all sciences.
Unfortunately, it was shortly after Aquinas' death in 1274 that the faculty of philosophy
at the University of Pans asserted its independence from theology and the service of revelation. 1
Siger of Brabant and others held Reason to be autonomous. The famous notion of two truths,
the truth of reason and the truth of faith, made of Christianity a house divided. The next
centuries saw Nominalism and Humanism confine revelation to the recesses of subjectivity as
the Reformation, Counter-Reformation and finally the Enlightenment ushered in the Ages of
Reason and Science.
Perhaps this cult of scientific rationalism is why the Roman Catholic Church is so often
depicted as out of touch and criticized for her understanding of the sacredness of human life,
her vision of a just social and economic order, or her concern over liberal ideologies. Protestant
Christianity, bom of Modernity, has so advocated the individualism of secular humanism that
theology itself can be reduced to a politics of partisan rhetoric. Roman Catholicism likewise finds
itself confronting the individualism (or better put the egoism) of society as many Catholics
subscribe to a religious privatism, or a selfish preoccupation with personal rights and freedoms
that the communal nature of the ecclesia is forgotten. Such unexamined cultural presuppositions
are not held by wicked vile people, but by many good, caring and loving women and men. The
source of such presuppositions lies, I believe, in a facile acceptance of things at the superficial
level, a reduction of arguments and positions to simplistic characterizations. Too hastily we
politely abandon necessary public discourse and genuine disagreement rather than allow
ourselves to wrestle for the benediction of Truth. Rather, Truth is reduced to the relative position
of each consumer and is never allowed to shape the community through common character,
through common sense. Education, especially Catholic education, should be about this common
pursuit of the True, and should employ all the skills that Wisdom affords. In saying this I am
saying nothing less than did Thomas Aquinas in the very first question of his Summa:
As to those truths about God which human reason could discover it was
necessary that humanity should be instructed by divine revelation.
Ad ea etiam quae de Deo ratione humana investigari possunt, necessarium fuit
hominem instrui revelatione divina. (la q.1,a.1 Leonine)
And yet today, few Catholics devote themselves to the study of philosophy as an
essential tool for doing theology. While previous generations may have made philosophy the
privileged dialogue partner of theology, today philosophy is the discipline most discriminated
against. This fact should alarm Catholic thinkers.
In his work The Shape of Catholic Theology Aidan Nichols states:
This radical suspicion of philosophy has not been limited to the Lutheran and
Reformed traditions, even though it is at its strongest there. ... In Catholicism,
similar views have found a more low-key expression in feelings of anxiety or
unease in the presence of philosophy, or whenever philosophy has had a marked
influence on theology. 2
In the Roman Catholic tradition, philosophy plays a key role in the doing of theology, so
critical is its role that one can honestly say that philosophy is essential to Catholic thought.
Again, Nichols comments:
Apart from being a principle of order in theology, philosophy also has a vital part
to play in laying the foundations for acceptance of revelation and so in providing
the essential groundwork for theological activity. Philosophy is vital to what is
called the "preamble of faith," in other words, to the way in which we justify our
acceptance of revelation in the first place. Philosophy has to help theology to get
started by showing the basic compatibility of revelation with human rationality. i
The challenges of Christian fundamentalism, consumerism, materialism, and relativism
all demand a theology that is philosophically informed and open to discussion with various
disciplines. Theology, at the service of Roman Catholicism, not only needs the tools of
philosophy but the rub, the challenge of philosophy as well. "Philosophy," as one of my
professors said, "keeps theology honest." In as much as the philosopher and the theologian
study the same objects - human existence, transcendence, ethics (to name a few) - philosophy
and theology relate like siblings. The theologian must weigh the arguments of philosophy (and
related human sciences). Philosophy is not only a tool for theological understanding, it is also
the companion science for understanding culture.
UNDERSTANDING CONTEMPORARY CULTURE
As we gaze upon our world, the current crisis of culture confronts us. Cultural and multi-
cultural issues challenge established institutions, question the established language, and
confront the thoughts of a people. This is a bittersweet moment, for all that is new is not good,
nor is everything old, bad. Already we meet aspects of our bias toward novelty and the
consequent culture of youth.
Philosophy is one of Hagia Sophia's (Holy Wisdom's) gardeners. Lovers of Wisdom
serve her well who relentlessly tend to the roots of reality. In this way the theologian and the
contemplative share with philosophers a kindred longing to understand the truth of the All. While
philosophies shape our culture, they also disclose many aspects about us, who we are. In this
section I wish to address three formative aspects of culture which are the philosophical
concepts of: Cosmology, History, and Ultimacy. These concepts suggest our present location
in the world, our perceived past from which we believe ourselves to have come, and the kind of
future we would like to see take shape. Put theologically these philosophical concepts touch
upon our sense of Community, Tradition, and Destiny.
The spiritual dimension of contemplative life embraces many aspects and weaves them
into a harmonious whole. This spirituality, like the human soul, is restless until it rests in God (to
borrow from Augustine). Catholic contemplative life will never be satisfied with only a part, but
always hungers after the whole. The danger for us today is not one of innovation but of
forgetfulness. In our questing for a spirituality which feels right to us we must be careful not to
forget the vast wealth of ideas which we have inherited, the depositum fidei. Our American
mistrust and prejudice against philosophical thinking jeopardizes our soul's quest for the whole.
If we become too pragmatic and functional we will forfeit the intellectual suppleness so
necessary for a contemplative spirituality.
It is precisely this philosophical imagining, which must engage our own aggressive
concerns for our world if we hope to pursue this quest. Too often it is an easy trap for us to think
only in the limited ego-centric categories of our personal experiences and ignore the larger social
and historical realities. 4 We tend to think that if something makes sense to us it is true and if we
don't understand something it is either false or unimportant. The contemplative quest must
embrace the totality, even if we do not clearly understand it, even if our categories of thinking are
stale and worn. Philosophical inquiry is essential to our contemplative spirituality especially when
it strains the limits of our understanding. Insights, like revelation, penetrate into the dark and
forgotten corners of our imagination and flash forth a fuller recognition of what our life means.
Since the concepts Cosmology, History, and Ultimacy are truly formative of culture they also
shape or mis-shape one's understanding of Community, Tradition, and Destiny. For this reason
I feel obliged to treat at some length these formative concepts of Cosmology, History, and
Ultimacy, so brace yourself for the hard march before us.
In our quest for the "Beingness of being", our relationship to and understanding of the
world (cosmos) becomes extremely significant. Understandings of the cosmos (or cosmology)
profoundly determines one's worldview (Weltanschauung). Our understanding of the cosmos is
conceptualized in a variety of philosophical, religious and scientific ways. They provide a sense
of belonging, a sense of being at home in the cosmos. How we imagine the cosmos at its most
fundamental level profoundly effects our thinking about existence itself. The Medievals believed
that the microcosm was linked the macrocosm, and vice versa. The impact that a cosmology
has on one's social, economic, political, ecological, historical and cultural convictions is profound.
For example, the cosmology of the cloister profoundly effects one's vision of the world. So too,
a cosmology of chaos, or Darwinian evolution, or secular humanism, affects one's worldview.
As we look out upon the vastness of the cosmos, where do we find ourselves located? A brief
survey of how we human beings have looked at the heavens (astronomy) over the centuries will
demonstrate this point, and shed light on our notions of History and Ultimacy.
In the West, beginning with Plato's worldview, which held ultimate reality to exist in an
Other Worldly realm of Ideas providing the pattern for our sensible world of things, we soon
confront the more permanent and scientific worldview of Aristotle. Whereas Plato sought the
accumulated wisdom of the cosmos Aristotle systematically and logically sought its causes. But
for both, heaven stood above the earth, as a better place to go for those who could make the
"climb". By the thirteenth century the cosmology of Ptolemy, combined with Christian theology,
had established the cosmos as secured by a vault of fixed ether which held the stars in place
above while the sun, the moon and planets ran their course about a fixed and sure earth.
It is not until the 15th century that we see cracks in this great cosmic shell. Nicolas
Copernicus (1473-1543) was troubled by various inconsistencies present in Ptolemy's
cosmology. His work De revolutionibus orbium caelestium (1543) attempted to correct these
errors by placing not the earth at the great center of the cosmos but the sun ("In medio omnium
residit sot'). This "Copemican revolution" did much more than reveal a new fact about things,
it de-centered and de-stabilized the entire cosmos. The popular understanding of the world as
obeying a holy hierarchy wherein God set "Man" at its center, and human life as the soul's ascent
to God, were shaken. Copernicus disturbed the stable cosmos of Parmenide with his sun-
centered (heliocentric) theory. What ensued was a new spirit of exploration that sought to
master and chart the earth itself, which now no longer possessed sacred prohibitions,
permanence, or stability. Galileo's (1564-1642) position, almost one hundred years after
Copernicus, held forth the growing fascination for change which Heraclitus first upheld in fourth
century B.C. And Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) went so far as to equate the universe with God,
thereby unleashing a cosmos of infinite potentiality ( De I'infinito. universo e mundo . 1584). His
zeal, and the disruptiveness of his worldview, brought about his death as a heretic when he was
burned at the stake for pantheistic ideas.
Just when the cosmos seemed to risk dissolution into a chaotic sea of infinite
possibilities, Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) restored a sense of permanence to it, yet he allowed
it to change, creating new possibilities. His work Harmonice mundi (1619) allowed people to
have a cosmos of Pythagorean order yet at the same time he introduced the creative energy of
musical harmonies. The universe, like a grand symphony, adheres to a divine score.
Each celestial sphere sang its unique theme, together creating the music of the heavens. Kepler
gave us the model of a dynamic universe that was both stable and changing.
The mechanical mastery of the seventeenth century reveals a growing dissatisfaction with
the Heraclitan's dynamic universe. Rene Descartes' (1596-1650) emphasis on thought as the
proof for personal existence ("cogito ergo sum") compelled him to seek clear and distinct ideas
as the cnterion of truth. If this were true for "man", then God, in whose image and likeness
"man" was created, must also adhere to the same criterion of truth. [Forgive the non-inclusive
language at this point but it illustrates the character of these cosmologies] Descartes'
cosmology is built upon clear and distinct premises which are basic to the higher more
complicated truths. Rather than seeing the cosmos as the infinity of a perfect whole,
demonstrated by the sphere, now the infinite is the mathematical incrementation (1,2,3...), seen
in the infinity of a line (this will be important when we treat History as a formative concept).
Measurement and precision rendered the cosmos and nature subject to the "tortures of human
inquiry" (Francis Bacon, 1561-1626). No longer was the cosmos understood as embracing God
but now it has been designed and set in motion by the hand of the Divine Architect who no longer
needs to be intimately involved with its workings (the world as automatic). Nature ran its course
due to internal structures, regardless of human needs, according to the rules of a disinterested
Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) saw the Divine very active in the masterful design of the
world-machine. The sun held the planets in their fixed orbits while the active force of gravity kept
us in place. God could remain the perfect and infinite God, while creation too was open to the
infinite, yet bound by simplicity and the Divine's laws at work in Nature. Not until the twentieth
century with the impact of Albert Einstein (1879-1955) and Quantum Physics will the question
of cosmology undergo its most radical change.
This survey highlights not only the concepts of cosmology but also suggests to us the
profound emotional and spiritual consequences of one's cosmology. In 1969 E.O. James 5
pointed out that cosmology satisfies an emotional need in humanity for order which sustains the
flux of all things. Consequently, caution needs to be taken that we not discredit prior
cosmologies, especially those of pre-literate societies, because they seem irrational by our
standards. This reflects our bias toward scientific analysis and post-Cartesian categories more
than a naive acceptance of foolish myths. I submit that all major religions share in a pre-
Enlightenment cosmology, yet they seek to address a post-Enlightenment world. James
By grounding the established order in a supernatural reality and its sanctions,
stability is given to the social structures and its institution and organizations
making them proof against the disintegrating forces and decay. So long as this
is believed and steadfastly maintained no departure from the accepted order is
possible. For the native mind this is sufficient reason for the continuation ad
infinitum of the observances, rules and regulations duly and irrevocably ordained
at the threshold of history, as this is understood, fixed once and for all for all time
(E.O.James, p. 4)
However, primitive cosmologies are not alone in this power to stabilize culture and society.
Modern cosmology (i.e. our scientific worldview) also possesses this power over people even
today. The issue of cosmologies is not to be reduced to the past, to do so runs the dangerous
risk of oversimplification. To illustrate this last statement one needs only examine their
newspaper to see the conflicting cosmologies at work.
Cosmologies situate us in our world but the accounts that explain how we got to where
we are. are equally formative. Human history can be seen as the dialectical progress of events
and peoples which chart an unbroken line of development and cultural growth from point to point.
With Hegel and the Modern Age histonans gathered artifacts to piece together the silence
beyond society's living memory. Their belief was that this historical search presented
incontestable scientific evidence for or against Darwinian social evolution. It was not the saving
hand of God but the calloused ape-like hands of human progress that brought civilization thus
far. History became the gold standard for scholars in the nineteenth century. Fueled by
Napoleonic expansion in Egypt and the Eastern Mediteranean the study of "Antiquities" formed
the culture of the time as ancient artifacts and text were studied and fitted together like the
pieces of a great puzzle, which they hoped would explain the present. Unfortunately the naivete
of it all became evident as philosophy raised questions of interpretation, as people like Marx,
Freud, and Nietzche scratched at the presuppositions of economics, the ego, and the structures
of power. The teller of the tale of history now, was no longer seen as a pure lens into the past,
but rather a very faulty interpreter, smudging history with his or her dirty little hands.
Today, history forms us through a theory of interpretation which is mistrustful of motives.
Consequently, the evidence of history is now subjected to ideological criteria. The notion of
history as a continuum stretching from creation to the present seems foolish, and salvation
history is taken to be absurd. The most that modern historians will attempt with their science
might be simple snatches of a past already conditioned by the present and corrected according
to existing biases, what is called revisionist history. Black history, Chicano history, Gay &
Lesbian history, Feminist history are all profound formative philosophical phenomenon which
address what is told by the teller of His(Her)story.
Philosophy's role in the present shaping or mis-shaping of history has been to expose the
unexamined presuppositions of the modern mind. The historical period that we speak of as
Modernity, which we say runs from the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century to the present,
has been the dominant worldview in the West, shaping the West's sense of history. So one can
see how our "Scientific Cosmology" has given us a hyper-critical sense of History. In
fact this "hyper critique" has turned in on Modernity itself, its presuppositions about history,
metaphysics, the classic and the individual knowing subject are being criticized in what is
referred to as post-Modem ity. The net result of this is that our American culture is in a growing
uncertainty about what is right as we see ideology drive the debate. Sounding good and looking
good are much more important than being good. Many Catholics are especially caught between
the economic prosperity and social acceptance that was won in the sixties, seventies and
eighties, and the growing sense of alienation from the Catholic Church's institutions. For some,
it was the "history" of those decades, that made so many people into "real" American Catholics.
Yet, it was also a sense of "history" that drove Archbishop Lefebre and the Roman Catholic
Church into schism for the first time in five centuries. As a philosophical concept history
clearly has shaped culture and continues to shape culture. The question that truth demands is
an age old question: "Is this progress or perdition?" With this question we come to our third and
final formative quality, that of ultimacy.
In the world of philosophical inquiry the question of ultimacy continues to be confronted.
Here we see how changes, both in cosmology and history, have played a part in challenging
notions of ultimacy. No longer may one take for granted that the cosmos and human history are
moving toward some ultimate goal. Just as our Copernican shift to a Modern scientific
cosmology forced a rethinking of History as the new Messiah, so too the loss of historical
certitude has meant a loss of purpose and direction. This is sadly summed up in the labelling
of our young as "Generation X". The variable, multiple, possible and contingent attack the notion
of ultimacy, creating a future of fear. It seems that the great American freedom of choice has
focused so much on the choosing (bigger, better, newer), that the reality of choice, the conviction
and commitment of having chosen, are neglected.
Philosophy presses us into a discussion of ultimacy. It is a vital disputation requiring the
wrestling of ideas. Clearly the question of ultimacy can be addressed in various ways, and it is
not a new question. Paul asked of ultimacy when he stated that if we have lived with this life only
in mind then we, of all creatures, are most to be pitied. It is, as one can see, an extremely
formative question and philosophy guarantees that it not be swept under the carpet. Thinkers
such as Max Weber or Richard Rorty keep us attentive to questions of "possibility" and
"contingency" as explaining our perceived order. We do not need a Utopia, or a Heaven, to go
on living and this is why ultimacy is a formative factor in culture. Is our future cast before us by
the actions, choices, and decisions that we make, the possibilities we actualize; or does the
future come to us as an advent of something planned from the beginning of time?
In a democratic State, elections are times of ultimacy run wild and for the Roman Catholic
Church, a conclave shares in such a trans-formative power. Leadership is always a question of
ultimacy and in that sense ultimacy may be the most formative element of the three we have
covered. Cosmology, History and Ultimacy are ways in which Philosophy opens up the
discussion which continues to shape or reshape culture. And yet, these three elements allow
the Church a voice in the present cultural conversation. As Reason asks about our worldview,
about History and Ultimacy, Faith engages the discussion with concepts of Community, Tradition,
CONCLUSION : THE CONVERSATION OF CONTEMPLATIVES AND PHILOSOPHY
Philosophy is not the enemy of the contemplative, nor the theologian, nor the Church, but
it does demand that the conversation be kept honest. Philosophy asks questions like: "What is
this world in which we live?", "How did we get here?," and "Where are we going?" Fair
questions, but questions which today have a variety of conflicting answers. The grills of the
cloister are no stranger to the assortment of feeble answers, as people come seeking from
contemplatives, deeper meaning to their confusion. Perhaps theologians need to be scolded for
their flabbiness of thought in not exercising the demands and discipline of Reason which
Philosophy requires. People seek to understand faith, and if their questions are met with the thin
soup of ideologies, they naturally are drawn to the table of those fed by faith. Not every
theologian is a contemplative, but every contemplative is a theologian of sorts. Aquinas knew
this, and so do the people who come to us seeking advice, prayers, and counsel. There is a
fruitful conversation which needs to take place between the issues of philosophy and faith,
between culture formed by secular reason alone, and one guided by revelation.
I began with two premises: (1) the Enormity of Revelation, and (2) the Absoluteness of
God. To the contemplative, these are not speculative premises but experiential truths in which
our modem scientific world has been unschooled. Community takes in the orphan cosmologies
of science. Tradition keeps history aiive within that community. And Destiny gives it a sense of
ultimate purpose. The formative aspects of philosophy treated in this paper are critical of
religion, but they are not the enemy of the religious woman or man acquainted with God's
revelation. The contemplative spirit speaks from a knowledge purified in the red hot fire of
reason and revelation The enclosure ought not to close our minds, but it ought to harvest from
the vineyards of secular wisdom, and distill in lives of active contemplation, a sweet nectar for
our age x
1 . For a readable presentation of the breakdown of the medieval synthesis see David Knowles The
Evolution of Medieval Thought (New York: Longman, 1988/1962) pp. 265-306.
2. Aidan Nichols, The Shape of Catholic Theology: An Introduction to Its Sources, Principles, and History
(Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991) p. 43.
3. Nichols, ibid. p. 37.
4. Cf. Donald Gelpi, The Turn to Experience in Contemporary Theology (New York: Paulist Press, 1994).
5. James was Professor Emeritus of History of Religion at the University of London and wrote Creation and
Cosmology: A Historical and Comparative Inguirv (in Studies in the History of Religion , XVI; Leiden, 1969).
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CONTEMPORARY VIEWS ON MORALITY AND ITS EFFECTS
ON SOCIETY AND THE CONTEMPLATIVE NUN
THE CURRENT MORAL CLIMATE IN THE U.S.A. AND ITS IMPACT ON MONASTIC LIFE
Sr. Ruth Bernard, O.P.
Today's topic is both challenging and interesting. It surely is one about which
we each have definite opinions. As Dominican monastic women we are widely
considered to be counter-cultural. Does our vocation enable us to be detached and
wise observers of the present day moral climate, or are we cloaked in ignorance about
what is going on in the "world"? As Dominicans, as preachers of truth, we have the
responsibility of reclaiming lost souls through our prayer. We may detest the evils to
which Twentieth century America has given free rein but all the while be filled with love
for the sinner and implore God's mercy.
Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Newark, has written, "One of the most critical
weaknesses of our society is that we seem to have lost the understanding of evil. It is
all too possible to lose our sense of sin in a world.. .which seems able to rationalize
According to John F. Kavanaugh, S.J. "The word 'culture' refers to the entire
expanse of the ways that a group expresses and embodies its reality. A culture is a
cultivation. Humans tend and till themselves through nature into culture. When culture
has an independent reality of its own it reciprocates and tends and tills us. We become
cultured. Thus, although culture is made by humans, it in a special manner makes -
to some extent in its own image." 2
II. A Personal Reflection
When I was asked to introduce this topic my first reaction was utter amazement!
But then as I gave it a bit of thought, I said to myself, "You are the exactly the right
sister to speak on this subject!" My own experience of life in the trenches of our
present day moral climate spanned just over forty years. In those years I suffered
through the trials of moral evil and finally came to the exhilarating freedom of love and
empowerment in a Roman Catholic parish community when I was in my mid-30s. My
monastic life began nine and one half years ago.
During my early adult years I was a full fledged member of the vast throng that
advocates doing whatever you please as long as you are not aware of hurting anybody.
The formative years were spent in a dysfunctional family, although that term only
became current years later. I was neither baptized nor given a religious education.
I was taught to know good from bad, right from wrong, but the words clearly were
unrelated to the reality of my childhood home life. I grew up unsure of myself and truly
without the background to provide a solid base for moral decision making.
Consequently, as a young adult I drifted about rather like a small boat in rough
waters that had no mooring. Thousands of young Americans really do not understand
why their amoral lifestyle should be brought into question and I was one of them.
Moral values survived in me more or less as a hunch rather than an informed belief
based upon any religious training. Only after the passage of many years did it dawn
upon me that I clearly lacked a solid moral foundation so essential for flourishing in our
society. I view my Dominican monastic vocation as that treasure in a field wholly
unmerited yet given to me in love.
III. Do New Vocations Bring the Mores of Our Culture into the Cloister?
Since I entered Our Lady of Grace Monastery, nearly all of our new vocations
have been women over the age of thirty-five who hold baccalaureate or advanced
college degrees. Many held responsible positions in the work force from ten to twenty
years. They come to us gifted by God in numerous and varied ways that both enrich
and enliven our community. They also bring attitudes and ways of dealing with
interpersonal relations that need to be informed and reformed through the day by day
living of the common life. They do not shake off all the dust of the culture from which
they come just outside our enclosure doors.
Because these candidates are 20th century American women they tend to be
individualists, sure of themselves, possessed of strong opinions as well as a veritable
font of questions. Although they anticipate that monastic life will be demanding; for
most the adjustment is long, slow and difficult in ways they could not have foreseen.
They have experienced the aridity of a culture of consumerism that places
supreme value on material things and youth, both so transitory. Clearly, the secular
society of today devalues the innate goodness of the human person. Lavish
advertising schemes convey the message that a woman's worth is to be measured by
her physical appearance, where she vacations, or how much she earns. Each woman
bears the Imago Dei imprinted on her soul, but she will never read about that in the
newspapers, hear it discussed on the talk shows, nor will it be a point of interest at
Most newcomers are strongly independent. Our culture encourages us to look
out for Number One. It is widely recognized that people no longer choose to group
together unless through the agency of a therapeutic support group.
We thank God that some women do hear God's call in spite of the din out there.
They come to the monastery seeking many things: an environment where Jesus Christ
is worshiped and His Gospel proclaimed in lives of prayer totally consecrated to God.
They want community, shared values, and structure. Our postulants have high
standards and ideals They expect us to be exemplary religious. They found the moral
climate in our nation disappointing, shallow and even repugnant.
When she enters the monastery each postulant has firmly resolved that Christ
must be the center of her life. Through her graced call to prayer, penance and study
in a Dominican monastery she desires to extend the mercy of Christ to all those who
hunger after they know not what.
The culture from which we draw vocations is one in which the popular vote affirms
that abortion on demand is a right that women expect, where marriage vows are taken
by fewer and fewer couples and then honored only as long as the arrangement proves
convenient, where children are introduced to violence and sexual behavior through the
media at a tender age, where only the poor seem to be penalized for breaking the law,
where drug trafficking and sexual exploitation are hugely profitable businesses, and
where it seems OK to end human life when it becomes bothersome because of illness
or advancing age. Even our fertile and beautiful land is being raped to produce ever
more materials to satisfy our voracious consumption rate.
People's lives have radically changed in the last forty years due to the mind
boggling advances in the communications media. Postulants have been accustomed
to the daily companionship of the television from their infancy. A stunning array of
programming is available 24 hours a day in most American homes by simply pressing
a remote control pad. Does this easy way of wiling away the hours with effortless
entertainment rob Americans of brain power? Have we lost the ability to concentrate?
In the opinion of author Neil Postman, television has reduced the average American's
ability to think clearly because a barrage of information is continuously provided. 3
Our postulants and novices are expected to apply themselves regularly, and quietly
to the study of Scripture and theology. For many newcomers such individual pondering
over a text is hard work indeed! Yet our very identity as Dominicans is firmly based on
the reading, meditation and proclamation of the Word of God. Father Damian Byrne
wrote that our vocation "demands of every Dominican the ability to be able to do
serious reading as our main route to God but also as our principal asceticism." 4
Adjustment to the monastic horarium can be painfully hard even for those totally
convicted that they have a vocation. One of our sisters wrote in a recent issue of
Dominican Monastic Search , that a postulant genuinely experiences "culture shock"
upon entering the monastery. 5 The change can be overwhelming!
Monastic silence can be a tough hurdle to someone acclimated to a world that
encourages people to talk about it, air your thoughts, vent your feelings! Learning that
the hot air from all our verbiage produces no personal growth and can actually disrupt
the common good takes time.
IV Has The Culture Invaded Our Monasteries?
Do you think that new vocations are the predominate means by which the fresh
air or maybe the polluted breeze of the "world" enters our houses? I don't think so, as
I believe the moral climate of the United States almost imperceptibly stalks religious
bound to enclosure.
The attitudes and ways of the world subtly work on us and they do change us. How
do they gain entry? Sisters meet and interact with secular culture by means of trips,
albeit necessary ones, out into the world, through telephone conversations,
correspondence, or parlor visits. Additionally, our monasteries are vulnerable to the
inroads of the mass media into our cells, community rooms, and monastery libraries in
the form of books, periodicals, newspapers, radio, television, computers, tapes, cds,
I surely do not want to imply that all of this is bad and therefore out of place but
our use of the media should be regularly considered. We can be lulled into expecting
and demanding information that in no way feeds us as contemplative nuns.
Possessing an awareness of the problems that plague society so as to preach
and teach effectively has always been of prime importance to Dominicans friars.
Because we support the preaching of our brethren through our prayers we must not
stop our ears nor close our eyes to the moral evils of our age.
V. Conclusion: What Gift Can We Give to The Culture of Today?
The United States today is basically liberal which means that it looks upon laws
as a necessary evil, is anti-institutional and thoroughly antinomian. 6
In contrast, Dominican monastic women continue to publicly profess Solemn
Vows until death in a stable form of life. Our monasteries look to the Rule of St.
Augustine and LCM to mediate the specific, concrete shape and form of our way of life.
We find that by faithfully living regular observance we truly become free women! We
do not consider LCM as just a handbook of instructions for living the monastic life.
Rather, we see our faithful adherence to our constitutions as our very way of life, a
Regula. Dominican preachers, teachers and cloisters have been called to witness for
nearly 800 years. May we continue to do so! If we manage to live in harmony, and we
usually do, it is because our lives are given over totally to Christ. x
Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Newark, NJ from a pastoral letter, "Pardon
and P^ace", Lent, 1996.
John F. Kavanaugh, S.J. Following Christ in a Consumer Society: The Spirituality
of Cultural Resistance. Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY., 1981. p. 56.
Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death . Penguin Books, New York, 1986.
Damian Byrne, OP., "Letter to the Nuns of the Order", May, 1992.
Sr. Judith Miryam, O.P. (Summit), "Culture Shock - Reflection on the Dynamics of
Inculturation and Formation", Dominican Monastic Search . Vol 13, Fall/Winter 1994.
Francis M. Mannion, "Monasticism and Modern Culture: III. The Labor of
Tradition - Monasticism as a Cultural System", American Benedictine Review . 9/93,
CONTEMPORARY VIEWS ON MORALITY
AND ITS EFFECTS ON SOCIETY AND THE CONTEMPLATIVE NUN
Fr. Michael Demkovich, O.P
Province of St. Albert
(Editor's note: Father Demkovich graciously consented to give this presentation
to the Assembly in lieu of Fr. John Corbett, OP. who was at the last minute
unable to attend due to the sudden illness of his mother. Since under the
circumstances Father spoke from only an outline, we publish the talk here as
transcribed from the tape and reviewed by Father.)
I need to say a word of thanks to Sister Ruth Bernard, whose paper we just heard. It
presents us with very profound questions about realities in our life. I publicly want
to express my gratitude to Sister for the kind of serious engagement of the theme.
To follow this, to move in these footsteps, is a challenge.
Let us begin by asking the intercession of Dominic, under the patronage of Herald of
Grace, that we be people who proclaim the grace of God in our world and in our
I had an opportunity to go over Sister's paper yesterday, and you all know the
circumstances of how I came to stand here. Do keep Father Corbett's mother in
prayer. I jotted down an outline of seven areas I want to touch upon, really four
questions and three comments. I hope that this will generate further discussion for
us. Given the circumstance, my resource has been limited to what I recall of my
studies in Louvain. I would have to acknowledge that, in terms of current authors, I
stand shy of what one would expect. I am open to changing my position on further
study. Nevertheless, I believe this is sound theology.
First, let's begin with the question "WHAT IS MORALITY"? In understanding the
question I would like to identify two elements. One is the ethics that is involved, and
by that I mean the person's actions: what I do, or what an individual does. I would
like to add to that another element: morality is not only an ethics — it is also an
ethos. By ethos I mean society's transactions. If by ethics I mean a person's
actions, by ethos I mean society's acting across one another — transactions - the
engagement of one another.
What is morality'? Well, we all know that there are good mores, and there are bad
mores. So the question of morality is to identify the good mores both in terms of an
ethics and of an ethos: both in the individual and in the climate or atmosphere of the
society, be that society the state, the neighborhood, the cloister, the community. By
and large when we talk about morality we as human beings are striving for the good
mores. But we can acknowledge and critically look at the bad mores that are out there.
So, to sum up point one, what is morality? It is both ethics and ethos, which strive to
obtain the good mores.
The second question that I want to ask is, "OK, WHY NOT BE IMMORAL?". And as
I gave thought to this several things surfaced for me, and I hope that it rings true with
you. Some reasons why I am not immoral are: relationships — my family and how I was
brought up; my friends; the people who have crossed the paths of my life at key
points; the way in which we belong to a particular tribe or clan or grouping. All of
these relationships dictate to us in some way a call to be moral. They are our
relatedness. And to violate that relatedness raises for us the problem of why there are
any morals at all. So you can have people who illustrate the saying, "there is even
honor among thieves." Their relationship determines the kind of moral relatedness the
prevails. Why not be immoral? Well, relationships put a guard on being moral.
Another factor is fear of retribution. At one time or another all of us growing up, or even
into adulthood, have been moral because of this one thought, "I might get caught!" So
fear of retribution is another reason why we do not act in an immoral way.
Another point that I'd like to raise here is the fact of future neediness. It stems from the
relationship and it involves the sense that somewhere down the road, if I do behave in
an immoral way, the very people that I need for help won't be there - a kind of
alienation that occurs. And so in one way I choose to be moral because of self-interest.
It's prudent to behave with other people, both in my ethics and in my ethos, in a moral,
positive, good way. So, why not be immoral? Those three elements are the via
negativa, the reasons that restrain us from acting immorally.
My third question is: "WHY BE MORAL?". And for this I want to give the positive
religious tradition. We are moral because it is a participation in the good. And we
understand that good to be a universal quality of God - one of the divine attributes.
Why be moral? Because we come to recognize in the law of nature, the divine law, and
we adhere to that sense of the divine law. Why be moral? Because we have a sense
that it brings us ultimately to justification, to the salvation of souls.
My fourth question is: "WHAT IS CULTURE?". Here I have a number of comments.
1 ) To the sociologist such as Max Weber the social web of complex relations, and
institutions, and people, constitute culture. In that sense when we talk about culture,
we talk about self and society. Realize that you and I live in a number of societies at
any one time. There is the society of our particular monastery, there is the society of
the larger Conference of cloisters, there is the society of the universal order, there is
the society of the Church universal, there is the society of our home towns - so you get
the idea that we live in a number of societies. So it is always a matter of the self and
society, they are two parts of the same coin.
2) Let me give this illustration. I remember being told once that there was a
"problematic friar" who went from house to house. And wherever he was he observed
how these brethren were "inadequately" living the life. And it suddenly occurred to him
through the "wise" voice of others that the common problem was himself. In a way, we
each are related to the society; and fit into the societies to which we belong are
important factors. We not only contribute to the common good in making the common
good, but we are formed and fashioned by the community. I have often noticed the
number of people who come to religious life looking for community, but they don't want
to do or live the common good. Common life is a struggle - it's built. And in that
sense, too, the relationship between self and society are two parts of the same coin.
3) Again, what is culture? Not only this vast social web of complex relations and
institutions and people, it is also the language - our speech, our grammar, our
communication. All of these define culture. And a culture shapes our language and
our ideas. Not only do we belong to different societies, we can rightly speak of the
various cultures, the multicultures that we experience. The language that is used and
defined by life in the cloister is very different from the language that is used and
defined by life in the barrios. The language that is used in secular society is very
different from the language that is used and defined by the culture which is religious
in direction. So again, What is culture? The importance of our language and our
speech and our communication, and especially its importance to the Order of
Preachers, the predicators, the namers. Our task is to help name grace, to be heralds
of that grace. And in that sense, we contribute to the naming
and the language that shapes our own culture.
4) The fourth point within this question of "What is culture" is the socialization that
takes place in culture and by culture. Socialization is how people are brought on
board, how they are given a sense of belonging and membership, the way in which we
are assimilated into a culture. The very process of postulancy, or novitiate, or simple
vows is a process of socialization into our community. Family life is part of
socialization. It can be done well and it can be done poorly. Our adult task is to make
amends for the poor socializations in our lives and to affirm the positive — that is
redemption. Redemption recognizes our own sinfulness, both in terms of personal sin
and social sin, and transforms us into something of the good.
5) Within this question of culture, I also want to point out that culture places us in the
public sphere. When I talk about culture, or when we engage in culture, we are dealing
with the polis, a public area in which there can be give-and-take and there needs to be
give-and-take. It is no longer the world of my own private reflections. But culture is a
place of meeting in a very public realm. To be a citizen is to be part of a culture that
has a public character, and we can't ignore that public character of religion or of
religious life So what is culture? A complex social web woven by the threads of
society, language, and culture.
My fifth point moves from the questions to comment and it is this: MORALITY AND
CULTURE INTERSECT IN OUR ACTIONS. The ethics and ethos as well as the public
realm of culture in society come together, intersect, in what we do, how we behave,
how we relate, how we live our lives, how we bear witness. It isn't a matter of, "oh, it
would be nice if we did this." We can have all kinds of nice ideals and good intentions.
When we confront our actions, we are dealing with fact. The very notion of fact is
important for it calls us to recognize the significance of the acting, of the doing. We
can sit serenely with the best of ideas, but unless we do something, our mettle is not
tested. And in that sense the significance of our actions is that they are constitutive of
the self. This is the essence of virtues.
All of us know when we have confronted and encountered our false self in deeds and
actions that we've done. Theologically we call this sin. I have acted in a way that has
made me aware that this action is not my truest self, is not constituting and calling forth
the best self of who I am. And in that sense any time we act, whether it is good or ill,
it is a confrontation. The fact confronts us with a sense of ourself, not only in the
individual but the actions of society as well. So, actions in society also place before
us this sense of fact. I think it's very important, and I'm drawing on the thought of
Maurice Blondel, whose major work L'Action bears a sense of how our thought and our
action are related to each other.
But please keep in mind the facticity of our actions. Remember yesterday when I said
of modern society that, "it's much more important to look good and sound good rather
than being good?" How easy that is. Notice how in our society we come up with the
best of rationalizations for our bad actions. Our actions need to confront us, and in that
facticity of action we are aware of both guilt and glory. Our actions make us aware.
What is it then - in terms of our actions as Christians - this sense of a moral life?
Here I'm going to draw on Thomas Aquinas' notion of virtue. Thomas is really
marvelous in taking the whole Aristotelian notion of causes that move from one point
to another and that have an accumulative effect. Thomas can be summarized in his
whole notion of a virtue-theory in this simple scholastic axiom: "Plant an act, reap a
habit. Plant a habit, reap a virtue. Plant a virtue, reap a destiny." There is a
connection between our actions and a kind of habitus that we create - the kind of
habitual movements of our lives. You can see this in people as they are socialized into
religious life, or into the military or into any kind of organization - that their actions
need to be retaught. And in time those newly learned actions create a habit of life.
And that habitual awareness, that kind of ethos which is present in a habitus.
Habitus is a home, it's a kind of dwelling place, and in that sense it is a moral ethos, an
environment for moral living. The way we develop good habits brings to us a sense of
the truest person. Consequently, we cannot separate what we do from the kind of
person we are becoming. Every action we do has an impact on the very constituency,
as I said, the self-constituency, of who we are as individuals, and who we are as a
society. So in that sense to be a virtuous society is always to keep an eye on what our
actions are calling us to be, and the kind of habitus or home that we create for one
One of the difficulties, I think, with American life is that we have so focused on the
individual rights and liberties in a privatized notion of society. Society exists to
preserve the individual freedoms; we fail to recognize the obligation of government and
of law to promote a just society — a society that has the habitus, the virtues of
goodness, of "life, of liberty, the pursuit of happiness," as the founding fathers
described it. So within Thomas' sense of virtue, we need to recognize that our actions
lead to habits, habits to virtues, and virtues to ultimate destiny, to God the ultimate
Thomas is a very wise fellow. Because you and I know that we do not have clear say
over all of our actions and activities. And so there is a distinction that Thomas draws
between human acts and what he calls "acts of man": actus humanus and actus
hominis. Human acts are those actions which the person knowingly, genuinely
engages in. And they are held accountable for them. Acts of man are actions that a
human person may perform that they are not aware of, for which moral accountability
can't be given to a person in the same way it would be if there were the deliberate
actions of both intellect and will in terms of a human act.
Human acts for Thomas genuinely engage the whole of the person. Acts of man for
Thomas are things that are done through human agency that they didn't really intend
to do. For example, if I sneeze while I'm standing behind somebody in the lunch line,
and in that action hit the arm of the person in front of me who is carrying a tray, causing
the tray to fall on the floor and spill the jello, just as a person is walking by who slips on
that jello, falls, has a concussion, and ends up in the hospital - that is an act of man,
but it is not a human act. And in that sense Thomas is very good in helping us ask,
"What is the reality itself with which we are dealing?". So when we talk about the
virtues, we speak of what is truest of the person.
My second comment and sixth point. The moral theology with which I am familiar is
that of Louis Janssens. His approach to doing theology I think is very valuable, and it
offers us a current model for doing morality. To reduce his thought to a simple phrase
we might say, "the human person adequately considered." Just as with Thomas there
is a sense of what constitutes human acts, Louis Janssens says that moral theology
has to look at more than just a one-dimensional understanding of the moral good. We
need to take into account this whole vast network of the human aspects and qualities.
One consequence of his approach was, for example, in medical ethics when a person
comes into the hospital we may think only in terms of their treatment, and ask the
medical-moral questions. But to adequately consider the human person means that
from the moment a person pulls into the driveway of the hospital, we need to be
considering the person adequately - how they are treated as a human being. There
are so many aspects that need to me considered in weighing the human good.
Here we are going to have a little group participation, to stop and think about what are
the various qualities or aspects that go into being human. Let's just put these on the
board as you call them out. I want us to see the many aspects and qualities, the
network of relationships and realities that we consider significant, important to simply
I'll start off with one that I think for all of us may be very true. . . physical . . .the dimension
of being human. If we are not bodily, materially existent, we are not here! I would also
say that there is a spiritual dimension. From the floor: "emotional — mental —
psychological — hereditary — mechanical — historical — self-reflective —
relational — ethnic — educational — How about professional: the sense that work
has in our life. Talent — marginal — economic. "
That is enough to begin to recognize that one of the realities in doing theology is that
there are many aspects to what we are as human beings, and if you think of it just as
an isolated individual, you are not going to address the systemic realities of family
members, of social networks, of institutional networks. You will miss these if you just
consider the moral question as "this individual" which we often do: "Oh, that's a bad
person. Oh, that's a good person." We need to take and appreciate the person. If we
take seriously Vatican H's notion of the dignity of the human person, we need to
appreciate what the fullness of that means.
There is also, I would say, within this notion of the person a self-reflective quality or
what we might call conversion. It isn't that we as human beings are stuck with our lot.
There is always the opportunity for change and conversion and metanoia. And these
aspects on the board are some of the elements that are there.
To continue on with current morality, we see that when we do morality we are looking
at qualities of human personhood. And again I would emphasize, as I mentioned
yesterday, the connectedness between the theological that Sister Catherine spoke
about in terms of imago Dei and person, the philosophical in terms of our questioning,
and the moral. The qualities of personhood or human nature are what we are
It's also important to recognize in this "human person adequately considered" the
institutions that nurture, that create an ethos for the human person to find dignity in
work. If you are in a workplace where you are constantly demeaned and demoralized,
it's very difficult for that human person to come forward. The Church is in the world for
the salvation of souls. We know that. And part of what that means is that the ecclesia,
the gathering, is a place where these souls can come to find life; where the human
person can come to life. And so we have to consider the institutions that exist, not only
within the Church but in civil government as well, in the light of what is "the human
person." Housing, food, health care, these are all moral questions that touch upon
human life. This can be seen in His Holiness' most recent encyclical Evangelium Vitae
Another element within this discussion is the effect of original sin. There persists this
reality of obstinate sinfulness, a way in which a person can deliberately choose to be
inhumane. Oh, it doesn't have to be in big things like Auschwitz. Each one of us here
has been inhuman to one another in small ways. Those actions, if not checked, can
accumulate to the point of dehumanizing a community, a society, a person, even
ourselves. The nature of original sin is that it ultimately does much more damage to
the doer than to the receiver. As damaging as our sins are to other human beings, the
greater damage is done to our own soul. So here we have looked at the nature of the
human person, the qualities of human personhood, the institutions that nurture an
ethos of genuine personhood, and the effects of original sin.
"And on the seventh day..." We now come to my third comment and the seventh and
last point. I would briefly like to offer some aids to living the moral life, or to truly acting
morally. Some of these you are aware of. You can probably add to the list if you'd like.
But these are just to make a start.
1) I would say one thing already mentioned is a regula, a rule of life, as an aid
to living or to truly acting morally. We choose to embrace for ourselves a kind
of guide or discipline for life.
2) The challenges of good friends who lovingly call forth the good in us even
when it is difficult to do so.
3) A healthy, well formed conscience and our attention to it.
4) The reality of community — the common good — true solidarity.
5) The grace of God and our openness to it.
As you see I have only been able to place my questions and comments before you,
scratching the surface of a topic that deserves much more attention. Fr. Corbett's talk
will bring the richness of a moral theologian, something which this hastily prepared talk
lacks. And yet the questions continue. In this asking we name the reality of our truest
self. In the asking, the questing, we live moral lives by God's grace. x
CONTEMPORARY VIEWS ON MORALITY
AND ITS EFFECTS ON SOCIETY AND THE CONTEMPLATIVE NUN
PARTING WITH ILLUSION: THE CHALLENGE OF MONASTIC FORMATION
IN AN AGE OF IMMEDIACY
John Corbett. O.P
Province of St. Joseph
H. Richard Niebuhr's classic work Christ and Culture has given us some basic
ways of thinking about the complex relationships which obtain between the Christ and
culture. The models are respectively, Christ against Culture; The Christ of Culture;
Christ above Culture; Christ and Culture in Paradox; and Christ the Transformer of
Culture. Although Niebuhr clearly prefers the last model, he sees value in all of these
approaches and he finds the permanent value of the first model instantiated in monastic
The Church of Christ is likewise situated in various relationships with its
surrounding culture and these various relationships could perhaps be modeled in the
The Church at large may be at liberty in a particular age to emphasize one
among the multiple models of itself and its relationship with the surrounding culture
which Scripture and tradition provides for its self understanding and self presentation.
On the other hand, the model the Church emphasizes may be to some extent dictated
by the characteristics of the age in which it lives. The Church in a persecuting age is
bound in some sense to become countercultural.
Monastic life is a type of the Church and it could be argued that the earliest
instances of monastic life were most representative of the Christ Against Culture model.
Therefore monastic life, which in a sense instantiates the apocalyptic (and therefore
countercultural) dimensions of the gospel is bound to especially emphasize this side
of its life in a time and climate which is hostile.
Ours is not a persecuting age. It is true that public christian witness is often
marginalized. Emphatic christian witness can in our culture be openly and safely
ridiculed. Still, marginalization is not persecution. Feelings of marginalization may
simply reflect wounded vanity and be the fruit of a fundamental failure to attend to "the
signs of the times".
Nevertheless, our culture is hostile to the gospel. I am not here speaking about
the culture insofar as it recommends and approves and reinforces specific behaviors
and patterns of life which are incompatible with friendship with God. I am speaking
about the culture more generally as a system of communication. This system of
communication is such that it of its nature favors the communication of messages in
forms which undermine what the Church hopes to establish. In brief, I want to argue
that the modes of communication and conversation which are most typical of our
culture and which in turn are formative of our culture (the media) constitute a
fundamental and formidable obstacle to the fruitful reception of the message of the
This paper is largely (specific applications to monastic life excepted) a
summation of ideas found in Neil Postman's insightful and alarming book Amusing
Ourselves to Death. He makes three major suggestions. The first is that a society can
often be best understood by attending to its favored media of communication. If
Marshall McLuhan made the claim in the 1960's that "the medium is the message",
Postman argues that the medium is the metaphor/ He argues that the favored forms
of communication existent in any given society will themselves function invisibly in
delimiting what can and cannot be significantly attended to. The form of the message
can determine the meaning of a message.
The second suggestion that Postman makes is that television functions as the
unifying force of our own particular culture. Now television is not content neutral. Like
any other specific medium of communication it favors a particular way of knowing and
encourages certain ways of interpreting reality. There is an implicit interpretation of
reality made in every medium of communication and television contains its own inbuilt
assumptions about what is important and real.
The third suggestion that I, reflecting on Postman's work, want to make is that
the cultural assumptions generated by television as a form of communication rather
than by the actual content of any particular show are, by and large, hostile to the
gospel. This third suggestion has two implications. The first is that monastic life will,
by its own favored forms of communication, work to counter the vision of reality
generated by the medium of television and will in fact serve as intellectual and spiritual
detoxification to a generation of monastic aspirants raised on television's assumptions.
The second implication is surely that monastic life requires for the sake of its own
integrity critical (and minimal) usage of technologies which by their forms and not just
their specific contents undermine the prophetic and inspired interpretation of reality
given to the Church in general and surely entrusted to the charism of monastic life in
1 Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (Penguin Press) pp
The claim that the media by its nature favors and disfavors specific kinds of
messages may seem surprising. Surely the media can be used to carry messages
which are good as well as bad, true as well as false. TV can carry the Pope as well as
Soap Operas. The world of the media is surely a field full of wheat as well as weeds.
It seems at first glance that the media would be content neutral. Yet a moment's
reflection shows us that the medium of communication communicates its own form to
the message . And therefore it limits what can be communicated. It also, by functioning
as a metaphor, is suggestive about how all of reality is to be interpreted.
As an example of how a medium can exclude a kind of content consider that
Native Americans in the Plains communicated over long distances with the aid of
smoke signals. We do not know what they said to each other but we can be fairly sure
they did not conduct philosophical arguments. Smoke signals are insufficiently
complex as a medium to handle the question "why is there something rather than
nothing?" So far as I know, the distinction between substance and accidents never
came up either. You cannot do philosophy with smoke. The form excludes the
As an example of how a medium of communication is philosophically suggestive,
Postman invites us to consider the clock and the watch. He cites Lewis Mumford's work
Technics and Civilization in attending to the philosophy of clocks, to clocks as
"The clock", Mumford has concluded, "is a piece of power
machinery whose 'product' is seconds and minutes." In manufacturing
such a product, the clock has the effect of disassociating time from
human events and thus nourishes the belief in an independent world of
mathematically measurable sequences... He shows how, beginning in the
fourteenth century, the clock made us into time-keepers, and then time-
savers, and now time servers. In the process, we have learned
irreverence towards the sun and the seasons, for in a world made up of
seconds and minutes, the authority of nature is superseded. Indeed, as
Mumford points out, with the invention of the clock, eternity ceased to
serve as the measure and focus of human events. And thus, though few
would have imagined the connection, the inexorable ticking of the clock
may have more to do with the weakening of God's supremacy than all the
treatises produced by the philosophers of the Enlightenment. 4
: Postman, p 7
3 ibid, p. 11.
4 ibid, p. 11-12.
If human life unfolds in time and if time is, as is suggested by the medium of
clocks, measurable and quantifiable without reference to human significance, if in other
words chronos rather than kairos is determinative of the nature of time, then man is
himself measured impersonally and mechanically and is finally assessed as quantity.
Are such terrible assertions somehow established as true by the mere existence of
clocks. Not at all. This is the sort of suggestion that cannot survive being put into
words. But are such terrible thoughts somehow suggested or insinuated by the nature
of the medium? That is another matter altogether. As long as clocks were peripheral
to the culture, these consequences were not encountered. But when the clock became
important to the culture, then the medium became the metaphor, and we became
culturally creatures of the clock. (Consider how different watches are from bells. Bells
"sing", have a "voice", can summon us, and acknowledge special times for us. A bell
can acknowledge "human" time because it does not measure it).
I want to explore television as culturally formative for people of our time. I want
to do this by contrasting television as a visual medium with reading as a print medium.
The invention of an alphabet was a revolution in human communication. We
think of language as inbuilt in the human species and therefore tend not to think of the
alphabet as an invention at all.
But notice that with the invention of the alphabet one can freeze and then see
one's speech. 5 One can then begin to analyze it in a different way. Teachers have
claimed that to learn to write is to learn to think. Subjects are distinguished from
predicates. Nouns are distinguished from verbs. Tenses are explicitly differentiated.
One learns that parts of speech are not interchangeable.
Aristotle thought that the structure of language reflected the very structure of
reality. So to invent the alphabet is to invent grammar. To invent grammar is, in a
preliminary sense, to invent logic. And to invent logic is to be already on the way to
So to have a culture which communicates largely by way of written language is
to have a culture which is disposed to analysis and the uses of abstraction. It is to
have a culture in which it is easier to distinguish between the true and the false. It is
to have a culture in which the content of our immediate experience can be judged as
5 "That the alphabet introduced a new form of conversation between man and man is by now a commonplace among
scholars. To be able to see one's utterances rather than only to hear them is no small matter, though our education,
once again, has had little to say about this.. ..Philosophy cannot exist without criticism, and writing makes it possible and
convenient to subject thought to a continuous and concentrated scrutiny. Writing freezes speech and in so doing gives
birth to the grammarian, the logician, the rhetorician, the historian, the scientist - all those who must hold language
before them so that they can see what it means, where it errs, and where it is leading." Postman, p. 12.
well as judge It is to have a culture which is, to a certain extent, freed from the tyranny
of the present tense.
Our culture is changing from one in which the word is dominant to one in which
the image is dominant. 6 This is to say that, if present trends continue, the dominant
forms of communication in our society will be visual rather than verbal.
This entails consequences. Images communicate immediately and intuitively.
Images (because they in themselves are received first in simple apprehension rather
than in abstraction) do not involve abstraction. Because they do not of themselves
involve abstraction they do not, of themselves, involve ideas. Since they do not work
on the level of ideas, they cannot be judged as true or as false. 7 They are experienced
as pleasing or unpleasing. In addition to all of this, images are experienced in the
present tense. There is no way to present a picture of something past. An historical
drama presented on a stage is one which is experienced as happening now. And so
a culture which is increasingly visual rather than verbal in its style of communication
will be a culture resistant to truth claims transcending concrete and present experience.
Kenneth Myers in his insightful book All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes
claims that pictures cannot of themselves articulate even the simplest distinctions of
our language. He asks us to attempt to represent visually these seven simple
sentences. (1 ) The cat is on the mat. (2) The cat is not on the mat. (3) The cat was
on the mat. (4) The cat likes to be on the mat. (5) The cat should be on the mat. (6)
Get off the mat, cat! (7) If the cat does not get off the mat, I shall kick it. He writes that
Of these sentences, only the first could be presented visually, and
only then with some uncertainty. I could show you a picture of a cat on
a mat. But you might not even notice the cat. Depending on how
interesting the cat was, if I asked you to give me a verbal equivalent of
that image, you might say, "A cat", or "a brown cat," or "a pretty brown cat
reclining and about to go asleep." The mat might not attract any attention
at all. But the verb in the sentence 'The cat is on the mat is also missing
from the three imaginary responses. The simplest act of predication,
linking a noun to a verb in a direct, unequivocal fashion, is uncertain with
images The simplest verb in all human language, to be, is the hardest
to present visually. 8
6 The most popular newspaper in the country, USA Today, has been explicitly designed to resemble a television set
as much as possible One can see further confirmation of this trend in the fact that most of the actual research done
on computers deals with software designed for visual effects rather than for informational analysis
7 Postman, p 72-73
8 Kenneth Myers, All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes (Crossway Books) p 163.
I am not disputing that we are creatures who are meant to see It is not an
accident that seeing is often taken as the equivalent to understanding or an accident
that light is so often presented as food for the mind. I only mean that the image must
be completed and interpreted by the word. And that in our culture this relationship is
being reversed and that thus the word is taken as optional accompaniment for the
Now television is te\e-vision. That is its natural bias. It is true, as Postman
points out, that one could use the medium simply to present lectures or involved
complex discussion. In the same way that one could use the radio to transmit tap
dancing. One could use the medium in such fashion but that usage is not its natural
strength. 9 The radio is designed for music and the mysteries of the human voice. It is
not designed to communicate the visual wonders of the Cathedral at Chartres. For that
you need to be at Chartres yourself. Or you need to see an excellent painting of it in
a museum. Or you need to see it on TV.
So TV will always do what it does naturally. It will always be used to
communicate visually pleasing images in their millions. Because it is so heavily
oriented to the transmission of images, it will not tend to communicate well on the level
As a consequence of this, a culture which has television as its principle means
of communication with itself will be oriented to visual spectacle rather than to ideas.
Indeed, the medium will operate in the culture as a force behind the idea that truth itself
is an outdated concept.
Furthermore, a culture which has television as its principle medium of
communication will be a culture devoted to entertainment and diversion. You don't
have to work at watching TV. It is a passive experience in which you are fed images
not offered ideas. The shows are designed to be entertaining.
There is nothing wrong with this. Entertainment and diversion are permanent
and legitimate human needs. But the problem arises when the medium becomes the
metaphor. Just as the clock as a metaphor for human existence made possible the
suggestion that time (and therefore reality) was essentially mechanical and indifferent
to human concerns, so the television as a cultural metaphor makes possible the
suggestion (which other ages would have found incredible) that all of reality itself is and
ought to be entertaining™ Since television is essentially for the purposes of
entertainment, everything that is presented on its screen (including human tragedy) is
presented as entertainment.
9 Postman, p. 85.
10 Postman, p. 87.
A culture in which TV is the dominant cultural form of expression will have an
unspoken sense that reality itself is fragmented, discontinuous, and finally without
meaning. Cable television offers you the possibility of switching between, say. 50
channels. You are watching something about Bosnia. The effects of the war are
visible and horrific. In the next moment a commercial comes on It is selling you soap.
What does soap have to do with Bosnia? Nothing. Next you switch to the NBA
basketball playoffs which are themselves interrupted by a reminder to watch the special
this evening on Mother Teresa. The shows have nothing to do with each other. They
are continually interrupted by commercials which, in their turn, have nothing to do with
each other. Or with anything else. Television as a medium suggests that human
experience is fragmentary and finally meaningless. When you can switch your
attention so easily from the horrors of war to the wonders of soap, you are left with the
impression that it doesn't really make much difference what you focus your attention
on. Provided that it is entertaining.
A culture in which television is dominant will be a culture which will provide
illusions of intimacy. TV favors dramas which involve personal relations. You can be
caught up in them and come to believe that you know and care about the principals.
(One of the professors at the Josephinum tells me of some of her retired sisters in
religion who watch soap operas and who have forgotten that the characters are not real
people and who therefore have taken to praying for them). It is a natural mistake. You
think, for example, that you know the newscasters (who always present the news as
dramatic and entertaining). They will be personalities to you. You will think you know
them. If you are enculturated by the world of television, it will come as a surprise that
real relationships and real intimacy require lots of work, are frequently disappointing
and are most often relentlessly undramatic.
A culture in which television is dominant will be a culture which has a weak
sense of place as an essential feature of human experience. We can go anywhere on
TV. We can be with anyone, rich or poor. Television breaks the assumption that there
is an essential linkage between our physical presence and our experience. We can be
everywhere. Now this has a price. For no space is "ours" anymore. When the media
can come into our own place and take us anywhere we can imagine, our own places
lose their special and irreplaceable character. Our homes become media centers and
lose whatever sacramental character they had.
A culture in which television is the medium of all shared experience is a culture
with a weak sense of time. We can see on video tapes events which happened long
ago. We see then as if they were contemporary and so we lose a sense of the past as
past. Moreover, the electronic presentation of past experience can be repeated so
often as to be distorting. For example, in the trial of the officers charged with beating
Rodney King, the defense counsel was able to turn the prosecution's greatest asset
(the actual videotape of the officers brutally and unnecessarily assaulting Mr King) into
a liability. The defense played the tape so often and at so many speeds that the actual
reality of the beating was lost in the minds of the jurors.
Finally, a culture in which television is dominant will value choice for its own
sake. The medium is a business. It can only operate when it sells advertising time for
products These products are in intense competition with each other There is often
no real difference between them so the products produce an image of themselves to
encourage consumers to make the correct "choice". The cultural meaning of choice
shifts in such a culture from being the power to choose what is truly good to being the
arbitrary power to choose one disposable product over another. Finally, our life (or
lifestyle) tends in this hermeneutic to be interpreted as a product.
I am aware that excessive TV watching is not the besetting sin of monastics. In
that sense this whole presentation could be seen as particularly irrelevant for a
But I think otherwise. For two reasons. First off all, technology is rapidly
advancing and even monasteries will have the opportunity to hook up with some rather
sophisticated communication systems. I think that our monasteries should think very
carefully before introducing them even on a small scale and for a limited purpose. If
every medium is also a metaphor and every medium exacts a price as well as bestows
a blessing, then one wants to be careful.
Secondly, your candidates for monastic formation will come from a culture
dominated by the television. They need not have been television junkies to have
absorbed quietly the messages that TV brings in its wake.
Fortunately, the disciplines of monastic life run directly counter to the world of
TV. TV teaches that life is essentially about distraction and entertainment. Monastic
life is designed to teach something very different. You come to monastic life to escape,
yes. But to escape distraction from "the one thing necessary."
TV teaches that human intimacy is easily achieved and is essentially disposable.
Your community life teaches the opposite. It is not always easy to live with our brothers
and sisters and they are clearly not disposable.
TV teaches us to value the image above all. We are taught by the structures of
our life to look beneath and beyond surface images to the divinely implanted imago dei
so disconcertingly present in every one of our brothers and sisters. The life teaches
us to rely on what is essentially invisible and accessible only to faith and not (yet) to
sight. Television teaches us that the world is split into fragments which are not ever
brought into a unified whole. Monastic life in its structure teaches us to gather the
fragments of daily life in a great unity which is the prayer of Christ to His Father in the
TV teaches that place and time are all relative to the tastes of the viewer.
Monastic life teaches us that the hours of the day are fixed by the wisdom and love of
God and that they are to be used in His praise. Monastic life teaches us that our own
space is both limited and sacred and that our finite place of enclosure is precisely the
place of privileged encounter with God.
Finally TV teaches that choice is "our" choice provided that choice is choice of
the product. Monastic life teaches that choice is not about choosing products at all.
It is about being chosen. By God. As a person. As imago dei and not as consumer.
You know all of this already. So do your people in formation. At least they know
it conceptually. It might take a while before the countercultural rhythms of the life of the
cloister teaches them this in other ways as well. x
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THE USE OF PSYCHOLOGY IN
THE LIFE/DEVELOPMENT OF THE NUNS
THE PROS AND CONS OF PSYCHOLOGY IN OUR DOMINICAN CONTEMPLATIVE LIFE.
Sr. Mary Vincent, OP.
Farmington Hills, Ml
How do we nuns relate to modern psychology
and what use have we made of it?
Let me begin by reviewing with you the results of the survey I sent to our Monasteries in
November of 1995. Thirteen of sixteen monasteries responded. Twelve of the thirteen
monasteries make use of a psychologist or psychiatrist for screening, interviewing and testing.
Ten have had lectures or workshops in the area of psychology; seven have used a psychologist
or psychiatrist as a consulter or advisor to the Prioress or Council; seven monasteries have found
books or tapes in this area useful; and all thirteen monasteries have used or are open to the
possibility of individual counseling for sisters by a psychologist or psychiatrist.
It is clear from this generally favorable response that the majority acknowledge
psychology as a valid and useful tool. Most of us would agree with Evelyn Underbill's keen
observation: "Since the transforming work of the Spirit must be done through man's ordinary
psychic machinery and in conformity with the laws which govern it, every such increase in our
knowledge of that machinery must serve the interests of religion, and show its teachers the way
to success." 1 Psychology is the study of the human person. Using psychology is seeking
counsel. This is prudence. Psychology or no-psychology is no longer an issue. The only real
questions now bear on discernment, on the limits of psychology and on what are the right and
best questions for us nuns to ask of the professionals.
It is clear from the survey that there is among us this process of discernment. I quote
from your written responses: "We recognize both the value and limits of this tool." To the
question of lectures a few said: "Helpful, informative, broadening." Another: "These (lectures)
have been of some, but much more limited, usefulness. The community has become wary after
a couple of bad experiences. It seems much better to have lectures in spirituality or retreats,
given by someone who knows both the spiritual tradition and modern psychology and can
integrate the two." But another comment: "One has to be careful that the psychiatrist or
psychologist has a faith perspective as a basis of his philosophy of life." Another representative
remark to the question on the use of books or tapes: "Certain individuals devote a lot of time to
this. I, personally, am skeptical. 'Self-help' often leads to analyzing others and mistakenly
analyzing oneself. It is no substitute for therapy or counselling when there is a real difficulty."
To the survey question, that of individual counselling: "This can be very helpful, if a sister goes
into it voluntarily and is genuinely open. However, her behavior may not change the way the
prioress or others in the community might wish it to change." Another observed: "When it
comes to individuals, a sister may feel that she has been helped by counselling, but when we
look for evidence in her interaction in community, it seems as if she had never received help.
I suppose the success has to be judged both on a personal and a community level." From these
observations of yours we can see that we are quite aware of the possibilities of psychology, but
we nuns want a religious psychology, a psychology that is a tool, a help, a guide, not an end, and
we want good psychologists.
To elaborate on these areas of your concern. Part of our discerning the power and extent
of psychology revolves about the fact that psychology can become not only a study of the human
psyche, but a total philosophy of life. This is your concern. Robert C. Roberts has said:
"Psychotherapies don't merely remove an appendix or prescribe a sedative. They teach a creed;
they tell us how to live, how to feel and think about ourselves and others; they proclaim the
meaning of life; they shape our characters and our relationships." 2 In other words, psychologists
give us a certain wisdom for living, judging, and choosing, a criterion that can help or hinder a
life whose beginning and end is God.
But is there not a religious psychology? Can we not be more attentive to the
psychological insights our Christian tradition contains? Do not the Scriptures contain a twofold
revelation: of who God is and who the human person is? The Hebrew-Christian Scriptures are
filled with the stories of named human beings, struggling through human situations, called to
come out of bondage into God's marvelous light. These biblical persons are meant to teach us,
to take us with them through every possible life-event. Their human make-up is ours. Their
failure and success is ours. The writers of Scripture and many Christian teachers have indeed
analyzed the human person and invite us to learn from each paradigm. So psychology is not
something exclusively new. What seems to be new about some modern psychologies is that
they are closed to God, and can tend toward making persons acutely narcissistic, without bonds
or relations. In spite of this, there are certain insights and methods of great value to appreciate
and use. To give but a few examples: the replacing of faulty, upsetting thoughts with good
thoughts, coming from the assumption that emotions depend upon beliefs; another: proper
assertiveness and behavior, stemming from the assumption that ultimately, my behavior makes
me what I am; another: therapy with the family, based on ontological relatedness, stemming
from the assumption that an individual problem comes from improper patterns of interaction
between family members.
Here is a second area of your concern. Psychology is an accepted science which offers
insights into many areas of distress. It can help us see the causes for our fears, anxiety,
depression, aggression, compulsions, addiction. But we know that only God can give the grace
to accept these insights, accept responsibility for our actions, and give us strength to think and
react differently than before. Scott Peck relates that he never believed in original sin until be
began practicing as a psychiatrist. Then he saw that the majority of his patients were afraid to
change. They dropped out of treatment. The tendency, Peck observed (and as we well know),
is to take the easy way downstream. 3 Human life requires work, and involves suffering. No
human science can eliminate all suffering. Psychology is not a cure-all, do-all, or end-all. Your
concern is that psychology can tend to be a panacea and the cult of self will replace the search
for God. Yet remember the observation of St. Thomas who said that the origin of friendly
relations with others lies in our relations to ourselves and that "the good know themselves truly
and love themselves truly." 4 My main question here would be: in the basic tension between
living and dying, of becoming willing or willful, does not psychology yet help us to understand the
causes of our suffering? 5
A third area of your concern has to do with the fact that not all psychologists ground their
approach in a Christian anthropology of the human person. Consider for example, the difference
between a psychiatrist who says that it is my organism which forms the self; another who says
it is the unconscious which dictates the shape of maturity; and then Gerald May who says "We
are created by love, to live in love, for the sake of love . . . .we know who we really are. It is the
image of God." 6 A Christian psychologist should give a fuller picture of the human person.
There are legitimate insights of a psychology that can establish an interim of healing of the
natural makeup of the person who is held down by a damaged self-image, or who is seeking a
false self, or is driven by false claims. A good psychologist, respecting the dignity and worth of
the person, provides the opportunity for us in the course of treatment to re-examine many of our
attitudes and patterns of behavior, and, with grace , we become free to choose a different
pathway towards the God who loves us. We are constantly drawn by God and his love. This
vision of our destiny, this gift of God's grace gives us the courage and strength to walk through
the suffenng to the healing of our wounds. All that we are and do is in God's Hands. We are
stewards of God's gifts.
And here I come to a basic concern. Some of us have had difficulty in finding a
psychologist or psychiatrist who has a faith perspective or uses the method helpful to us. My
question in this area: are there any practical tips such as Scott Peck gives, to help us choose
wisely a good therapist: is the therapist truly caring, cautious, disciplined; question him\her about
their views of important issues for you (religion, women, violence); word of mouth is often the
best way to get started and don't hesitate to terminate after the first session. 7
In conclusion I would observe that the tenets of religion are confirmed and affirmed by
psychology. Think of the discovery in psychology of the levels of consciousness and how this
supports the fact of the necessity for prayer to enter the level behind the immediate one. Think
of the discovery of the power of suggestion and how this coalesces with every aspect of our
contemplative life which urges us to throw open the deeper mind to transforming influences.
What about the danger of keeping skeletons in the cupboards of our souls, the importance of
tracking down our true motives, of facing reality, of being candid and fearless in self-knowledge,
of sublimating our instincts and desires? All of these are taught by our faith and now by
psychology. And finally, consider psychology's conception of the human psyche as a living
force, ever craving more life and more love, which ultimately can be found only in God. 8
As Dominicans we believe in the grace of God, in the transforming power of our
monastic, contemplative life, in the capacity of the human person. We are seekers of wisdom,
and so we respect the wisdom of psychology. We are walking then, the path of discernment and
discretion, to use psychology in the upbuilding of the person to image God more truly and
completely — to allow the Holy Spirit to act. Who knows what a person can become, resolving
her inner conflicts, finding peace, harmony and joy in God? And going further: just as one
cancerous cell can spread its "dis-ease" throughout the human organism, so may one person
in vital contact with God's "light-world" pass on to her world the contagion of a transformed life. 9
Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.
What we do know is this: we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And
all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure (I Jn 3:2-3). m
1. The Life of the Spirit and the Life of Today (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986)
Contemplation and Suggestion, 99-100.
2. Taking the Word to Heart . Self & Other in an Age of Therapies (Grand Rapids, Ml: Wm. B.
Erdmans Publishing Co., 1993), 106.
3. The Road Less Traveled (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978), Entropy and Original Sin,
271-273. Peck believes original sin is our laziness and a major form that laziness takes is fear.
4 Cf. ST ll-ll , q. 25, aa. 4 & 7.
5. Gerald G. May, M.D., Will and Spirit (San Francisco: Harper, 1987) chapter 1.
6. The Awakened Heart (San Francisco: Harper, 1991) 16&15. "The contemplative way
acknowledges that we begin to appreciate love's fullness only as we enter it immediately,
directly, and with undefended awareness (24). For a Christie reference in May see 209-210.
May is a Christian psychiatrist definitely depending on God and prayer.
7 Op. cit. . cf. Afterword, 313-316.
8. Cf. Evelyn Underhill, op. cit.
9. Evelyn Underhill, Modern Guide to the Ancient Quest for the Holy (Albany: State University of
New York Press, 1988). Cf. her essay, Sources of Power in Human Life . 69.
THE USE OF PSYCHOLOGY
IN THE LIFE/DEVELOPMENT OF THE NUNS
THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF MODERN PSYCHOLOGY AND THEIR INTERFACE WITH THE
Dr. Hallie Moore, M.D.
As the evening of our twentieth century draws to a close, and the light of a new
millennium is about to dawn, we stand upon a milestone in the passage of time that
comes but once in a thousand years. As the people of God living at this extraordinary
moment in the course of human history, we have been accorded the uncommon
privilege of bearing witness to the passing of the old and the birth of the new, for,
indeed, another forty generations will come to pass before the next millennial transition
appears. But with privilege comes responsibility, and, while we might pride ourselves
on having lived at this time in the history of humankind, we might also do well to reflect
upon our progress and our whereabouts, relative to our ultimate goal and destiny.
As members of the family of God, where exactly are we on this pilgrim journey of
ours? How have we used the gifts and the energies entrusted to us? What kind of
condition are we in as we face the road ahead? And how can the contributions of the
field of modern psychology with its understanding of the human psyche and its
knowledge of human behavior be of help to us on our journey in return to God?
The field of modern psychology is enjoying great popularity these days, and its
contributions are being sought and applied everywhere. This should not come as a
surprise, for psychology is among the most fundamental of the human sciences, and
its insights and tenets are relevant wherever human nature is to be found. Industry,
education, the corporate world, government, religion, and the professions of law and
medicine all call upon its contributions and services regularly, as do individuals,
couples, families, groups, and institutions of every persuasion.
What exactly is modern psychology, and why is an understanding of what it has
to offer felt to be so important to us today? What are its contributions, and equally
important, what are its limitations? What are its unique insights relative to an
understanding of the human person, and what are its potential dangers? How can
modern psychology help us gain a better understanding of ourselves, our neighbor, the
world in which we live, the purpose for which we were made, and our ultimate goal and
destiny? How sound are the contributions of this field as we see, the truth, and how
can we be sure that they are safe?
Modern psychology is the specialized field of study of the human psyche that
made its definitive appearance toward the end of the nineteenth century, largely with
the work of Sigmund Freud in Vienna. Freud was a physician who specialized in
neurology, the study of the human nervous system, and he was a genius by human
standards. He was of Jewish background, but he considered himself an atheist. He
lived at the turn of the century in a repressed Viennese culture that was teeming
underneath with the spectrum of human passion, and his thinking was influenced by
discoveries taking place in the physical sciences during his time.
Freud was a keen observer, and in the course of his work he observed that some
of his patients improved or even became well again, their incapacitating symptoms
having disappeared entirely, when they were given the opportunity to talk freely and
express their feelings openly on matters or conflicts that troubled them deeply. Freud
had no explanation for this phenomenon, but he continued his observations, and in
time he set forth a fundamental set of concepts relative to the human psyche and his
understanding of how it functioned. His theories included the existence of the
unconscious; the structural hypothesis of the human psyche with its three components
of id, ego, and superego; defense mechanisms; psychosexual development; and the
pleasure principle, according to which the instinctual drives of the individual operate
in the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Using these concepts Freud also
developed a specialized treatment technique which he called psychoanalysis. His
concepts, along with psychoanalysis, were received with great acclaim in a repressed
Victorian Vienna at the turn of the century, and for the next sixty years Freudian theory,
along with its interpretations and misinterpretations, dominated thinking in the fields of
psychology and psychiatry both in Europe and here in America.
Many followers of Freud were drawn to study with him in Vienna, and one of the
most promising students in this group was a Swiss psychiatrist by the name of Carl
Gustav Jung. Jung was an independent thinker and an observer in his own right, and
he differed with Freud on the conceptualization of the human psyche. His own
contributions have had great merit, including the concepts of the individual and
collective unconscious; the archetypes; the components of personality designated as
the self, the persona, and the shadow; the animus and anima; the introvert/extra vert
concept, which is the basis for the Meyers-Briggs Test in common use today. Jung
also firmly believed in the reality of the spiritual dimension and the importance of
religion and religious beliefs for the individual and the culture. This position was not
acceptable to Freud, who was influenced by the advances in physics in his day and
who saw the human person more in terms of a closed system. On this ground the two
parted company, Jung to return to Zurich to begin his own school of thought, that of
Analytic Psychology, and Freud to continue his work in Vienna and later in London.
Concepts of Modern Psychology
Let us briefly examine some of the concepts of Freud and modern psychology in
order to understand their meaning, their importance, and their relevance to an
understanding of the human psyche. It is understood that we are talking about
metapsychological constructs, metaphors that are used as descriptive devices in an
effort to understand the intangible and the invisible models they are symbolically
presumed to represent. For the sake of accuracy and clarity, we will stay with the
technical terms and their intended meaning, for many of these terms have found their
way into the common language of our culture, and with frequent and casual use their
meanings have become somewhat modified.
The unconscious, according to modern psychology and Freudian theory, is that
part of our psychological makeup that is outside of our conscious awareness, but
whose energies and contents have great influence on our thinking, our emotions, and
our behavior. It is both a vast reservoir of instinctual and creative energies, as well as
a storehouse for painful memories, unresolved emotional conflicts and traumas,
forbidden wishes, and impulses that we might long to fulfill but which are consciously
unacceptable to us. The unconscious normally remains out of our awareness, except
under certain circumstances. We are in touch with our unconscious through our
dreams when we are asleep; we are in contact with the unconscious when we lose
contact with reality and become psychotic, and we can access the unconscious through
the specialized treatment technique of psychoanalysis.
Psychoanalysis is a treatment modality by which troublesome, emotional conflicts
felt to reside in the unconscious are brought into conscious awareness by free
association and the analysis of dreams, and phenomena known as resistance and
transference. Free association is a method by which a person is encouraged to say
whatever comes to mind, without judgment, censorship,, or concern for its making
sense and without any interactive response on the part of the analyst. Resistance is
resistance, and in this context it refers to the efforts of the unconscious to keep the
underlying conflicts from coming to light, for they are frequently related to early and
unresolved emotional trauma and often carry with them intensely painful feelings of
shame, guilt, fear, and rage. Transference refers to the unconscious displacement or
transfer of the feelings associated with the conflict or trauma onto another person (in
the treatment setting this is the analyst), so that the trauma or conflict can again be
experienced, worked through, and resolved. Careful consideration should be given to
embarking on a course of psychoanalysis, for it is a strenuous venture and involves
very hard work on the part of both the patient and the analyst over a long period of
According to Freudian theory, the id, the ego, and the superego represent the
three components of the structural hypothesis of the human psyche. The id is the
representation of the powerful instincts of our biological nature, the sexual and the
aggressive instincts, which operate by the pleasure principle, demanding immediate
gratification and satisfaction. These instincts have been given to us for the purpose of
procreation and for the survival of both the individual and the race. As the raw
energies of the sexual and aggressive instincts are felt to be much too powerful and
disruptive to be contained and maintained in conscious awareness in the ego, they are
conceptually relegated to the depths of the unconscious, as though to the depths of the
sea. Their energies and derivatives are always available to influence our conscious
awareness, however, and it is usually the work of a lifetime to befriend them, to tame
them, and to refine them.
The ego in modern psychology is the "I," the sense of self that is the center of
conscious awareness in the psyche. It interfaces with the unconscious in an area
referred to as the subconscious. For the most part, however, it maintains a protective
barrier between itself and the unconscious by a set of defense mechanisms which
operate largely out of our conscious awareness. The cornerstone of normal, interior
psychological defense structure is a defense mechanism called repression which keeps
a firm lid on the unconscious and its contents so that its energies are manageable.
Other defense mechanisms, such as denial, projection, displacement, suppression,
rationalization, intellectualization, and sublimation are considered secondary defense
mechanisms that reinforce the primary work of repression. Defense mechanisms are
not about being defensive. The defense mechanisms of the ego are normal,
unconscious, psychological mechanisms which are absolutely essential to us, for they
have a protective function for both the psyche and the individual, and we cannot live
without them any more than a tree is able to live without its bark.
The intellectual functions of the ego are numerous, and they include reality
testing, cognitive and numerical processing, logical and abstract thinking, evaluation
of perceptions of external reality, problem solving, memory, and volition. The ego
coordinates and acts as an intermediary between the id and the superego, between
internal and external reality, and between the physical and the spiritual dimensions of
The superego is that area of the psyche that is concerned with moral and ethical
issues and conduct. It is often regarded as an internal regulatory code which functions
as a conscience in alerting us with a sense of right or wrong in a given situation. It can
be lax, balanced, or harsh and punitive, generating intense feelings of guilt over what
it perceives to be the slightest transgression or failure.
While the id drives operate blindly according to the pleasure principle in the
depths of the unconscious, the ego matures gradually through countless experiences
of frustration that prepare it to operate according to the reality principle. The ability of
the ego to tolerate frustration and postpone gratification gives it a freedom to seek, to
reflect, and to choose among alternative possibilities in a given situation, whether it be
plans for the day, a major life decision, the approach to a difficult situation, the
response to suffering, or the decision to let go of a certain attitude or pattern of
behavior, risking the uncertainty of what will take its place.
The Freudian theories of infantile sexuality and psychosexual development have
been known to elicit commotion and controversy, and understandably so, for they are
very often misunderstood and misinterpreted. Briefly, they refer to the passage of the
infant or the very young child through a series of stages where there is preoccupation
and intense pleasure associated with a certain part of the body. These stages are
referred to as the oral, the anal, and the genital stages, and the parts of the body are
referred to as the erogenous or pleasure giving zones. For the newborn infant, the
mouth quickly becomes an erogenous zone. It is the pleasure associated with the area
of the mouth that draws the newborn to be fed, otherwise the infant would starve and
not survive. It also brings the infant into the arms of the mother where holding,
touching, and eye contact become the foundation for relational bonding. Within the
first year and a half of life the intensity of the oral pleasure begins to recede. The body
musculature has now developed to the stage that permits ambulation and autonomy,
and a new erogenous zone emerges, this time in the anal area. A time of
preoccupation with this area of the body is necessary so that the toddler can learn
sphincter control, in order to become more self reliant. In reality, the child begins to
learn about control in general, and how his "yes" or "no" has the power to please, or
to displease and frustrate others. The third stage of psychosexual development is the
genital stage, and here the pleasurable or erogenous zone is in the genital area. The
child is several years old now and is very curious about everything in general. Genital
explorations on the part of a child this age are a normal part of development, necessary
to develop a sense of gender and difference, and they must not be endowed with the
same implications that attend adult sexual experience. One of the greatest dangers in
an understanding of psychosexual development is to confuse the erogenous, the
sensual, the pleasurable, with the sexual in terms of adult sexuality. From their it is an
easy misstep to interpret any and all pleasurable experiences in the light of the sexual,
and this has happened repeatedly with unfortunate and harmful consequences. In
following the developmental sequence of the erogenous zones, we see that they are
beautifully and purposefully designed to lead the newborn progressively from the total
helplessness of infancy into the relative autonomy of childhood.
It is of the utmost importance to understand that what is known and referred to
today as modern psychology does not in itself define the field of psychology any more
than a branch defines the tree. Modern psychology has had a major impact on our
culture during the greater part of this century, and its interpretations and
misinterpretations have been liberally, but often inappropriately, applied across all
spheres of human behavior. This has resulted in the conceptual tendency to strip the
human person of the faith dimension in his life and in his being and to reduce him to
a definition in psychological terms. This is not the proper use of modern psychology,
and it is certainly not the stance of the broader field of psychology. It has been the
misguided, reductionists, and often arrogant approach on the part of some in their use
of modern psychology that has led many to feel uncomfortable, wary, and distrustful of
the field of psychology as a whole.
Human nature can be vulnerable to growing acclaim, and Freud himself was no
exception in this regard. Aware of the impact of his ideas on a growing number of
intellectual circles, he began to interpret much of life through the lens of his own
theories and concepts. In so doing he had the misfortune one day of making the
statement that religion was the neurosis of mankind. This was very threatening and
highly offensive to the Church in Roman Catholic Austria, and the Church volleyed
back with the equally unfortunate statement that psychiatry was the work of the devil
Thus began a very deep and painful split between psychology/psychiatry and religion,
one that came to be filled with years of distrust and animosity, and one that has taken
most of the decades of this century to heal.
As so often happens when things go to an extreme, whether it be a repressed
culture or a deep misunderstanding, they begin to correct by going first to the other
extreme, and for a time modern psychology was hailed as a panacea by those
fascinated by what they perceived as the power of its insights and its claims. Today
contemporary psychology seems to have a more realistic and balanced perspective
and has integrated the significant contributions of modern psychology with the work of
many others, particularly that of Jung and Erik Erikson, into a broader, more holistic
understanding of the human person. The field of psychology actually has a very human
face, one that we can all relate to, and before we proceed with Erikson's stages of the
life cycle, it might be worthwhile to take a few moments to see how it all began.
The Roots of Human Psychology
The field of psychology has very old roots, as old as humankind. Throughout the
course of the centuries and the millennia, the human person has been impelled by the
deepest need within his individual and collective being to seek and to find the answers
to simply, but compelling questions about himself, the world in which he lives, his
purpose in life, and his destiny. And man has always been especially curious about
man, and why he becomes so fascinated, so frustrated, and so frightened by the
thinking, the emotions, and the behavior of himself and others.
Life was certainly not easy for our early ancestors who found themselves face to
face with the elemental forces of nature and very little in the way of directional
reference or support. They must have been flooded with anxiety and felt intensely
insecure at times as they struggled daily for food, shelter, and survival. Finding
themselves at the mercy of the elements, wild animals, and the extremes of heat and
cold in a vast world which they did not understand, they were driven by this very basic
form of existential anxiety to gain a sense of control and mastery over their feelings of
fear and terror. By instinct and intuition they knew then so clearly and graphically what
we know today. We fear not so much what we know; we fear more what we do not
know, the unknown, that over which we have no control, but which we perceive as
having power over us in ways which may not be to our liking or may actually do us
In their efforts to cope and understand, our early ancestors took the energy from
their insecurity and anxiety, and with it they began to observe. They observed that
there was an order to things in the natural world. Can and night, the sun and the
moon, the seasons, the stars, and the rotation of the heavens around a fixed point were
all phenomena that became increasingly familiar, predictable, and reliable. They saw
that cycles were made up of a sequence of stages, that there was a time to sow and
a time to reap, a time for growth and a time for est, and that the heeding and respecting
of these inherent laws greatly enhanced productivity and with it their chances of
survival. They observed the interplay of rhythms between nature and themselves. The
dawn brought light, the day activity, the evening fatigue, the night sleep, and the
following morning renewed energies. They observed the behavior of wild animals and
how the powerful, instinctual energies of these creatures stirred something deep within
themselves, evoking feelings of power, awe, fear, and respect.
Life was a matter of survival during the childhood years of humanity, and our early
ancestors dealt with their anxiety by continuing to observe. They observed the
behavior of other human beings, how they were very comfortable with some and
uncomfortable with others. Some were friendly and cooperative, others were unfriendly
and obstructive. Some invited closeness and intimacy, while others needed and
created a distance. They saw how some could be demanding, aggressive, and
domineering, and bent on the satisfaction of their own needs, while others could be
submissive, passive, and aware of the needs of others. Some were sensitive and kind,
while others could be very cruel. They observed and experienced how interactions
among them could range from peace and harmony to tension, conflict, and frightening
discord. And they learned that sooner or later, whenever they gathered together for
any length of time, a pecking order would evolve. They began to realize that, for the
individual, isolation could be very painful, even punitive, and that going it alone often
meant death. Most of all they saw that life in the world was less threatening when they
could move together in pursuit of a common goal, and individual anxieties lessened
when they were replaced by the strength of the whole.
While life together brought a sense of security and did much to allay individual
anxiety, it also became more complex. In banding together in mutual dependency,
each member of the group now had to form a relationship with every other member and
with the group as a whole. To do so effectively required a new and more sophisticated
communication system. What had been primarily a non-verbal communication gave
rise to verbal communication, and language was born. Observations of the outside
world could now be compared and validated. Ideas and perceptions could be shared
and met with agreement, modification, or rejection. An awareness of sequence in the
natural world gave rise to logicality in thinking; repetition in external phenomena
became a foundation for memory; and an awareness that there was a power
immanently involved in creation, but far greater, gave rise to imagination, awe, and
wonder as man searched to comprehend and establish his relationship with the Infinite.
Human history has known of those who have had an especially keen awareness
of the workings of the human psyche. Often with painful personal honesty, these
individuals have known all too well the heights to which the human heart could aspire
and the depths to which it cold fall. In the course of their search for the Infinite, they
sought to understand the forces and tendencies they encountered within themselves
and others which seemed to obstruct, impede, complicate, and interfere with the pursuit
of their goal These forerunners in the field of psychology were the sages and the
saints, the early philosophers and the spiritual giants of the Old and the New
Testaments. Surely St. Paul had a take on the existence and the influence of the
unconscious long before Freud, when, in Chapter Seven of his Letter to the Romans,
he shares with us his struggle in trying to understand his failure to do what he wants
to do. The Desert Fathers and the Desert Mothers, Augustine, Albert the Great and
Thomas Aquinas. Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, and numerous others from Plato
and Aristotle to William Shakespeare were all making their contributions to an
understanding of the nature and the operations of the psychological dimension of the
human person long before university departments or specialized programs for the study
of psychology were established.
Psychology has always been intimately associated with the spiritual and the
philosophic dimensions, so closely at times that it seems the three dimensions intersect
and intertwine in ways that they may appear to be virtually one and the same. They
are distinctly different, however, and, although they may share a common interface at
their boundaries from time to time, their provinces are distinct in their areas of concern
and in their inherent principles and laws.
Psychology is the study of the functions of the human psyche and how these
operations are manifested in thinking, feeling, and behavior in relation to oneself, to
others, to the family, community and social environment in which one lives, and to God.
Although the human psyche cannot be seen or located anatomically, as is possible with
a given area or part of the human body, the reality of its presence is clearly recognized
by how we think, how we feel, and how we act. Conceptually, the human psyche is felt
to reside at the interface between the physical and the spiritual dimensions of our
being. From there its province extends down to the very depths of the primitive
instincts and energies of our biological nature, and it reaches up into the sophisticated
processes of conscious awareness, cognition, volition and contemplation. It is an
exquisitely crafted and highly complex interior informational processing system whose
silent, transparent, and seamless operations take place mostly without our conscious
awareness. It works hand in hand with our five special senses — sight, hearing, taste,
touch, and smell - which provide ongoing and up to the moment information from the
world of external reality. The psyche oversees and mediates the moment to moment
interplay of the countless internal processes - instinctual, biological, emotional,
cognitive, rational, and volitional - which take place within us. The task of the human
psyche is both formidable and sublime, for from its unique perspective at the interface
of the physical and the spiritual dimensions of our being, it simultaneously integrates
all of the dynamic processes of our internal milieu with our perceptions of the outside
world in a way that enables us to function with relative stability in the pursuit of our
goals amidst the stresses inherent in everyday life.
The psyche is an inherent and integral part of our nature, and it has been
designed in the service of our survival, to guide us at all levels, to warn us of danger,
and to illumine our path as we journey toward our destiny. So far we have referred to
the functions of the psyche in an ideal, almost rarified state. In reality it is subject to
and buffeted by the same stresses imposed by the host of potential vicissitudes that
sooner or later in one form or another will be actualized in the life of every human being
in this imperfect world. Genetic factors, constitutional endowment, social advantage
or disadvantage, individual or collective traumas at any age, and natural disasters are
only a few of the high profile stresses of ordinary life. The psyche functions in ways
that enable us to adjust, to reestablish, and to maintain a remarkable sense of balance
through a myriad of stressful circumstances. However, it, too, labors suffers wear and
tear, shows signs of fatigue, irritability, and disturbance, becomes overwhelmed, and,
at an extreme, breaks down. Signs of duress range from commonplace anxiety and
depression that simply come and go, to overt psychosis, and from transitory
adjustments in the course of a day to those major aberrations in thinking, feeling, and
behavior that compromise to varying degrees the ability of the individual to function.
In its analysis of the symptoms of psychological duress and dysfunction, modern
psychology has made significant and lasting contributions to an understanding and
appreciation of the vast territory and operations of the human psyche. Keeping in mind
the limitations and the tendency on the part of some to define all spheres of reality
according to its terms, modern psychology and Freudian theory have an integral place
in the understanding of the human person. There were those who studied with Freud
who saw the potential in taking his ideas further into a more open system, and one of
these was Erik Erikson, whose stages of the life cycle we will next proceed to examine.
ERIK ERIKSON'S STAGES OF THE LIFE CYCLE
Cycles of time permeate our existence, and their patterns and rhythms form the
infrastructure of all created being. The human life cycle is no exception to this
fundamental law of nature. Dramatically framed by the definitive moments of birth and
death, the life of the human person unfolds through a sequence of stages common to
the inner workings of all cycles. Birth and early development, growth and maturation,
stabilization and productivity, decline and death giving rise to a new cycle, a new
generation, characterize the invariant progression of the interior life of a cycle between
two designated points in time. Cycles are about many things and many reasons, and
yet, independent of their respective variation or purpose, they all represent a masterful
integration of the circular, the linear, and the constant.
The life cycle of the human person has been the subject of great interest for many
decades now, due in considerable part to the influence of the work of Erik Erikson,
whose theories on identity and the stages of the life cycle began to give a new focus
to modem psychology. Erikson was born in Germany of Danish parents in 1902. His
father abandoned his mother before she gave birth. While he was well cared for by his
mother and his adoptive stepfather, he was not told of his true parentage until he was
well into adolescence, a time when he was already experiencing great confusion and
turmoil about his identity A member of the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society during the
time of Freud, Enkson left Vienna with the rise of Fascism in the mid-thirties and
immigrated to the United States. He settled in Boston, where he was well received,
and where he continued his work and teaching with a special interest in the normal
psychological development of the child. Influenced by the work in sociology and
anthropology at that time, Erikson recognized the importance of relationships and the
social milieu and their role and influence on the progressive maturation of the human
person throughout course of a lifetime.
Elaborating on the basic stages of a cycle, Erikson postulated eight stages for the
human life cycle. To each stage he ascribed an age-appropriate developmental task
that had to be mastered, a skill that had to be acquired, in order for the individual to
move on successfully to the next stage. He introduced the term epigenesis to refer to
this process of ego and social development, in that tasks not adequately mastered at
one stage would make the work of subsequent stages more difficult and less
successful. Erikson's stages of the life cycle may already be familiar to you, but they
will be enumerated here, then each one will be looked at individually in a few moments.
The eight stages with their associated ego development tasks are as follows:
I. Oral-Sensory Stage: Trust vs. Mistrust (0-1 yrs.)
II. Muscular-Anal Stage: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt (1-3 yrs.)
III. Locomotor-Genital Stage: initiative vs. Guilt (3-7 yrs.)
IV. Stage of Latency: Industry vs. Inferiority (7-12 yrs.)
V. Stage of Puberty and Adolescence: Ego Identity vs. Role
Confusion (12-18 yrs.)
VI. Stage of Young Adulthood: Intimacy vs. Isolation (18-40 Yrs.)
VII. Stage of Adulthood: Generativity vs. Stagnation (40-65 yrs.)
VIII. Stage of Maturity: Ego Integrity vs. Despair (65+ yrs.)
In many ways the early stages of Erikson's conceptualization of the life cycle parallel,
overlap, and coincide with the early psychosexual developmental stages of Freud.
Erikson, however, in realizing that the maturation process of the human person does
not end with having attained adulthood, but continues throughout the life cycle, added
further to Freud's stages, incorporating the influence of both significant relationships
and the social milieu on human growth and development.
Let us now look at these eight stages of the life cycle with their associated
developmental tasks as proposed by Erik Erikson.
I. Oral-Sensory Stage: BASIC TRUST vs. MISTRUST
We enter this world in the throes of the major and multiple traumas of separation
and loss At the moment of birth we are delivered abruptly and irrevocably into a
strange new world, in an instant losing all that was previously familiar. For the first
time we are not actually physically separate from our mother, that most significant
person in our life with whom we had just spend the previous nine months in blissful
intrauterine symbiotic dependency. There are some who would say that we spend the
rest of our lives trying to recover from the shock of simply having been born and having
committed ourselves to live in the world of reality by the taking of our first breath. Prior
to that time we were totally carefree, we had no responsibilities, and there were no
expectations of us, at least none of which we were aware. We were fed, protected and
kept safe, and our every need was met, while at the same time we were considered the
most important person in the world by someone who had not even officially met us yet.
How do we get from there to here, (and we all seem to have managed), when we begin
this life totally helpless and dependent, utterly confused, and overwhelmed by massive
anxiety? We do exactly what our ancestors did during the infancy of humanity. We
begin to observe.
In the beginning little is expected of us as infants except to eat, sleep, be held,
and be changed, yet through these simple interactions involving touch, sight, hearing,
taste, and smell comes important information upon which we will begin to build our
world. How reliable is that person in taking care of our needs, when our only way of
making them known is to cry? If she leaves the room, will she come back? How
responsive is she to our levels of frustration and anxiety that periodically become
intolerable? How predictable is she in her own reactions, or does she give mixed
signals, leaving us apprehensive and confused? And how well do others understand
our basic needs for security, acceptance, attention, and approval which we will have
for as long as we live? Gradually, as we begin to incorporate our experience of
interaction with others, particularly our mother, we develop a predominant feeling of
either trust that our needs are going to be satisfied by others and the world about us,
or a feeling of distrust that our needs are not going to be met in a reliable way.
II. Muscular-Anal Stage: AUTONOMY vs. SHAME AND DOUBT
By the second year of life we are walking by ourselves, we are learning to talk
and have begun to feed ourselves, and we are gaining control of our sphincter
muscles. How the significant others in our life respond to these very real
accomplishments will influence greatly how we feel about ourselves. If our parents are
supportive, encouraging, generous in praise and not overprotective, our self-confidence
will grow, and we will begin to develop a healthy self-esteem. If our parents are critical,
demanding, and too restraining, we are apt to feel ashamed of our efforts, and we may
have difficulty trusting ourselves. At this age we are extremely vulnerable to being
shamed and embarrassed, and we may protest with rage in overtly rebellious or
passively stubborn behavior We have also learned how to use an important little word
called, "no." and that it can be very powerful in frustrating our parents when we are
angry with them.
III. Locomotor-Genital Stage: INITIATIVE vs. GUILT
We are about five years old now and we have many friends with whom we like
to play. We are ready to go to school, which will take us into the outside world, away
from home and away from our mother. We are excited about this, but also very
nervous. When the big day arrives, and it is one of the biggest milestones in
childhood, some of us begin to cry and refuse to go, unless our mothers come and stay
with us. Others of us are too embarrassed to cry, so we try to be brave and not let on
how scared we are. Although we do not know it at the time, this anxiety is something
that everyone experiences. It is a kind of universal anxiety, and it even has a name.
It is called "separation anxiety." Finally the first day of school is over, and we are very
pleased with how well we did. After a week most of us look forward to going to school,
except for a very few who still insist that their mothers come and stay with them. At this
age we can initiate physical and intellectual activity on our own. When we are
encouraged in our interests, we begin to feel secure and confident showing initiative.
But if we are belittled or ridiculed in our efforts, we may feel very guilty and that makes
us anxious about initiating any activity. Also at this time we are developing an intense
interest in our parent of the opposite sex, so much so that we think we might even want
to marry him or her someday. Freud called this the Oedipus Complex, after a king who
married his own mother without realizing it, and we are very serious about it.
Somehow we know that it will not be possible, but we are very sensitive about our
feelings and how they will be redirected without causing us shame and embarrassment.
IV. Stage of Latency: INDUSTRY vs. INFERIORITY
We are actually enjoying school now, and we are feeling very grown up as we
have begun to use the tools of adult learning. We are curious and fascinated by
everything, and we are eager to learn and acquire new skills. We are learning that
results take effort, and if our efforts are praised and rewarded, we begin to feel
increasingly confident in showing how well we can do things. If our efforts are ridiculed
or ignored, we may become afraid of failure and may not even want to try, as it can be
very painful to feel inferior before others, let alone in our own eyes.
V. Stage of Puberty and Adolescence: EGO IDENTITY vs. ROLE CONFUSION
Adolescence is a time of upheaval in which there is an opportunity to rework the
tasks of the previous stages. This is a very turbulent time for us, and we mind being
taken care of, for we are no longer children. But neither are we adults, so why should
we have to take responsibility? Besides, our bodies are changing, and that is
awkward, exciting, confusing, and frightening, and to understand all this takes a great
deal of our time and energy in discussions with our friends. We are struggling to find
out who we are. That seems to change from day to day, if not from hour to hour, and
the only reassurance we have is that our friends seem to be going through the same
thing, at least the ones who will talk about it. We have no idea how we are going to
find that identity everyone is supposed to have, that sense of who you are that remains
the same through a multitude of situations. But, we are working hard at it. We spend
lots of time and energy thinking about our personal heroes and heroines, ideologies,
and members of both sexes. There is much that attracts us, and we want to try many
things on for size. If it fits, we may keep it for a while, and if we really like it, we might
even make it a part of ourselves. Our parents seem to have no idea of what we are
going through, but we have found a way to free ourselves from having to do things their
way. It is called the peer group. We band together in a kind of subculture with our own
language, our own favorite food, our own type of music, and our own manner of dress,
none of which our parents can understand anymore than they can understand us at this
stage of our lives.
VI. Stage of Young Adulthood: INTIMACY vs. ISOLATION
If we can survive adolescence and emerge into adult life with a sense of who we
are, we should be able to involve ourselves with others without losing our sense of
personal identity. We should also be able to share ourselves in a committed long-term
relationship. In reality, however, this is easier said than done, for intimacy involves
vulnerability. It takes a long time to develop the capacity for intimacy, for invariably
there are disappointments, hurts, and misunderstandings along the way. Intimacy
requires emotional maturity, a sense of balance, and a respect for the boundaries of
the other person. For intimacy is not just about closeness, it is also about distance,
and the ability and the willingness to allow emotional space when necessary out of
respect for the needs of the other. We may have a strong sense of who we are, but if
our need for closeness overrides our respect for the boundaries of another, tension and
eventually turmoil will ensue in the relationship. If we do not have a basic sense of
who we are, we may feel apprehensive when faced with opportunities for intimacy, and
instead withdraw into isolation as a way of protecting ourselves.
VII. Stage of Adulthood: GENERATIVITY vs. STAGNATION
Generativity is not confined to just having had children, although this can certainly
be an important confirmation of our ability to bring forth new life. Generativity is a very
broad concept that also means involving ourselves in interests that contribute to the
guiding of the next generation or to the betterment of society. Those without children
can be generative, while those with children who are largely absorbed in their own
needs and comforts can be engaged in stagnation. The stage of adulthood is the
midday of life when the active energies of morning accomplishment begin to shift to the
reflective energies of afternoon and evening. Concerns about mortality set in, as family
and friends begin to leave us through illness or accident. Priorities begin to shift, and
somehow climbing the mountains of v ; ;le accomplishment no longer seems so
important We now have interior mountains to climb, and. if we pause long enough to
take a close look, we can see that they are vastly more challenging. This is an
especially significant stage for the adult woman, who will experience menopause
usually sometime between her late forties and early fifties. This time of normal
upheaval can have a clearly recognizable emotional component, as hormonal shifts
bring about periods of physiological imbalance that often become manifest in moods,
irritability, and a heightened sense of vulnerability. It is also a time when a woman has
the opportunity to come to terms with herself and her identity as a woman, apart from
her childbearing capacity. This stage of the life cycle is equally significant for the adult
man, who will be more focused on his career accomplishments with the realization that
the years left until his retirement are now growing fewer in number.
VIII. Stage of Maturity: EGO INTEGRATION vs. DESPAIR
In this last stage of the life cycle, we have the opportunity to look back over the
course of our lives with a sense of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Was our life basically
meaningful and productive, giving us a sense of fulfillment and contentment? Or was
our life void of real purpose and meaning, giving us a sense of despair? If so, what are
we going to do about it now, while we still have the time? It may be more difficult, but
it is not impossible. Erikson felt that peace in our later years is truly possible only if we
have moved beyond the narcissism of self-preoccupation and are capable of intimacy
and generativity. We live in an age that presently seems to foster a sense of personal
injustice and that facilitates dwelling on past emotional traumas, abuse, and
deprivations, forgetting that we can all be victims, and we can all be victimizes. If we
choose to dwell and hold on to past traumas, beyond what is necessary for their
resolution, and this may take years, our suffering is going to become sterile. We will
not be victimizing ourselves and very likely those around us. Sterile suffering becomes
corrosive in time. It makes us very bitter and at risk for acting out our self-contempt on
others. If we are carrying around with us a bag of unresolved grievances, injustices,
hard feelings, and bitterness, it is very difficult for peace and contentment to make their
inroads. If we can address the issues of our discontent, work through them to the
extent that it is possible, reach true forgiveness, then let go of our bag of grievances
and negativity, and this might be the most difficult thing we have ever done, we begin
to open ourselves to the peace and fulfillment that surpass all understanding.
Life would be so simple, if we could just neatly master the stages of the life cycle,
one by one. Just think of how well balanced and easy to live with we would be. But
life in the world of reality is not like that. These stages of the life cycle and their
associated tasks are helpful and important points of reference, and they have their
basis in reality. Nonetheless, they are human and arbitrary guidelines. There is no
one who has thoroughly mastered any one of these stages, let alone all in sequence,
nor is that even what is asked of us. Instead, we slip and slide, up and down, back and
forth, and occasionally from side to side on a continuum. If we are fortunate, we
progress for the most part in the direction of growth and maturity. If we are honest, we
know all too well our times of regression and our periods of stagnation. This is when
we want to hide, and often we are successful, even from ourselves, for this is when we
are most vulnerable. But this is also when we are most real, for this is when we come
face to face with our true potential.
The Doorstep of the Spiritual
It is when we are most insecure and vulnerable that we stand on that barren and
lonely interface between the spiritual and the psychological dimensions of our being,
often without our even knowing it. Psychology can help us see where we are, how we
got there, and why we are stuck. It can help us see where we are blocked, and what
it is that we are holding on to that is sapping our energies and interfering with our
having life and living it more abundantly. Psychology can bring us to the doorstep of
the spiritual dimension, but it cannot take us across the threshold to the other side. We
meet the spiritual at the boundary of the psychological, the boundary of the human,
where, as Gertrud von le Fort once said, "God comes rushing in." That presumes we
have accepted ourselves just as we are. Seventy years old and still having problems
with basic trust? Fifty years old and still having problems with a sense of personal
identity?ln our psychologically oriented culture we are apt to judge ourselves as
deficient our defective in some way, for that is how the culture would judge us. Not to
worry, for that is not the judgment of the spiritual dimension. Psychological insight may
be of help, but only if we can meet ourselves, accept ourselves, and truly love
ourselves exactly where we are and the way we are, as human beings having problems
with trust at age seventy and uncertainty about our identity at age fifty. It is at that
lonely interface of the spiritual and psychological dimensions of our being that our
interior posture of emptiness and receptivity permits the chemistry of transformation to
take place, where grace leaps across to fill the void, bringing with it the power that is
made perfect in infirmity. Catherine of Siena summarized it so well in her observation
made centuries ago, that "the cell of self-knowledge is the stall where the human soul
must be reborn."
Life and death, union and separation, love and hate, war and peace. These are
the universal warp threads against which we weave the tapestry of our individual lives.
Each will be uniquely different, a one of a kind, never woven before, and never to be
repeated again. We weave with what is given to us, and we must, all of us, become
skillful weavers. If the warp threads are too tight, they may either break, or, they may
constrict us in ways that adversely affect the weave. If they are too loose, they will not
support the developing fabric. It is with the weft, the cross threads, that we have the
opportunity to develop the pattern, the colors, and the texture that are uniquely ours.
In this we discover our identity, not knowing where we are going when we begin, but
weaving carefully and faithfully day by day with the stuff of life at hand. Finally the time
comes with the fabric is ready to come off the loom, the only one of its kind, that facet
of the Infinite that has been entrusted to us to show forth. We must be faithful to the
pattern within us as we weave, for a German proverb wisely reminds us that most of
us die as copies, whereas we were born as originals.
And so, as we stand on this milestone in the passage of time before the dawn of
a new millennium, we have before us the vast array of accomplishments and
discoveries of humankind to date. All have been subjected in one form or another to
the test of time, and perhaps more have disappeared than have remained. Modern
psychology and Freudian concepts have had their turn in being shaken by the winds
of challenge and outrage, and that is good, for it is a time honored way of separating
the wheat from the chaff. But there is the wheat of truth in many of these concepts, and
it is important to recognize it and to use it wisely. Modern psychology, when used
appropriately and with respect for its limitations, can guide us to that boundary on its
interface where we are met by the Eternal. x
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THE EFFECTS OF MODERN ECONOMICS
ON OUR WAY OF LIFE
Sr. Mary Amata, OP.
Let me begin our conversation about Economics, by saying that I wrote to friends and
relatives, inviting them to offer me any thoughts they might have on the economy, any helpful
hints that the nave discovered. Some sent me articles from their local newspapers or told me
of stories they read, and commented on them. Some suggested ways to save money, to
conserve energy, to recycle, etc. Three were kind enough to sit down and really think about the
American economy and how it got to be the way it is, and where it may be going. Finally, some
offered powerful observations on our economic society and the effects it has on religious life
now, and what it may mean in the future.
Helpful hints abound and many of these are already familiar to us: turn off unused lights;
watch for leaky faucets and fix them; buy in bulk where possible; recycle; Recycle even diocesan
newspapers and other reading material that others may not be able to afford. 1
New products on the market are also quite helpful. Besides computers, their
accessories, microwave ovens, cellular phones, and such things, I learned about some more
"ordinary" developments. There are new light bulbs on the market now that use less energy and
give better light — some of these are flourescents, that can be used in "old" incandescent light
fixtures. There are also HALOGEN bulbs that make a very bright light for specific work needs,
like bookkeeping or hand sewing. These bulbs were formerly distributed as a special service for
those men and women with very limited eyesight. Anyone who needs them can now get them
through the Sears catalog. 2
And there are still many of my family and friends who remember the way things were in
the Depression — how they all learned to get along with less, to make do with what they had,
and to re-use things in every possible way.
Continually watching for, even searching out, honest salesmen and helpful clerks, as well
as reasonable prices is another area that receives strong recommendation. Still, many of my
correspondents shop more for convenience and price, rather than loyalty to this or that grocery
or department store.
There is a strong tendency to "BUY AMERICAN" rather than the "cheaper" foreign
articles, that might be manufactured with underpaid labor. By the same token, there is also the
question of whether American-made products are currently made with long-lasting quality. Many
products now are designed to be used only "temporarily," so that the user will have to be
continually replacing them. Thus, the continual redesigning of equipment requires up-grading
the entire system.
On the opposing side of the "price or convenience" question, I heard about how large
chain stores do not support local charities as the neighborhood merchants used to do. And the
profits these stores make usually are not "returned" to the local economy either, but go to the
owner of a corporation that can be based anywhere in the country, or even overseas!
While some friends point out that new jobs are created when the chain stores come to
town; others have lamented the chain stores dnving local merchants out of business. Still others
note that the local merchants had replaced door to door salesmen decades ago, and we have
forgotten about that, even accepted it as the normal evolution of the economy.
As a self-employed architect put it:
We are in the continued process of creation. Architecture is not sold nor
delivered as I was taught [30 years ago] ... I was taught how to use ... drawing
boards, ... and pencils. I haven't used a drawing board for three years. ... I now
draw on this computer and send an electronic file to the print company on my
Southwestern Bell has purchased architecture from me in Little Rock [AR]
for over 20 years. Now they are in the process of establishing a way to purchase
architecture through St. Louis from one source that will cover from two to five
states. ... I must change to meet the new ... requirements of fellow man as he
finds himself with current economy and technology. 3
One especially bright spot in this set of responses is the story of Daniel and Maria, who
operate a convenience store in San Antonio, Texas. They are located only a few blocks from a
local high school and have made a decision NOT to sell liquor, alcohol, and tobacco products,
because these items could be a temptation to their young customers. This is a radical decision,
since most convenience stores get their biggest revenue from exactly these items. So far Daniel
and Maria have been able to keep their business going, without allowing "the almighty dollar to
compromise their principles"! 4
Daniel and Maria's story is all the more wonderful when we remember that so many "big"
businesses seem to be concerned only with making MORE money. I heard from friends who
were "early retired" from corporate giants, and from others who fear that this will happen to them.
These realities in their lives are caused by the "downsizing" and "layoffs" we hear mentioned in
so many prayer requests.
Some of these large corporations do a lot of charity in the localities where they have
offices. Some help provide for educational opportunities for their employees, through night
school right in the same building and other kinds of special arrangements.
The employees of these "corporate giants" make almost nothing in comparison with the
CEO's and actual owners. In the words of one of my correspondents: "our ordinary employees
got raises in the 2-3% range, not quite covering cost of living increases; our CEO got a 15%
raise." 5 Many CEO's earn salaries of $3,000,000. or more a year. In that case, the 15% raise
alone would be $450,000.
While I don't know what the very rich do with their money, I have heard stories over the
years about "not so rich" owners of small businesses that have kept employees on the payroll
after an injury, or the like, just because the man would not be able to get a job elsewhere.
In a more public way, there are a lot of foundations and other such organizations that
have been set up specifically to dispense such vast fortunes. The fame of Blessed Katherine
Drexel's family serves as a good example. Likewise, the Domino's Pizza charities are well
known. And as we know, many of our Monasteries, and also the Conference, have been blessed
by this sort of goodness.
In this respect, I would mention that one of my respondents made a point to call me with
a second thought that he felt we should all know. "Tell your Sisters not to be afraid to ask for
donations. They are doing us a service when they give us a chance to decide how to spend our
money charitably." 6
I think he is right in this matter. We know the stones about things that are only done to
get a "tax write off", but I was surprised to hear from several friends how much of their income
goes into taxes.
In addition to the "Social Security tax" and the Federal income tax there can also be state
and local income taxes. Then there are the sales taxes, though some states do exempt food and
other necessities from this tax. And if the wage earner owns his own home or other property,
there are property taxes to be paid. As one friend described his situation: We "paid for our
home years ago. However, the property taxes now cost us more per month than the entire mort-
gage plus property taxes plus insurance did in 1964 when we built the house.'"
Taking all these taxes into consideration, if the taxpayer can deduct his charitable
contributions BEFORE he calculates his overall income and his taxes, that is fine. And even if
he doesn't do any charity on his own, look at all that the government does with his tax money!
It is these tax dollars that fund the programs for disaster relief after tornados, hurricanes, floods,
and other natural disasters. Taxes also fund the Head Start programs, the unemployment
payments, and the welfare programs. And, we know that the existing budgets of our private
charities could never meet all these needs.
Another category of responses point out how constantly the average American and his
family are tempted to live beyond their means. You may have noticed the article titled: "The
Joneses Are Killing Me" in the December, 1995, issue of Catholic Digest .
But it is more than just neighbors "keeping up with the Joneses." Today it is cities and
towns competing for businesses, states competing for federal money, and nations competing
for each other's business. Economically speaking, the "credit card mentality" is supposed to
keep the factory workers working, the trucking industry working, and the retail sales force
working. This is good for the national economy, and even the international economy, so we are
Today's modern society has developed a multitude of economic theories that have
become very popular subjects for consumers to study. One of my correspondents sent me a
new book: GOD WANTS YOU TO BE RICH : "The Theology of Economics." 8 In this book Paul
Zane Pilzer sets out to explain exactly how the "free market system" is the fulfillment of God's
plan for all of his people! His thesis is built on the promises God made to Abraham after the
sacrifice of Isaac. 9 These are the promises of innumerable descendants, unlimited land, and
But will using this economic model really be of any help to us as Cloistered Dominican
Nuns? I believe we must remember the warning of Pope John Paul II in Vita Consecrata :
Another challenge today is that of a materialism which craves possessions,
heedless of the needs and sufferings of the weakest ... The reply of the
consecrated life is found in the profession of evangelical poverty ...
... evangelical poverty is a value in itself ... Its primary meaning, in fact, is to
attest that God is the true wealth of the human heart. 10
God has made many more promises to his people since the days of Abraham. The most
important are those he made through Jesus Christ, his Beloved Son. It is not land, possessions,
or even posterity, but the intimate relationship that we are made to have with God that must
shape all of our lives. This, and nothing less, is our "true wealth" as followers of Jesus Chnst.
What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ, to be an adopted son of God? Jesus
became MAN to restore us to the relationship that God originally intended for us to have with
himself. I think it will be worth our while to reflect on this point in the light of the Parable of the
Prodigal Son. 11
The two brothers are growing up in the house. Finally one day, the younger one gets to
thinking that he would like to be "just like Dad" and to have everything he wants, when he wants,
without having to ask for it. So, he asks for his share of the inheritance ...
Isn't this exactly the same thing that happened in Paradise? Man (Adam and Eve)
wanted to be "like God", rather than being content to be creatures of God. And God saw that
there was sin, where no sin had been before.
In both cases, the story is the same. Somehow, even if it is ever so "imperceptibly,"
distance creeps into our relationship. Once the intimate relationship between father and son,
between God and Man, is severed, everything is only going to get worse. We go from one sin
to another, and another, and another; because we lose our equilibrium, our "value system", our
sense of what is right and wrong when we are without this vital and primordial relationship.
Now, if I may conjecture a detail not written down by St. Luke: those two brothers of the
parable are adopted sons, and it is clearly JESUS, the First-Bom of the Father, who comes to
bring us back to God, to save us from our folly.
From here it is easy to see how clearly this parable tells the entire story of our creation
and Redemption. This is why for both of the brothers in the parable, there is a necessary
encounter with the Cross.
Because Jesus knows exactly what it is to be human, to be made in the image and
likeness of God, he lives this reality, this primary relationship to the full. JESUS is the One who
shows us how to get our priorities back in order, to get our attention re-directed to our true end,
even when it means "death, death on a cross." 12 As a Carmelite nun pointed out to me in the
early 1970s: "Life with God is infinitely worth dying for. That is why Jesus died." 13
One of my correspondents, a dedicated layman, actively involved in his parish's RCIA
program, wrote to say how far he thinks the world has gone in "distancing itself from God. I
quote from his letter at some length:
The proclamation by Nietzsche is that God is dead and all that remains
is the quest for power, since power is god. Contemporary society lives within this
context and accepts the position of Nietzsche, if not in word, [then] in behavior.
The quest for power and control has won the day. ... Happiness is to enter into
the power struggle and to win. ... we are ruled by those who have acquired the
power in the world and most especially economic power. Perhaps that is why
Rahner is supposed to have said that Christianity will survive in the next century
with those who have the ability to contemplate, who can get beyond the "reality"
that we have created for ourselves. 14
Now, we may feel this bleak picture to be somewhat exaggerated. However, it is true that
Man, the world over, is in danger of losing exactly this primordial reality — his vital relationship
to God I heard from a Brother in the Congregation of the Holy Cross, who expressed his
concern for the future members of the Church this way:
Working equals fast foods equals less communication in the family.
Eating at McDonald's is not eating out ... If the meal is the metaphor for
Eucharist, and they don't know the meal how will they ever understand
What does all this say about the future of religious life, as a part of the Church? Another
layman, this one the owner of a small business, offered his reflections on our future religious:
The demise of small business is a serious threat to family life. ... When
family life falters, the Church is injured. Family life is the back bone of the
The demise of small business may also have an effect upon religious
orders and monastic life. They may find that financial support will have to come
from large corporations, trust funds, and endowments.
Where do Postulants come from? Certainly not large corporations, trust
funds and endowments. 16
I also heard from a Sister of Mercy who has been involved in executive positions of
hospital administration for many years, as well as in many other positions of responsibility for her
province. Sister wrote:
We find ourselves planted right in the middle of a world whose economics
are driven by politics — (you do this for me and I will do such for you). This
world is driven by greed — and lust — sin, and in many instances God is not in
The religious orders that are thriving today are those that have kept their
vows of poverty. Look at Mother Theresa's order. Our poorer Orders are the
ones that are growing in numbers — not the ones that are steeped in this world's
assets. Money does not "buy" subjects and far too many orders are dying on the
vine with a lack of fresh young invigorating subjects. 17
Did any of these thoughts ever even enter our minds when we took our vows? We
probably wondered if we were going to be able to keep them. And we continue to pray for that
grace of perseverance, I am sure. But —
How do we live in poverty today, at the end of the 20th century, dealing with complex
financial matters in providing for our futures? Deciding whether to repair or replace roofs,
heating equipment, etc.? Weighing the health needs of our Sisters against the rising costs of
medical care? Determining a just wage for those who work for us?
How do we maintain the delicate position of representing the Church, as religious must,
when dealing with mistaken orders, with late deliveries, or with any other of the ordinary
problems of life in the business world?
We know that St. Dominic treasured poverty in his own life, and in the lives of his
followers. But what about us today — Dominican Nuns living at the end of the 20th century?
Is it realistic for us to attempt to live as Dominic and the early Nuns lived? What happens in our
hearts when we realize how the poor of the world lived in the days when our Order was born?
In the words of Fr Vicaire, the poor were in a situation that:
can be called traditional poverty. It is characterized by a weakness of means on
all levels: social, economic, skilled trade, psychological and physiological.
Generally speaking it did not mean total distress. The poor normally managed
to get along somehow or other...
The traditionally poor man was not opposed so much to the rich man
(dives) as to the powerful man (potens). He was not so much in extreme want
as in a physical and moral dependence. ... 18
Now, as I conclude these opening remarks on the Economic Culture of our world today,
and give you Fr. Boniface Ramsey, I want to offer a response to my question about whether it
is possible for us here and now, today and tomorrow, to live this way?
I would like to set before our minds' eyes, before our hearts the memory of a man who
passionately lived the Dominican charism in our own day. I am sure you too have read the recent
issue of IDI dedicated to the memory of Fr. Damien Byrne, but let us listen again to the words
of one of his assistants who wrote:
He also taught me how to pack all the things I needed for our long trips
in a small bag; then with a smile he would say, "Now, Frank, get rid of half of the
things you packed". I will never carry a suitcase anymore. One hand bag is more
than enough. 19 x
1. Letter from Sr. M. J., RSM, dated March, 1996.
2. Phone call from Sr. J., OP, March 24, 1996.
3. Letter from A.P.H., dated March 5, 1996.
4. Letter from G.Y. .dated March 18, 1996.
5. Letter from MM., dated March 10, 1996.
6. Phone call from L.J.H. on April 22, 1996.
7. Letter from C.R., dated March 2, 1996.
8. Pilzer, Paul Zane, God Wants You to be Rich : The Theology of
Economics, New York, NY, Simon and Schuster, 1995.
9. cf. Genesis 22:17-18.
10. John Paul II, Pope, Vita Consecrata . Vatican City, March 25,
11. cf Luke 15:11-32.
12. Vesper Response, Good Friday.
13. Conversation with Sr. M. J ., OCD, June, 1975.
14 Letter from T.W., April, 1996.
15. Letter from Br. S.W., CSC, dated March 22, 1996.
16. Letter from P.J.H., dated March 19, 1996.
17. Letter from Sr. M.W., RSM, dated February 27, 1996.
18. Vicaire, Mane-Humbert, OP, Genius of St. Dominic , The ,
edited by Peter Lobo, OP, Nagpur, India, Dominican Publications,
19. Vicente, OP, Rev. Frank, "Farewell to a Friend" in I.D.I.,
#340, Special Issue, April 1996, p. 73.
THE EFFECTS OF MODERN ECONOMICS
ON OUR WAY OF LIFE
Boniface Ramsey, OP.
Province of St. Joseph
INTRODUCTORY REMARKS 1
When I reflected on why I might have been asked to give a talk in this area it occurred
to me that it was perhaps because I had been Promoter of Social Justice in my province, then
in North America for quite a while, until eight years ago.
When two years ago I was asked to make this presentation I was a different person from
who I am today. At the time I was living in a poor neighborhood in what I have been told is the
second or third-poorest parish in the Archdiocese of Newark, namely Sacred Heart Parish in
Jersey City, in the midst of the black ghetto, with a great deal of drug activity, and so forth.
Double and triple murders are not foreign to the neighborhood. There was a triple murder about
two years ago, just one or two blocks away from the priory. A very tough neighborhood! Now
I'm living at St. Vincent Ferrer Parish, which you could say is the cream of American urban life.
Certainly it is a neighborhood that "looks good." David Rockefeller lives across the street from
our High School, and there is no dearth of other wealthy persons within the parish boundaries.
To balance that change I've gone from the ivory tower of academic life to being thrust into
the practicalities of parish life. Whereas in the past, before last December when I became prior
and pastor, I never had to think about economics, now I've been thinking about almost little else
In any event, let's begin as a Dominican might begin by giving a definition of the word
economic, ii simply comes from a Greek word, oikonomia, relating to our term household.
Hence, "economic" refers in the most generic way to the management of household resources.
By extension, it refers to the management of the resources of a given group or society. You can
speak, if you want, of the household of the United States, the household of the world, the
household of St. Stephen's Priory or the household of the Monastery at Newark. This kind of
management necessarily includes a financial aspect, which is often, if not always, given priority.
We may ask ourselves, as we are early on into this presentation, a question that is
inevitably going to come up. Namely, in what way can we speak legitimately abut the role of the
economic in the context of monastic religious life? In other words, can we talk about economics
and monastic life in the same breath? Don't they seem to be two very different things, in some
ways opposed to one another, and incompatible with one another?
In answer to that, reflect that organized monastic life (as opposed to disorganized
monastic life!), has always had procurators and bursars; and a superior's responsibilities have
always included some kind of general economic oversight. In response to that question I also
' Editor's note: This talk was transcribed from the tape, and reviewed by Father Ramsey.
mention the fact that part of the monastic's reluctance to talk about economics arises out of a
kind of suspicion of material property. However, the Christian tradition is very clear. Material
property is either good or neutral, it's never bad. That's very, very clear in mainstream Chnstian
thought from the Fathers on, if not in Scripture itself. But the management of property may be
bad, whether because of ignorance or because of intention or will. In other words, having any
kind of property, in itself, is either a good thing or an indifferent thing, a neutral thing. It's what
you do with it that makes the possession of it good or bad. It becomes good when it is managed
well. Good management legitimizes the possession of resources, and in the monastic context
good management implies conformity to the Gospel, conformity to the rule, and conformity to
economic reality. We'll return to that later.
Let me make a kind of digression here in speaking about economic reality in the setting
of monastic life. Let me say something about the virtues associated with economics. The
governing virtue as far as your own Constitutions state it is poverty (LCM # 264). From the
perspective of that governing virtue these are some other virtues that are associated with the
economic. First of all justice, secondly prudence or discretion. It is hard to know which of those
two should go first. Prudence, in a way, governs justice, but justice is usually associated with
the economic reality more intimately than is prudence. There is generosity, even magnificence,
the big deed. The people who, for example, built St. Vincent Ferrer, where I am pastor, engaged
in an act of magnificence. The people who built the House of Studies in Washington did
something magnificent. Finally, there is thrift. I wasn't so sure whether that was a virtue but I've
seen it listed among the virtues just recently, so I add it. Of course, it is not to be identified with
stinginess. All these virtues - justice, prudence, generosity, magnificence, thrift — have been
practiced in the history of the Church and in the history of the Order. They are not foreign to us,
none of them, including magnificence.
This brings us to the topic at hand, which is the present-day economic mentality and the
present-day economic situation. These are really two different things. Mentality and situation
differ widely from place to place. Here obviously we're talking about the United States. There
are certain positive aspects of our country's economic situation that should be mentioned at the
First of all there is a fluctuating but growing awareness of limited resources, especially
in the area of energy. You may say this is a bad thing, the diminishing of resources, or the fact
that resources are limited. But the awareness of it is a good thing. Virtually any awareness of
anything, any knowledge, is a good thing. And knowledge of a bad thing is a good thing in this
Another positive aspect is a fluctuating but growing concern for the environment. I'm
purposely using "fluctuating" here, because this concern goes on and off. There is an
awareness, for example, of limited resources, but every now and then when the Saudis come
through with a couple billion more barrels of oil it slips our minds that oil is limited. A lot depends
on whatever is the current attitude of government toward the environment. There are moments
when we go back to our old idea that resources are infinite, that, e.g., the ocean is limitless, and
A third aspect is a fluctuating but growing concern for health-related issues. For
instance, we are aware as we never had been before of the fact of the impact of alcoholism. We
have a greater understanding of alcoholism itself. Whereas as recently as 15 years ago to be
drunk was a joke, now we see it as a sickness. And we also see it as an economic reality. The
same can be said about the use of tobacco, and the same with regard to other things that
previously we had overlooked or taken for granted. Health in the workplace is a concern as it has
never been before. And health is an economic issue.
A growing sense of interdependence, that we are all related to one another, is another
positive aspect. There is nothing or very little that I do, even should it be in the solitude of my
room, that does not have an impact on other people. If I ruin a stream on my property, it's not
merely my property that is touched. I know now that it is going to affect other parts of the earth.
If I bum things on my property and create smoke it's not just my property that is touched, it is the
neighborhood that is affected, and ultimately, to some degree or another, the world, the earth.
It is good to know this, and it may help.
Another positive aspect of the present-day economic situation is that we have, in the
developed world, a kind of tradition of economic rights. This is not necessarily a very long
tradition. It's only a little over 100 years old, but it's there.
Finally, there is rapid communication. In other words, when something goes wrong in one
place word gets out very rapidly; when something good happens in one place, word gets out very
rapidly. We can respond more quickly, more readily than we have ever been able to before.
These are positive aspects, although many even of these positive aspects, as you see,
have a kind of fluctuating character to them — there are ups and downs.
Now let's talk about some negative aspects. What always fascinates me, especially
because I am a New Yorker and I face it all the time, is advertising. Advertising often appeals
to people's lowest instincts, for example, their acquisitiveness and their sexual curiosity. It
fascinates me that a mere brand name — one particular brand name — will make a dress or
a pair of jeans superior to another set of jeans or dress put out by a different manufacturer. It
fascinates me that brand names now are prominently displayed. The brand name is the most
important aspect now of a lot of material that we buy, especially clothing that younger people
wear. Our acquisitiveness, our desire to possess, is being catered to. It's fascinating to me that
advertisers have discovered that putting a man and a woman in a seductive position together can
sell coffee. What this reveals of the human psyche is tremendously interesting.
Another negative aspect: advertising that is directed to children. And of course we've
become especially aware of this with respect to tobacco. Consider Joe Camel. Joe Camel
presumably is appealing not to adults; he is directed to teenagers and even younger people.
Consumerism now appears even among the poor and among children. The children's
market is in the tens of billions. Children see things on television, ask their parents for them,
inveigle things out of their parents, embarrass their parents into giving them to them. And they
get them. The desire to have the best and the most recent is to be found even among the poor,
in poor neighborhoods. There are, as you probably well know, and as I certainly saw when I was
in Jersey City, people walking around in shabby clothing who live in the most run down buildings
but who have the latest make of sneakers because sneakers, where I was in Jersey City, are
status. And status is what consumerism appeals to, among other things.
Another very bad aspect is the fact of the predominance now of a youth and health
culture; call it a "beauty culture" if you want. Now as a matter of fact advertisers are becoming
aware that this is unrealistic, and more and more they are using ordinary looking folks rather than
the most beautiful people they can purchase. More and more they are using nondescript folks
and even older folks to project a less prepossessing and unattainable image. But the youth and
health culture, the beauty culture is still out there.
Another negative aspect, and we have experienced this especially in the last two or three
years, is a questioning of economic rights. Economic rights we have taken for granted and
thought would only increase are now being questioned and even whittled away. There is a
questioning also (once again this is something of a recent development) of the need to protect
our limited resources and the environment. When the environment and limited resources are
confronted with business, it is often business that wins, as you well know. We can say here that
quite simply it is the triumph of the short term over the long term. Americans are a short-term
people as opposed to the Japanese or Europeans.
Another negative aspect is a growing disparity between rich and poor. I don't know if this
is something that is very evident when we walk out into the street (if we do walk out into the
street). One reason why it might not be evident is because nowadays everybody pretty much
dresses the same. There is a certain generic culture: it's chic for everybody to be wearing
bluejeans and such. So we're liable not to know that there is this disparity; but having moved to
the Upper East Side in the last five months I have become very aware of it. Out on the street
you may not see too much, but I have been in apartments that are simply stunning for the wealth
that they imply. Simply stunning! And yet even in this wealthy neighborhood there are many,
many people sleeping in doorways, including in the doorways of St. Vincent Ferrer Church. So
there is a disparity, and we are told that there is. Sr. Amata mentioned, for example, the fact that
a CEO making a salary of 3 million dollars will get an increase of 15 percent, while somebody
way down the line might get an annual increase of 2 or 3 percent, which barely covers inflation.
Another thing we have seen happen on a large scale, and which is perhaps being
remedied at least a little in these days, is the discrediting and decline of unionism. A significant
percent of the American labor force was in some kind of union up until 30 or 40 years ago, but
there has been a decline since then. We have become more and more aware of the fact, and
of course some political movements have emphasized it, that there is corruption in the unions.
This shouldn't surprise us, of course; there is corruption everywhere. But this has been made
much of and has contributed to the discrediting of unions, which are really nothing more than
protective agencies for workers.
Another negative aspect of the contemporary financial and economic situation is the loss
of jobs for the unskilled and people who have only minimal skills. We're talking about people
here, the proverbial ditchdigger, for example, or your basic maintenance person. There seem
to be fewer jobs for that kind of person.
The trend toward corporate downsizing has resulted in a considerable loss of bluecollar
and whitecollar jobs. I don't know if you read the paper but, within the last two months I believe,
there was a very informative series in the New York Times called "The Downsizing of America. "
It went on for about a week, and it was an excellent analysis of the situation.
The abuse of workers through bad working conditions, inadequate pay and the like has
come to the fore. We may think that there are enough laws and protections for workers. There
are some, certainly, but it is surprising how many there aren't. Then one wonders whether, if
everything were protected, businesses would even be able to survive? There is a lot that people
who make laws have to take into account. The more protections there are, the more costly
things are, and the more pnces go up for the consumer. But the fact is, there are still many bad
working conditions, and there is certainly no doubt that many workers receive inadequate pay.
Another bad situation is the abuse of consumers, which occurs, first of all, through
misleading advertising. Each one of those advertisements that features sex selling alcohol, or
sex selling automobiles, or that proposes some status symbol, is, when you come right down to
it, misleading. In fact all advertising is almost by its very nature misleading to some degree or
other. Overpricing is another aspect of consumer abuse. For example, all you need to do is
compare the pnce of a generic drug with a brand name drug to see how much things are being
overpnced, and for no reason whatsoever except the status that a particular brand name confers.
Unsatisfactory products are another thing. Products, as Sr. Amata observed, are designed to
wear out after a particular time. They are designed to become out of date, in that you can't get
parts for them anymore, and so must replace them with newer products.
Finally (and this is my 13th point!) we experience just a general sense of decline and lack
of confidence in the moral strength, financial strength, economic strength, military strength (to
the extent that that's important) of the United States in particular, and of the West, and perhaps
of the world in general. It is a sense that things are wrong pretty much everywhere and that it
is virtually impossible to set them right.
Now let us look at the impact of this on the contemplative monastic life.
Let me begin by saying quite simply that this is the world in which the contemplative lives,
the world from which the contemplative cannot escape even if she may be spared many aspects
of it. It is true that her future is assured in large part. She doesn't have to worry about where
the next meal is coming from or whether there will be a roof over her head, so she doesn't have
the worry and concern that the breadwinners of a family might have in wondering about the next
meal or a new roof.
But none the less she is affected in various ways, perhaps in the quality of the products
that she uses. Certainly she is affected if she has any contact with lay people. She is affected
by the very fact that the lay people with whom she comes in contact are affected, and deeply.
How does she respond to this world and these facts?
I think the first way that she responds is simply by being aware, at least in a general way,
if not in a particular way. Something like ten or twelve years ago, when Damian Byrne was
Master of the Order, I was asked to speak at just such a conference as this in Farmington,
Connecticut. I said that the sisters should read the newspaper. I continue to believe that the
sisters should read the newspaper. It is essential to know, at least in a general way, what is
going on. I don't believe it will sully you, except that you might get the print on your fingers. And
what about the people who are going to waste time reading the newspaper? Well, if they don't
have a newspaper to waste time with, they'll waste time with something else. And if they're
going to get silly thoughts in their mind, they've already got them there. It will be good for those
who are alert and open, and it's not going to ruin anybody who's apt to be ruined.
Another way to respond to this world of economic concerns is by not seeking to escape
from it, as if it would be possible to escape from it, or as if holiness consisted in that kind of
escape. I'm sure you have heard many times, and I take it as one of the great insights of
monastic life, that the monastic is in a mysterious way plunged more deeply into the real situation
of the world than is anybody else. If that's true, that's certainly not escape.
Still another way to respond to this world (and this is a really Dominican thing to say) is
by affirming the good and opposing the bad. There is a principle here. The monastery is meant
to be different from "the world." It ought to be ruled by justice and charity rather than by a lust
for profit or status or a spirit of exploitation. I don't think that anything is gained by trying to be
different from the world. Rather, one is different from it, if one simply follows one's principles.
I don't think touting one's difference is the good way to go. I think just being and doing what one
is supposed to be and do is the right road to follow, and then it will turn out that one will be
different from the world. Yet this difference from the world only has meaning to the extent that
we're talking about the world of sin, the world of evil, not the world of human pain and struggle.
We must never forget that we ourselves are, in our own way, each one of us, deeply involved
in the world - in all its aspects.
Finally, the contemplative, especially the Dominican contemplative, should approach the
world with discretion. By that I mean that she should test all things, reflect upon all things.
Dominicans are supposed to approach reality, whether that reality be God or a tree or another
human being, with intelligence and with discretion. x
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UNDERSTANDING ENCLOSURE IN CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY
William Barron, OP
The World and the Upper Room
The one who enters [the sheepfold] through the gate is shepherd
of the sheep; the keeper opens the gate for him. The sheep hear
his voice as he calls his own by name and leads them out. When
he has brought out those that are his, he walks in front of them,
and the sheep follow him because they recognize his voice. (Jn
When the Father, the keeper of the gate of the cross, opened it for Jesus, the
Word entered the upper room of forgetfulness and fear. Huddled there in that
sheepfold, Jesus heard and saw the world in the scattered remains of the flock which
he had gathered by word and deed. A darkness had settled upon this dwelling place
of the Word, for being without their shepherd, for even so brief a time, they had nothing
other than themselves to see and hear. Inevitably, the flock of the upper room slipped
back into the crowd and became indistinguishable from the mass of humanity. Into the
dim evening light of the upper room, Jesus dawned with his human wounds which he
showed to them - with his own body raised out of forgetfulness and fear to Peace by
the gate-keeper of the cross. And into the clay of forgetfulness and fear which was
returning his disciples to the world, the Word breathed his risen presence as breath of
the beginning, breath for the life which he was making with them - his own breath
breathed eternally by the Father as Word of Life, breath fully breathed over to the
Father at the crossing gate of the cross, the unique expiration of love which returned
Jesus - in one breath of life - both to his Father and to his flock.
The Easter appearance of Jesus in the upper room made the flock gathered
there the place where the Word dwells with the Father. (Jn 14:23) The upper room is
the historical locus of the reunion of God in the meeting of Jesus and his disciples.
Suddenly, these sheep, who had only themselves to see and hear, saw and heard the
Word whose whole presence to them was a seeing and hearing of the Father. ( Jn 5: 1 9-
20, 30; 14:9) They saw Jesus in the presence of God at the same time they saw God's
Word present to themselves. With his mortal wounds, and in the body of his life and
death, the Word had become flesh for them that Easter morning to make his dwelling
among them in the upper room; and for the first time they saw his glory, the glory of an
only Son coming from the Father, filled with enduring love. ( Jn 1:1 4) Proclaimed as an
historical moment, the disciples of the Word would always look back at Easter as the
Beginning: In the beginning was the Word..., they would proclaim, and Through him we
came into being, and we found life, life for the light of men. (Jn 1:1, 3-4)
The coming into being of the disciples "at the beginning" was their formation as
the flock of the upper room through seeing and hearing the risen Jesus as the Word
sent by the Father. This recognition was their entrance into the communal life of Father
and Son, the reciprocal side of the Word's resurrected entrance into their fold of
forgetfulness and fear: / am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know
me in the same way that the Father knows me and I know the Father . . ( Jn 1 0: 1 4-
1 5) He therefore called them by name, the name that was the Father's name: / have
made your name known to those you gave me out of the world. (Jn 1 7:6) It was the
name which was Jesus's name, the name which the Father had given him: ...protect
them with your name which you have given me... (Jn 17:11) Therefore Jesus called
them by their name, the "Presence of the Father to the Word and of the Word to the
Father", namely the dwelling place of the living community of God: To them I have
revealed your name, and I will continue to reveal it so that your love for me may
live in them, and I may live in them. ( Jn 1 7:26)
Having formed his sheep by name as disciples of the upper room, Jesus leads
forth his flock. But he does not lead them away from the context of Easter glory, nor
are they abandoning the dwelling of the community of God, for they themselves are
both the place of that risen glory and the abode of the unity shared by Father and Son:
/ have given them the glory you gave me that they may be one, as we are one — I
living in them, you living in me — that their unity may be complete (Jn 17:22)
Rather, Jesus leads his flock according to the trajectory by which the Father leads him:
to complete unity in their living human history, in their living presence to one another
in time: As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world... (Jn
17:18). Therefore, Jesus's Easter procession of his flock out into the world is his own
coming to the Father (Jn 17:13); in other words, his return to the Father and to the
upper room is his leading his flock to bring the world to the Father and to the upper
room: / am in the world no more, he tells the Father, but [my disciples] are in the world
as I come to you. ( Jn 17:11) This prayer can be - indeed is — equally prayed to the
Father by the now-living Jesus risen out of forgetfulness and fear and by his now-living
flock risen out of forgetfulness and fear. Jesus is in the world no more because he has
passed from the world through the gate of the cross to the Father and to the upper
room, a passage identified by Jesus with his disciples' being in the world. The cross
is now theirs; and through this gate, by which they returned to the Father to become
completely one, they go out to the world in order to return those not yet of the flock (Jn
10:16) to the place of beginning, the place before forgetfulness and beyond fear, the
place where the Word is Peace: / am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be
safe. She will go in and out, and find pasture. (Jn 10:9) Through the life of oneness
and unity engendered by passing through this gate, the flock becomes the living Word
of life entering the world to bring it out of its bondage by enabling it to hear the voice
and to see the deeds of the Word in the flock's own word of oneness and unity: / pray
also for those who will believe in me through their word, that all may be one as you,
Father, are in me, and I in you; I pray that they may be [one] in us, that the world may
believe that you sent me. (Jn 1 7:20-21 )
The unity of the upper room is evangelical; or, put the other way around, without
unity and oneness in the upper room, there is no living presence of the Word by which
humanity can escape forgetfulness and fear. With only itself to see and hear, the world
is continually re-enclosed within the forgetfulness and fear which marks both its history
and its possibilities. Thus the seeing and hearing which takes place within the upper
room - the Easter unity that is Jesus's seeing and hearing of the Father now given to
his flock (Jn 17.7-8) - is the continuation of Jesus's salvation of the world. This
salvation transpires in the living relationships which the disciples establish among
themselves in the sheepfold of the Word, that is to say in relationships formed
according to the history and trajectory, the sending and returning of the Word who
departed from the world to be historically one with the Father in the upper room: A little
while now and the world will see me no more; but you see me as one who has life,
and you will have life. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in
me, and I in you. (Jn 14:19-20) Seeing the living Jesus in their own unity, they proclaim
that unity - the life unity of Father and Son - as life for the world. But their unity is life
for the world only in so far as they live their unity as life for one another, only in so far
as they are really one. Without such living oneness, there is no upper room to which
to return the world to the Father.
The seeing and hearing of the disciples of the upper room is concretely
constituted by their own words and deeds. It is seeing the mutuality of their actions in
behalf of one another, and hearing the voice of peace in their own words of life. The
evangelization of the world begins in these concrete activities of life shared in the
upper room. Such human concreteness, however, implies historicity, and so
evangelical unity must exist as a continuum through time — it must have a specific
beginning whose content is brought to completion through its historical passage as the
life of real people.
The beginning of evangelical unity was not inaugurated by the disciples' seeing
and hearing of themselves in forgetfulness and fear, but by their hearing and seeing
the forgiving Word of life who called them out of that darkness. As Jesus entered the
sheepfold on that first day of the week, the peace and forgiveness of this specific flock
became the concrete life of the Word through time - the Word's beginning, passage,
and consummation before the Father in human history. In the upper room they both
saw the physical presence of forgiveness (the human wounds of his risen body) and
heard its actual voice (Peace be with you. ..Peace be with you) as their own presence
and voice, i.e. for them as real life - they saw and heard the Easter Word's historical
reunion with the Father becoming their own reunion through the power which the
Word's life gave them to forgive one another.
It is curious that the Gospel of Eternal Life records nothing of the conversation
and activities of the upper room during that crucial period in which human history was
without Jesus. This would seem to have been the logical time for theology, the
apostles' immediate coming to human terms with the Jesus-events just unfolded, events
still fresh in their historical memories. Instead, John's gospel, which is written to help
us enter into life through belief in Jesus (Jn 20:31), and is therefore uninterested in
recording historical events which lack life, gives us only tangential references to what
was heard and seen among the sheep in that "time outside the Word" (an historical
moment which is therefore perfectly representative of all human society before, or as
yet untouched, by redemption). Obliquely the Gospel of John tells us two things about
this period of forgetfulness and fear. First, we learn that the disciples feared and
expected the encroachment of the world. They were afraid that their inevitable and
only trajectory was reversion to the world, to a seeing and hearing which would engulf
them in the confines of suffering and death just as surely as it had swallowed up Jesus.
Secondly we are given the example of Thomas, the "twin" of that world without the
shepherd. In his return to the upper room, after the appearance of the risen Jesus, he
exhibited that same fear previously shared by the others, namely, that what he had
become because of the society he shared with them through hearing and seeing Jesus
would, now that Jesus was dead, pass out of memory and experience into
forgetfulness: Only if the very one who died is now alive, can I remain with the rest of
you. But of course this is impossible. So what Jesus was making us to be is now over
because he no longer lives. I fear that our unity will dissolve because memories are not
strong enough to maintain this bond. Our society, our common life, must succumb to
the forgetfulness which will overtake each one of us in turn. (These were also the
words and actions of the disciples who were leaving Jerusalem for Emmaus. Their
discussion of the life of Jesus would have been an Easter proclamation only for the fact
that the Word was not risen or alive either in their going out from Jerusalem or in their
disconnected recollections of his life.)
Thomas represents the upper room without Jesus, merely an enclosure of
descending darkness: fear of death, fear that the world would claim them again as its
own, fear that their own efforts could not stave off these threats to life; fear that
forgetfulness would overtake the beginning which Jesus had made with them; but
especially the fear that they were not serving one another by these fears, they were not
entering into life through each other but were, instead, despite themselves, inviting
each other to sin against the memory and promise of Jesus. They could not loose
themselves from this trend; they could not attain the peace which they sought; indeed,
they began to doubt whether that peace had truly existed. This was the forgetfulness
and fear into which Jesus rose that Easter morn. To their seeing and hearing of each
other, Jesus brought his living presence before the Father which, as we have seen, is
his seeing and hearing of the Father alive in their real presence to one another. In
Jesus's return, the disciples were freed from the trajectory of life without him, of history
without return. Through exercising the commission and power of Easter forgiveness,
the disciples entered the gate of each other's lives to be reunited with one another
through and as Jesus's historical reunion with the Father. By the service of
forgiveness, the disciples made the Word's passage to the Father their own, for in the
Word the Father opens the gate of every sin to unity in the upper room.
To appreciate what occurred historically when the risen Lord inaugurated the
community of God in the life of the upper room, we again turn to Thomas. The other
disciples kept telling him: We have seen the Lord!' (Jn 20:25). This testimony was not
the declaration of a marvelous fact, a phenomenon of faith that existed outside of the
community which professed it. Rather, this was the disciples solemnly assuring
Thomas, We are talking about what we know, we are testifying to what we have seen..
(Jn 3:1 1 ). As a unity, the disciples of the upper room are the testimony that the Lord
lives - they speak of what they know and see in each other through the experience of
mutual forgiveness. But this lived testimony of Easter forgiveness is not of their own
making but is rather their continued fidelity to the way, the truth, and the life of the risen
Word (a teaching given especially to Thomas, Jn 14:5). And Thomas knows this
distinction: I will never believe without probing the actual historical cause of my
forgiveness, without physically being in contact with it, without seeing and hearing it,
without probing the nail phnts in his hands, without putting my finger in the nail marks
and my hand into his side. (Jn 20:25). Thomas knows that he cannot enter their
community of belief except through the gate of truth: The Jesus who died must now be
really alive for me in order for me to be alive and one with you again. I can live what
you see and hear of the hsen Jesus only if it really is him alive in your mutuality. Will
your life really forgive my concrete history with you, my personal and human
forgetfulness and fears? Will you free me from the world to return me through this
history to God as our common way of life together? Unity in the upper room can only
be evangelical life if it is the life of Jesus who, in our history, made the passage of life
to the Father through the gate of the cross, the gate of the upper room. Thomas
reminds us that only by this way, this truth, this life will those not of the flock hear and
see the risen Jesus who lived and died for them. (Jn 17:20-21)
Of course the example of Thomas also points out that there is a difference
between the Easter appearances of the living Jesus and the living Jesus alive in the
community of the upper room. But this is not a difference between Jesus and the
community of his historical life. The difference, rather, bespeaks the reality which the
evangelical unity of the upper room has been sent to overcome, namely, the historical
condition of human life which forgets its origin in God and is incognizant of its
purposeful consummation in him. With Jesus, the historical condition of forgetfulness
and incognizant fear passed in the upper room to life before the Father in the historical
unity of the flock whom he calls by name. The beginning which he made with his
disciples continues, therefore, as his beginning proclaimed to the world in the unity of
the upper room, even though as a beginning in time under the conditions of the
alienation it is meant to overcome, it was, on that Easter morn, an event uniquely the
Seeing and hearing constitutes the nature of societies everywhere. But in the
upper room, seeing and hearing removes the forgetfulness and fear which is the
experiential definition of all humanly originated societies. The community of the upper
room is a new human beginning, a revelation to the disciples of the origin of all things
with the Father since in seeing and hearing the risen Jesus, they are brought into the
presence of the Word coming from the Father and returning to him. Freed from the
forgetfulness and fear which encloses human history, the disciples became cognizant
of the beginning and end of all things. As their own seeing and hearing was enveloped
in this Easter procession of the eternal Word, their community acquired an historical
trajectory through time of evangelical purpose: they were given the beginning and the
end. In the beginning that was Easter, they were opened to the beginning itself, and
in their life they would bring all people - all sheep not yet of the flock - to the end of
all things, to the end which is that beginning, the love of Father and Son. Thus the
linear trajectory of evangelical life is that historical circle of love which encompasses
all that the Father loves in the love which is the Father's own, namely, the Word and
the upper room.
So understanding the origin and end of all things in the Easter Word, the unity
of the upper room declared to the world a truth the world could not see or hear in its
own experience: In the beginning was the Word; the Word was in God's presence, and
the Word was God. He was present to God in the beginning. Through him all things
came into being, and apart from him nothing came to be... He was in the world, and
through him the world was made, yet the world did not know who he was... (Jn 1:1-3,
10) The human world was incognizant of its own origin and end, it was deaf and blind
to the truth which the experiences of social interaction would otherwise have revealed,
because the natural seeing and hearing of God that was Edenic right reason was lost
to historical nature. Now, however, in the glory of the Word himself, in the oneness of
the upper room and its historical passage through time (Jn 1:14), the God whose voice
was once heard, whose form had been clearly seen by the eye of reason walking with
us in the cool evenings of paradise, is heard and seen again by God's children (Jn
1:12) who have come to life in the Easter light of the Word (Jn 1 :4). Previous to Jesus'
entrance into the sheepfold, No one (had) ever seen God (Jn 1:18) because of the
historical conditions we had set for ourselves. But having seen and heard the risen
Jesus, the disciples enter the world with an evangelical announcement, a recreation
to banish created reason's forgetfulness and fear: God is now visible and audible
despite our historical closure to his presence for ...the only Son, ever at the Father's
side, ...has revealed him. (Jn 1:18). The recreated oneness of the upper room brings
the society of those made in God's image at creation back to a conscious and right
relationship — back to a peace — with God which the world cannot give (Jn 14:27), the
living Easter peace of the Word who comes forth and returns to the Father in love.
My testimony is valid (i.e. the historical life of the Word, the seeing and hearing
of the Father which the disciples now live and proclaim), Jesus says, because I know
where I came from and where I am going; you know neither the one nor the other. (Jn
8:14) In the Easter recreation of unity in the upper room among disciples who now
know where they have come from and where they are going, the world appears not only
in terms of its origin and end, but also in its historical condition. Compared to the
freedom and purpose of the Easter flock, the world of human society is revealed as a
reality enclosed The community of the sheepfold can see this enclosure in the
forgetfulness and fear of human individuals and societies, a state of existence into
which they were again descending until the Easter appearance of forgiveness which
joined them to the life of the Word in oneness with the Father.
The forgetfulness and fear which characterizes life in the world is both
immediate and ultimate. Immediately, the world forgets that what it newly creates,
since it appears under various guises of individual and social difference, is merely the
sameness of what has been. Ultimately, human society does not move from some point
in the past towards its communal betterment through ever improving human conditions.
Rather the human world stands immediately outside the gates of Eden. The world is
not on some long road away from paradise heading to a specific completion. There is
no teleology of the Fall. The human historical condition is the removal of any
conscious engagement with an ultimately purposeful end. Only the teleology of Easter
restores to us a consciousness of origin and purpose outside of the world's self-
defining limits. Only the evangelical unity of the Word's historical life informs human
consciousness with the image of love which its own history cannot recall - the love
which its own history has forgotten.
The immediacy of human fear is generated by suffering and death, the loss of
meaning in a context of meaning, the loss of identity in a community that generates
human meaning. Suffering and death disassociate human life from the processes
which consciously produce human life: what is, and what will be, can, and will continue
without me. Ultimately, the very human endeavors which seem to hold promise are
perceived as weak shams since they relinquish to suffering and oblivion the actual
concreteness of the individual and social experiences which they produce. Jesus,
however, loses nothing which the Father has given him. (Jn 1 7: 12): My sheep hear my
voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never
perish. No one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father is greater than all, in what
he has given me, and there is no snatching out of his hand. (Jn 10:27-30)
The evangelical beginning and end of the upper room is to bring the world out
of this ever-present condition, i.e. to bring the world out of its enclosure in this
forgetfulness and fear into the openness and freedom of the upper room's living unity.
The freedom of the children of God is their shared freedom from the world's enclosure.
This freedom is evangelical since, transpiring through human history, it leads what has
come forth from God back to him through the life of the upper room, the historical
presence of the Word before the Father. The fundamental salvific mission of the
disciples of Jesus, therefore, is to be completely one - to be the witness of truly
lived unity over and against the enclosure of the world. / do not pray for them alone.
/ pray also for those who will believe in me through their word, that all may be one as
you, Father, are in me, and I in you; I pray that they may be one in us, that the world
may believe that you sent me (Jn 1 7:20-21 )
The Enclosure of the World
Establishing a Human Perspective on the Human Condition
Current academic thought, especially poststructuralism, tells us that there is no
proper or fixed vantage point from which to look at and evaluate contemporary life in
a definitive way: there is no outside from which to look in. Of course without a secure
standpoint, no moral perspective on our world is possible. Running counter to this
relativism is Marxism's historical ontology which sees a dialectical and mutually
defining relationship between what people are what they have put in place, between
their living essence and those relationships by which they actually exist. Marxism's
historical ontology provides us with two conceptions about human life that are helpful
in building an analytical platform from which to understand the world. First, Marx
reasoned that the individual appears in society as a living and conscious expression
of specific inter-human relations that have apriori historical origin. In a very early set
of notes, Marx elaborates this conception: "As human nature is the true common life
[Gemeinwesen - community] of man, men through the activation of their nature create
and produce a human common life, a social essence which is no abstractly universal
power opposed to the single individual, but is the essence or nature of every single
individual, his own activity, his own life, his own spirit, his own wealth." 1
Second, Marx recognized that the specific material and cultural relations into
which individuals must enter in order to produce and exchange their means of life have
a concrete and definable shape: "society does not consist of individuals; (rather) it
expresses the sum of connections and relationships in which individuals find
themselves." 2 The origin of these relationships and connections can be traced, and
their present structure analyzed. Since these relational structures define what people
are, there exists the possibility, then, of developing a real historical perspective from
which to accurately evaluate contemporary life without stepping outside of it. All of
Marx's conceptual and practical efforts up to and including Capital are based on the
possibility of constructing such an historical critique.
'Karl Marx, Excerpt-Notes of 1844 in Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society, ed and trans Lloyd D
Easton and Kurt H. Guddat (Garden City: Anchor Books, 1967) 271-72.
: Kar1 Marx, The Grundnsse, ed and trans , David McLellan (New York Harper Torchbooks, 1972) 77
Marx's survey of his own society led him to the conviction that the structural
relations by which people existed, and by which they were thus being defined, were
robbing them of the conscious and constitutive experience of being individuals-in-
community, their historical and true "essence" There was an essential contradiction
to modern existence. "The more deeply we go back into history," Marx observes in the
Grundnsse, "the more does the individual, and hence also the producing individual,
appear as dependent, as belonging to a greater whole... Only in the eighteenth
century, in 'civil society', do the various forms of social connectedness confront the
individual as a mere means towards his private purposes, as external necessity." He
goes on to point out that "the epoch which produces this standpoint, that of the isolated
individual, is also precisely that of the hitherto most developed social. ..relations." 3
Marx's historical ontology created a perspective from which he was able to observe that
the concrete existence of his contemporaries was in fact a contradiction, an alienation
from what historically was, and therefore should have remained, their common, that is
to say communal, essence.
The truth of modern life, in other words, was that it was false. And its falsehood
was a direct consequence of the disappearance of community, the common life which
is the essence of human subjectivity and the living definition of each individual. We are
all familiar with Marx's condemnations of capitalism. But are we aware that these
condemnations were specifically occasioned by Marx's perception that subjective
human community was destroyed and replaced by the objective social relations
established by capitalism and its mode of production? This was a situation which also
altered the concrete life of the individual since capitalism's removal of the living
communal context from individual labor in the activity of the social production of the
means of life left the individual experientially, and thus essentially, isolated from itself
and others. Obviously, this problem would be resolved if authentic human community
were restored. Not surprisingly, therefore, Marx and Engels, in the German Ideology,
in a passage which might be called the historical material mirror of the upper room,
speak of the absolute necessity of re-establishing living community if the concrete
determinations of capital are to be reversed: "The transformation, through the division
of labour, of personal powers (relationships) into material powers, cannot be dispelled
by dismissing the general idea of it from one's mind, but only by the action of
individuals in again subjecting these material powers to themselves and abolishing the
division of labor. This is not possible without the community. Only in community with
others has each individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; only in the
community, therefore, is personal freedom possible. In the previous substitutes for the
community, in the State, etc., personal freedom has existed only for individuals who
developed within the relationships of the ruling class, and only in so far as they were
individuals of this class. The illusory community, in which individuals have up till now
combined, always took on an independent existence in relationship to them, and was
3 Kar1 Marx, Introduction, Grundnsse: Foundation of the Critique of Political Economy, trans Martin Nicolaus (New York:
at the same time, since it was the combination of one class over against another, not
only a complete illusory community, but a new fetter as well. In the real community, the
individuals obtain their freedom in and through their association." 4
We are concerned with the enclosure of the world, which must be understood
in our time as a very particular loss of human community. Using a Marxist historical
perspective. I will attempt to characterize the loss of community in our own time as
effectuated and maintained by the economic, material structure of capital. Capitalism's
evolution has both economic and cultural aspects, but a basic Marxist tenet, however,
is that the socio-cultural formations through which life is expressed do not develop
independently of the material economic structure. "Morality, religion, metaphysics, all
the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness," Marx and Engels
argue in The German Ideology, "Have no history, no development; but men, developing
their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this their real
existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking. Life is not determined by
consciousness, but consciousness by life." 5
As an historical process, the material structure of capital produces social and
cultural expressions through which it dialectically mediates its own development. Of
significance to us in this dialectical evolution is the status of consciousness, the place
where the process transpires subjectively. Marxist theory attends to both the economic
and social dimensions of consciousness. It sees consciousness as a concrete reality
that comes to itself through its own evolving economic and social structures. This is
the domain of ideology.
Ideology and Human Consciousness
Ideology is consciousness, although we tend to look at ideology as a set of
discrete conceptions meant to persuade or deceive - conceptions which stand along
side other sets of ideas which are non-ideological. A Marxist analysis of
consciousness, however, reveals that ideology is more insidious.
Life as Ideology. "The social structure and the State are continually evolving out
of the life-process of definite individuals, but of individuals, not as they may appear in
their own or other people's imagination, but as they really are; i.e. as they are effective,
produce materially, and are active under definite material limits, presuppositions and
4 Kar1 Marx and Fnedenck Engels, The German Ideology, ed R Paschal (New York: International Publishers, 1969) 74-5
Emphasis is mine
5 Marx and Engels, The German Ideology. 14-15
conditions independent of their will." 6 This quote from The German Ideology tells us
that under conditions independent of their will, individuals are constituted in life to exist
in a definite way. This definitive coercion is caused by the material structure, and is
nc'hing other than that structure's expression as the concrete life of individuals: social
consciousness, the species-being of people, is fundamentally a lived ideology
The basic consciousness of modern life flows out of people's material behavior.
Under capitalism's economic mode of production, this material behavior inverts the
mutual and conscious common life of people which would otherwise flow from their
shared material activity. 7 In other words, the lived material activity of people under
capital is a lacuna, a real absence of a "living" community. Life as ideology therefore
indicates that before the relations and conditions of modern life appear to
consciousness as natural realities on a social and cultural level, they are already
expressions of the given ideology which constitutes people's lives. Whatever socio-
cultural ideas or experiences that might appear within this ideological life-matrix are not
independent standpoints from which to comprehend something about this life-matrix,
rather they are part of it. The given material structure of capitalism gives the general
form and context to the particular experiences of all individuals. It is first in this
fundamental way that social consciousness (the actual existing life of individuals)
functions ideologically to maintain individuals in an alienation of their own making - an
alienation which by another process they will imagine is their natural state. 8
The Ideology About Life. But there is also an ideology about life. Marx calls this
mental production. Various means are needed to produce ideas, and historically they
were initially recognized as the private property of those who also owned the means
of material production. The private sites of mental production are found across the
broad topography of civil society. These sites include, among other things, institutions
such as schools, courts, churches; but also fashion, manners, dialect and accent; as
well as aesthetic artifacts and the places that house or perform them. Ownership of
these sites permitted the hegemonic bourgeoisie to organize people's individual
experiences, and thus the ideological consciousness about those experiences, around
their own universal dominance.
Eventually commodities themselves became the sites of the social organization
of people's conscious experiences through the purchase of the identities which they
promise to deliver. Like the bourgeois sites before them, commodities obstruct the
5 Marx and Engels, The German Ideology, 13
Marx and Engels, The German Ideology, 14
^heterm "imagination" provides a way of describing both the objective content which the individual socially confronts,
and the "conscious" appropriation of that content in a way which preserves the individual's concrete (false) identity with
it. The term is helpful for distinguishing the ideological conceptions which serve the interests of the class or formation
in power without affirming them. Here one is induced by various hegemonic devices to accept as natural the life
which capitalism inverts.
concrete consciousness that existing consciousness is itself capital's logical evolution
expressed as concrete social life. Marxism is hesitant, therefore, to accept an epoch's,
or even an individual's understanding about itself. For given the fact that actual life is
a lived ideology, the particular ideologies about that life rarely reveal the truth that it is
false, but generally affirm the fallacy that it is true.
The Enclosure of Consciousness. If self-consciousness is understood as the
lived experience of truth, i.e. if it is true in practice and not merely in thought, then true
self-consciousness is not possible under capitalism for two reasons. First it implies a
consciousness free of the very reality which constitutes it as consciousness. Second,
it implies the active removal of the material reality by which it acts before it acts to
remove it. By contrast, we know that true self-consciousness would experience itself
as a living consciousness arising from authentic community and manifesting itself in the
concrete objective existence of every human subject. The practical dilemma of Marxism
is how to bring this situation about since it seems to require as a precondition the
actual transformation it strives to achieve. The historical ontology of Marxism
nevertheless manifests an analytical integrity whose honesty about the human
condition helps us to see not only how utterly enclosed and deprived of original
freedom is the human world in which communal unity as a lived experience is
impossible, but also how incapable people are of redeeming themselves from this
situation because of the human condition which they have established for themselves.
The Disappearance of Community
We must now consider the details of the state of consciousness in our time. Our
first step in this analysis will be to consider how community disappeared as a living
reality. It is axiomatic to say that "social relations" are always to be found where
humans live and interrelate; but Marx's point is that where specific social relations make
human communal life function in non-human, thing-like ways (rather than in directly
personal ways), as is the case under capitalist means and relations of production,
community "dis-appears" into objective laws, and the concrete individual, being a
reflection of these social relations, "dis-appears" as an "individual-in-community" to re-
appear as a "private," "independent," and "indifferent" individual whose own subjectivity
even to itself is experienced in a thing-like way and is expressed as "the pursuit of
private interests." 9 This does not mean that the independent individual in fact lives out
^'Private interest" is an economic term which indicates the belief that every individual seeks and produces his or her own
means to life Marx approaches the term as an indication of the fate or status of the modern individual as it relates to
its community in the satisfaction of its life needs Working from the historical premise that the individual is the creation
of the community and finds its means to life satisfied through relations of dependence within that community, Marx
observes that capitalist society is founded upon the disintegration of personal relationships of dependence
in the production of life needs. What is left is the abstract reified relations created by exchange. Since this is the social
reality under the capitalist arrangement of the means of production, and since the individual is a product of its society,
"private interest" for Marx points to the alienated aloneness of the modern individual who really becomes the
its life free of dependence on others, or that it is actually free of interpersonal
connections in the pursuit of its private interests, but rather that the modern individual
"appears" to itself and to its society to live "independently" oecause real communal
relations have been displaced and taken over by the way in which material needs are
produced and satisfied under capitalism. Real community is inverted under capital in
such a way that what is essentially human activity appears as something alien and non-
human to the very people engaged in it: "His activity, therefore, appears as torment,
his own creation as a force alien to him, his wealth as poverty, the essential bond
connecting him with other men as something unessential so that the separation from
other men appears as his true existence." 10
Capitalist society is actually "community-by-other-means", or "community-as-
absence-of-community", and Marx likens it to an inter-human lacuna. On one side of
the gap, he sees only independent individuals pursuing their private interests
indifferent to the life activities of others; on the other side, Marx observes a common
social product being produced which, while satisfying their means to life, prevents
individuals from experiencing their interconnected activities as the constitutive
ingredients of human community. Marx summarized the social situation of modern
humanity in this way: 'The mutual and universal dependence of individuals who remain
indifferent to one another constitutes the social network that binds them together. This
social coherence is expressed in exchange value, in which alone each individual's
activity or his product becomes an activity or a product for him." 11
Three Replacements of Living Community
Money. Under the bourgeois mode of production, money replaces the product
of labor in its role as the personal means by which one individual mediates
himself/herself in the mutual creation of living community. Money is the reified remains
of what otherwise would have been a developing, "living" human community. Money,
then, can be viewed as the individual's share in the general form of the inversion of
authentic common life and as the direct means of incorporating the individual into the
alienated relations of a "non-living" community. 12 This definition of money points to the
lacuna which is modern human life: the worker does not receive a human and social
nature - a communal life - as a return for labor. Instead, wage-money becomes the
means whereby displaced communal relations are maintained and reproduced by the
individual as it undertakes the satisfaction of its life needs as an activity of private
representative of this abstract community The objective laws of this opposed world - the thing-like appearances of
actual social relations - are the commands which structure and motivate the individual's "private interests "
°Marx, Excerpt-Notes, 272
'Marx, Grundnsse, 66.
2 Marx, Grundnsse,66
interest Money "appears" where individual and community should appear, negotiating
the interpersonal absence that surrounds the modern individual, an absence that
constitutes the community-by-other-means which defines modern social relations.
Value. Under the capitalist mode of production, all products, if they are to
become commodities, have value added to them over and above their essential use-
value 13 Marx argues that products under the capitalist mode of production can only
have value added to them by abstract labor, i.e. by human labor from which both the
particularity of this individual's labor and the universality of this laborer's living
community have been removed. 14 Without the context of a living community, and
without the particular meaning of this individual being expressed within the context of
a living community, "all that these things (i.e. commodities) now tell us is, that human
labor-power has been expended in their production, that human labor is embodied in
them. When looked at as crystals of this social substance, common to them all, they
are -Values." 15
Commodities. The value added to commodities by the capitalist mode of
production, then, represents two realities at one and the same time: the absent
particulanty of this individual's labor; and the absent universality of the individual's living
community. Now if value is the reality of these two absences, then commodities are
expressions of value's evolution to this generalization, for value's gradual depletion of
subjective identity-in-community is at the same time its own self-construction as an
objective totality. At any given historical moment, then, commodities indicate the
degree to which identity-in-community has been objectivized by value. In value-terms,
the individual (concretely defined as an identity-in-community) is not only a continuous
creation of value, indicating the degree to which value has advanced to its objective
generalization, but the individual is also the effective agent of that advancement since,
through its activities, it becomes the means for value to complete the logic of its
historical trajectory. It is to this universalized value, created by abstract labor at the
moment of production and visibly represented by every commodity, that the individual
returns through particular acts of purchase and consumption.
,3 "Commodrties come into the world in the shape of use-values, articles, or goods, such as iron, linen, corn, etc This
is their plain, homely, bodily form They are, however, commodities, only because they are something two-fold, both
objects of utility, and, at the same time, depositories of value They manrfest themselves therefore as commodities, or
have the form of commodities, only in so far as they have two forms, a physical or natural from and a value-form " Karl
Marx, Capital, I, in Marx-Engels Reader, ed Robert Tucker (New York Norton, 1978) 312-13
14 "Nerther can it any longer be regarded as the product of the labor of the joiner, the mason, the spinner, or of any other
definite kind of productive labor Along with the useful qualities (i.e. use-value) of the products themselves, we put out
of sight (the disappearance of the individual-in-community) both the useful character of the various kinds of labor
embodied in them (i e this individual's subjective skills as identity-markers in his/her community), and the concrete forms
of that labor (i e the particularity of individual labor), there is nothing left but what is common to them all, all are reduced
to one and the same sort of labor, human labor in the abstract" Marx, Capital I in Marx-Engels Reader, 305 Emphasis
and parentheses are mine
15 Marx. Capital. I in Marx-Engels Reader, 305 Emphases and parentheticals are mine.
The Disappearance of the Individual into
the Community of Commodities
The inner logic of the capitalist revolution created individual life and continually
re-establishes the conditions of its existence. As this logic unfolded in the context of
what it had concretized, it gradually established the commodity form as the constitutive
condition of society, and thus of the individual who was unavoidably drawn to it
because increasingly it determined individual needs as well as the universal means for
satisfying them. Under the spell of this evolution, the modern individual began to
exhibit a change in its historical appearance. 16 The fashions, manners, and habitual
preferences of the bourgeoisie began to disappear as distinctly bourgeois properties
in the consumption of popularly advertised commodities. The concrete bourgeois
paradigm was taken over by a rhetoric about it that attached to and accompanied the
universal dominance of the commodity. As the old bourgeois individual faded from
public view through the purchase and consumption of commodities, a new individual
emerged, the standard or mass individual, the consumer.
As I have said, every commodity as a repository of value intrinsically represents
a loss of individuality and community, and so the loss of identity-in-community. The
rhetoric of commodities, however, promises to return this lost identity-in-community to
the individual who purchases them. Jackson Lears in his Fables of Abundance: A
Cultural History of Advertising in America, outlines the essential role played by
American advertising in this process of acquiring back identity through commodity
purchase and consumption. Under capitalism's creation of the commodity, use-value
was separated from value by the same capitalist dynamic that separated the individual
from its universal and living community. Advertising re-focused the individual's need
to restore its lost identity onto the commodity, which, through the addition of value, had
become the reality of lost community. Lears quotes many contributors to the
advertising trade magazines of the time whose statements demonstrate a recognition
of the separation of use-value from the universal value of the commodity, and argue for
the promotion of value, and its latent identity-in-community, over use-value. Lears
summarizes this trend with a quote from a leading advertising authority of the time: an
"economy of symbolism [should] surround the product with condensed clusters of words
and images (to give) it symbolic as well as utilitarian value". "Each of us," he quotes
another as saying, "has something to sell, and just because it is invisible and intangible
is no reason why it is not real." Lears observes that in the 1890s and early 1900s "the
'^'Modern bourgeois society with its relations of production, of exchange, and of property, a society that has conjured
up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers
of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells." Karl Marx and Fnednch Engels, Manifesto of the Communist
Party in Social and Political Philosophy: Readings from Plato to Gandhi, eds John Somerville and Ronald Santoni
(Garden City: Anchor Books, 1963) 349-50.
manufacturer correctly sensed that advertising was not about the things themselves,
but about the representation of things." He concludes: "Through the mass circulation
of visual aids to fantasy, [national advertising] promoted perpetual, unfulfillable
longings, and focused those longings on commodities." They were unfulfillable
because they were at root the individual's own loss of identity-in-community, and every
commodity available for purchase represented both that loss and the possibility of its
commodified recovery. 17
Once this process began, it became impossible to acquire a living identity in any
other way. Living - the intangible universal present in every commodity - became, in
the rhetoric of the ad, the contradictory command to "be one's self and to conform to
capitalist consumptive behavior. The promise of the ad to acquire a living identity-in-
community was in practical effect a lure to conform to the existing structures and
processes of capitalism. Living as offered by the ad and delivered by the commodity
was the consequence of being unable to escape this regime. Eventually,
advertisements made explicit the fact that individual identity - personality - had been
usurped by things. Lears notes that "in search of language to characterize the aura
they sought, trade press writers resorted to the idiom of 'vitality' or 'personality'." "Every
product has its personality," one commentator wrote in 1910. The commodity came to
life - it had acquired the personality of the individual who had lost his or her identity
to it, and who sought to regain his or her personality from it. But having been alienated
from his or her own product, the individual could only buy back the universal, standard
personality of the commodity. Individuals became recognizable to other individuals and
to themselves only according to the objective mass of things. 18 The solitary individual
had finally been integrated into a new community of life and of identity, the community
When individuals encounter value in commodities in this way, they not only meet
what they have brought about, they also meet what they have become, namely, an
objective identity expressive of the community of coherence which value creates among
all commodities. In a sense, in this journey of return to value, the individual is rewarded
for the subjective deprivations inflicted upon it during its maturation as the creator of
value. Its reward is incorporation into an objective consciousness about itself, for
through the purchase and consumption of commodities, the individual becomes the
objective expression of its own subjective disappearance, a rhetorical site where
value's various identities come to articulation.
Now organized around the centrality of the commodity form, individual identity
becomes particularized as an abstract universal standard recognizable and acquirable
by all, an identity whose diverse rhetorical representations express not the experience
17 Jackson Lears, Fables of Abundance A Cultural History of Advertising in America (Basic Books New York, 1994)
200, 205-8, 215, 274, 289, 291 Emphasis is mine.
' 5 Lears, Fables, 108, 207, 289-91
of a single dominating class, not the experience of single individuals, but the universal
value which is the essence of every commodity - individuality without difference. In
this totalizing abstraction, the commodity form, by its own inner logic, closed the
communal gap. of which it was both cause and absence, by filling it with individuals
whom it once created but who are now no longer there.
The Enclosure of the Upper Room
The enclosure of the individual within a community of commodities describes the
concrete world of our time. Contemporary American life is a lived forgetfulness that
true human individuality can only arise from the mutuality of living community. This
commodified world continually generates the fear that acquired identities, the only kind
permitted, will not last, a fear which its inducements to greater consumption can only
aggravate, but never dispel. In its forgetfulness and fear, contemporary consciousness
has nonetheless acquired a true perspective on itself: there is nothing outside of what
it sees and hears because there simply is no outside.
There is, however, a perspective of the world which the lived unity of the upper
room affords. This is not only knowledge of the world but life for the world, and it
comes from above. True consciousness of the world's situation (i.e. consciousness
that is true in practice and in thought) cannot, by the world's own admission, come from
the world. It can only from above: The One who comes from above is above all; the
one who is of the earth is earthly, and he speaks on an earthly plane. (Jn 3:31 ff.) Once
a person enters the upper room of oneness and life, once a person is begotten from
above (Jn 3:3-8), that person acquires the perspective of knowledge and life that is the
The truthfulness of the perspective which the upper room provides of the world
is a result of its redemptive unity, the historical teleology of the love of Father and Son.
In the upper room, the Word testifies to what he has seen and heard from above. (Jn
3: 3 Iff) Jesus entrusts this message of unity to his disciples as a life to be lived (Jn
17:8) since their reception of this message incorporates them into the living unity of
Father and Son. (Jn 17:22-23) As a unity begotten of the Father and Son's love in
time, the oneness of the disciples offers the world a true witness (Whoever accepts his
testimony certifies that God is truthful. Jn 3:33), first about its enclosure, and then about
freedom from the enclosure of forgetfulness and fear: ... We are talking about what we
know, we are testifying to what we have seen... If you do not believe when I tell you
about earthly things, how are you to believe when I tell you about those of heaven? (Jn
Wherever the church gathers, especially the church at Eucharist, there is the
upper room. The return of the disciples from Emmaus indicates this. Upon their return
to the upper room "They were greeted with, The Lord has been raised 1 It is true 1 He
has appeared to Simon'." The Emmaus disciples were greeted with the church's basic
and earliest Easter proclamation. And to this proclamation they joined and identified
their own experience of the living Jesus in the Eucharist: "Then they recounted what
had happened on the road and how they had come to know him in the breaking of the
bread." (Lk 24:33-35) The juxtaposition of these two resurrection accounts in the
context of the Easter upper room equates them.
The church, like the disciples of Emmaus, is on the road in the company of
Jesus who speaks to it and explains (mediates) himself to it on its way through the
world with the proclamation of life. But as it courses through human history, the church
does not forget the upper room. In the Acts of the Apostles we have the clear sense
that things begin and return to the upper room: Pentecost, the choosing of the
deacons, the Council of Jerusalem, the missionary activities of Paul all have reference
to the apostolic upper room. In its historical activity the church never forgets the
apostolic upper room, for it needs as much to see and hear the oneness and unity of
the Word's historical presence as it needs to taste it in the breaking of the bread. And
so the church preserves the upper room for itself, even as it preserves the Eucharist
for itself, not just in memory but in fact. It encloses the upper room from the world for
itself \n order to have a relationship with its own identity - one as true as its Eucharistic
identity - as it travels along the road with the message of life. The disciples of
Emmaus who meet the living Easter Jesus in the Eucharist meet the living proclamation
"He is risen! It is true!" in the Easter unity of the enclosed upper room.
Dominic, the apostolic preacher of the Word, knew the need for communion with
the oneness and unity which he proclaimed as life for the world. So Dominic formed
in Prouille an upper room whose apostolic oneness was the dwelling place of Father
and Son, the community of God enclosed in a human community to be a redemptive
sign that forgiveness is the way out of the world's enclosure. He placed his upper room
at the heart of his ministry to the Cathars who had accepted the enclosure of the human
world as an unchangeable given and whose own unity was not a means of redeeming
it in themselves or others but of leaving it behind. For this reason we do not view
Dominic's frequent visits to the nuns as violations of enclosure but rather as its
exercise, just as Paul's return to the upper room of Jerusalem opened its apostolic unity
to all the gentiles, thereby opening the enclosure of the world to the forgiveness and
freedom of the upper room.
In the Enclosure of the Upper Room
Peace and Forgiveness. Every Dominican nun is called to real peace and
forgiveness by the Shepherd who, in the upper room, knows and calls each by name
The shepherd calls his own to his life, i.e. to the oneness he historically shares with the
Father through the peace and forgiveness which is the life of his flock. Every nun
within the sheepfold of the upper room has the evangelical right to be living this
forgiveness for and from all others in the community where the risen Word calls her
name aloud. In the upper room, forgiveness is the beginning in each that ends in
peace for all. This is the Easter circle of love Jesus delivers through his flock - his
evangelical passage through human history with his redemptive life seen and heard in
our time in each nun's forgiveness and in the communal life which is her peace.
Dialectic of Stability and Change. The dialectic of our present world produces
change without freedom. The world changes out of its own activity according to a logic
which it does not control and from which it cannot be different. There is no teleology
of the Fall. One Marxist commentator expresses this ultimate purposelessness in this
way: "There is no preconceived grand plan to be fulfilled exactly; there is no end to the
development; there is only a direction that is alterable and altered by men depending
upon the degree of their awareness, including self-awareness. In Marx's materialism
the starting point is not the atom as in old materialism, nor abstract being as such as
in Hegel; in fact there is not a strict starting point at all, because 'every being must
always be an objective being, a propulsive and propulsed part of a concrete
The upper room does not change historically because its living unity is its
freedom from the contemporary world's historical randomness and purposeless identity.
The flock of the upper room is different from those who have yet to hear the voice of
their shepherd because they do not change out of their own activity but are changed
by the Word who recreates them as one. The Word's passage to the Father through
the upper room both reveals and enacts the plan of love which includes in its historical
life the forgiveness which is the way to freedom. All of the world's activity cannot
realize a community whose origin and purpose is the love of Father and Son.
Contemplation. In the world, contemplation is what remains of human
subjectivity under capitalism's regime since the meaningful activity which would
otherwise produce identity-in-community has been objectified by the labor process and
set up against the individual as something alien and thing-like. In the world, the person
contemplates its own living activity, under the commodified forms determined by capital,
as a longing for and dialogue with an unrecognizable self. One surrenders to the world
9 Bela Kiralyfalvi, The Aesthetics ofGyorgy Lukacs (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1975) 26.
as one has made it. But this surrender is only repeated loss, and what is recovered is
a de-humanized set of commodified identities that speak not the life of the self or its
subjective community, but only the lifelessness of things.
The enclosed contemplation of the upper room is the personal encounter with
the Word who has contextualized himself and his beloved in the unity of her
community. To hear the voice of the shepherd is to share a living dialogue with all, a
dialogue which shows itself in the living forgiveness which each nun receives because
having received, she offers. Contemplation is thus an activity of the Word's life, not a
passivity which circumstance enforces as a substitution for the loss of identity-in-
community. In the enclosed upper room, the identity uniquely desired and given by the
Word to each nun is at the same time an identity-in-the-community of the Word. To
surrender to the living unity of the upper room is to hear the Word uniquely calling each
by name. The personal consolations of such intimate union with the Word are
objectively confirmed by seeing Jesus alive in the oneness which all live.
Suffering and Death. As I have said, in the world human fear is generated by
suffering and death, the loss of meaning in the context of meaning, the loss of identity
in a community which produces human meaning. Suffering and death especially defeat
the commodified identities of our time because these identities are particularly fragile
and impermanent, their given meanings pass more quickly into insignificance and thus
must be purchased and consumed with greater rapidity and less depth - to the greater
loss of subjectivity and community. Identity acquired in the community of commodities
aggravates the very fears it promises the consumer it will dispel.
In the enclosure of the upper room, the fullness of life is lived since the life that
is lived there has as its beginning and end the beginning and end which is the living
Word who transversed suffering and death in order to live historically in the upper room
in unity with the Father. The glory of Jesus was his suffering and death: Father, the
hour has come! Give glory to your Son that your Son may give glory to you. .. ( Jn 17:1 ;
12:23-24) Jesus revealed this glory - or better, this glory could only be seen and
heard - in the upper room since his return to the Father is life seen and heard, first and
always, in the unity of the upper room. Those who fall to suffering and death in the
midst of your Easter enclosure are not disassociated from the process of the Word's
unity, they are not removed from the oneness in which Jesus suffers, dies, and comes
to life with the Father since you are that oneness. In fact, because of your unity, they
become epiphanies of the glory which is Jesus's own, and, like him, reveal that the
beginning and end is life in your midst. As a return for the gift of life which your unity
bestows on them, the suffering and dying in your communities make visible the glory
which is the Word's own, and allow his living prayer to the Father to be heard: Father,
all those you gave me I would have in my company where I am, to see this glory of
mine which is your gift to me, because of the love you bore me before the world began.
The World Comes to the Enclosure of the Upper Room
Enclosure is Christ being lifted up. The church sets its upper room apart as a
sign in the desert to itself as it makes its passage to the promised land of oneness with
the Father and Son. Jesus says in reference to the uplifting which is your enclosed life:
When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself (Jn 3:14-15, 8:28; 12:32) The
world necessarily, therefore, comes directly to your gate, for all people look for the
peace and forgiveness - for the freedom - which only the historical unity of Father and
Son can provide, the unity which the community of your sheepfold makes visible as a
voice for all to hear. Your unity heals those bitten by the venom of contemporary
identities. It orients them on the trajectory of the Word's return to union with the Father
by exercising peace and forgiveness in their behalf, a ministry which flows from the
peace and forgiveness you give to one another. This ministry of the upper room puts
you at the heart of the Dominican apostolate of our day, for you make one the bread
evangelically broken by the friars' proclamation that Jesus is our peace and
Finally, your unity unites you with all enclosed religious, indeed with all apostolic
communities -- Menonites, Shakers, Amish, Taize, etc. - who with you share the
eschatological expectation and joy that to know Jesus and to live his life with others is
to be at the beginning of what is already the end, the transformation of the whole world
in the love of Father and Son. x
IN CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY
A RADIANT CENTER OF CHARITY - AT THE HEART OF THE HOLY PREACHING
ENCLOSURE 'The Diligent Search for God' in the Context of LCM.'
Sister Lee, OP.
I. ENCLOSURE: THE CONCEPT
ITS VALUE AND SIGNIFICANCE
1. In the Light of God
2. In the Light of Christ and His Body the Church
1 . Conversation from a Gospel Viewpoint
2. New Challenges and Old
3. The Synod and Venite Seorsum
THE DOMINICAN CHARISM: Interrelated Aspects
1. Law of Enclosure in the Dominican Tradition
(a) Perfection of an Order Measured by Goal and
Effectiveness of Observances for Accomplishing It
(b) Governance by Its Usefulness to the Common Good
(c) Guidelines for Changing Human Law
(d) Power of Dispensation Built into Dominican law
2. Formative Value in Context of the Dominican Charism
3. Relation to the Evangelization of the Word
4. Prophetic and Sign Value
5. The Tradition of Enclosure From St. Dominic Until Now
II. ENCLOSURE: LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE
AN EDUCATED GUESS
1 . Levels of Responsibility
2. Yesterday Today and . . .
' The title is from LCM, the Constitutions of the Dominican Nuns, 1 4, 35 I: the sub-trtle is from the descnption of
enclosure found in the unofficial reports of the Synod on the Consecrated Life.
Unofficial reports of the discussions which took place at the Synod on the Consecrated
Life (October, 1994) contain four points concerning monastic enclosure. 2
1 . The value and significance of enclosure are to be more strongly affirmed. These are separation
from the world, solitude and silence, which are means of seeking God more diligently.
2. Revision of Venite Seorsum norms (CRIS, August 15, 1969), so that the kind of enclosure which
corresponds to the nature and charism of each institute would be expressed in conditions proper
to the culture of our times.
3. Considering carefully the diversity of monastic families which already have different forms of
enclosure, the wishes of those who desire to observe a stricter enclosure are to be considered.
4. It is to be left to the prudent judgement of the major superior (prioress) what are the just and
sufficient reasons for which one may derogate from the prescriptions on enclosure, without having
to refer to the bishop every time.
I have used these four points as a way of organizing my thoughts in this paper. The
first two, the value and significance of monastic enclosure itself and its correspondence
to the nature and charism of each institute in conditions proper to the culture of our
times, are the most important from a conceptual point of view. The determination of
these will give us a basis for choosing the degree of strictness we wish to adopt and
guidelines for a prioress to aid her prudential judgement concerning dispensations.
I. ENCLOSURE: THE CONCEPT
ITS VALUE AND SIGNIFICANCE
1. In the Light of God
Monastic enclosure is like the setting of a ring which exists not for itself, but for the
sake of the jewels which are held securely within it. By definition a ring-setting is
strong enough to support what it is designed to contain. And enclosure is a strong
support for all aspects of the contemplative life. It presupposes a community of
persons committed to living harmoniously in the monastery, intent upon seeking God
with one mind and heart in Him. This harmonious living is not based simply on the
mere fact of living together with a common purpose, sharing common interests. These
are present and important of course. But above and beyond this, in a totally different
sphere, it is the love of Christ that gathers us together: first, his love for each of us and
then, empowered by his love, our love for him and for one another in him. In the poetic
2 e.g., Eoin de Bhaldrarth, OCist. "The Synod of Bishops and Nuns' Enclosure," Religious Lrfe Review . 34, July-
August 1995, pp. 200-204. This direction has since been verified by Vita Consecrata 59, which refers to Canon
667.4 and Proposition 22.4 of the Synod on the Consecrated Life.
words of St. Catherine of Siena: You shall find the source of charity in the side of the
crucified Christ. Approach, enter and remain in this sweet dwelling. Abide in the holy
and sweet love of God Love one another 3 It is in him that we receive a heart
transplant, so to speak, to love others with the very love of God.
Jesus came to show us 'in human form' what THE TRIUNE GOD IS LIKE:
CONSTANTLY OPEN TO THE OTHER IN SELFLESS LOVE. This love of Christ is
what can effect the self-transcendence so essential for a communion modeled on the
communion within the Trinity, making of the monastic community a God-enlightened
space in which to experience the hidden presence of the Risen Lord, 4 a radiant center
A helpful device for examining the value and significance of enclosure could be the
Christianized principle of emanation and return which St. Thomas used in his theology
to locate each created thing in its proper place in the scale of being. This will enable
us to consider enclosure in terms of its highest causality so that its reason for existing
can be fully shown in the light of God, its Source and its Goal.
There is a radical realism in looking at the raison d'etre of enclosure in the light of God,
its Source and Goal. This is what distinguishes the withdrawal from the world practiced
by Christian monks and nuns as a diligent search for God in solitude and silence, from
that which artists and scholars might create for the sake of perfecting their talent and
thought, or that which an eccentric or malcontent might create as an escape from what
is deemed insupportable in the persons and environment about them. It is this
theocenthcity that distinguishes Christian monastic enclosure from the spiritual
discipline of those non-Christian monasticisms which make no reference to God.
In this same exitus-reditus schema each individual person is also seen in relation to
God, from Whom we come forth and towards Whom we make a return journey.
Monastic enclosure becomes a means of assisting us in our diligent search for God,
in our return to Him.
The English word 'diligent,' is derived from the latin 'diligere' which means 'to love,' and
the diligent search for God has the characteristic quality of the earnestness of love.
God is love, He first diligently searches for us, as it were, and places within our hearts
a desire to pursue a search for him with our whole life. St. Augustine sheds light on
what we mean when we say 'a diligent search for God.'
When day after day I had to hear "Where is your God?' my tears were my food every day,
and I pondered day and night on what I had heard . . . And so I too sought for my God, so
that if it were possible I might not only believe in Him but also catch some glimpse of Him
... I did not find Him; [But] He has on earth, a place in which to shelter. His shelter on
3 Letter to the novices of the Order at Santa Mana de Monte Oliveto
1 St Basil, Short Rule . Q. 225: PG 31, 1231
earth is His Church, still on her pilgrim way. And it is here where we must seek Him, . . .
God's shelter on earth is the men who believe in Him. 5
2. In the Light of Christ and his Body the Church
Augustine prefaces this comment by saying that the search for God is not just that of
an individual but is that of the Church, 'those who believe in God,' the body of Christ
on earth. Monastic enclosure reflects the whole Church united with Christ as he is led
by the Spirit into the wilderness to pray and to engage in battle with the ruler of this
world; and Christ as he withdraws to pray to his Father, to whose will he was totally
submitted, ultimately even unto death on a Cross. Venite Seorsum expresses it this
To withdraw into the desert is for the Christian tantamount to associating oneself more
intimately with Christ's Passion. It enables one, in a very special way, to share in the
paschal mystery and in the passage of Our Lord from this world to the heavenly
homeland. It was precisely on this account that monasteries were founded, situated as
they are in the very heart of the mystery of Christ. 6
We find this Scriptural theme of withdrawing into the desert with Christ in the Book of
Revelation which portrays the Church as the woman taking flight into the wilderness,
where she has a place prepared by God (Rev. 12:8). One Scripture scholar comments:
"This becomes a Christian synthesis of primeval conflict situations televising, as it
were, the cosmic victory of God's kingly power." 7 God said to the Israelites in the
Exodus: "In the wilderness you have seen how the Lord your God bore you as a man
carries his son. . . I went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your
tents, in fire by night, and in the cloud by day" (Dt.1:31, 33). The Exodus and the
Paschal Mystery of Christ are seen as type and fulfillment.
Christian mysticism gives us a wonderful expression: the desert of the Godhead, a
metaphor for that sacred place of mysterious encounter between the utterly hidden and
transcendent God and the person who has sought Him. It is closely related to the
radical quest for God in the 'desert' of the monastery. To withdraw from the world and
go into monastic enclosure as the desert of the Godhead involves a paradox like the
one Jesus gave us when he said: "Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but
anyone who loses his life for my sake, will find it." To enter the desert of the Godhead
is to go as Church, taking flight into the desert wherein one has a place prepared by
God. Here is the great paradox: in that mysterious solitary encounter between God and
the person, where everything else has been left behind, everything is found
transformed and redeemed in the God who is encountered. The desert of the Godhead
5 St. Augustine of Hippo, Enarrationes in Psalmos , psalm 41 (42).
7 Charles Homer Giblin, SJ, The Book of Revelation, The Open Book of Prophecy . Good News Studies; vol. 34;
"A Michael Glazier Book" (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1991), pp. 122-130.
describes the fulfillment of the Church itself, and in a striking way, even a paradigmatic
way, of monastic life as a diligent search for God in silence and solitude.
A contemporary theologian offers this insight:
This is not private, existentialist solitude, for it is most profound community in and with
Christ, just as Christ's solitude is always even in his dereliction on the cross
community in and with the Father. But such solitude in origin can become so abysmal as
to occlude the experience of community. The Church is the pure outpouring of the Lord;
the Christian the pure outpouring of Christ and the Church. Bearing this duplex
community one advances towards a community to be regenerated: but goes one's way
in solitude. 8
If one believes that the salvation of the entire world, came about from the solitary, fixed
place of the Cross firmly planted on Calvary, on a portion of the earth measuring about
one square foot, then is it not possible to believe that monastic enclosure, limiting as
it does the geographical space of a person's earthly life, can be an authentic and fruitful
place for a Christian to follow the Way who is Jesus Christ, participating in his kenosis,
his total openness to the other: to the Father and to each of us, in selfless love.
One who enters a monastery has open before her the possibility of receiving from the
Father the power to surrender her life completely, a senseless and incomprehensible
act in purely human terms. This voluntary powerlessness awaits transformation and
regeneration by the Spirit of Christ breathed out over the chaos of our lives.
This is a radical Gospel ideal that no one would venture to undertake without God's
ever-present help. We see the wisdom in our Dominican tradition of asking at each
stage of our commitment, for the mercy of God and our community! Pope John Paul
II at the opening of the Synod said: Each of us has heard this call: 'Follow me!' -an
Invitation that earned empowerment within . . . Its power is dehved from the One who
issued it. I would add that when we do not draw from that empowerment, we sink as
we try to walk across the water toward the Lord.
What is meant by expressing enclosure, a perennial element of the contemplative life,
in conditions proper to contemporary culture?
1. Conversation From a Gospel Viewpoint
The conversation with contemporary culture we have entered into in this assembly is
not a capitulation to it, nor an entering into compromise with it. A conversation in the
8 Hans Urs von Balthasar, Church and World , trans. A. V Littiedale with Alexander Dru (New York: Herder and
Herder, 1967), p. 30
sense we wish use it presupposes that our part of the dialogue comes out of a lifetime
of conversation with God, with His Self-revelation in Scripture, in Salvation History and
most importantly in Jesus Christ and his Gospel. It is from this ground that we attempt
to confront the truth and falsehood within our culture.
In our Dominican Constitutions, allusion to what is incompatible with our vocation is
indicated in many passages by phrases such as: withdrawing from the empty
preoccupations and illusions of the world (1.111); forgetting what lies behind (1.111);
maintaining withdrawal from the world by enclosure and silence (1 V); following Jesus
as he withdraws into solitude (35); withdrawing from the world in fact and in spirit (36);
This is traditional monastic terminology for indicating whatever is incompatible with
monastic life in any given culture, whatever interferes with that diligent search for God
which should characterize life in the monastery. Today those particular aspects of our
culture which give us our counter-cultural stance can be summed up in phrases such
as. consumerism, the cult of the individual, the exaltation of the human subject,
reductionism, cynicism, methodic doubt, permissiveness, relevance, the quick-fix. You
can perhaps add others.
2. New Challenges and Old
There are relatively new challenges to withdrawal from the world which did not exist
when the great monastic rules and literature were written. Think of the implications
inherent in the telephone, the radio, television, video and audio tapes, the availability
and massive output of the printed word, giving easy access to newspapers and light
reading, and more recently the computer and all the information and diversion
immediately available. There is a constant bombardment of the senses, making it
difficult for the contemporary person to be silent and to interiorize. Doctors and
dentists used to come to the monastery and now very few will do this thus necessitating
more reasons for leaving the enclosure.
Clearly these are not in themselves negative realities, many of them are wonderful
developments. The question is: how are they to be used or not used by contemporary
persons who embrace the contemplative way of life in the Church? Our discussions
may show that this question contains the greater number of practical issues for us
concerning enclosure as we attempt to provide principles to guide us in their regard.
Perhaps this is a good place to mention older challenges, perennial ways the human
spirit has of avoiding what can be difficult to sustain in an enclosed situation, of filling
that void left by withdrawal from the world, with things other than the Lord. History
shows us that boredom and restlessness have often been the source of difficulty for
monks and nuns. We have the extreme examples of such aberrations in the legendary
gyrovagues. A more subtle expression takes the form of over-absorption in projects
and a workaholic approach to assignments.
We can say and read very profound and beautiful things about our way of life and they
are true. But most of our lives we know them in the dark light of faith and often we
experience a real and painful struggle. The observance of enclosure is a helpful
means with a very exalted purpose, but it is also a discipline and at times a difficult one.
The Letter to the Hebrews advises us:
Perseverance is part of your training. . For the moment all discipline seems painful rather
than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been
trained by it. (Heb. 12:11)
3. The Synod and Venite Seorsum
These considerations are important background for weighing the implications of today's
culture for enclosure. But let's proceed to what was meant by those who were present
at the Synod on the Consecrated Life when they proposed that the norms of Venite
Seorsum be revised in a way that will enable enclosure to be expressed in conditions
proper to the culture of our time. 9
I'll summarize a few of the concerns about the norms of Venite Seorsum that were
voiced at the Synod. What is viewed as problematic seems to be largely a matter of
the language in which the norms are expressed and the underlying attitude this
a. The description of enclosure is couched in terminology more suggestive of a
prison than of a house of prayer (doors kept locked, heavy iron mesh etc.) (3)
b. The obligation to secure permission of the local Ordinary for leaving the
enclosure does not correspond with the condition of women in the church and
in society, as well as with a healthy subsidiarity. (7)
c. The incongruity of specifying that heads of State with their retinue may enter
the enclosure with no provision for a family member to visit a Sister who is sick
in the infirmary and unable to come to the parlor. (8)
d. A tone of reluctance to permit participation of nuns in meetings that truly
benefit cloistered life. (12)
e. Some incongruity in using the words 'grave obligation in conscience'
concerning the law of enclosure in contrast to the current Code of Canon Law
1247 which refers simply to 'the obligation to take part in Sunday Mass.' Is the
obligation of enclosure more serious than the Sunday Mass precept? (13)
9 A text was presented at the Synod by Abbot Bernardo Olivera, Argentinean Trappist General and by an Italian
Trappistne, Abbess Chnstana Piccardo supenor of a Venezuelan monastery After a few modifications the
proposal received an almost unanimous vote. De Bhaldrarth, OCist, "The Synod and Nuns' Enclosure," pp. 201-
f. The inspection at the time of the canonical visitation of the material cloister
and of the book in which all the instances of entering and leaving the enclosure
are to be noted" - details that seem to go against respect for persons and even
common sense. (14)
g. The solemn exhortation to those 'who have both the right and the duty to
supervise observance of the cloister laws' (bishops and male superior) to
'safeguard such observance with the greatest diligence' and the 'praise of the
nuns who strictly observe separation from the world' seem excessive and may
transform into an end what is only a means. (15)
h. A suggestion is made that it might be interesting to compare the underlying
anthropology of Venite Seorsum with that presented later in Marialis Cultis
(1974) or Mulieris Dignitatem (1988).
THE DOMINICAN CHARISM
Besides the issue of having enclosure expressed in conditions proper to contemporary
culture, the Synod suggested that monastic life not be reduced to a common
denominator but rather that varying circumstances and the specific charism of each
Order be taken into account and allowance made for this in future enclosure legislation.
1. Interrelated Aspects
A charism, a supernatural gift bestowed by the Holy Spirit for building up the whole
body of Christ, has a transcendent aspect which is difficult to articulate but there is also
an incarnational aspect which lends itself, albeit imperfectly, to translation into human
I believe that one fundamental basis for a Dominican approach to enclosure is
something I spoke of at some length in the paper for the prioresses' meeting: our view
of the intrinsic goodness of creation, something so well articulated by St. Thomas. 10
Reflecting further about a specifically Dominican expression of monastic enclosure, five
10 "Toward a Theology of Enclosure," Dover, May, 1994: "The history of the original inspiration of our own Order
influences our articulation of a theology of monastic enclosure with its distinctive Dominican aspects. One could say
that we came into being as a response to a dualism that considers the material world as intrinsically evil. The first
nuns gathered together in Prouille by Saint Dominic were converts from a form of dualism known as the Albigensian
heresy. As such they would have been very sensitive to the truth of the goodness of all of God's creation.
Our own Saint Thomas became an outstanding theological interpreter of this doctrine. We are heirs of these
beginnings. Dominican monasticism can be more aptly considered a flight into God, who is Goodness itself, than a
flight from the world. We find ourselves to be one with a wounded but intrinsically good creation and we work to
cooperate with God in its healing, the work of salvation in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word. We try to simplify our
lives by eliminating those good things we dont need on our journey to God, and by not becoming selfishly attached
to what we do need. It is only in this very importantly nuanced sense, coming out of our history, that we can speak
of our Dominican monastic enclosure as being in some way a fuaa mundi . a flight from the world."
other interrelated points emerge. Let me list these and then proceed to explain each
1 . Law in the Dominican tradition.
2. The formative value of the observance of enclosure in the context of the spirit
of the Order.
3. The expression of enclosure in terms of the evangelization of the Word.
4. The prophetic and sign value of enclosure.
5. The tradition of enclosure from St. Dominic until now.
1 . Law in the Dominican tradition. St. Dominic gave us a wonderful legacy in his life-
giving concept of law which always ensures that our law never becomes an end in itself
and, more importantly, that it retains sufficient built-in flexibility to provide for a vibrant
sensitivity to the breath and power of the Holy Spirit. We are told that Dominic's radiant
joy at perceiving for himself how well it worked became obvious during the last days of
his life. 11
I will mention some principles which accord with this Dominican approach not because
I want to emphasize enclosure as a law per se, but because a Dominican view of
human law is woven into the very fabric of our charism and spirituality.
(a) St. Thomas gives us the principle that the perfection of a religious Order is
measured primarily by its goal and secondarily by the effectiveness of its regular
observance for accomplishing the goal n It is the 'why' of having monastic enclosure,
and the 'how 1 it can best aid the 'why,' that concerns us. To highlight this someone
suggested we pose this question: What would our enclosure look like without the
material forms, the walls and locked doors? God, Who has revealed himself to us as
love, is the total reason for its existence. Scripture captures this essence in
Jerusalem shall be inhabited like a village without walls for I myself will be a wall of fire all
around and I myself will be the glory within it ... for lo, I will come and dwell in your midst,
says the Lord (Zc 2:4-5). There is no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the
almighty and the lamb (Rev 21 :22). In him we live and move and have our being (Acts
Without this fire, without this presence, enclosure is reduced to an absurdity. For us
as Dominicans, the solemn celebration of the liturgy, especially the celebration of the
" Mane-Humbert Vicaire, OP, The Genius of St Dominic (Naqpur Dominican Publications, 1990), 77-78.
' : St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theoloqica , lallae Q 97
Eucharist, is the heart of our whole life and the chief source of its unity. (LCM 75) This
special presence of the Lord, dwelling in our midst, assists us in preserving the
continual remembrance of God. (LCM 74. IV)
Applying St. Thomas' principle that the determining factor when considering its regular
observance is its effectiveness in accomplishing the purpose of the Order, our
decisions concerning enclosure will spring from the conviction that it should be
whatever most effectively supports our contemplative life. The degree of strictness is
consequent upon this and is not in itself a determining factor.
(b) St. Thomas gives us another guiding principle when he explains that law should be
governed primarily by its usefulness to the common good, and following from this the
good of individuals should serve the common good. 13 The contemplative life and the
Dominican Order, as charisms within the Church, are gifts of service bestowed by the
Holy Spirit for building up the body of Christ.
As one visible dimension of a gift of the Holy Spirit, the monastic enclosure we are
considering, can be judged in relation to its service to the common good: as a support
for the individual Sister's contemplative life; as something that has a direct bearing
upon the common good of the whole community, the quality of its contemplative life;
and as something that has a bearing upon the common good that goes far beyond our
walls, i.e. that of the entire Dominican Order and further, the common good of the entire
Though our life in the monastery is a sharply focused journey of return to God, it is
meant to be one of service bearing within it a vital and effective concern for the
common good of the Order. Our contribution is described in our Constitutions:
There is a diversity of gifts, but one and the same Spirit, one charity, one mercy. The
friars, sisters and laity of the Order are to 'preach the name of our Lord Jesus Christ
throughout the world;' the nuns are to seek, ponder and call upon him in solitude so that
the word proceeding from the mouth of God may not return to him empty, but may
accomplish those things for which it was sent. (LCM 1 .II)
It is important also to see how contemplative life, with its integral element and support
of enclosure, is also a gift given for the common good of the entire ecclesial community.
A theological view of the Church as communion enlarges our vision, giving us an
understanding of the interrelationship and interdependence of the charismatic gifts of
the Holy Spirit. Vatican li emphasized that by virtue of Baptism and Confirmation and
strengthened by the Eucharist, all the faithful share a common dignity and a universal
call to holiness and that all cooperate in building up the one body of Christ, each in
accordance with the received gift of the Holy Spirit.
Ibid. , lallae Q 90; llaellae Q 47, a 1 0-1 1 .
Speaking of the particular gift of service which contemplatives make in this common
endeavor Pope John Paul II says in Vita Consecrata.
Communion in the Church is a gift of the Spirit who is present in the variety of charisms. . .
Contemplatives offer the ecclesial community a singular testimony of the church's love for
her Lord, and they contribute, with hidden apostolic fruitfulness, to the growth of the
people of God.' 4
Our Constitutions express this same reality in a number of places, for example:
Like the Church of the Apostles our communion is founded, built up and made firm in the
one Spirit. It is in the same Spirit that we receive the Word of God from the Father with
one faith, contemplate him with one heart, and praise him with one voice. In him we are
made one body, share in the one bread and finally hold all things in common . . The nuns
first build in their own monasteries the Church of God which they help to spread
throughout the world by the offering of themselves. (LCM 3.1, II)
(c) St. Thomas also gives us useful guidelines about changing law which we can apply
to our directory determinations regarding enclosure. He says there are two reasons
warranting a change of a human law first, when something else is seen to be less
frequently deficient for the common good; second, when different circumstances arise,
because one and the same thing is not always right for the common good. He adds the
observation made by Aristotle that human laws derive very great force from custom and
consequently should not be changed quickly but only when minimal harm is done in this
(d) Dominican dispensation. The law of dispensation, one of the pillars of Dominican
government, is another aspect of our law that provides an openness to the breath of
the Spirit. It is written into our Constitutions in these words:
From the beginning of the Order some power of dispensation has been expressly granted
to superiors of both friars and nuns, not to relax regular observance, but rather so that the
end of the Order might be better attained. (LCM 188) The regular superior and also the
prioress or the one taking her place has the power to dispense the nuns regarding the
regular observance in particular circumstances for a just reason. (LCM 189.1)
This is related to the three points already mentioned. In instances where the common
good or the good of an individual may need an exception, not to relax regular
observance, but rather so that the good of the Order might be better attained, a
dispensation from the law of enclosure may be judged to be in order.
Discerning when a dispensation is warranted may not always be simple. Obviously,
leaving the monastery to attend a Conference Assembly or to participate in the
theological formation program sponsored by the Conference qualify as appropriate
dispensations. Conviction and clarity about our monastic enclosure enables us to
14 Pope John Paul II Vita Consecrata, March 25, 1996, 4, 8.
15 Aquinas, Summa , lallae, Q. 97.
apply the law of dispensation as St. Dominic intended namely, that the end might be
2. The formative value of enclosure in the context of the spirit of the Order Enclosure
is meant to provide a stable locus for being converted to the Lord, for being
transformed into that image of God in grace which each of us has been created to be
By providing this holy ground for prayer and for living in the spirit of the Beatitudes, the
observance of enclosure can be said to be formative.
In recent years we have stressed the intellectual and theoretical aspect of formation
and on-going formation; there is a serious need to do this. But it has an equally
important partner, the old-fashioned method of apprenticeship.
Enclosure creates the sacred place which the dynamism of the Lord's gentle presence
permeates and illuminates. Here we humbly welcome the Word that has been planted
in our hearts (James 1:21). Within the silence of the monastery regular observance
become our essential tool for cultivating that Word: common life, chapter, the
celebration of the liturgy and private prayer, the vows, study, work and penitential
practices. (LCM 35. II) All of these instruments at our disposal were reverently
maintained and handed down to us by those who went before us. We learn from these
great women of ages past, we learn from others of our own generation and we learn
while using them ourselves. Every aspect of life in the monastery is made sacred
because of the abiding presence of the Lord. The cell becomes an enclosure within
the enclosure (LCM 50); the refectory assumes a liturgical air because just as we share
together in the Eucharistic Bread, we also partake of our bodily food as a sign of sisterly
communion (LCM 54. 1). As the Opus Dei is carried out day by day, the whole
community is formed and given the possibility of being transformed into a radiant center
3. Enclosure with a view to the evangelization of the Word. The Year of Evangelization
which Pope John Paul II has announced in preparation for the third Christian
millennium reminds us that we belong to an Order whose first members were described
by Pope Honorius III as being appointed entirely for the complete evangelization of the
Word of God™ Our current Constitutions say that from the beginning St. Dominic
associated the nuns, free for God alone, with his "holy preaching" by their prayer and
penance (LCM 1.1), and we are further described as being "at the heart of the 'Holy
Preaching'" (LCM 35.1).
We likened enclosure to the setting of a ring which touches and supports all aspects
of the contemplative life we commit ourselves to live. A look at the specific texts in the
Constitutions which mention enclosure and withdrawal from the world makes it clear
16 Honorius III: 'Letter to all Prelates of the Church,' 4 February, 1221 (MOPH XXV, p.145), cf. Fundamental
Constitution of the Order, I.
that our monastic enclosure is only comprehensible in the total context of our lives as
Dominican women of the Word.
The texts themselves tell us that the purpose of enclosure and silence is that the word
of God may dwell abundantly in the monastery (96.11) and that the nuns may allow the
seed which is the word of God to grow in their hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit
and in so receiving it become more closely conformed to Christ (99). From other texts
we can also see the bearing of enclosure upon so much of our life, for example:
hearing and keeping the word of God; seeking, pondering and calling upon the Lord
Jesus Christ, listening to his words; liturgical prayer; proclaiming that in Christ alone
is true happiness; so that we may have leisure to devote ourselves wholeheartedly to
the kingdom of God; it sustains a hidden life that opens our minds to the love of God
who sent his Son so that the whole world might be saved through him, etc.
In one of his homilies St. John Chrysostom says of St. Paul, the great evangelizer
during his imprisonment: "Though housed in a narrow space, St. Paul dwelt in
heaven." 17 He continues by saying that he accepted suffering more readily than others
reach out for rewards, in fact he regarded them as prizes. "To depart and be with
Christ" was certainly a reward, while remaining in the flesh meant struggle. Yet such
was his longing for Christ that he wanted to defer his reward and remain amid the fight.
He was driven by zeal for the whole Body of Christ. I hope it is not too presumptuous
to say that this seems to capture something of the ideal of the life of a Dominican Nun.
4. Its prophetic and sign value: As a charism, the contemplative life of withdrawal from
the world 'in spirit and in fact' has a prophetic and sign value which many recent
Church documents indicate, for example:
It is both legitimate and necessary that some of Christ's followers, those upon whom this
particular grace has been conferred by the Holy Spirit, should give expression to this
contemplative character of the Church by actually withdrawing into solitude to lead this
particular type of life, in order that through constant prayer and ready penance they give
themselves to God alone'(VS, I). Their life is nothing other than a journey to the heavenly
Jerusalem and an anticipation of the eschatological Church immutable in its possession
and contemplation of God (VS, V).
Our Constitutions give the specifically Dominican aspect of the prophetic and sign
value and make a connection with evangelization when they say:
By our hidden life we proclaim prophetically that in Christ alone is true happiness to be
found, here by grace and afterwards in glory. (LCM 1 V)
The nuns, while living together in harmony, follow Jesus as he withdraws into solitude to
pray. In this way they are a sign of that blessed city Jerusalem which the brethren build
up by their preaching, (cf LCM 35. 1)
St. John Chrysostom, Homily 2 in praise of St.Paul: PG 50, 480-484
The unanimity of our life, rooted in the love of God, should furnish a living example of that
reconciliation of all things in Christ which our brethren proclaim in their preaching of the
word. (LCM 2.11)
5 The tradition of enclosure from St. Dominic until now: From the beginning of the
Order Saint Dominic chose enclosure for the nuns in the monasteries he established.
Some existing monasteries came under his guidance at the request of the Pope, for the
precise reason that there was a need for reform of the practice of monastic enclosure.
We can question St. Dominic about how we might best express enclosure today.
Perhaps the clearest reply he would give is to be found in the traditions that have been
handed down to us over the centuries, in the convictions we have acquired from our
own experience of Dominican monastic life, and in our Constitutions as they develop
and change following the principles for government which Dominic himself set forth for
The Dominican charism, as it is expressed in our enclosure forms, comes out of the life
and spirit of our founder. Blessed Jordan tells us that when Dominic lived as an
He frequented the church day and night... He prayed without ceasing and making use of
the leisure afforded for contemplation, he scarcely ever left the monastery grounds. 18
St. Dominic is pictured in art as being alone in the desert at the foot of the cross. And
in the Ninth Way of Prayer we find that:
. . . when he was on a journey he would say to his companions: "It is written 'I will allure
her and bring her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.'" He would then part from
his companions . . . going on his own he would pray as he walked, and a fire was kindled
in his meditation . . . The brethren thought that in this kind of prayer the saint acquired the
fullness of Sacred Scripture and the very heart of the understanding of God's words, and
also a power and boldness to preach fervently, and a hidden intimacy with the Holy Spirit
to know the hidden things of God. 19
A passage from Cassian's Conferences, St. Dominic's steady reading, can be linked
with this ninth way of prayer. 20 It reads:
Jesus retired into the mountain to pray, thus teaching us by example that if we too wish to
approach God with a pure and spotless affection of heart, we should also retire from all
the disturbance and confusion of crowds, so that . . . 'God may be' to us 'all in all.' 21
Blessed Jordan of Saxony, Libellus . 12.
19 Simon Tugwell, OP, Early Dominicans: Selected Writings (New York: Paulist Press, 1982), p. 102.
20 Leonard Hindsley, OP, Conferences on the Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic.
21 Conferences of Cassian . "The Second Conference of Abbot Isaac", Chapter VI. Nicene and Post-Nicene
Fathers of the Christian Church XI (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishers, 1991), 403.
It is this spirit that St. Dominic instilled in the first nuns, for they had no other master
to instruct them about the Order 22 We are entrusted with handing on this heritage to
another generation of Dominicans, a tradition of 790 years.
II. ENCLOSURE: LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE
AN EDUCATED GUESS
What does the future shape of Dominican monastic enclosure look like? I believe that
we have enough information at our disposal to make an educated guess.
1. Levels of Authority
As is presently the case, future legislation will have six levels of authority. The
difference from the present legislation will probably be in the degree of responsibility
at each level. Going from the general to the particular:
(1) There will be a document or an instruction from the Congregation for
Religious to replace Venite Seorsum, with general norms for all contemplative
monasteries. Whether or not this will distinguish between men's and women's
enclosure is uncertain; it has been discussed so often that it would seem that
some attempt may be made to address the issue. How-ever, a reading of Vita
Consecrata leads one to believe that there may still be enclosure norms which
are exclusively for women. Although 6 and 8 speak of both men and women
living monastic life, 59 treats of 'cloistered nuns,' and reference is made to nuns'
enclosure in this number.
(2) The instruction will continue to give authority to the bishop of the local
church in the matter of enclosure.
(3) Any general instruction will make provision for the particular law of each
Order and tradition. This will undoubtedly require some revision of our
Constitutions to address what is specific to the Dominican charism in the matter
of enclosure. For example some allowance for study or aspects of formation,
already possible now, may be specified.
(4) The revised section of the Constitutions will leave room for individual
communities and federations to provide further for their particular needs. More
responsibility will be given to the monastery Chapter to make policies specific
to the needs of that community in the matter of enclosure. In the community
Chapter we find another key aspect of our government coming from the genius
22 Blessed Cecelia, Miracula S. Dominici, n.6 [LCM lists this as n .7, but both Francis Lehner, OP, Saint Dominic
Early Biographical Documents (Washington: Thomist Press, 1964), p.171, and Simon Tugwell, OP Early
Dominicans , p 391 , refer to ft as n. 6].
of St. Dominic himself: his confidence in the community as made up of
individuals open to the guidance and working of the Holy Spirit, which led him
to give the Chapter members a large share in shaping its own community life.
(5) It seems that the prioress of a monastery will be given more authority to
make decisions for legitimate dispensation in the matter of enclosure.
(6) As has always been the case, each Sister, keeping the end of the Dominican
contemplative life and the common good in mind, will be responsible for her own
observance of enclosure and for permissions or dispensations she requests.
2. Yesterday, Today and . . .
The next point we can make about the future of enclosure comes from that great
teacher known as history. From the dawn of Christianity the monastic life of withdrawal
from the world in silence and solitude has been honored as a way of living the Gospel.
The value and significance of the enclosure which supports this will be more strongly
affirmed by whatever document the Church will put forth. The norms will change
somewhat but it will be possible to maintain the basic elements in the descriptive
introduction to the section on enclosure in our present Constitutions:
By withdrawal from the world, in fact and in spirit, the nuns, like prudent virgins waiting for
their Lord, are freed from worldly affairs so that they may have leisure to devote
themselves wholeheartedly to the kingdom of God. This hidden life should open their
minds to the love of God who sent his Son so that the whole world might be saved through
him. (LCM 36)
We have looked briefly at the value and significance of enclosure in the light of God
and the Church and have seen how this monastic observance, with a tradition reaching
back to the beginnings of Christianity, confronts contemporary culture. We have
examined it in the context of our Dominican charism, and now we ask ourselves what
the future of enclosure looks like and how this will affect our lives. We can be certain
of this: in the wake of the Synod, as the Church reevaluates the contemplative life, we
can expect to be challenged once again as Word-bearers, to be a radiant center of
chanty at the heart of the 'holy preaching, ' to build in our own monasteries the Church
of God which we can help to spread throughout the world by the offering of ourselves.
(LCM 14, 35, 3.II)
We pray that Mary, model of all contemplatives, within whom the Incarnate Word was
enclosed at the beginning of his life, who stood by the Lord fixed to the cross, who saw
him placed within the tomb at the end, and who prayed with the Twelve in the Upper
Room, will guide us in living the true meaning of our lives as Dominicans until each of
us is enfolded within her mantle forever. May Christ, who was fastened to the cross for
all, be fast-knit to our hearts! (LCM 74. IV) x
CONFERENCE OF NUNS OF THE ORDER OF PREACHERS - UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
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