A Christology of Love

And for love he made mankind, and for the same love himselfe wolde become man.
— Julian of Norwich, A Revelation of Love 57

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-born Son.
— John 3:16

[F]or everything that has been done through Christ has been done for our sake.
— Martin Luther, Four Sermons on the Resurrection of the Dead (LW58: 150)

[I]t pleased God to come to aid the lost world, that is, by the death of his Son, in which he allures us to love of God and calls us away from the love of the world.
— Sebastian Meyer, In utramque D. Pauli epistolam ad Corinthios commentarii (Frankfurt: Petrus Brubacchius, 1546), fol. 8r

In these four phrases are the seeds of a whole Christology written around the theme of love.


Maximus the Confessor on “the Grace of Theology”

When the intellect practices the virtues correctly, it advances in moral understanding. When it practices contemplation, it advances in spiritual knowledge… Finally, the intellect is granted the grace of theology when, carried on wings of love beyond these two former stages, it is taken up into God and with the help of the Holy Spirit discerns—as far as this is possible for the human intellect—the qualities of God.

If you are about to enter the realm of theology, do not seek to descry God’s inmost nature, for neither the human intellect nor that of any other being under God can experience this; but try to discern, as far as possible, the qualities that appertain to His nature—qualities of eternity, infinity, indeterminateness, goodness, wisdom, and the power of creating, preserving and judging creatures, and so on. For he who discovers these qualities, to however small an extent, is a great theologian.

— Maximus the Confessor, Four Centuries on Love 2.25-26, in The Philokalia, vol. 2, 69.

Julian of Norwich on Hazelnuts and Rest

I ran across this beautiful bit from Julian of Norwich on Katrina Vandenberg’s blog. Though little is known of the life of Julian, she received a series of revelations in which she saw Jesus crucified, and he spoke to her, including these words. The language is Middle English, but makes sense if you simply sound it out:

And in this, he shewed a little thing the quantity of an haselnot, lying in the palme of my hand as me semide, and it was as rounde as any balle. I looked theran with the eye of my understanding, and thought: “What may this be?” And it was answered generally thus: “It is all that is made.” I marvayled how it might laste, for methought it might sodenly have fallen to nought for littlenes. And I was answered in my understanding: “It lasteth and ever shall, for God loveth it. And so hath all thing being by the love of God.” [….]

Of this nedeth us to have knowinge, that us liketh to nought all thing that is made, for to love and have God that is unmade. For this is the cause why we be not all in ease of hart and of soule: for we seeke heer rest in this thing that is so little, wher no reste is in, and we know not our God, that is al mighty, all wise, and all good. For he is very reste. God will be knowen, and him liketh that we rest us in him. For all that is beneth him suffiseth not to us. And this is the cause why that no soule is rested till it is noughted of all thinges that is made. When he is wilfully noughted for love to have him that is all, then is he able to receive ghostly reste. (A Revelation of Love 5.7-13, 19-27, pp.139-41)

Spiders, Whales and Providence

We should on no account wear ourselves out with anxiety over our bodily needs. With our whole soul let us trust in God: as one of the Fathers has said, ‘Entrust yourself to the Lord, and all will be entrusted to you.’ ‘Show restraint and moderation,’ writes the Apostle Peter, ‘and be watchful in prayer… casting all your care upon God, since he cares for you’ (1 Pet. 4:7, 5:7). But if you still feel uncertainty, doubting whether he really cares about providing for you, think of the spider and compare it with a human being. Nothing is more weak and powerless than a spider. It has no possessions, makes no journeys overseas, does not engage in litigation, does not grow angry, and amasses no savings. Its life is marked by complete gentleness, self-restraint and extreme stillness. It does not meddle in the affairs of others, but minds its own business; calmly and quietly it gets on with its work. To those who love idleness it says, in effect: ‘If anyone refuses to work, he should have nothing to eat’ (2 Thess. 3:10)… Living in this quiet fashion, humble and weak, never going outside or wandering according to its fancy, always hard at work—nothing could be more lowly than the spider. Nevertheless the Lord, ‘who dwells on high but sees what is lowly’ (Ps. 113:5-6), extends his providence even to the spider, sending it food every day, and causing tiny insects to fall into its web.

One who is enslaved to greed may perhaps object: ‘I eat a great deal, and since this involves me in heavy expenses, I am inevitably tied up with all kinds of worldly business.’ Such a person should think of the huge whales that feed in the Atlantic Ocean: God gives them plenty to eat and they never starve, although each of them swallows daily more fish than a highly populated city would consume. ‘All things wait upon You, to give them their food at the proper time’ (Ps. 104:27). It is God who provides food both for those who eat much and for those who eat little. Bearing this in mind, anyone among you who has a capacious appetite should in the future set his faith entirely in God, freeing his intellect from all worldly distractions and anxieties. ‘Be no longer faithless, but have faith’ (John 20:27). (John of Karpathos, “For the Encouragement of the Monks in India,” §§47-8; in Philokalia, vol. 1, 308-9)

I think the journeying overseas bit is my favourite.

Diadochos of Photiki on Theology

All God’s gifts of grace are flawless and the source of everything good; but the gift which inflames our hearts and moves it to the love of his goodness more than any other is theology. It is the early offspring of God’s grace and bestows on the soul the greatest gifts. First of all, it leads us gladly to disregard all love of this life, since in the place of perishable desires we possess inexpressible riches, the oracles of God. Then it embraces our intellect with the light of a transforming fire, and so it makes it a partner of the angels in their liturgy. Therefore, when we have been made ready, we begin to long sincerely for this gift of contemplative vision, for it is full of beauty, frees us from every worldly care, and nourishes the intellect with divine truth in the radiance of inexpressible light. In brief, it is the gift which, through the help of the holy prophets, unites the deiform soul with God in unbreakable communion. So, among men as among angels, divine theology—like one who conducts the wedding feast—brings into harmony the voices of those who praise God’s majesty.

Our intellect often finds it hard to endure praying because of the straightness and concentration which this involves; but it joyfully turns to theology because of the broad and unhampered scope of divine speculation. Therefore, so as to keep the intellect from expressing itself too much in words or exalting itself unduly in its joy, we should spend most of our time in prayer, in singing psalms and reading the Holy Scriptures, yet without neglecting the speculations of wise men whose faith has been revealed in their writings. In this way we shall prevent the intellect from confusing its own utterances with the utterances of grace, and stop it from being led astray by self-esteem and dispersed through over-elation and loquacity. In the time of contemplation we must keep the intellect free of all fantasy and image, and so ensure that with almost all our thoughts we shed tears. When it is at peace in times of stillness, and above all when it is gladdened by the sweetness of prayer, not only does it escape the faults we have mentioned, but it is more and more renewed in its swift and effortless understanding of divine truth, and with great humility it advances in its knowledge of discrimination. There is, moreover, a prayer which is above even the broadest scope of speculation; but this prayer is granted only to those who fully and consciously perceive the plenitude of God’s grace within them. (Diadochos of Photiki, ‘On Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination,’ §§67-68)

From the Philokalia. An utterly different understanding of the theological task than how we are led to think today. But may God heal our misconceptions.

John of Ruysbroeck on Busyness and Spiritual Death

The medieval mystic John of Ruysbroeck (c.1293 – 1381) has this insightful passage on the “fever” of busyness:

The first kind is called the quotidian fever. It is a multiplicity of the heart; for these men wish to know all things, and to speak of all things, and to criticise and to judge all things, and meanwhile they often fail to observe themselves. They are weighed down by many strange cares; they must often hear what they do not like; and the least thing troubles them. Their thoughts are restless; first this, then that, first here, then there; they are like to the winds. This is a daily fever; for they are troubled, and busied, and in multiplicity, from morning until evening, and sometimes in the night also, whether they sleep or wake. Though this may exist in a state of grace and without mortal sin, yet it hinders inwardness and inward practices and takes away the taste of God and of all virtues. And this is an eternal loss. (Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, Book II, Chapter 32)

And he lived in the 14th century. Lord preserve us.

Francis of Assisi and the Environment

The high middle ages may seem an odd place to look for wisdom in our current environmental crisis. St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), however, is renowned for his love of the natural world. So much so that in the Catholic Church he is actually the patron saint of both animals and the environment. What is remarkable is he is also the founder of what was originally an incredibly austere and rigorous monastic order, with its members committed to total poverty. St. Francis refused to allow them to accept money, and so they got by through begging and day labour. This stemmed from his deep and abiding love for “Lady Poverty.”

Toward the end of his life, St. Francis composed a hymn entitled, “The Canticle of the Sun.” It is remarkable for being both the earliest example of Italian poetry and for its naturalist impulses:

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord
To you alone belong praise and glory
Honour, and blessing.
No man is worthy to breathe your name.
Be praised, my Lord, for all your creatures.
In the first place for the blessed Brother Sun
who gives us the day and enlightens us through you.
He is beautiful and radiant with his great splendour,
Giving witness of you, most Omnipotent One.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Moon and the stars
Formed by you so bright, precious, and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Wind
And the airy skies, so cloudy and serene;
For every weather, be praised, for it is life-giving.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water
So necessary yet so humble, precious, and chaste.
Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire,
Who lights up the night,
He is beautiful and carefree, robust and fierce.
Be praised, my Lord, for our sister, Mother Earth,
who nourishes and watches us
While bringing forth abundant fruits with coloured flowers
And herbs.
Praise and bless the Lord.
Render him thanks.
Serve him with great humility. Amen.

It is said that St. Francis was so enthralled with his song that he ran around singing it to friends, composing his own melody for it. But the really touching part of the story is that, on his deathbed in a bare-earthed cell, he called in two brothers to sing to him this song of earth for a final time:

They obeyed. With voices ready to break down and sob, they intoned one of the most beautiful songs of joy that ever arose from human lips. Did they realize that they were filling the cell with the whole cosmos? Fire and water, earth and air, the four elements, joined with the stars, the moon, the sun, flowers, and grass, not to mention the perpetual and magnificent change of scenery brought on by the clouds, all of this in a grand assembly of all the beauty in the universe. (Julien Green, “God’s Fool,” 268.)