CONTEMPLATION IS A TRIBUTARY OF THEOLOGY
First of all, it should be stressed that contemplation is a tributary of theology, for it cannot normally attain to divine truth in its essence without passing through assent to the dogmas of revealed truth of which theology furnishes it the formula. […]
Saint Teresa affirms so frequently and so energetically her concern for submission to the Church and to her theologians, that it seems useless to cite precise texts. As to Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, she is so careful about orthodoxy that she refuses to read a work whose author is, not a heretic, but simply in revolt against his bishop. There is no doubt in their minds that the search for God requires as an essential condition assent to the revealed truth which the Church teaches.
Revealed truth gives us light for the journey to God. This truth it is which, at every instant, must enlighten our way and, in the shadows, let us glimpse the end. To refuse to submit one’s mind to the formula of dogma that expresses it is to destroy in oneself faith and charity; it is, in fact, to render impossible supernatural contemplation, of which these two theological virtues are the active instruments. […]
Let us note, moreover, that the dogmatic formula is not merely an analogical expression of divine truth, that is, a symbol or natural sign of divine truth; it bears within it the divine truth that it expresses. It does not just direct us towards the truth like an arrow pointing out the road; it lets us share in the very truth it conveys.
This is what Saint John of the Cross explains in his commentary on the eleventh stanza of the Spiritual Canticle:
O crystalline fount,
If on that thy silvered surface
Thou wouldst of a sudden form the eyes desired
Which I bear outlined in my inmost parts!
Speaking of the soul’s longing for God, the Saint says:
The propositions and articles which faith sets before us she calls a silvered surface. For the understanding of this and of the other lines, it must be noted that faith is compared to silver with respect to the propositions which it teaches us, and the truths and substance which they contain in themselves are compared to gold; for that same substance which now we believe, clothed and covered with the silver of faith, we shall behold and enjoy in the life to come, fully revealed and with the gold of the faith laid bare. […]
So that faith gives and communicates to us God Himself, but covered with the silver of faith; but it fails not for that reason to give Him to us in truth, even as one that gives a vessel of silvered gold gives nonetheless a golden vessel because it is covered with silver.
[Spiritual Canticle, Stanza XI, no. 3; transl. E. A. Peers] […]
It is clear that according to the thought of Saint John of the Cross, one could not separate here below the two elements, that is, the pure gold of truth and its silvered surfaces which are the dogmatic formulas. In order to find divine truth, one must have recourse to the formula of dogma that expresses and contains it. Any contrary teaching would not only run counter to such or such a passage in his writings but would render unintelligible the ensemble of his doctrine and his constant personal conduct.
We may say then, that any attempt to arrive at a mysticism without dogma is contrary to the doctrine of Saint John of the Cross and to the very nature of contemplation. Whatever may be the intuitive power of some minds, there is no empirical method that could possibly enable them to bridge the gap between natural contemplation and supernatural contemplation.
Blessed Marie-Eugène of the Child Jesus
I Want to See God
Mystical Life and Contemplation, IX.1
We recall two important events on this date:
On 2 December 1894, Blessed Marie-Eugène of the Child Jesus (Henri Grialou) was born in Aubin (Aveyron) France. After his priestly ordination on February 4, 1922, he was captivated by the doctrine of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and St. John of the Cross and decided to join the Discalced Carmelites. After serving as superior in France, in 1937 he was elected to serve as a General Definitor of the Order in Rome. In 1948, he was appointed Apostolic Visitor of the Discalced Carmelite nuns in France and religious assistant to their federations. From 1955 he was able to devote himself full-time to the secular institute Notre Dame de Vie, which he started in 1932. He died in Venasque on March 27th, 1967, the feast day of the institute. He was beatified in 2016 by Pope Francis.
And in early December 1577 — some scholars say the exact date was 2 December — St. John of the Cross was abducted from his chaplaincy at the monastery of the Incarnation in Avila. Father Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D. describes the scene: “On the night of December 2, 1577, a group of Carmelites, laypeople, and men-at-arms broke into the chaplain’s quarters, seized Fray John, and took him away” (Kavanagh 1991, Introduction).
In utter distress, yet armed with determination and boldness, Saint Teresa wrote to King Philip II on 4 December 1577 to plead for the life of Fray John: “I strongly believe that our Lady has chosen you to protect and help her order. So, I cannot fail to have recourse to you regarding her affairs. For the love of our Lord, I beg you to pardon me for so much boldness.”
John of the Cross, St. 1991, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Revised Edition, translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K and Rodriguez, O with revisions and introductions by Kavanaugh, K, ICS Publications, Washington DC.
John of the Cross, St; de Santa Teresa, S; Peers, E 1934–1935, The complete works of Saint John of the Cross, doctor of the Church, translated from the Spanish by Peers, E, Burns Oates & Washbourne, London.
Marie-Eugène de l’Enfant-Jésus & Doran V 1990, I Want to See God, Christian Classics, Allen, Texas.
I really love this linking of contemplation and dogma. It is so refreshing in thsi relativist age. I had good teaching in RCIA and wish to live and die in my Faith. I decided to become Catholic for the same reason as Chesterton, who said there were a thousand reasins why he was Catholic, which bolied down to one reason, namely, that Catholicism is true. THIS is what we should be evangelizing with. To quote a self-help manual I own, “Frothy emotional appeal seldom suffices”. I think this age is crying out for Truth Himself. Look at how many are joining denominations and Faiths which do promote dogamtic certainty. We should be in the forefront!
Well said, Kathie!