Prajña Pitha (Seat of Wisdom): Towards a marian formation of the ministers of the word
Aloysius Pieris, S.J.
The Ministry of the Word in Crisis:
A Lesson From History
1. Prajña Pītha as a Marian Epithet
Amultitude of memories were whirling in my mind when I proposed to the Formation Team that our first Jesuit institute of philosophical and theological studies be named Prajña Pītha. My thoughts flashed back to 1953, when the first house of formation for prospective candidates to the Society of Jesus was opened in our country. My memory lingered long on the beautiful snow-white statue of Sedes Sapientiae which was brought down from Italy and installed solemnly in the improvised chapel of that house. I recalled how closely our first training center was associated with Mary, Seat of Wisdom.
As one of the founding members of that house and the beadle of the first group offormandi, I rejoice today that “Prajña Pītha”, which is the Indic version of that same Marian title, has been accepted by the Province as the official designation of the our embryonic Faculty (i.e., a seminal Pītha) of Integral Religious Studies; that a Marian bias of our formation-tradition has been recaptured with a new indigenousthrust.
This makes me hope that some of the many artists among you who are immersed in the common cultural ethos of the Sinhala and the Tamil people, will make it possible for Mary, the Prajña Pītha, to grace the wall of your chapels with the awesome beauty and the lovely lineaments of Sarasvati Devi, whom our people have always revered as Vāg-devi, the feminine manifestation of Word. After all, are not all the universities in this country name after her?2
My reason for proposing this Marian title for our Centre did not spring only from these personal memories of local happenings. I also looked on the Church’s own past experiences in the field of learning and teaching --experiences which have shaped and coloured the meaning of the two terms “wisdom” (Prajña) and “seat”(Pītha). A knowledge of this history, which I am going to share with you in Part One of this lectio brevis, will disclose to you the programmatic vision which our Centre for Integral Religious Studies harbours within the very name it bears.
2. Prajña Pītha as “Authority in integral Knowledge”
The term “wisdom” means more than mere knowledge; it implies the integration of knowledge and love, faith and deeds, theory and praxis, philosophy and theology, experience and reflection, the pastoral approach and the speculative method, the traditional wisdom of the church and the religious wisdom of other cultures, and last but not least, love of God and the love of the poor, which goes hand in hand with an integration of prophecy and poetry. This is the programmatic vision that allows this institute as to be known as the “Jesuit Centre of Integral Religious Studies”.
As for the word Pītha, its literal sense is “seat”. What it connotes, however, is not merely the locus where Wisdom resides, as in the phrase Seat of Wisdom, but also the chair of teaching authority, the cathedra magistri. The cathedral was the “seat”or more commonly the “See” from where, since ancient times, the church’s leadership exercised its authority. I believe that some great Fathers of the church ---I emphasize some and great--- who also happened to be bishops both in the East and the West had integrated, to the best of their ability, many of the aforementioned elements with a considerable degree of transparency. Hence what they taught both in word and deed from their cathedra, from their Pītha, form their See, could be best described as sapientia (Latin) or sophia (Greek) or hakma(Hebrew) —or Prajña as we know it in our Indic Tradition. Whatever these words might have denoted in their original usage,3 today they have all merged their differences in the universal stream of contemporary religiosity as a term that connotes “salvific wisdom” in contrast with “mere knowledge”.
The sapiential character of the patristic thought is most evident in the powerful sermons that have come down to us. These were not academic orations that titillated itching intellects, but homilies meants to proclaim the Word of God, toinspire a change of heart and often, to encourage action on behalf of the poor. The hard line taken by many of the Fathers in defense of the victims of injustice, through the proclaimed word and personal witness is too well known to be emphasized here.4
Further more, their prophetic proclamation seemed to have stirred the hearts of listeners by the poetic elegance of their language. The salutary impact of Ambrose’s Latin sermons on Augustine is a much cited example. This combination of prophecy and poetry was not the fruit of human industry alone; there was also the unction of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the power behind every word that brings conversion of heart and transformation of lives. She is the Magistra Interna (the Teacher Within: Jn. 13: 26; 16:7) who had put them in touch with Uncreated Wisdom. That is why their theory both originated from, and culminated in, pastoral praxis and discerning love. Ignatius of Loyola has referred to this sapiential teaching of the fathers as “positive theology” whose characteristic it is “to rouse the affections so that we are moved to love and serve the Lord in everything” (Sp. Ex. 363).
3. The Many Seats of Divided Authority: The Tragedy of Disintegration
History teaches us that some great theologian-pastors of the church, such as Augustine and Ambrose in the Latin West, or Basil and Gregory in the Hellenistic East exercised their authority by teaching what they professed and professing what they taught. To put in Latin, they were both doctores ecclesiae (teachers of the church) and professores fidei (witnesses to the Faith). This is primordial meaning of the much abused academic designation “Professor Doctor” which some of you might earn one day. As Doctors of the church who were also Professors of the Faith, these Fathers deserved to occupy the cathedra, the chair of authority. The place from where they exercised their responsibilities was most aptly known as the Cathedral or the See.
But history also teaches us that this teaching office degenerated into seats of sectarian politics and centres of power struggles, thus leaving a vacuum in the pastoral office of Bishops. The signs of decadence were clearly seen already in the patristic era. The Christological debates ---which were marred by a theological obsession with doctrinal precision and episcopal entanglements in the politics of the Empire--- have disclosed to historian how far personal animosities and power struggles had infected the episcopate.5 Let me cite just two examples of bishops drunk with power and, therefore, bereft of authority. One is Nestorius who invited dissidents to his episcopal palace and had them beaten up, and the other is his opponent, Cyril (a Saint in the Christian Calendar) who was biased against the non-Christian and “presided, probably helplessly, over the murder and the dismembering of the pagan philosopher Hypatia in a church” and also “bribe the imperial officials with gold worth several million dollars at today’s prices”.6
Things did not become better as the centuries rolled by. In fact, in the middle ages, the mendicant orders such as the Dominicans and the Franciscan had to fill this vacuum of authority by taking up the ministry of the Word in various new ways. The Dominicans, in fact, called thenselves the Order of Preachers.
This again was not the only area in which the centre of gravity began to shift. The emergence of Universities as the centres of learning in the middle ages saw thecathedra of the bishops challenged by the cathedra of “professors” of another kind. The seat of authority shifted from the Cathedral to the University. The cathedra magistralis of the bishop seemed to have lost its lustre before the Chair of Theology or the Chair of Canon Law in a university.
The division became so neat that even St. Thomas Aquinas has referred to two distinct teaching authorities: the pastoral magisterium of the bishops and the academic magisterium of theologians — a division which is still operative in the way theology is created and taught in our own times, despite Pius XII’s warning against theolgians trying to act as the “teachers of the teaching office” (magistri magisterii).7 After all, who was the one single teaching authority that the Roman church’s hierarchy followed as its safe and sure guide for the last five centuries? Was he not Aquinas, the Theologian?
But this dualism in the magisterium, in the way it evolved, did perhaps allow the distance between doctrine and practice to widen already in the middle ages. A good instance of it is Mariology. There was a yawning gap both qualitative and quantitative between tha spare doctrinaire treatment of Mary in the academic theology and the exuberant devotional literature surrounding the popular cult of Mary, a gap noticed sometimes in the writings of the same author.8 The theology taught in the universities distanced itself from the people’s lives, and became increasingly “scholastic” theology that Ignatius had to study in Paris in the sixteenth century. As is well known, it dehydrated his soul of all affective sentiments and made him resort to a long period of prayer in order to recover his spiritual fervour. That marked the origin of Tertianship which every Jesuit had to do after his theological studies. It came to be known as schola affectus: training in affective spirituality.
Ignatius must have understood, though he would not have justified, the total rejection of scholasticism by the Protestant Reformers in the sixteenth century. Which explains why in his rules for thinking with the hierarchical church (Sp. Ex. 353 ff) he would have us “praise” scholastic theology [as much as positive theology] as it is also based on the decisions and definitions of the councils and, therefore, necessary for defending the faith from errors (Sp. Ex. 363), and insisted more than once in the Jesuit Constitutions that both theologies be taught in our scholasticates.9 He believe in the integration of the two. Nevertheless, he did urge the Jesuits to refrain from giving “sacred lectures” in the “scholastic”manner!10
What went under scholasticism, however, was not what Thomas of Aquinas taught. He was not only a genuine doctor ecclesiae, but was simultaneously a professor fidei. He directed ancient streams of mysticism into the desert of Aristotelian philosophy. He integrated the cognitive and the affective, the speculative and the spiritual into a grand synthesis,11 which is poles apart from the scholastic theology which came after him and sometimes under his name. Aristotle’s very loose way of referring to “metaphysics”, “wisdom” and “theology”, without proper differentiation, as a kind of First Philosophy dealing with the Unmoved Mover defined as Existence Itself,12 might have wielded an unwholesome influence on lesser minds than Thomas. The resultant Scholasticism was not capable of generating the much needed “sapiential theology”. A fine alternative to this dominant trend was what Jean Leclerq has called monastic theology which survived unobserved in many Benedictine monasteries,13 until perhaps it was gradually swallowed up by the all pervasive scholasticism by the end of the sixteenth century.14
It is quite understandable, therefore, that this situation was accompanied by the emergence of a another “seat” of authority:- that of the mystics some of whom seemed to have been in conflict with both bishops and theologians who suspected them of heresy.15 Even as late as in the sixteenth century, we see Ignatius thrown into prison, by the Inquisitors. The women mystics, since the middle ages, suffered the most and they were not only accused of heresy but also penalized for witchcraft, as the women’s mystical powers had presumably posed an unsettling threat to the male clerical hegemony in the church.16 There raged a fierced Witch Hunt against women from 1450 onwards, and both bishops and theologians had their share in it.
The anti-feminism operative in this movement is clearly discernible in the Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches) published in 1486 by two Dominican Inquisitors, and containing as its preface, the notorious Papal Bull of 1484, Summis Desiderantes which is said to have inspired a torture campaign against women who claimed or exercised spiritual powers. All “spiritual” authority had to be contained within the male domain of the pastoral and the academic magisteria. Indeed, these clerics were simply incapable of imagining what was to take place within span of five centuries: the official recognition of two women (Teresa of Avila and the Little Flower) as doctores ecclesiae –which they have been and still are, in so far as they also have been professores fidei.
4. The Doctrinization of Uncreated Wisdom
Even today the church runs the risk of producing professors of doctrines who might not be “professors” of Faith, academicians who have forgotten that what they learn and teach is the living Person of Christ, the Uncreated Wisdom, and not a human-made formula generated by a theology made by men for men.
You and I have also witnessed in recent times a profession of faith which in reality was a profession of doctrinal formulations created by a high ecclesiastical office which has been erected to keep doctrinal purity among theologians. Worse still, it imposed its own “profession of faith” under pain of excommunication on one of our Asian theologians. This action of the Congregation for Doctrine and Faith, according to the canonist, Ladislaus Orsy, appears to run counter to the sacred and ancient tradition of the undivided church which concedes this kind of authority only to Popes or the Councils (who/which cannot delegate such powers to others).17
This and other similar deviations from the sacred tradition of the church are the end result of a very long process which I like to call “the doctrinization of Wisdom Incarnate”. John Henry Newman’s attempt at salvaging doctrine from doctrinism, has not had the impact it deserved to have.18 Let me not be misunderstood. There is and there must be a doctrinal dimension in the expression of our faith. Our human effort at articulating our beliefs through the medium of well chosen human words is legitimate and necessary. Academic seriousness and accuracy of expression which involve a rigorous discipline of the mind should be accorded a high priority. But this, surely, does not imply that the human mind should bend its knee before its own creations. All verbal formulae, including dogmas are at besticons of God’s Word and can harm our faith if turned into idols.
This means that all formulatory theology, including dogmas, needs to be complemented and even redeemed of dogmatism by recourse to various forms of oblique language, such as poetry and song, dance and drama, painting and sculpture, narrative and parable, which are more appropriate vehicles to convey our insights and intuitions into the mystery of the Uncreated Wisdom. A formulatory theology, unless aided and complemented by the evocative idiom, can run into the claws of idolatry. This is all the more possible when the preoccupation that underlines such theology is the unholy desire to invent precision instruments to fathom the Wisdom of God with clearly defined human concepts. Those who accuse the Asian Christians of reducing theology to poetry are precisely those who have used the mathematical method to understand and convey the Salvific Truth. And again, it is those who have absolutized the relative that have branded us“relativists” for having respected the iconic nature of all dogmas. Fidelity to the best of the Latin Church’s own theological tradition demands that we relativize every formula of faith before the One Absolute Truth which is a Transcendent Person. This is what the mystics have taught the dogmaticians.
According to the considered verdict of Guiseppe Alberigo, a distinguished ecclesiologist and church-historian of our times, the Salvific Truth which was once regarded as a Life Giving Person has been gradually and systematically dissolved into a series doctrinal propositions and dogmatic formulae which could not be maintained in their rigor without a simultaneous growth of a powerful clerical class armed with massive punitive powers to maintain purity of doctrines.19 Fortunately, the First Vatican Council’s propositional and doctrinaire understanding of Revelation as a series of formulated “truths” has been corrected in Vatican II’s Dei Verbum by re-introducing the personalist idiom. But this paradigm-shift initiated by Vatican II has not really taken root in the minds of those who feel called by God to direct and correct the thinking of Asian theologians.
One major consequence of this intellectualization and de-personalization of the Saving Truth is that we have lost sight of another significant dimension of patristic theology, namely, justice to the poor.20 Now, the term “poor” is a biblical shorthand for all kinds of non-persons and non-peoples who are such often because of some kind of marginalization dispossession and victimization. In the Second Testament, they are shown to be the visible and saving Body or the Person of Christ. After all, has not Christ identified such persons with his own “me” (Mt. 25: 31-46; etc.), i.e. with his own person? When the Saving Truth loses its identity as a Person in a forest of abstract and depersonalized doctrines, then the poor who are the visible extension of that Person disappear from the centre-stage of theology. The effects were seen in the heyday of decadent scholasticism, specially since the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, when even the mendicant friars tended to “spiritualize” poverty, though there were a few exceptions, and though there were many uprisings and popular movements of the suffering masses during that period.21
My plea is that the so-called magisteria of bishops, theologians and mystics, instead of acting as rival claimants of authority, must rather humble themselves before the magisterium of the poor. Let us remember that the Bishops, Theologians, and Mystics are different ministeria in the Church, i.e. forms of service. In the biblical records, the Poor, in so far as they form a social category of people as opposed to the Powerful and the Wealthy, are chosen by God as the vehicle of God’s presence and action in educating the world in the ways of God and transforming human history into the history of God’s salvation, as George Soares-Prabhu has demonstrated with clarity and cogency.22 Are they not, therefore, the primary Magisterium? Every ministerium becomes a magisterium to the degree it has become as powerless and God-dependent as the poor are, as we shall demonstrate when discussing the ministry of mary. The focus on the poor therefore can bring about the much desired integration within these disparate ministeria.
Granted, however, that the positive theology of the Fathers with its emphasis on justice to the poor can guide us in the path to integration, we must, nevertheless, note with regret that their theology is marred by a strong streak of misogyny. Not a few of them were women-haters! Hence, in our formation programmes, the magisterium of the poor whom we must learn from, must include the excluded half of humanity. Women as women have much to teach the all-male ministerial church. The integration of the feminine into the academic and spiritual formation of our young people and in our apostolate is a crying need today, as Jesuits have frankly tried to admit during their last General Congregation.23
Let us, therefore, turn to Mary, the Seat of Wisdom, our model of integration in all the areas of fragmentation we have listed above. For, she integrated her conception of the Word with her witnessing to It; her contemplation of the Word with Its proclamation; her nurturing of the Word with her service to the needy, and in particular, her womanhood with the Ministry of the Word.
5. Mary Seat of Wisdom as the Model of Re-integration.
(A) There is a gigantic task lying before us in restoring to the church the type of ministerial authority we like to see experimented upon in Prajña Pītha, specially in the context of the incomprehension that surrounds our new experiment in the local church here24 and the crisis of authority (misnamed crisis of obedience) which has resulted from a dearth of authentic Ministers of the Word, i.e. doctores ecclesiaewho are true professores fidei, who live by the Word they minister unto, as didMary, the Seat of Wisdom.25
The Jesuits in particular, have to embark on this project with great zeal and systematic thoroughness because, as stated in their own Constitutions, they are [called, trained and sent primarily and principally as] Ministers of the Word.26 Or, as Michael Buckley has put it, “the Jesuit vocation [is] essentially priestly, an ecclesial consecration to the service of the Word within the entire world, to a ministerial availability to the universal church.....”27 What does this imply?
The Word of God is essentially and primarily a word of promise constituting a covenant.28 The promise is about the liberation of humanity and the cosmos from their natural entropy as well as from every form of humanly induced lethality. The fulfillment of this promise is the Resurrection of the whole Christ, i.e. Jesus plus his whole anthropo-cosmic body (which includes also the many co-workers of other religious persuasions who are not rivals in a conversion race but partners in a common mission); a new heaven and a new earth, with a new humanity, a new creation, a total healing of the entire creation.
That is why we cannot proclaim the Word without anticipating the final healing in ourselves and others. Healing the sick, freeing the captives, sharing the burden of the heavily laden and weary, procuring the basic human needs such as food and shelter for the hungry and homeless, are the signs of credibility and the guarantee of authority in the Ministers of the Word. William O’Malley draws our attention to an intriguing revelation: that in the first two decades of the history of the Society of Jesus, the ministry of the Word and the ministry to the needy went hand in hand and kept the Jesuits fiercely busy, though, statistically, very few of them were ordained priests! By a mandate of Pope Paul III, Jesuit superiors could employ even non-ordained members in the Ministry of the Word anywhere in the world!29 And they did not proclaim the Word without serving the poor. Even the women who came for spiritual direction to the Jesuits ended up serving the needy,30 instead of remaining perpetual daughters of underdeveloped fathers! The Word delivers us from introversion and sends us out to others on a mission of service; hence our ministry is not narrowly cultic, but wholly prophetic and missionary.
(B) It is when seen in this perspective that Mary captures our attention as a model minister of the Word. The portrait of this Ômodel’ which the evangelists have sketched out for us with the fewest possible strokes is meant to transmit a condensed message about her intimate rapport with the Word. One bold stroke in this portrait highlights the virgin who had the proper interior disposition to welcome the Word; another brings out the mother who nourishes the Word while being nourished by It; and the third is suggestive of the most pronounced feature of Mary’s personality: the disciple who followed the Word right up to the hour of Its ultimate disclosure on the Cross. As a virgin, mother and disciple, she points to a tri-siksa (a triple training) that we must impart to every prospective minister of the Word.31
Before we try to unfold this compact message of the gospels, we do well to take serious note of the kind of inconsistency that has somewhat disoriented the contemporary church with regard to these three Marian roles. In the popular piety of the faithful, the emphasis seems to fall on Mary’s virginity which is too easily identified as the basis of her holiness, whereas in its official teachings in general, the church had laid the stress on her divine maternity. But in Jesus’ vision of God’s Reign, it is discipleship that matters above all else. Let me expand this idea.
Mary’s virginity has never been officially defined as a dogma, but is an essential part of the Catholic faith supported by a clear scriptural affirmation of at least the viginitas ante partum.32 In the popular spirituality, unfortunately, the focus is narrowed down to physical virginity or at most to sexual continence on which Mary’s holiness is believed to rest. In classical books of meditation --e.g., that of Vermesch which I perused as a Novice, I learnt to internalize a widespread impression that in Luke 1: 26-38, Mary practically declined to become God’s mother unless God left her “vow” of virginity intact.
Let us not forget that there was a very strong emphasis on the intrinsic value of virginity as such in the first centuries Church, for a mixture of reasons both good and bad.33 This trend seems to have left a permanent dent in devotional Christianity under the influence of docetism and gnosticism, placing an“exaggerated emphasis” in Mary’s perpetual virginity, notably during the third and fourth centuries when consecrated virginity had become an officially recognized church institution that relegated marriage to a lower level.34 This exaggeration has, unfortunately, diminished the value of Mary’s Virginity in the economy of salvation. For, it must mean something much more vital for human kind than mere physical integrity and sexual continence, and to fathom its message in the context of the Christ-event we need a new openness as many great theologians have reminded us.35
In contrast to the Mariology of devotional Christianity, the official teaching of the councils and the popes has consistently located the greatness of Mary in her “divine maternity”. That Mary is the Mother God, or more accurately, the Forthbringer of God (Theotokos) is a datum of faith which became the earliest Marian Dogma to be defined by the church, and has always served as the foundation of Mariology. All the so-called Marian privileges stressed in “High Mariology” are traced back to that source.
But the great omission in the traditional teaching of the church and its pastoral practice is its failure to give greater and more sustained emphasis to Mary’s discipleship which has an unshakable foundation in the Gospels. The preponderant Marian devotion encouraged in the church appears to revolve round praying to Mary for favors and lavishing praises on her. The Conciliar call to imitate Mary as the model on which the church-life and the individual Christian-life has to be shaped (LG, no. 53, 63) is neglected. Paul VI tried to remedy this imbalance in his Apostolic Exhortation, Marialis Cultus of 1974. The Pope says that Mary deserves to be imitated “because she is the first and the most perfect of Christ’s disciples”(MC no. 35). Besides, in Jesus’ scale of priorities, i.e. in the perspective of God’s Reign, what counts is not biological maternity, or sexual continence, much less physical virginity but “hearing the word and keeping it” (Mt. 12:50; Mk. 3: 35; Lk. 8: 21). In this sense, Mary the mother, in so far as she had kept the Word, became a believing sister in the new Family of Jesus, as Moltmann notes, quoting Acts 1:14,36 that is to say, “our sister” as Pope Paul VI himself puts it in another allocution.37
Hence it is unfortunate that there is a move to increase Marian dogmas by defining new titles such as “Mediatrix” and “co-redemtrix”. I personally regard these Marian titles as theologically defensible, as you can see from what I am going to say later, and yet, I feel drawn by the arguments of many highly esteemed Mariologist such as Rene Laurentin who find such definitions unnecessary and ecumenically counter-productive.38
My humble suggestion is this:- that the church take great pastoral care not only to inculcate in the faithful (without resorting to definitions and dogmas) the much needed emphasis on the discipleship of the Virgin-Mother, but also to situate her virginity and motherhood in the context of her ministry to the Word of God.
It is precisely this pastoral project that I highlight in Part Two of this discourse, where I discuss virginity, motherhood, and discipleship as the three Marian dimensions of the Ministry to the Word, and derive from that discussion the tri-siksa or the triple-training which our young men have every right to expect fromPrajña Pītha.
The Threefold Marian Formation of the Ministers
6. Training in Virginity: the Disposition for Conceiving the Word
(A) The Word that Israel and all the nations awaited, the Word that came to Mary, was the Word of Promise as we have already mentioned. Now this Promise- an agreement or a covenant-- has elicited from us a Word of Hope. This hope consists in this:- that as equal partners of a covenant, “God-and-we” ---i.e., Emanuel who is bonded with us even in our sin and death--- can move together from sinfulness to holiness; from death to life; from slavery to freedom; from fragmentation to wholeness; from a scattered people to a gathered community; from the illusion of self-destructive auto-sufficieny to the dawn of self-growth through other-centredness; from idolatry which creates pyramidally structured societies thriving on slavery (as in Egypt and Babylonia, Greece and Rome, and their counterparts today), to the worship of the one true God whose distinctive characteristics --righteousness and justice, love and loyalty-- inform the lives of believers and gather them into society of equals held together by mutual services, i.e., an alternate society witnessing to that which is to come.
In sum, God’s Word of Promise and our word of Hope --both expressed in concrete action-- make us equal partners with God in this great and arduous process of redemption. I emphasize equal for reasons given below.
However, we must not lose sight of Yahweh’s modus operandi in this matter, which is consistent with Yahweh’s nature. S/He would never enter into a pact with the rich and the powerful, or the self-righteous and the highly placed. They can never partner God in the project of liberation. Which means, we qualify to become partner with God to the degree we are powerless, and we are powerless when we renounce every form of subservience to the ephemeral strength of any human agency which we associate ourselves with. This total dependence on God alone and on no other, is virginity: I know not man.
Luke who stresses the significance of the socially despised and economically dispossessed classes in his gospel makes it quite clear who Mary was when he says that God sent a messanger to a “Virgin from Nazareth in Galilee” (Lk 1:27), a woman not elevated to the state of fruitfulness by a man, and of low origin, i.e. from an obscure village of a despised region. Luke makes Mary herself admit this humiliating condition in her magnificat, as the very reason of her election: “For His loving attention fell on the lowly social condition (tapeinosin) of his servant” (Lk 1:48).39 It was this self-awareness of Mary that disposed her to conceive the Word.
Perhaps, as a woman, she would not have had the privilege of the males to study the Written Word under a Rabbi. But she, was more than a mere student of the Tora. By her virginity, she did more than just choose the “better part” as the other Mary did who listened to the Word from the Rabbi of Nazareth (lk. 10: 42), but chose the “very best”:- the conception of the Word in her heart and in her person. This means, the Uncreated Wisdom possessed her so thoroughly that she became the Prajña Pītha, the Seat of Wisdom.
(B) Therefore, the fundamental disposition required of a Minister of the Word is the capacity to conceive the Word. A potential minister of the Word is someone perfectly conscious of being bonded to no human power, indeed a virgin most poor, and therefore a virgin most free to be overshadowed by the Spirit of God, who alone breathes the Word of salvation. It is this Marian disposition that Ignatius puts down as the Principle and Foundation of all ministerial life (Sp. Ex. 23). Francis Xavier, a brilliant university student who had the right connection, a flare for academic success and an ambition for a career in high society had to be turned up side down - for that is what conversion means-- before he could be entrusted with the Ministry of the Word in Asia, a ministry of which, your faith and mine are the precious fruit.
Just think of John the Baptist, the greatest Minister of the Word after Mary, “the voice of God crying in the wilderness”, the Announcer of the Word to those who awaited Its arrival. In recording the coming of the Word to John, the third gospel starts with a long sentence listing all the seats of power that controlled the destiny of the nation:- the power of Imperial Rome (Emperor Tiberius), the Representative of that Imperial Power (Governor Pilate), the power of the local stooges of Rome (the tetrachs Herod and Philip), and last but not least the power of the Religious Hierarchy (High Priest Annas and Caiphas) who were subservient to Rome because Rome appointed them; and then, he ends with the insinuation that the authority of the Word came to rest on none of these men, nor in their palaces in the Centre, but in the barren desert in the periphery, and on John, the virgin, i.e., the Renouncer of Human Power, and therefore a qualified Announcer of the Divine Word.
In the fifteenth year of the Reign of Tiberius--when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod Tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Phili tetrarch of Iturea and Trachomitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene,-- during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiphas, the Word of God came upon John, the son of Zacharias, in the desert. (lk. 3: 1-2)
This same principle of election was operative in the divine preparation of the messianic lineage. The old and barren Sarah, finally, did bear the Messiah’s forefather. Elizabeth, the identical circumstances, was able to bring forth the Messiah’s Fore-runner. I suggest that the barren woman and the virgin are the symbols of the two interconnected forms of poverty or powerlessness ---the unwillingly inherited impotency and the voluntarily embraced impotency--- which are each a condition for being chosen by God for covenant partnership.40 Sarah and Elizabeth were barren by nature but Mary was not. She was a virgin. Whereas they could not bear children for their men, Mary knew no man to bear a child.
Virginity as a sexual continence was never esteemed in Israel as a permanent state of life, while barrenness was almost a curse. They both symbolize human incapacity to bring forth fruit. Fertility was the blessing that determined the quality of life. The fig tree was cursed for being barren (Mt. 21:19). The axe is laid to the tree that does not bring forth the fruits of God’s Reign (Mt. 3:10). Fertility for the Reign of God requires a soil that is free of interference. The virginity of Mary was more than mere sexual continence. It meant her awareness of being, paradoxically, in a state of non-productiveness that gave God the freedom to bring forth the Word as the “fruit of her womb”, a state of powerlessness which was before God a state of absolute freedom.
(C) Here, I appeal to Greek Orthodox Mariology, which helps us to understand thepowerless Virgin’s “equal” partnership with God in the incarnation of the Word. Somewhere down the line, we of the Latin church (and obviously, those of the Reformed Churches), have forgotten that the covenant between God and us is not a business partnership, a Market Contract where the more powerful party takes advantage of the vulnerability of the weaker partner. Ours is a covenant of love. Love does not maneuver the submission of the other’s will to one’s own. Love is not possible between unequal partners. And if the partners are unequal, then Love serves as the equalizer. The Powerful Lover loses power by the very act of falling in love, the same act of love by which the powerless lover rises in power. Power is shared equally among those in love.
It is my guess that this belief might have been implicitly operative in the interpretation given to the Annunciation (Lk 1:26-38) by many Greek Orthodox theologians. The Spirit of God is waiting to breathe the Word into Mary’s flesh, but is rendered powerless, so to say, before a woman who, in her powerlessness, has received the power to return a human word of concent on which stands or falls the divine plan. According to Nicholas Kabasilas, Mary acts with the Spirit as His “co-agent” (synergós)41 in the incarnation of Divine Wisdom. She is far more than aninstrumentum conjunctum cum Deo.42 The Greek thinkers who upheld God’s absolute sovereignty did, nevertheless, insist that it was only at Mary’s Fiat that the divine plan could be carried out.43 The seventh century Byzantine theologian Maximus the Confessor, perhaps to the consternation of those who followed Augustine in the West, takes salvation (or deification as the Greek called it) to be a reward given as a gift by God, thus affirming paradoxically the capacity of the human will to merit God’s gratuitous grace.44
This means we should not allow the Immaculate Conception of Mary to be so interpreted as to exempt her from the inclination to waver before reaching momentous decisions, from the need to battle against the temptation to self-seeking, and from the need to labor arduously to clear the doubts that block her path to God. Or else, Mary would be a mere robot, fully programmed through her immaculate conception to say “yes” to an overpowering God. Such a Mary, I grant, is a very useful for creating and maintaining blindly obeying spiritual robots specially among women. It was this interpretation of the immaculate conception that Tisssa Balasuriya rightly questioned, and not the dogma as such.45
Hence, I like to place the question in its proper Christological context:- Would it not be more helpful for us to ask ourselves “what kind of Mary could conceive God’s Word” than to speculate about “how Mary herself was conceived”? What Balasuriya tried to depict for us was a Mary who struggled like her Son to seek and find God’s will and who collaborated with God in freedom and with responsibility in the great work of redemption, a Mary who “was far from being a timidly submissive woman” --words not of Balasuriya, but of Paul VI (Marialis Cultus, no. 37). How else could she be a model for us to imitate?
The Greek Orthodox church which has been celebrating the feast of Mary’s conception for many centuries, but was not happy about the papal dogma of 1854, has given us an iconographic presentation of the annunciation scene where Mary’s equal partnership with the Spirit is powerfully brought out. The icons depict the scene in three tableaus:- Mary’s perturbation at the appearance of Gabriel, her perplexity and prudence, and her consent.46 That Mary could truly sin, or perhaps refuse God’s request and that her fiat was not a forgone conclusion but a much considered and painfully discern “yes” of faith which was as much necessary for the incarnation to take as was the power of the Triune God - was the general belief articulated in the Greek Orthodox theology, liturgy and iconography.47 In the Latin church Bernard of Clairveaux came somewhat close to this view, in his De laudibus virginis matris48 and intriguingly, he was a vehement opponent of the doctrine of Immaculate Conception, probably because he misapprehended its implications, as many do even today.
The difference between the Western and Eastern Patriarchates in this matter seems to be noticed also in the credal formulae referring to Mary’s role the incarnation. The original formula, in all its variations, seems to have expressed the equal partnership of Mary and the Holy Spirit:- “that the Lord Jesus was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary (ex pneumatos hagiou kai Marias parthenou),whereas the standard version used in the Latin Church read: “by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary” (de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine). This Latin formula has been traced back to Augustine’s follower, Fulgentius of Ruspe, who seemed to have been confused by his master’s alternating use of the two formulae.49
Conclusion:- the disposition or the “spirituality” which qualifies a prospective minister to act as a co-agent (synergós) with the Spirit in bringing forth the Word into our midst can be described as having such a degree of interior freedom as to be rendered unproductive from the point of view of the structures of domination prevailing in and outside the church. I know not man. This is the Marian siksa that must be built into our academic life, lest we succumb to the existing model. Every type of productiveness that depends on the domination system is called success and its driving force is ambition. Wherever these two values operate, the teaching of theology degenerates into a mere commentary on the official church’s declarations rather than a creative engagement with the church’s ministerial commitment to the Word; the training given is in the Ôcraft’ of displaying one’s competence in doctrines rather than in the art of communicating Wisdom. The students, too, learn the game of playing safe rather than playing true; for the academic grades become so many rungs in the clerical ladder, specially where another local church grants the degrees after setting the standards, the content and the method of theology.50 What we advocate for Prajña Pītha, we repeat, is another paradigm: the Marian one.
7. Training in Motherhood: The Nurturing of the Word
(A) Motherhood and childhood are correlative terms because of their co-origination. One becomes a mother only when a child is conceived in her. It is conception that gives birth to maternity. A mother and her child nurture each other, ensuring for each other a growth in age, grace and wisdom. Mary nourished the Word Incarnate until God’s humanity reached full maturation in the Man Jesus, but, at the same time, she found herself being continually educated and formed by him almost at every ciritical event in her life and in his. There is here a reciprocity between the Word and Its Minister. There is mutual nurturing and interdependent maturing.
Let us first consider the way the Word mourishes, educates and brings to maturity the Minister who has conceived the Word in his or her maturing.
The act of conceiving the Word in one’s heart and in one’s body or person as the Virgin Mary did, is a far cry from our ambitious efforts at conceptualizing the Word in our mind. The latter is the first step in what we have lamented as a process ofdoctrinization. This is the last thing that Mary could do, as she and her husband did not even understand the Word when It addressed Itself to them, as Luke informs us, (Lk. 2:50). Mark, too, hints at an initial incomprehension of the Son on the part of her mother (Mk. 3: 32-33). What she tried to understand and failed was the mystery of the Man Jesus. Her mental framework was not defined by a search for a theory about him. The only paradigm she thought and acted in, was hope for liberation -a preoccupation of all God’s little ones. To put it bluntly, hers could not have been a fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding), as in the case of a medieval Ministers of the Word, but a fides sperans salutem ( a faith awaiting salvation) as in the case of the powerless ones of Israel. Listen to Vatican II:- “She stands out clearly (praecellit) among the poor and the humble of the Lord who confidently await (sperant) and receive salvation from him” (LG, no. 55).
Yes, she goes further than that. “She stands out among the poor and the humble of the Lord” not merely as some one waiting to receive the Word of salvation, as the Council rightly teaches, but perhaps also as one who is open enough to hear some enlightening word about the Word Itself from the other poor and humble ones of God; as Luke seems to suggest (Lk. 2: 17-19). The poor shepherds were the first to receive the Good News -for it was primarily for the poor that Jesus came, as Ignatius has reminded us.51 Having received the news, they also administered the word to the others, including the one conceived and brought forth the Word. On“seeing” the Incarnate Word, the shepherds egnórizan i.e. “made known” or“declared”, (i.e. revealed in a proclamatory manner)52 “the Word that has spoken about the Child” (v. 17). These words which Mary heard from God’s Poor about the Word, she is reported to have “treasured” in her heart and “pondered over” (v.19). Simeon and Anna were the other Spirit-filled little ones of God awaiting salvation, who enlightened Mary about the Word whom she was mothering (vv. 25-38).
The Spirit continues to instruct her through the humble ones of the earth who are the primary addressees of the Good News. She draws our attention to theMagisterium of the Poor, of which she, too, is part. Listening to and learning from the Poor, by being part of them, is an indispensable element in the training of a Minister of God’s Word. In this too, Mary remains a model for the church and its ministers.
(B) God’s word is heard not only in the depths of one’s being (the voice of the Angel) and in the poor and the humble (the shepherds, Anna and Simeon) but also in the Holy Scriptures. Mary’s song of praise, a blend of poetry and prophecy as Luke put it in her mouth, is a fine summary of Israel’s faith which constitutes the axis of revelation in the First Testament. Indeed Mary was also the magisterium who instructed the Child Jesus in the faith of Israel. She introduced him to the Mystery of the Word, which he, sooner than she, would recognize to be His own person. The one whose Body she formed and molded was the one that summed up and fulfilled the Word in the Scriptures. Vatican II quoting St. Jerome says that“the ignorance scriptures is ignorance of Christ” (Dei Verbum, no. 25).
This Body-Word experience of Mary must guide us when articulating the munus pastorale of the church of which we are called to be the dispensers. This Latin phrase means literally, the duty of the Holy Mother the church to feed the faithful with God’s Word, and thus build then into the [mystical] Body of Christ, in a Marian fashion. Here we must pay attention to what Vatican II teaches us in its dogmatic constitution on revelation, the Dei Verbum. After a prolonged debate, it recovered for us an ancient understanding that gave equality of importance to the Word of God in the Scriptures and the Body of Christ in the Eucharist as constituting the one bread of life offered to the faithful at the one table of the Lord. (DV, no. 21). For which, says the Council , the church as the spouse of the Word instructed by the Spirit, must herself be fed regularly by the Word of God (DV no. 23) . Since theology rests on the Word of God, in scripture and tradition (DV no. 24) all the the faithful --clergy and religious and laity-- must be, according to the Council, continually nourished by a “careful study” of it, no less than by a “sacred reading”which “prayer should accompany”, so that there may be both talking to God and listening to God in a spirit of conversation (DV no. 25).
So much abouth the Word nourishing the Minister. Now what of the converse: the growth of the Word through Its Minister?53 To answer this usually unasked question we must first take note of a limitation that the Conciliar document on Revelation suffers from.
(C) When Vatican II passed the draft text of Dei Verbum, on 20th November 1962, the French Jesuit Monthly Les Études labeled the date as “the end of the Counter-Reformation,”54 the end of our conflict with Reformed Christians or the Protestants. It was, therefore, a clear rejection of the Vatican Curia’s theology on Revelation. Yves Congar, O.P., has recalled, with warm sentiments of triumph, how the Biblical Institute in Rome survived a massive mud-campaign from the professors of the Lateran University before the Council could come to approve this text.55 Given the tension caused by the curial theologians, some compromises had to be made. Therefore, as Enzo Bianchi has noted, this great document is “timid and uncertain in comparison with what it might have said on the basis of the great tradition of the church”, and, consequently, “[it] should have been a point of departure, not a point of arrival, for a new ecclesiastical understanding of the word of God and of its central place in the entire life of those who believe in the Lord.”56
Dei Verbum, therefore, is not the final word, but a point of departure for us in Asia. The Asian Church has to expand this Conciliar vision of the Word of God, not only in the light of the tradition of the church, as Bianchi has rightly urged, but also in the context of the horizon opened up by the other Scriptures and other traditions of our people in Asia. The Western Patriarchate did not experience the challenges and opportunities offered by other Scriptures when it developed its theology. Therefore we have to create a precedent, as we have none to follow. In the first place, the Asian flavour of the Hebrew-Aramic idiom in the Bible is a strong religio-cultural link which Christianity has with other forms of religious expressions in Asia, a link that needs to be fully exploited. There are now a few biblical scholars in Asia who are at least trying to break new grounds in Exegesis, with a concomitant study of the scriptures of other religions.57 The orientation towards this daring and creative activity must be initiated already now as a common and shared enterprise of the teachers and the taught in institutions such as this. A beginning has to be made. The Word must grow through our ministry here in Asia.
Add to this the Ignatian factor. Ignatius opened up for the church a precious stream of biblical spirituality which had been flowing underground for centuries.58 This spirituality cannot be better fostered and developed among the Jesuits and their co-workers than by rooting their formation in the Scriptures, both Hebrew and Christian. Therefore I strongly plead here for a thoroughly Scriptural formation of our men from the Novitiate onwards. This means the following.
The presupposition behind these suggestions is that the Bible as such is not strictly the Word of God, but is its sacrament; it is a school where our ears are trained and our hearts are tuned to hear and recognize God’s voice in the scriptures beyond the bible and in the religious communities beyond the church and in the events that determine the destiny of our nation and our continent.
Before I conclude my remarks about this second dimension of the formation of ministers, I am obliged to make a much needed clarification about the scriptural basis of Liberation Theology. This theology began to flourish, not as a Marxist reading of the Scriptures as some have naively assumed,59 but as the natural consequence of the poor in the base communities having access to the Bible as their manual of spirituality. This was so in Latin America. And it was equally true of Minjung Christianity in Korea, -the first brand of Asian liberation theology. Here we see clearly how powerless ones, are naturally disposed to hear, recognize and welcome the Word of God which is revealed to them when their own history illumines the events in the Scriptures and vice versa.
It is precisely the Word so read and obeyed that eventually exploded into a dynamic spirituality of personal and social transformation, and came to be known as Liberation Theology. Certain biblical theologians have given it form and order while some wise and prudent bishops have recognized it ecclesial character by getting pastorally involved with its genesis. Thus the emergence of the theology of liberation illustrates how the two ministries, i.e. of the church leaders and of the theologians, have collaborated with the magisterium of the poor.
Hence in the formation of future Ministers of the Word, care must be taken to see that their association with the poor (Christian and otherwise) and their familiarity with the Scriptures (Christian and otherwise) go hand in hand so that the Word may grow in our lands into Its fullness.
8. Training in Discipleship: Standing by the Word heard on the Cross
(A) Jesus has described discipleship as denying oneself, taking up one’s cross and following him. Now, the very word “cross” tends to stir our minds and hearts with images of horror and terror, of violence and blood-shed. Rest assured, not all of us may be called to that kind of ordeal. Nor is it healthy to desire it. Any one who does so, is mentally ill. Self-denial is not self-hate. Jesus was not a suicide who procured his fatal end nor was he a masochist who enjoyed his passion and death. What he yearned and worked for was the coming of God’s Reign, the spread of his non-dominating and maternal Father’s Rule over all humankind, the flooding of the world with His life-giving Spirit, gathering of non-persons into a community of love. This was the Word of Promise that he fulfilled, the Word of Promise that he is.
The Cross is none other than the violent resistance that this Word of God encounters in the System of Domination we have created for our selves. A Minister who serves the Word, must be prepared sooner or later to face this resistance. Self-denial is a name for the discipline that keeps us ever prepared to face that eventuality. Not all resistance to the Word culminates in physical torture and brutal murder. Mary, the perfect disciple of Christ, did not shed her blood nor was she subjected to bodily violence. The sword that pierced her heart was of another kind.
The fourth Gospel has immortalized her life-long discipleship on the Way of the Cross with a few words which have become part of our Lenten devotions for several centuries, words set to music by such composers as Palestrina, Haydn, Schubert and Verdi: stabat mater ... juxta crucem, near the cross stood the mother of Jesus, not alone, but with other women disciples standing in solidarity with her (Jn. 19: 25). Truly, she stood by the Word of God at Its most revealing moment: the moment of the cross. That moment is known as “the hour”, the hour of Jesus, the hour which she persuaded Jesus to anticipate in Cana to help a family in distress, it was the hour of exaltation when the saving truth was fully disclosed in all its compelling grandeur, when God in Jesus uttered with the last dying breath an entirely new Word about Godself and about us. She took her stand there, in full hearing of it.
Note that among the expressions that have recurred in my reference to Mary, there are four, namely, Word, Cross, Revealing-Hearing and Standing, which are so loaded with soteriological connotations that they easily lend themselves to be woven into a kind of sutra which defines Mary’s discipleship, and, therefore, that of a Minister of the Word:- “STANDING by the WORD which is HEARD on the CROSS”.
A sutra (Sanskrit for tread) connotes a “stringing together” of messageful words into a sapiential utterance that would guide one’s life. It is, therefore, not a cold dogmatic formula, but an evocative cadence of language that stirs our imagination and spurs our will. It is blend of prophecy and poetry. I propose it here as the Marian motto for those being trained as Ministers of the Word at Prajña Pītha.
Let me first comment on the meaning of “standing” and “heard” occuring in thissutra. As Yves Congar has reminded us, these are the expressions that the Hebrew language utilizes to convey what he calls the two basic notions in the First Testament, namely, “to believe” and “to obey”. The idea of believing is expressed in Hebrew by the verbal form which means “taking one’s stand on” [i.e. standing by, sticking to] and the idea of obeying is conveyed by the verbal root meaning “to hear”.60 The implication is the following.
When we hear the Word and take a clear stand on what we hear, we meet the Cross where the Word reaches its fullest expression, a revelation, demanding a further hearing and further need for standing by what is heard. The discipleship of Mary was this long redemptive process marked by the cross of Christ, where the same Word which came to her in the silence of her solitude in Nazareth had grown in her and with her into a world-shaking event on Calvary.
This means that the Word is an event to be engaged in, not simply a doctrine to be developed and understood in a conceptually coherent way. It is a prophetic message of deliverance rather than a phonetic expression of a concept. The message of ultimate liberation, as the Buddhist would say, eludes logical language: avitakkavacara. The criterion for discerning the veracity of a truth(dhamma), says the Buddha, can never be ratiocination (takka) or the syllogistic method (naya) but its own capacity to bring forth liberation.61 So also in the best of Christian tradition, what the Saving Word evokes in the hearer is not just a mental apprehesion of a logically consistent truth, but primarily an appropriateaction which accompanies an insightful comprehension of, and a delighful engagement with, the gift of liberation. To hear the Word (obedience) is to take a stand with regard to it (belief). To believe is to act and it is deeds that keep one’s faith alive (Jas. 2: 14-26).
Furthermore, the Word cannot be reduced to the logos of the philsophers which means intelligibility and rationality, something that only explains the world without changing it, something that sooner or later grows into a doctrine, a dogma, well rehearsed in one’s mind and well debated in councils before being constructed into a conceptually precise formula, which then is invoked as the infallible criterion to detect intellectual errors which are condemned as heresies, with grave consequences for those accused of such conceptual deviations.
No. The Word of God is more than logos. It is dabar, an executive Word of Liberation. It is a happening, an event that brings freedom from all bonds of mind and body. It is a Word that elicits change or conversion. It is also a hodos a“way” of life, a pratipada or marga. In sum, the Word is Wisdom.62 Hence, what It conveys is not just a thought for rumination or an image for contemplation, but an invitation to a journey; not a theory but a praxis which is the first formulation of any theory of liberation; not a view-point primarily but a stand-point. For, it is from where you take your stand that you begin to form your view of things. In this crucial moment in our country’s history, tell me where you stand and I shall tell you what you see. Hearing (obedience to God’s Word) and standing by it (believing in God’s Word) comes before seeing or contemplating the truth.
(B) I wish to develop this theme further by drawing out the implications of a couple of insights offered by Congar (without, of course, involving him in my conclusions) with regard to the relationship between the aural and the visual idioms employed in the Bible.63 In the First Testament the word to “hear” occurs 1,100 times. The ideal relationship between God and us is one of hearing each other, which means speaking to each other; a conversation, in which listening means acting. God acts when we call out to Her, and we act when S/He appeals to us. Speaking and hearing constitute the main idiom used in the Bible, always with a demand for action. This is the meaning of dabar, the Word-Event.
After all, what was Mary’s first impulse after receiving the Word? Action! She hurried to the house of a pregnant women who needed help; and there, assisted at the birth of a future Minister of the Word; in her Magnificat she proclaimed the Good News that God had indeed fulfilled his promise to the downtrodden, to the humiliated and to the hungry; and finally, she brought about the joyful “leap” of the Spirit in the life and the womb of a barren made fruitful for God’s Reign (Lk. 1:39-56). Mary thus anticipated in her own person the ministry which the church would later undertake as soon as the Spirit impregnated it with the Word on the day of the Pentecost. She was herself the church ahead of its times, a nuclear inception of the ministerially active church announcing the Word and serving the needy.64
However, some could argue that the finality of vision over hearing, or contemplation over apostolic action is the dominant trend in the Christian part of the Bible which has more occurrences of “seeing” (690 times) than of “hearing” (425 times). The Greek influence alone might not explain these statistics, as Congar notes; the basic reason is that “the Word became flesh” and began to be seen as God’s own human image, as much he was heard as God’s own human voice. Nevertheless, let us not also forget that he alone had seen God Whom he, therefore, has made us hear (cf. Jn. 1:18), that it is in him that we, too, can see God (Jn. 14; 9), and that before going back to God he had left behind his visible image in the victims of nations, with an anticipated answer to the question, “Lord when did we see you......?” (Mt. 25: 31-46).
In the concluding section (no. 9 below), I shall discuss the implications of this last observation of mine, in view of which I like to quote the following clarification offered by Congar:- in the general biblical usage, “the verb Ôto see’ is used in passages about the after-life (eschatology), and with reference to God it is put in the future tense” because in this life, we depend “on faith [ ....] in the spoken Word,” whereas “in the life to come we shall perceive by the vision”.65 If that is true, then, what the Second Testament itself expects of the Ministers of the Word in this life is the hearing of the Word expressed through action. Therefore, presumably, the seeing of the image accompanied by mystical contemplation, is a gratuitous gift which, if granted, should stimulate us to acquire the habit of incessant listening to God’s voice ---a habit which constitutes the essence of an“apostolic mysticism” proper to the Minister of the Word.
(C) Ignatius has re-captured this biblical emphasis remarkably well in the Spirituality he has bequeathed to the church. I think he has done this in two ways:- first, in the way he related “self-denial” (i.e., the cross taken up by a disciple) to his understanding of prayer as constant God-awareness in the midst of action; second, in the way he transformed the meaning of the traditional term contemplation to serve an apostolic spirituality. Let me say a word about each.
In a conversation with Nadal, as recorded by da Camara, St. Ignatius had expressed his skepticism about those who believed in long prayers and many practices of penance, and then, after emphasizing “self-denial” as the foundation of spirituality, he ended by praising specially that kind of prayer which “consisted in holding God before the eyes all the time”.66 This is not an isolated piece of advise, but the leit motif of the Ignatian teaching on spirituality.67 Self-denial or taking up the cross --which is Jesus’ understanding of discipleship-- consists of giving oneself fully to whatever God demands of us at each moment, for which one must be disposed to seek God’s Will continuously (Sp. Ex. 189), i.e., hear and stand by God’s Word at all times. That kind of prayer which consist of having one’s eyes fixed on the Lord and God all the times is a seeing that guarantees a hearing in the thick of ministerial engagements, unlike that other kind of “seeing” proper to the vocation of the Contemplatives, which is associated with formal prayer rather that apostolic action.
The Ignatian spirituality consists of discerning love (discreta caritas), i.e., a constant hearing (“obeying”) and standing by (“believing”) the inner Word that the Spirit whispers within us. That is why the giving of the the Spiritual Exercises has always been considered a form of Ministry of the Word.68 It is a training in Marian sensititivity to the Word of God, an initiation into the art of recognizing and responding to the inner word (the voice of Gabriel) which heralds the overshadowing of the Spirit in view of a special mission. It is a biblical spirituality of discernment meant for activists who are ever on the move.
The second innovation is even more ingenious. Ignatius has imparted an untraditional (?) interpretation to the word “contemplation” in the way he has developed it as a kind of formal prayer (e.g., Sp. Ex. 110-117). Its purpose is not the “transforming union” sought by the contemplative monastics, but a species of“apostolic mysticism” born of an intensive re-living of the scenes of the Gospel, a whole-hearted insertion of oneself into each Word-Event with the full use of one’s interior and exterior senses as well as with all the powers of one’s imagination so that one truly becomes a participant of that happening. It is an anamnesis of God’s saving acts in history imploding into one’s inner being and generating a passion for personal involvement in the making of that history, clearing the obstacles that stand in the way of doing what one hears in that Word-Event so contemplated. It is the prayer of contemplation suited to those engaged in the active Ministry of the Word.
9. The Ministry of the End-Time Word
I come now to my final observation about the visual idiom in the Christian Scriptures, which, as Congar suggests, refers to seeing Christ in his end-time glory. As I promised a little while ago, I like now to spell out the implications of this statement within the perspectives of our calling to the Ministry of the Word.
The gospels mention a very specific kind of seeing whose object is the image of Christ in his end-time glory, the image of the Eschatological Judge. Then seenbecomes dabar, an executive word that requests immediate hearing-cum-action. I am referring to the Incarnate Word Himself made visible in the hungry and the thirsty, the sick and the jailed, the naked and the homeless --in short, in the insignificant sisters and brothers of Jesus-- who let us into God’s Reign in exchange for our attention and service to them. For, they are he in person, judging the nations now in view of the End-Time (Mt. 25:31-46). Whoever sees this eschatological Victim-Judge of nations has to hear the Word and stand by what is heard.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10: 25-37), the traditional believers (the priest and the Levite) who had idolized the “scriptural words” regarding blood-polluted bodies, “passed by the other side”. They did not take a stand, because they did not hear the Word in what they saw. For, they were busy with their own words about the Word. This is “logolatry”, which keeps doctrinizers from recognizing the voice of the Speaker whom they claim to represent and interpret for others. They had eyes but could not see, ears but could not hear. By contrast, the Samaritan, the non-conformist, seemed to possess a heart clear of any Ôthorns’ of doctrinism which Ôchoke’ the Word of God (Lk. 8:7). He saw the victim. Seeing, he heard the Word. Hearing, he took a stand and acted promptly.
1. Lectio Brevis delivered at the Jesuit Centre for Integral Religious Studies. Lewella, Kandy, Sri Lanka, Monday, 1 June 1998.
2. The technical term for a university, here, in Sri Lanka, is sarasavi-, Sinhala for Sarasvati.
3. Kittel, s.v. sophia alludes to the conflict between its actual (Greek) sense and the Hebrew hakma.
4. For sources, see, for instance, Clodvis Boff and George V. Prixley, The Bible, the Church and the Poor, pp. 159-164, and endnotes.
5. See Andrew Hamilton, S.J., “Creeds as Anti-Personal Lines”, Pacifica, 11/1 (February 1998), pp. 27-53.
6. Ibid., p. 32.
7. See Jack Mahoney, S.J., Magisterium and Moral Theology”, The Month, March 1987, 90 ff. With Pius XII’s near identification of papacy with the Magisterium the 19th century’s distinction between the ecclesia docens (Teaching Church) and ecclesia discens (learning church) has been almost taken for granted, as the recent acts of the CDF shows. But John Paul II himself has expressed his reservation about this teacher-taught distinction [see Crossing the Threshold of Hope, (London: Jonathan Cape, 1994), p. 175].
8. Elizabeth A. Johnston, “Marian Devotion in the Western Church”, Ed. Jill Rait et al., Christian Spirituality II: High Middle Ages and Reformation, in Ewert Cousins (Gen. Editor), World Spirituality (London: SCM Press, 1988), p. 395.
9. The Constitutions of the Jesuits, tr. G. Ganss, Institute of Jesuits Sources, St. Louis, 1970, nos. 351, 446, 464.
10. Ibid., no. 402.
11. See Simon Tugwell, O.P., “St. Thomas Aquinas on the Spiritual Life”, Listening, 26 (1991), pp. 189-199.
12. See Charles H. Kahn, “On the Intended Interpretation of Aristotle’s Metaphysics”, in J. Wiesner (Ed.), Aristoteles Werk und Wirkung: Paul Moroaux Gewidmet, Vol. I, Aristoteles und seine Schule Gryter, Berlin, 1985, pp. 311-338.
13. See Jean Leclerq, O.S.B. The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, New York, 1969, pp. 189-231.
14. See B. Collet, Italian Benedictine Scholars and the Reformation, Oxford, 1985, ch. 4-8, and “The Benedictine Origins of a Mid-Sixteenth Century Heresy”, Journal of Religious History (Sydney), 14/1, June 1986, pp. 17-18.
15. Alois Maria Haas, “Schools of Late Medieval Mysticism”, in Jill Rait, ed., Christian Spirituality, Vol II: High Middle Ages and Reformation, (World Spirituality, ed. E. Cousins), SCM, London 1988, pp. 140-175, especially pp. 169 ff. on “Theology and Mysticism”.
16. C.W. Bynum, “Religious Women in the Later Middle Ages”, Ibidem, pp. 128-129.
17. Ladislaus Orsy, S.J., “A Profession of Faith and an Excommunication in Ecumenical Perspective”, America, February 22, 1997, p. 7.
18. His “Essay on the Development of Doctrine”, published immediately after his conversion in 1845, like many of his other articles, were not received well in the mainstream of the Roman Communion.
19. Guiseppe Alberigo, “Communione e verita”, in Alberto Melloni and Gianni La Bella (editors), L’Alterita: Concezione ed esperienze nel cristianesimo contemporaneo, Bologna, 1996, pp. 237-254.
20. See the observation on the attitude to poverty and the poor in and after the 12th century (period of scholastics) in Boff & Prixley, pp. 168 ff.
21. Boff and Prixley, pp. 170ff.
22. George Soares-Phrabu, “Class in the Bible: The Biblical poor, a Social Class?”, Vidyajjoti Journal of Theological Reflection, 49 (1985), 320-346.
23. GC 34, Nos. 371-381.
24. I am alluding to the attempt made by a couple of Sri Lankan bishops to abort this experiment, and possibility of its repetition in the future. This fact is now a well documented piece of history in the annals of our local church.
25. Recorded in the annals of our history is also the crisis in Sri Lanka’s National Seminary, in Ampitiya, resulting partly from an excessive control exercised on its well-qualified staff --in the matter of appointing, monitoring, dismissing members without proper procedures-- and the ethos of mediocrity which such a climate of fear has produced, not to mention other serious lapses that have, in fact, necessitated a special meeting of bishops and others as well as the appointment of a commission of inquiry. Unless a climate of academic freedom marked by a pastoral orientation and saturated by the spirituality of the gospels is re-created for students, professors and bishops to work together in a spirit of creativity, a seminary will remain a mere nursery for propagating clericalism and careerism. Let us learn a lesson from this. For, the danger truly exist for the Religious, too, and complacency with regard to this can lead them to a similar crisis.
26. See John W. O’Malley, The First Jesuits, (Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard University Press, 1993), pp. 991-92. The whole of chapter III (p. 91-127) deals with this question.
27. Michael Buckley, “Jesuit Priesthood: Its Meaning and Commitments”, Studies in the Spirituality of the Jesuits, VIII/5 (December 1976), p. 138 (emphasis added).
28. See J. Moltmann, Theology of Hope, SCM London, 1976, pp. 95-133.
29. O’Malley, 80 ff.
30. O’Malley, p. 165.
31. The word siksa in Sanskrit and sikkha in Pali means “culture, training, discipline and study”in the Buddhist tradition of Monastic training and refers to three areas in which such training takes place sila (moral rectitude), samadhi (purity of mind) and pa––a (wisdom). See, Jotiya Dhirasekara, Buddhist Monastic Discipline, Colombo 1982, pp. 43, 44, 54, 63.
32. See, however, Karl Rahner’s observation on this in his “Mary’s Virginity”, loco, infra cit, [n.34].
33. See Peter Brown, “The Notion of Virginity in the Early Church”, in Bernard McGinn, John Myendorf, Jean Leclerq (editors), Christian Spirituality I: Origins to the Twelf Century, [World Spirituality, edited by Ewert Cousins], (London: SCM Press, 1985), p. 427 ff.
34. Kathleen Coyle, Mary in the Christian Tradition (Quezon City: Claretian Publication, 1993), pp. 26-29, supported by John McKenzie and Raymond Brown.
35. See, for instance, Karl Rahner, “Mary’s Virginity”, Theological Investigations XIX, London 1984, pp. 218-231, specially his observations on p. 228. See also Kathleen Coyle, op. cit., pp. 22-31.
36. Jurgen Moltmann, History and the Triune God (London: SCM Press, 1991), p. 13.
37. Paul VI’s address in the Church of St. Mary Major, on 11 October 1963, on the first anniversary of the opening of the Vatican Council (See Insegnamenti di Paolo VI, Vatican City, 1965, Pt. 2, p. 664). In a bid to appease those Council Fathers (little less than half the house) who were disappointed with the absence of a High Mariology in the Conciliar documents, the Pope in this same allocution bestowed on Mary the untraditional title“Mother of the Church” (ibid., p. 675) to the surprise of the periti and the other Fathers of the Council, but seems to have modified its impact by adding two other titles “Daughter and Elder sister [of the Church]”, in a prayer he addressed to Mary on that same accasion. See George H. Tavard, The Thousand Faces of the Virgin Mary (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1996), pp. 205-207.
38. See Rene Laurentin, “Look before you sign”, The Tablet, 31 January, 1988,p. 153.
39. This is my rendering of oti epeblepsen epi ten tapeinosin tes doules autou. Here the tapeinosis (sometimes wrongly translated as humility) refers to Mary’s social condition regarded as lowly according to the false values of the society of her day. She calls herself His servant or slave (tes doules autou). Hence the verb epeblepsen refers to God’s favor in that he took notice of it, set his eyes on it, his attention was caught by it. The basis of election in the bible, i.e., the criterion that Yahweh employs in “choosing” someone or some people for a special mission is tapeinosis.
40. About these two categories of the poor and the Covenant, see my God’s Reign for God’s Poor. A Return to the Jesuit Formula Pro, Manuscripto, Kelaniya, 1998, chapter V.
41. Here I follow John Moorhead, “Mary and the Incarnation”, Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Vol. 34, No. 4, Winter 1989, [pp. 347-255], p. 351.
42. The traditional Jesuit emphasis on freedom of the human will working in co-responsible co-ordination with the Sovereign will of God (a position that is misunderstood as a concession to Pelagianism) makes sense within this kind of Mariology.
43. Jaroslav Pelikan, Mary through the Centuries: Her place in the History of Culture ( New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996), p. 87.
44. Ibid., p. 89.
45. T. Balasuriya, O.M.I., Mary and Human Liberation [Logos, 29/1-2, (March/July 19900], p.. 90; 92-93.
46. Moorhead, Ibid., p. 30, quoting Leonid Ouspensky and Vladmir Lossky, The Meaning of the Icons, 2nd edition, Crestwood, N.Y., 1982, p. 172.
47. Moorhead, ibid, 350-351.
48. But not close enough according to Moorhead, ibid., pp. 352-353.
49. Moorhead, 349.
50. It is public knowledge that in our national seminary, the students sitting for the Baccalaureate are specially coached each year to answer the questions in a way that satisfies the Roman university to which the Seminary is affiliated. This dependence on a non-Asian local church frustrates the creativity of professors and students among whom there are many who could contribute to the genesis of an indigenous theology and liturgy as envisaged once upon a time by a Council called “Vatican II”!!!
51. See Polanco’s letter quoted in extenso in GC 34, no. 32.
52. The vulgate’s cognoverunt seems to follow a LXX usage, which according to Kittel (s.v. gnorizo) is not found in the New Testament except in Phil. 1:22. Besides, what sense would the verses 18 and 19 make if egnorizan meant cognoverunt?
53. I have made a seminal observation on this problem in my Fire and Water, Orbis Books, NY, 1996, chapter 11, especially, pp. 136-137.
54. Y. Congar, Called to Life, Crossroad, New York, 1987, p. 35.
55. Ibid., p. 34
56. Enzo Bianchi, “The Centrality of the Word of God”, in G. Alberigo et al (editors), The Reception of Vatican II, CUA, Washington, 1987, p. 117.
57. See, for instance, Kwok Pui-lan, Discovering the Bible in the Non-Biblical World, (New York: Orbis Books, 1995).
58. See God’s Reign for God’s Poor, chapter V.
59. E.g. Josef Ratzinger, “Current Situation of Faith and Theology”, Boletin Ecclesiastico de Filipinas, 73 (1997), no. 799, pp. 127-128.
60. Congar, op. cit., p. 21.
61. Anguttara Nikaya (PTS Edition, Reprint 1989), vol. I, p. 189.
62. I have discussed the implications of [Wisdom as] the integration of three distinct theological trends each marked by an emphasis on logos, or dabar, or hodos, in my Fire and Water, Ch. 12.
63. Op. Supra cit., pp. 21-30.
64. By declaring the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the church has acknowledged that Mary was already the first member of the church before the church was established, and consequently she was the church in anticipation, the sum and substance of the church to follow. The question of the women’s ministries would take a revolutionary turn if perceived in the context of this dogma.
65. Congar, op. cit., p. 27.
66. Monumenta Ignatiana, IV, 1, 278.
67. Cf. This is amply demonstrated in Joseph Stierli, Ignatius von Loyola: Seine geistliche Gestalt und sein Vermachtnis, Wurzburg, 1956.
68. O’Malley, op. supra cit., p. 91.