Future Priests of the Third Millennium

A little insight into the life of seminarians from various dioceses preparing for ministry as Roman Catholic priests, including daily activities, personal interests, special events, the spiritual life, news from the seminary, and almost whatever comes to our minds!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Father Louis Jean Bouyer (1913 - 2004) (Part 4) What makes Catholic Spirituality, well, Catholic!

This is a Part 4 of a multi-part series on Father Louis Jean Bouyer (1913 - 2004) and his book Introduction to Spirituality. Part 5 will post soon.

by James Lannan, Theology II - Saint Paul Seminary


Picking up from where we signed off in the last blog of this series, we will wrap-up Father Bouyer's distinction of what a generally authentic sense of Christianity is. In doing this, Father Bouyer uses this distinction for a place to begin a comparison of Protestant vs. Catholic Spirituality. We can begin to define what makes Catholic Spirituality, well, Catholic.

Fundamental Christian Spirituality (continued):

Father Bouyer teaches that the personal relationship established with God (inter-personal) is core to the Christian Spiritual life. This comes from revelation, which as stated many times before, is the Divine Word. These two pillars are essential. We have the personal connection or relationship with God, known in a person; we also have the divine Word, the logos, made incarnate in that person of God, Christ.

The result is for us to know that God truly exists and has intimately spoken to us. He has given us the logos...the divine Word...the Christ, in that He gives Himself to us in His Word. This is what Christians believe and this belief is necessary for a spirituality to be authentically Christian. This belief is what Father Bouyer says, "not only dominates our Christian spiritual life, but is its very source, its unique source."

Father Bouyer explains to us that, in any authentic Christian Spirituality, God is not only the subject of the conversation, but also the object of the conversation. This is because it was God, Himself, Who started the conversation in the first place. He states,

"We must emphasize...that according to this view it is not enough to say that God, the God Who speaks, is the object of the Christian faith. We must go still further and say that this faith recognizes Him from the first, in the relationship, in the dialogue between man and God (or, much better, between Him and man), as the subject."

We as human beings suffer. We know pain, anxiety, hardship, and toil. Yet, we also celebrate. We know joy, hope, and happiness. It is important to remember that in the midst of all this, God is there right with us. But it is not our experience that brought God to us, as we cried to him whether in pain or joy. Rather, Father Bouyer teaches, God has given himself to us "graciously, freely, and with a sovereign initiative." God seeks man who has not sought Him, "the man who has not concerned himself with God at all."

Father Bouyer reminds us: 1.) It is not us who loved Christ first, but Christ Who loved us. 2.) God came to Abraham and the people of Israel and not the opposite. 3.) We are created by God in his image and likeness. This painting by 17th century French artist Laurent de La Hire is titled "Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac" c.1650. This scene in Genesis 22:1-12 is where Abraham, acting in faith and obedience to God, begins the relationship of faith, hope, and love that has continued for thousands of years to today.

In all this, God is the primary person taking place in the dialogue...God, the one Who comes to us, Who created us and, Who continues to re-create us by calling us back into divine unity with Him. For the Word not only saves, but also creates by its own power and will.

Fundamental Catholic Spirituality:

So far, this review of Father Bouyer's book Introduction to Spirituality has examined simply Christian spirituality. This is applicable for Catholics and Protestants alike. Also, these things can be said of Jewish spirituality. After all Judaism is focused on the God Who speaks and a faith centered on the coming Messiah.

Yet what makes Catholic spirituality, well, Catholic? Father Bouyer answers saying,

"...the basic characteristic of the Catholic spiritual life is the additional and basic distinction that God not only actually does speak to us (as the Jews have believed since the Old Covenant), that He not only has spoken to us in a definitive way in His Christ (as Protestants believe with us), but also that He continues to speak to us, and to speak to us in His Christ, by and in the Church."

It is true that Catholic spirituality is the only type of Christianity that continues the line that began in Judaism. In Catholicism, the divine Word continues, it is still living, always here with us, spoken forward throughout the epochs of history.

Catholic vs. Protestant Spirituality:

Father Bouyer identifies the best Protestant spirituality as affirming that the divine Word, given to us by Christ in Scripture, is able to remain present and in place for us. However, these same Protestant beliefs, divergent from Catholic belief, would continue saying that the divine Word is present only in the interior and individual sense. Father Bouyer says, "the Protestant who reads the divine Word once inspired by the Holy Spirit can find it illuminated for him here and now by what he calls the “interior witness” of the same Spirit." We can conclude, therefore, that Protestantism yields a view of Christ and the person only in the individual person as they subjectively discern that relationships meaning.

It is here where Father Bouyer outlines another distinct facet of Catholicism. In the Catholic view, Spirituality is not authentic without the reality of the community of faithful and the community of saints. These brothers and sisters in Christ are an emphasis that cannot be made enough when defining Catholic spirituality. Remember that a lot happens after Christ ascended into heaven. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the communion of faithful is what ties us all together in the rest of the Holy Trinity.

To be continued...

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