"Let persons in the world sanctify themselves in their own houses, for neither the court, professions, or labour, are any hindrance to the service of God."

St Philip Neri

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"God has no need of men."

St Philip Neri

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"There is nothing which gives greater security to our actions, or more effectually cuts the snares the devil lays for us, than to follow another person’s will, rather than our own, in doing good."

St Philip Neri

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St Bonaventure  (1221 - 1274)




by St Bonaventure


Ch 4. Of the Reflection of God in His Image Reformed by the Gifts of Grace.

1. But since not only by passing through ourselves but also within ourselves is it given to us to contemplate the First Principle, and this is greater than the preceding, therefore this mode of thought reaches to the fourth level of contemplation. It seems amazing, however, when it is clear that God is so near to our minds, that there are so few who see the First Principle in themselves. But the reason is close at hand. For the human mind, distracted by cares, does not enter into itself through memory; obscured by phantasms, it does not return into itself through intelligence; allured by concupiscence, it never returns to itself through the desire for inner sweetness and spiritual gladness. Thus, lying totally in this sensible world, it cannot return to itself as to the image of God.

2. And since, when anyone lies fallen, he must remain there prostrate unless someone give a helping hand and he falls in order to rise again [Isaiah, 24, 20], our soul has not been able to be raised perfectly from the things of sense to an intuition of itself and of the eternal Truth in itself unless the Truth, having assumed human form in Christ, should make itself into a ladder, repairing the first ladder which was broken in Adam.

Therefore, however much anyone is illuminated only by the light of nature and of acquired science, he cannot enter into himself that he may delight in the Lord in himself, unless Christ be his mediator, Who says, "I am the door. By me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved; and he shall go in, and go out, and shall find pastures" [John, 10, 9]. We do not, however, approach this door unless we believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him.

It is therefore necessary, if we wish to enter into the fruition of Truth, as into Paradise, that we enter through the faith, hope, and charity of the Mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ, Who is as the tree of life in the middle of Paradise.

3. The image of our mind must therefore be clothed also in the three theological virtues by which the soul is purified, illuminated, and perfected; and thus the image is repaired and is made like the heavenly Jerusalem and part of the Church militant, which, according to the Apostle, is the child of the heavenly Jerusalem. For he says: "But that Jerusalem which is above is free, which is our mother" [Gal., 4, 26].

Therefore the soul which believes in, hopes in, and loves Jesus Christ, Who is the Word incarnate, uncreated, and spirated, that is, the way and the truth and the life, where by faith he believes in Christ as in the uncreated Word, which is the Word and the splendor of the Father, he recovers spiritual healing and vision: hearing to receive the lessons of Christ, vision to look upon the splendor of His light. When, however, he yearns with hope to receive the spirated Word, through desire and affection he recovers spiritual olfaction. When he embraces the incarnate Word in charity, as one receiving from Him delight and passing into Him through ecstatic love, he recovers taste and touch.

When these senses are recovered, when he sees his spouse and hears, smells, tastes, and embraces Him, he can sing like the Bride a Canticle of Canticles, as was done on the occasion of this fourth stage of contemplation, which no one knoweth but he that receiveth it [Apoc., 2, 17]. For it occurs in affective experience rather than in rational consideration.

On this level, when the inner senses are renewed in order to perceive the highest beauty, to hear the highest harmony, smell the highest fragrance, taste the highest delicacy, apprehend the highest delights, the soul is disposed to mental elevation through devotion, wonder, and exultation, in accordance with those three exclamations which are in the Canticle of Canticles.

Of these the first arises from the abundance of devotion, by which the soul becomes like a pillar of smoke of aromatic spices, of myrrh and frankincense [Cant., 3, 6]; the second, from the excellence of wonder, by which the soul becomes as the dawn, the moon, and the sun, like the series of illuminations which suspend the soul in wonder as it considers its spouse; the third, from the superabundance of exultation, by which the soul, overflowing with the sweetest delight, leans totally upon its beloved [Cant., 8, 5].

4. When this is accomplished, our spirit is made hierarchical to mount upward through its conformity to the heavenly Jerusalem, into which no one enters unless through grace it has descended into his heart, as John saw in his Apocalypse [21, 2]. But then it descends into one's heart when, by the reformation of the image through the theological virtues and through the delights of the spiritual senses and ecstatic elevation, our spirit has been made hierarchical, that is, purged, illuminated, and perfected.

Likewise the soul is stamped by the following nine steps when it is disposed in an orderly way: perception, deliberation, self-impulsion, ordination, strengthening, command, reception, divine illumination, union,[1] which one by one correspond to the nine orders of angels, so that the first three stages correspond to nature in the human mind, the next three to industry, and the last three to grace.[2]

With these acquired, the soul, entering into itself, enters into the heavenly Jerusalem, where, considering the orders of the angels, it sees God in them, Who living in them causes all their operations. Whence Bernard said to Eugenius that--"God in the seraphim loves as Charity, in the Cherubim He knows as Truth, in the Thrones He is seated as Equity, in the Dominations He dominates as Majesty, in the Principalities He rules as the First Principle, in the Powers He watches over us as Salvation, in the Virtues He operates as Virtue, in the Archangels He reveals as Light, in the Angels He aids as Piety."[3]

From all of which God is seen to be all in all through the contemplation of Him in the minds in which He dwells through the gifts of His overflowing Charity.

5. For this grade of contemplation there is especially and outstandingly added as a support the consideration of Holy Scripture divinely issued, as philosophy was added to the preceding. For Holy Scripture is principally concerned with the works of reparation. Wherefore it especially deals with faith, hope, and charity, by which the soul is reformed, and most of all with charity.

Concerning this the Apostle says that the end of the Commandments is reached by a pure heart and a good conscience and an unfeigned faith [I Tim., 1, 5]. This is the fulfillment of the Law, as he says. And our Saviour adds that all the Law and the Prophets depend upon these two Commandments: the love of God and of one's neighbor. Which two are united in the one spouse of the Church, Jesus Christ, Who is at once neighbor and God, at once brother and Lord, at once king and friend, at once Word uncreated and incarnate, our maker and remaker, the alpha and omega. He is the highest hierarch, purging and illuminating and perfecting His spouse, the whole Church and any holy soul.

6. Of this hierarch and this ecclesiastical hierarchy is the entire Holy Scripture by which we are taught to be purified, illuminated, and perfected, and this according to the triple law handed down to us in it: the law of Nature, of Scripture, and of Grace; or rather according to the triple principal part of it: the Mosaic Law purifying, the prophetic revelation illuminating, and evangelical teaching perfecting; or above all, according to the triple spiritual meaning of it--the tropological which purifies us for an honest life, the allegorical which illuminates us for the clarity of understanding, the analogical which perfects us by mental elevation and the most delightful perceptions of wisdom--in accordance with the three aforesaid theological virtues and the spiritual senses reformed and the three above-mentioned stages of elevation and hierarchical acts of the mind, by which our mind retreats into itself so that it may look upon God in the brightness of the saints [Ps., 109, 3] and in them, as in a chamber, it may sleep in peace and take its rest [Ps., 4, 9] while the spouse adjures it that it stir not up till she pleases [Cant., 2, 7].

7. Now from these two middle steps, by which we proceed to contemplate God within ourselves as in the mirrors of created images--and this as with wings opened for flying which hold the middle place--we can understand that we are led into the divine by the powers of the rational soul itself placed therein by nature as far as their operations, habits, and knowledge are concerned, as appears from the third stage.

For we are led by the powers of the soul reformed by virtues freely granted, by the spiritual senses, and by mental elevation, as appears from the fourth stage. We are nonetheless led through hierarchical operations, that is, by purgation, illumination, and perfection of human minds through the hierarchical revelations of the Holy Scriptures given to us, according to the Apostle, through the Angels in the hand of a mediator [Gal., 3, 19]. And finally we are led by hierarchies and hierarchical orders which are found to be ordered in our minds in the likeness of the heavenly Jerusalem.

8. Our mind, filled with all these intellectual illuminations, is inhabited by the divine wisdom as the house of God; become the daughter, the spouse, and the friend of God; made a member of Christ the head, the sister, and the fellow-heir; made nonetheless the temple of the Holy Spirit, founded by faith, elevated by hope, and dedicated to God by the sanctity of the mind and the body.

All of this has been brought about by the most sincere love of Christ which is poured forth into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, Who is given to us [Rom., 5, 5], without which Spirit we cannot know the secrets of God. For just as no one can know the things of a man except the spirit of a man that is in him, so the things also that are of God no man knoweth but the spirit of God [I Cor., 2, 11] In charity then let us be rooted and founded, that we may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length of eternity, the breadth of liberality, the height of majesty and the depth of the wisdom which judges us [Eph., 3, 17 18].

1. Reading "unitio" instead of "unctio."
2. The translation of the names of the nine steps is based on St.
Bonaventura's "Hexaemeron," XXII, 25-27, where each is explained. Since they are somewhat awkward in English, I give the Latin equivalents in order. They are so similar to English words that the student who wishes may retain them in transliteration in place of my rendering. They run: "nuntiatio, dictatio, ductio, ordinatio, roboratio, imperatio, susceptio, revelatio, unctio" (or "unitio," if my reading be acceptable).
3. St. Bernard of Clairvaux to Pope Eugenius III.