Solemn Vows in Heiligenkreuz on the Feast of St Bernard

Yesterday was the Feast of our Holy Father St. Bernard. Two of my confrères took final vows.

I described the rite of solemn profession of vows on an earlier occasion as follows:

The ceremony for solemn vows follows more or less the outline described by St Benedict in the Rule, and is marked by St Benedict’s Roman sobriety. After the gospel the candidates prostrate themselves before the Abbot, who asks: Quid pétitis? They respond Misericórdiam Dei et Ordinis. The abbot then tells them to arise and preaches a sermon, sitting on the faldstool with the candidates standing in front of him. Then comes the feudal “homagium,” in which the candidates lay their hands in the abbot’s and promise him and his successors obedience according to the Rule of St Benedict “usque ad mortem.” Then every one kneels down and the Veni Creator Spiritus is sung. Then come the actual vows. The candidates read out the vows of stability, conversion of morals and obedience, which they have written by hand on parchment. They then sign the vow charts on the altar. The charts remain on the altar and are offered to God together with the gifts of the Mass. After signing the vows they sing Súscipe me, Dómine, secúndum elóquium tuum et vívam; † et non confúndas me ab exspectatióne mea three times. They then kneel down in front of each and every monk in the community, saying Ora pro me Pater, to which the monks reply Dóminus custódiat intróitum tuum et éxitum tuum. While this is going on cantors sing the Miserere. Then the newly professed monks are then blessed with an extraordinary three part prayer, addressed to each of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity in turn. They are then clothed in the cowl and the Mass proceeds.

Photos: Stift Heiligenkreuz


“The man who loves God above all else and with his whole being”


Da mihi hominem, qui ante omnia quidem ex toto se diligat Deum; se vero et proximum, in quantum diligunt ipsum; inimicum autem, tanquam aliquando forsitan dilecturum; porro parentes carnis suae germanius, propter naturam; spirituales vero eruditores suos profusius, propter gratiam; atque in hunc modum ad caetera quaeque Dei ordinato intendat amore, despiciens terram, suspiciens coelum, utens hoc mundo tanquam non utens, et inter utenda et fruenda intimo quodam mentis sapore discernens, ut transitoria transitorie, et ad id duntaxat quod opus, et prout opus est curet, aeterna desiderio amplectatur aeterno: talem, inquam, da mihi hominem, et ego audacter illum sapientem pronuntio, cui nimirum quaeque res revera sapiunt prout sunt, et cui in veritate atque securitate competit gloriari, et dicere, quia ordinavit in me charitatem. Sed ubi ille, aut quando ista? Quod flens dico, quousque odoramus, et non gustamus, prospicientes patriam, et non apprehendentes, suspirantes, et de longe salutantes? O veritas exsulum patria, exsilii finis? video te, sed intrare non sinor carne retentus, sed nec dignus admitti, peccatis sordens. O Sapientia, quae attingis a fine usque ad finem fortiter in instituendis et continendis rebus; et disponis omnia suaviter in beandis et ordinandis affectibus! dirige actus nostros, prout nostra temporalis necessitas poscit; et dispone affectus nostros, prout tua veritas aeterna requirit, ut possit unusquisque nostrum secure in te gloriari et dicere, quia ordinavit in me charitatem. Tu es enim Dei virtus et A Dei sapientia, Christus sponsus Ecclesiae, Dominus noster, super omnia Deus benedictus in saecula. Amen.

(Give me the man who loves God above all else and with his whole being; who loves himself and his neighbour in the measure in which they both love God; his enemy as one who will perhaps one day love God; his natural parents tenderly as nature prompts, his spiritual parents – namely his teachers – unreservedly as gratitude requires. And in this way he reaches out to the rest of God’s creation with an ordered love, looking down on the earth and up to heaven, dealing with this world as though uninvolved, and distinguishing with an inward refinement of the soul between what is to be merely employed and what enjoyed, paying passing attention to the transient, and that only as need requires, while embracing all things eternal with a desire that never flags. Give me, I say, a man like that and I dare to proclaim him wise. Such a man takes all things as they really are, and is able with truth and confidence to boast: ‘He has set love in order in me.’ But where is such a man and when shall these things be? Weeping, I ask: how long shall we have the fragrance without the savour. we who glimpse our heavenly home from an unapproachable distance and are left sighing for it and hailing it from afar? O Truth, homeland of wanderers and the end of exile! I see you, and yet, detained still in the body, I may not enter in, nor am I worthy of admittance, grimed as I am with sin. O Wisdom, you who span the universe with power, beginning and preservation of all that is,  you who order our affections without coercion, distilling your blessing, so govern our acts that our present obligations are discharged, and dispose our affections to reflect the etemal values of your truth, so that each one of us may safely glory in you and say: ‘He has set love in order in me.’ For you, O Christ, are the power and wisdom of God, the Bridegroom of the Church, our Lord and God blessed for ever more. Amen. (St Bernard of Clairvaux, In Cantica Canticorum, Sermo 50; trans. Pauline Matarasso))

The Our Father and Spiritual Exercises

I recently preached a retreat on the Our Father, and it struck me again how the order of the Our Father is virtually the opposite of that of St Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises. St Ignatius has one begin by considering one’s sins, and ends with a contemplation of God’s love, whereas the Our Father begins with the Father in heaven and ends with ‘deliver us from evil.’

In his division of the Our Father, St Thomas poses the following objection: “Further, one must withdraw from evil before attaining good. Therefore it seems unfitting for the petitions relating to the attainment of good to be set forth before those relating to the removal of evil.” This could be taken as a positive argument for the order of the Exercises. St Thomas replies as follows:

Since prayer is the interpreter of desire, the order of the petitions corresponds with the order, not of execution, but of desire or intention, where the end precedes the things that are directed to the end, and attainment of good precedes removal of evil.

Thus in the body of the article St Thomas argues that the Our Father looks first to God as final end,

first, by our willing the glory of God [hallowed be Thy name], secondly, by willing to enjoy His glory [Thy kingdom come]. The first belongs to the love whereby we love God in Himself, while the second belongs to the love whereby we love ourselves in God.

Then we pray for that which is immediately ordered to the end, namely that we do God’s will. Then for the things instrumentally ordered to attaining the end (daily bread). And then finally for the removal of sin, temptation, and all evils which hinder us from the perfect possession of the end.

St Ignatius was a man of action, and it makes sense that he takes the opposite order. Nevertheless, before beginning the first exercise he puts “The Principle and Foundation,” which is about the final end.


David Foster Wallace on Anamnesis

This had been one of Hal’s deepest and most pregnant abstractions […] That we’re all lonely for something we don’t know we’re lonely for. How else to explain the curious feeling that he goes around feeling like he misses somebody he’s never even met? Without the universalizing abstraction, the feeling would make no sense. (Infinite Jest, p. 1053, note 281).

I think this a marvelous description of what I have called nostalgia, the condition for the sense of recollection of amnamnesis when one then meets the somebody one has not yet met.

“The confessor should never worry about those waiting in line for confessions”


From a translation of selections from the Praxis Confessarii of St Alphonsus Liguori:

To be able to prescribe the right remedy to his penitent’s spiritual sickness, the confessor must know its origin and cause. Some confessors ask for nothing more than the number and the species of the sins. As soon as they are convinced that the penitent is disposed, they send him away almost without a word.

A good confessor acts very differently. First he investigates to find out how the sickness started and how grave it has become. He asks if there is a habit of sin, if there are occasions – some time or place or persons or circumstances that provoke him to sin. In this way, he can do a better job of correcting the penitent, of disposing him for absolution, and of giving him profitable remedies for correcting his sins.

Next he makes the pertinent observations. Even though he should treat his penitents as a loving father, still as a doctor he is bound, when it is necessary, to warn and to correct them. This is especially necessary in the case of the very sinful who seldom come to confession. He should warn and correct everyone who needs it, without respect of persons. It makes no difference whether he be priest or prelate, governor or elite, as long as he has confessed with little evidence of sorrow. Pope Benedict XIV compares the words of the confessor to those of the preacher: “The confessor’s warnings are much more effective than those of the preacher, for he knows the case in question and the preacher does not. For this reason, he can make more pertinent warnings and prescribe remedies which fit this particular sin.”

The confessor should never worry about the ones waiting in line for confessions. As St. Francis Xavier said, it is better to hear a few confessions well than to hear many which bear little fruit. Confessors sin if they come across an indisposed penitent and immediately tell him to leave the confessional, for fear of wasting time with him. Learned theologians have said that, when a penitent comes indisposed, the confessor is obliged as far as possible to dispose him for absolution. To do this, he could tell the penitent, for example, how much his sin’s have offended God, how great is his danger of being condemned to hell, and so forth. And it makes little difference if others are waiting or even if they leave without going to confession, for the confessor is responsible not for them, but for the one who is here and now in the confessional.

The confessor is also obliged to instruct the penitent if he is culpably ignorant of any point of natural or positive law. If he is inculpably ignorant, it depends. If he is inculpably ignorant of something necessary for salvation, then the confessor is obliged to instruct him. If he is inculpably ignorant of some other matter (of which he can be ignorant) – even something of the divine law, the confessor should prudently decide whether the instruction will be profitable for the penitent. If it will not be profitable, he should not make the correction, but rather leave him in good faith. The reason is: the danger of formal sin is a much more serious thing than material sin. God punishes formal sin, for that alone is what offends Him. This I proved more sufficiently in my Moral Theology. [...]

When the penitent’s ignorance redounds to the harm of the common good. The confessor is a defender of the good of society and he is bound to prefer the public good to the private good of his penitent, even when he realizes that the correction will be useless. Consequently, he must always instruct rulers, confessors, prelates, and parish priests who are neglecting their obligations, because ignorance in these men – even if it is invincible – will always hurt society. People will see what they are doing and consider it all right to imitate them.


Plutarch on Freedom

Now absence of control, which some of the young men, for want of education, think to be freedom, establishes the sway of a set of masters, harsher than the teachers and attendants of childhood, in the form of the desires, which are now, as it were, unchained. [...] But you have often heard that to follow God and to obey reason are the same thing, and so I ask you to believe that in persons of good sense the passing from childhood to manhood is not a casting off of control, but a recasting of the controlling agent, since instead of some hired person or slave purchased with money they now take as the divine guide of their life reason, whose followers alone may deservedly be considered free. For they alone, having learned to wish for what they ought, live as they wish; but in untrained and irrational impulses and actions there is something ignoble, and changing one’s mind many times involves but little freedom of will. (On Listening to Lectures, 1)


Frank Diplomacy

Pope Boniface VIII to King Philip the Fair of France:

We shall indeed explain more clearly, son, why, moved by urgent necessity and prompted by conscience, we are directing these complaints to you. For, though our merits are insufficient, God has placed us above kings and kingdoms, and He has imposed upon us the yoke of apostolic service: to uproot and destroy, to disperse and to scatter, to build and to plant, in His name and according to His teaching… And so let no one persuade you, dearest son, that you have no superior and that you are not subject to the head of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. For anyone who thinks this is a fool; and, if he obstinately affirms it, he is convicted as an unbeliever and is outside the fold of the Good Shepherd.

King Philip’s reply:

Philip, by the Grace of God king of the French, to Boniface, conducting himself as Supreme Pontiff, little greeting or none. Let Your Very Great Foolishness know that we are subject to no one in temporals; that the collation of vacant churches and prebends belongs to us as of royal right and that their revenues are ours; that the collations which we have made in the past and shall make in the future are valid; and that we shall manfully defend their holders against anyone.  All who hold otherwise we deem to be fools and madmen.

Both quotations are taken from R. W. Dyson’s Introduction to Giles of Rome’s On Ecclesiastical Power, pp. xiv-xv. Dyson notes that Philip’s reply was probably meant more for the French clergy, among whom he circulated it, than for the Pope; he wanted them to think that he was protecting their income against Rome.

De Lubac and His Critics Make the Same Error

In an essay on integralism I took issue with Steven Long’s claim that the natural and supernatural desires for God have formally distinct objects. Long claims that the natural desire to know the first cause of all things is only materially, not formally, a desire to know God–just as the desire to know Einstein under the ratio of “man wearing a raincoat” is only materially, not formally, a desire to know Einstein. To this I replied:

[The] relevant distinction between objects of natural and of supernatural desire is not matter and form, but rather confused and distinct. That is, to desire God based on one’s natural knowledge of Him through His effects is really to desire God, in Whom those effects really participate. Here the Platonic notion of anamnesis that Ratzinger takes up [...] is extremely helpful. When one comes to know God by natural reason, one “recognizes” in Him the infinite ocean of perfection in which one’s own and all created being participates. But of course this knowledge is very imperfect, confused knowledge; the light of faith gives a much more distinct knowledge of Whom it is that one desires. [... The] natural desire to attain to God is really a desire to attain to God, and thus the desire given by grace really perfects, elevates, and completes that desire by revealing both more about Who God is, and by revealing an unspeakably perfect and beatifying  mode of attaining to Him; it does not add another, independent desire.

Long himself sometimes speaks as though this were the case. Thus, a little after the Einstein-raincoat example he writes:

Where revelation makes the real possibility of beatific vision known, this renders the otherwise conditional desire to know God to become unconditional. Apart from revelation the desire would be conditional— “were it possible” one would will it. Just as one might wish to live forever, or never to make a mistake—both logically, but seemingly not really, possible—so one would wish to know the essence of the First Cause, save that in this case one genuinely would not know what one is wishing for. After revelation, the desire becomes unconditional. Once God reveals Himself and his gift of divine life, the natural desire thus elevated and supernaturalized in grace inclines toward it absolutely by inclining toward the infinitely higher end of union with the Uncreated Persons of the Holy Trinity. For the object of the natural desire for God under the ratio of “cause of these effects” is incorporated within the graced desire of God as God. (Natura Pura, p. 21)

 What Long says here fits quite well with my position. He is suggesting that the desire for God elicited by natural reason’s consideration of the things that He causes makes one desire to know God as much as possible. That desire would not be in vain in a state of pure nature, since to know even a little of God makes one happy, but the desire would not be so satisfied that one would not wish to know Him more. One would see that one’s knowledge of Him was indirect, through effects that fall infinitely short of Him, and one would wish “if it were possible” to know Him directly, in His essence. And so grace opens up a way of satisfying the natural desire infinitely more fully than it could be satisfied naturally. But if, on the other hand, the natural desire is really a desire for a formally distinct object, then this is much more difficult to see.

Oddly enough, De Lubac himself also distinguishes between two desires to know God with formally distinct objects–only he sees them both as natural desires. In The Discovery of GodDe Lubac distinguishes between the “philosophical” desire to know the cause of all things, and the “mystical” desire to know the One as the One. By “mystical” in this context he does not mean something that comes from an infused gift of the Holy Spirit, but rather a natural desire for the beatific vision presumably common to Christian and non-Christian mystics.  The philosopher, he argues, wants to “comprehend the universe,” and treats God only as an aid to explaining the world. The philosopher as philosopher is satisfied by this: “he does not ask for more.” (p. 148) The mystic, as mystic, who may be the same person as the philosopher but considered under another finality, does ask for more. De Lubac quotes a great many passages fro St. Thomas about how philosophy only knows God as cause of the world. But I think he is making a great mistake here. To say that philosophy only knows God through his effects does not mean that it is only interested in him as an explanation for His effects. All it means is that the highest knowledge which is what the philosopher really wants, that werein wisdom really consists, is only accessible indirectly. Consider the following passage of Plotinus:

We must ascend, therefore, once more to the Good, which every soul desires. If anyone [...] passing in his ascent beyond all that is separative from God, by himself alone contemplates God alone, perfect, simple and pure, from Whom all things depend, to Whom all beings look, and in Whom they are, and live, and know. For He is the cause of Being, Life and Intelligence. If, then, anyone beheld Him, with what love would he be inspired! With what desire would he burn in his eagerness to be united with Him! With what bliss would he be overcome! (Ennead I,6,7)

Presumably De Lubac would call this a mystical rather than a philosophical text. And yet, it is wholly consistent with St. Thomas’s account of philosophy. Plotinus here has come to knowledge of God as the cause of being, life, and understanding; he does not see how God is in Himself, but he does see how he is not i.e. not-finite, not-complex (simple), not-mixed (pure). He is “perfect,” but his perfection is only known through imperfect things, by denying their imperfections of God. This leads Plotinus to wish for a more perfect knowledge:

How shall a man behold this ineffable Beauty which remains within, deep in Its holy sanctuaries, and proceeds not without where the profane may view It?  (I,6,8)

De Lubac argues that St. Thomas sometimes confuses the philosophical and the mystical desires for God, and that he was unable fully account for their relation to each other:

St. Thomas, therefore. seems to have failed in his attempt to establish continuity between philosophy and mysticism, between the dynamism of the intelligence and the desire of the spirit. The doctrine of “the natural desire to see God” is central to his thought, and he has not succeeded in completely unifying it. N0 one will succeed where he has failed. (The Discovery of God, p. 151)

But St. Thomas did not have to integrate these two desires, because they are simply the same thing. Consider St. Thomas’s treatment of the question in the Summ Contra Gentiles III,25 (often quoted by Long, but interpreted by him with unnecessary subtly):

The ultimate end of each thing is God, as we have shown. So, each thing intends, as its ultimate end, to be united with God as closely as is possible for it. Now, a thing is more closely united with God by the fact that it attains to His very substance in some manner, and this is accomplished when one knows something of the divine substance, rather than when one acquires some likeness of Him. Therefore, an intellectual substance tends to divine knowledge as an ultimate end. [...] Besides, a thing has the greatest desire for its ultimate end. Now, the human intellect has a greater desire, and love, and pleasure, in knowing divine matters than it has in the perfect knowledge of the lowest things, even though it can grasp but little concerning divine things. So, the ultimate end of man is to understand God, in some fashion. [...] Besides, there is naturally present in all men the desire to know the causes of whatever things are observed. Hence, because of wondering about things that were seen but whose causes were hidden, men first began to think philosophically; when they found the cause, they were satisfied. But the search did not stop until it reached the first cause, for “then do we think that we know perfectly, when we know the first cause.” Therefore, man naturally desires, as his ultimate end, to know the first cause. But the first cause of all things is God. Therefore, the ultimate end of man is to know God.

Both De Lubac and Long understand the desire to know God qua cause of all things as being the desire to know an object formally distinct from God as God. But there is absolutely no need to make this distinction. Both De Lubac and his critic make a mistake common among very clever people: thinking that things must be more complicated than they are. The most profound things are the most simple and obvious.

De Lubac notes that in fact every philosopher is more than a philosopher and “the labor of elaborating an intelligible world does not save him from ‘the nostalgia of Being’,” and he adds in a footnote: “This is true even of Descartes, so often accused since the time of Pascal of only being interested in God for the sake of possessing the world.” (p. 153 with note 19) Here we perhaps see the real origin of De Lubac’s conception of the role of God in philosophy: Descartes! Descartes’s philosophical account of God is indeed only an aid to explaining the world, and this is what distinguishes “the god of the [French Enlightenment] philosophers” from the God of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus. Descartes’s philosophical approach to God (as opposed to his religious approach) is not an approach to God at all, and his desire to know that “God” is a desire to know an object not only formally but also materially distinct from his desire to know the One True God. But that is just because the “god” of Cartesian philosophy is not God at all, but just a useful fiction.

Pessimism About Modernity

Those who are against the optimistic ideology of progress are considered by those who have bought into that ideology to be not only pessimists, but almost hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race. How can we really be against a project that has improved the human lot by so much? Would we prefer people to die on beds of bug-ridden straw of preventable diseases, rather than living to old-age in clean and air-conditioned houses? One of the writers at The Josias, a new website devoted to “unzeitgemäße Betrachtungen” on the common good, meets that objection head-on:

Society is complex enough, and integrated enough, that what we rightly love about our civilization cannot be neatly untangled from what we rightly condemn in it. But if we are right in our condemnation, and right in our advocacy of alternatives, then of course it’s our obligation not only as Christians but as human beings to willingly part from some of the things we love. I am no kind of Luddite, but if a juster world were also a Facebookless world, I hope I would find a way of reconciling myself to it. And given that I am at least in principle committed to hating father and mother, this seems like an easy case. And well-crafted propaganda can make it still easier. Even if many of the conveniences we enjoy — even the conveniences we take advantage of to formulate and advance our criticism — are neutral or good in themselves, it may nevertheless be a good idea for us to learn to dislike them for their origins. We are all products of our civilization: if there are errors integral to that civilization that need correction, then it is time for us to learn to bite the hand that feeds us.

If it hadn’t taken its name from Josias, our website (I too will be posting there soon) could have taken its name from Jeremiah. As (then Cardinal) Ratzinger once pointed out, Jeremiah was condemned and imprisoned because of his pessimism. He refused to adopt the official optimism of the powers of his time:

The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the LORD has truly sent the prophet. (Jer 28:8-9)