St. Benedict and the Spirit of the Council

Although St. Benedict flourished two hundred years after the Council of Nicea, his Rule is nonetheless imbued with its spirit. Arianism was still a force to be reckoned with at his time. The spirit of the Council of Nicea can be seen all over the Rule, in its Christocentrism, and its veneration for the “orthodox catholic fathers” (i.e. the anti-Arian writers). Sometimes the spirit of the council leads St. Benedict into unexpected interpretations of Sacred Scripture. Thus, in chapter 2, on the character of the abbot, St. Benedict gives a startling interpretation of Romans 8:15:

A abbot who is worthy to preside over a monastery ought always to remember what he is called and to justify his title by his deeds. For he is deemed in the monastery the vicar of Christ, since it is by His [Christ’s] title he is addressed, for the Apostle says: “Ye have received the Spirit of adoption of sons in which it is we cry out Abba, Father.”

The cry “Abba, Father” is here taken to be directed at Christ, and the old monastic title of ‘abbot’ is interpreted Christologically. It is a very daring reading of Paul, and I don’t think it would have occurred to anyone before Nicea.

Joseph Ratzinger on the Creeds of Nicaea and Constantinople

The following is an excerpt from Joseph Ratzinger’s Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology, available online at TCR1.


Sixteen hundred years ago, at the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople, that confession of faith was formulated that, even today, is the common possession of nearly all Christian churches and ecclesial communities. Memorial celebrations in Rome and Constantinople reminded us of the date; in Germany, it was underscored by a joint statement of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches. The ancient Creed became, for separated Christians, a signpost on the road to unity. It will be rewarding, therefore, to examine it more closely. How did it originate? What does it mean? Continue reading

Resurrection as the Reconciliation of the Bridegroom with the Bride

Mary Magadalene, the repentant sinner, weeping in the garden in front of Christ’s empty tomb is a figure of the People of God. God espoused Himself to His people in the covenant, but she, His bride, was unfaithful, and went after false gods, committing adultery against her divine Bridegroom. Mary is weeping that the Lord has been taken from her. And it is the sins of His unfaithful bride that have put Jesus to death. But He loves His Bride so much that makes atonement for her unfaithfulness. “For a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:8).

“And as she wept, she stooped and looked inside the tomb, and she saw two angels, in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and one at the feet” (John 20:11-12). She is looking at an image that calls to mind the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem: the two cherubim on either side of the Ark of the Covenant, looking at the kaporet, the mercy seat, the golden lid of the Ark, which in Greek is called hilasterion (instrument of atonement). Once a year the High Priest would come into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle blood on the kaporet to atone for the people’s unfaithfulness to the Divine Bridegroom. Now Mary Magdalene sees the blood of Christ staining the funeral shroud lying between the two angels. “But Christ arrived as high priest of all the good things which have come about through the greater and more final tabernacle not made by human hands, that is, not of this world; and not by the blood of goats and calves but by his own blood he entered once for all into the holy place, having found everlasting redemption” (Hebrews 9:11).

So great is Jesus’s love for His unfaithful Bride that He enters into the darkness of this world bearing to bear in full the suffering that reverses her sin.

Mary Magdalene is therefore a figure of the Church also in this: that she recognizes the reconciliation that has taken place, and calls out to Christ with love and joy. This is what the whole Church, the Bride of Christ, does now on this great Feast of Easter. This is what we de as parts of the Church—all of us:

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted: let no one go forth hungry! Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness. Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.

Paschal Homily attributed to St. John Chrysostom

Nutt on Casel

As a teenager I was much taken by Casel’s theory the presence of the events of Christ’s life in the liturgy, which I heard at second hand, not knowing that it was Casel’s. But later, as a young monk in theological formation, I got into a lot of arguments with a Casel-enthusiast, who drew the most absurd consequences from the theory. At that point I rejected the theory, but wasn’t able to give a full account of why it was wrong.

I recently read Roger W. Nutt’ Excellent General Principles of Sacramental Theology, and I think he puts his finger on the problem:

An important variation of moral theory of sacramental causality is the influential “mystery-presence” (mysteriengegenwart) theory of twentieth-century Benedictine Dom Odo Casel. Casel was a monk of the famed Monastery of Maria Laach, which was an influential center of the liturgical movement. His most original contribution is his presentation of the Church’s liturgy and sacraments in light of his careful study of the ancient notion of “mystery” in biblical, patristic, and pagan sources. “The mystery,” according to Casel, “is a sacred ritual action in which a saving deed is made present through the rite; the congregation, by performing the rite, take part in the saving act, and thereby win salvation.” The name “mystery-presence” is derived from Casel’s unification of the rite or “ritual action” with the presence of the “saving deed” in the mystery.

Casel’s work contains many insights, but his theory of the efficacious presence of Christ’s saving deeds in the sacraments creates, perhaps, even more ambiguities about the nature of the sacraments and their mode of causation than the insights that it contains. In particular, Casel never clarifies how a completed historical event, a saving action, is made present to a recipient who is separated from the event in time and space. For Casel, it is not the power of Christ’s saving acts, or a mediation or participation in them through the signification of the signs, but the presence of the events themselves that constitutes the mystery of the sacraments.

Furthermore, as Edward Schillebeeckx points out, Casel’s view of Christ’s saving deeds in history fails to account for their “perennial character.” Given that “time itself is irreversible,” Schillebeeckx observes, “a contradiction is inherent” in Casel’s thesis. “As the realization in human form of the redeeming Trinity,” Schillebeeckx argues against Casel, “the historical mysteries of Christ’s life, which were the personal acts of the God-man, are a permanent, enduring reality in the mode of the Lord’s existence in glory. The mystery of saving worship, or Christ’s act of redemption is, in the mode of glory, an eternally actual reality, as the Epistle to the Hebrews repeatedly stresses.”

Leeming points out that Casel’s presentation constitutes, fundamentally, a redefinition of mystery as an event. “What is present is not some mysterious efficacy in the symbols, nor the life of God, nor the person of Christ, nor the effect produced,” Leeming notes, “but there is present the saving act itself as it existed in Christ’s human life and it is present to produce conformity to the ‘mystery’ of Christ in us.” This means, Leeming continues, that “it is not Christus passus who is present, but ipsa passio, as advocates of the opinion so often assert and insist. The presence is said to transcend space and time, and sometimes the ‘saving acts’ are said to be present per modum substantiae …”

Furthermore, the subject of Casel’s mystery-presence theory is the experience that the worshipping community has of the salvific deed. “Some scholars,” Reginald Lynch explains, “see the emphasis on mystery that appears during the modern period as an extension of the nominalist emphasis on the radical omnipotence and freedom of God and its accompanying reticence regarding causal connections.” As a result of this trend, “the rhetoric of mystery can appear as a supplement for metaphysical explanation.” Lynch observes that under the influence of Casel’s “methodological choices,” therefore, “there was a decided shift [in the twentieth century] toward liturgy-as-event using the category of symbol or sign.”

It is the sacraments, precisely as causes in the order of instrumental efficiency, which make the power of Christ’s saving action and his risen life present throughout time by their signification. There is no need to conflate sacrament and historical event—or to insinuate that the sacrament becomes the historical event in mystery. Christ instituted the signs precisely for the sake of actively using their signification as the causal (instrumental) means of applying the power of his Passion and risen life.

pp. 132-134

The Giovanni Giuliani Agony in the Garden in Gaaden

In the past few days, I have taken to walking to a hill just outside of Gaaden to pray for the parish at a  Mount of Olives scene made by Giovanni Giuliani, the Venetian sculptor and oblate of Heiligenkreuz.

In this valley of tears

Each evening, in all Cistercian monasteries in the world, we enter the night by singing the Salve Regina. We must do this also with a thought toward the darkness that often shrouds mankind, filling it with the fear of being lost in it. In the Salve Regina we ask that, over the whole “valley of tears” of the world, and over all the “exiled children of Eve,” there shine the sweet and consoling light of the “merciful eyes” of the Queen and Mother of Mercy, so that, in every circumstance, in every night and peril, the gaze of Mary show us Jesus, show us that Jesus is present, that he comforts us, that he heals us and saves us. Our whole vocation and mission is described in this prayer.  (Abbot General Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori, O.Cist.)

We should always live like this

The current Situation reminds us and all Christians a little bit of what St. Benedict says of the time of Lent (cf. RB 49:1-3): we should always live like this, with this sensitivity to the drama of life, with this sense of our structural frailty, with this capacity to renounce what is superfluous to safeguard what is more profound and true in us and among us, with this faith that our life is not in our hands but in the hands of God. We should even always live with the awareness that we are all responsible for each other, mutually joined in the good and the ill of our choices, of our behaviours, even the most hidden and apparently insignificant. (Abbot General Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori, O.Cist.)

Divine Office Live-Streamed From Stift Heiligenkreuz

For a while now my monastery, Stift Heiligenkreuz, has been live streaming the divine office, so that elderly and sick monks can pray along with the community from their cells. Until now the livestream was only available to members of the community. But now the stream has been made publicly available, so that people who are stuck at home on account of the corona virus can pray the office with us. The link to the stream from our winter chapel is here.

Here’s the horarium (Austrian Time):

5.15 Vigils (Latin)
6.00 Laudes (Latin)
6.25 Conventual Mass (Latin on most days, but twice a week in German)
On Sundays the Conventual Mass is at 9.30 (Latin)

11.00 Special Mass added on account of the Corona pandemic (German)

12.00 Terce and Sext (Latin)
12.55 None (Latin)

17.00 Special Mass added on account of the Corona pandemic (German)

18.00 Vespers (Latin)

19.50 Reading from the Rule of St Benedict (German) and Compline (Latin)
20.10 Rosary (German)