A Cross Section of Saints, East and West
Although I am not in any way a serious or significant contender in the debate between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, I can’t help but admire the way the author of the following excerpt analyzes significant spiritual differences between the two by contrasting some of their respective Saints. It is very interesting if nothing else. Personally, I think it is much more than that….
This is also a method of comparative investigation, but investigation of the spiritual sphere of life, demonstrated in the life of saints. Here the whole deception (as it is called in the ascetic language) of the Catholic spirituality gets revealed, the deception fraught with very grave consequences for an ascetic who chose this way. You know, sometimes I give public lectures, attended by different people. Frequently they ask me the question: “What is the difference of Catholicism from Orthodoxy? What is its fault? Is it not just a different way to Christ?” Many times I saw it is enough to give a few examples from the life of catholic mystics for the inquirers to say: “Thank you, now it is clear. It’s enough.”
Indeed, any Local Orthodox Church or non-Orthodox church can be judged by her saints. Tell me who your saints are and I will tell what your church is. Any church calls as saints only those who realized in their life the Christian ideal, as this Church understands it. That is why canonization of a certain saint is not only testimony of the Church about this Christian, who according to her judgment is worthy of the glory and suggested by her as an example to follow. It is at the same time a testimony of the Church about herself. By the saints we can best of all judge about the true or imaginary sanctity of the Church.
I am going to give you a few examples to illustrate the idea of sanctity in the Catholic church.
One of the great Catholic saints is Francis of Assisi (13th century). His spiritual mentality is revealed through the following facts. Once Francis prayed for a long time (the subject of his prayer is very indicative) “about two mercies”: “The first is … that I can go through all the sufferings that You, O Sweetest Jesus, have gone through in Your excruciating passions. And the second mercy… is that I could feel the infinite love, with which you, Son of God, were burning.” As we see, Francis was concerned not about the feeling of being sinful, but he openly claimed for equality with Christ! During this prayer Francis “felt absolutely turned into Jesus”, Whom he saw at once as a six-winged Seraph, striking him with firing arrows at the points of cross wounds of Jesus Christ (hands, feet and the right side). After this vision painful bleeding wounds (stigmata) appeared – the traces of “Jesus’ passions” (M.V.Lodyzhensky. Invisible light. – Pg. 1915. – P.109).
The nature of such stigmata is well-known in psychiatry: permanent concentration of attention on the Christ’s passions excites nerves and psyche of a person and may cause such effect after long exercise. There is grace-giving in it, because in such compassion with Christ there is no true love, about which the Lord directly said: He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he is the one who loves me (Joh.14:21). That is why substitution of struggle with one’s old man by imaginary emotions of “compassion” is one of the gravest mistakes in the spiritual life, who leads many ascetics to self-conceit, pride – to apparent spiritual deceit accompanied by direct mental disorder (comp. Francis’s “sermons” to birds, wolf, turtle-doves, snakes, flowers, his awe of fire, stones, worms).
The goal of life set by Francis is also very indicative: “I laboured and want to labour further…, for it brings honour” (St. Francis of Assisi. – M., Izd.Frantsiskantsev, 1995. – P.145). Francis wishes to suffer for the others and atone their sins (P.20). And at the end of his life he frankly said: “I do not know any transgression of mine that I have not atoned by confession and repentance” (M.V.Lodyzhensky. – p.129). All this testifies for his not seeing his sins, i.e. his total spiritual blindness.
For comparison I’ll describe to you a moment from life of St. Sisoi the Great (5th century). “Just before his death, surrounded by the brethren, when Sisoi looked like talking with invisible ones, to the question “Father, tell us, whom are you talking with?” he said: “The angels have come to take me, but I pray to them that they let me stay here for a short time for repentance”. Knowing that Sisoi was perfect in virtues the brethren objected to him: “Father, you have no need in repentance”, and Sisoi answered like this: “Verily, I do not know, if I have at least started the cause of my repentance” (Lodyzhensky. – p.133). This deep understanding, sight of one’s imperfection is the main distinctive trait of all true saints.
And here are some extracts from “Revelations of blessed Angela” (†1309) (Revelations of blessed Angela. – M., 1918).
The Holy Spirit, she writes, says to her: “O, My daughter, My sweetest, I love you so much” (p.95). “I was with the Apostles and they saw Me with their bodily eyes, but did not feel Me like you feel Me” (p.96). Angela reveals also such things about herself: “In the darkness I see the Holy Trinity, and I feel I myself dwell within the Trinity in the darkness in the very middle of It” (c.117). Her feelings to Jesus Christ she expresses in the following words: “I could put my whole self inside of Jesus Christ” (p.176). Or: “I cried of His sweetness and sorrow for His departure and wanted to die” (p.101) – and in such moments she would start to beat herself so violently that nuns had to take her out of kostel (p.83).
One of the greatest Russian religious philosophers of the 20th century A.F.Losev gives a sharp, but true appraisal of Angela’s “revelations”. He wrote: “Being tempted and enticed by flesh results in the Holy Spirit’s appearing to blessed Angela and whispering such amorous words to her: “My daughter, you are My sweetest, My daughter, you are My dwelling, My daughter, you are my delight, love me, for I love you so much, much more than you love Me”. The Saint is in sweet languor, born away with love languishing. And the beloved appears again and again and more and more burns her body, her heart, her blood. The Cross seems to her to be the bride-bed… What can be more in contrast to the Byzantine-Moscow austere and chaste ascetics, than these continuous statements: “My soul was accepted into the Divine light and enskied”, – her passionate looking on the Lord’s Cross, on Christ’s wounds and individual members of His body, her intended calling forth of blood marks on her body, etc? To crown it all Christ embraces Angela with His hand, nailed to the cross, and she says to Him being full of languish, torment and happiness: “Sometimes in this strong embrace my soul seems to enter the side of Christ. And it is impossible to relate the joy and illumination one feels there. They are so mighty that I could not stand on my feet, but was lying and my tongue grew numb… And I was lying and my tongue and members of the body grew numb (A.F.Losev. Essays on antique symbolism and mythology. – M., 1930. – V.1. – p.867-868).
St. Catherine of Siena (+1380) is one more vivid example of Catholic sanctity. She was canonized by Pope Paul VI in the highest rank of saints – “Doctors of the Church” (Doctor Ecclesiae). I’ll quote a few extracts from Catholic book by Antonio Sikari “Portraits of saints”. To my mind these extracts need no comments.
Catherine was about 20 years old. “She felt, a decisive turning point in her life was coming near, and she kept devout prayers to Her Lord Jesus repeating a beautiful, most tender formula that became habitual to her: “Unite in matrimony of faith with me!” (Antonio Sikari. Portraits of saints. V.II. – Milano, 1991. – p.11).
“Once Catherine had a vision: her divine bridegroom embraced her and drew her to Himself, then He took the heart from her chest to give her another one, which was more like his one” (p.12).
Once it was said, she died. “Later she said that her heart was lacerated by divine love and that she went through death having seen the gates of paradise”. But “return, My child, the Lord told me, you have to return… I shall lead you to princes and masters of the Church”. “And the humble young lady started to send her messages all over the world, long letters, which she dictated with an astonishing swiftness, at times three or four at a time and on different subjects, however without floundering and doing it ahead of secretaries. These letters end with a passionate formula: “The sweetest Jesus, Jesus the Love” and are often opened with the words: “I, Catherine, Jesus’ servant and slave of His slaves, am writing to you in His precious blood…” (12).
“The main thing that arrests attention in Catherine’s letters is her insistent repetition of the words: “I want” (12).
“According to some researches in ecstasy she addressed these resolute words “I want” even to Christ” (13).
In her correspondence with Gregory XI, whom she tried to persuade to return from Avignon to Rome: “I say unto you in the name of Christ… I say unto you, Father, in Jesus Christ… Answer to the call of the Holy Spirit, addressed to you” (13).
She addressed the king of France with the following words: “Fulfill God’ will and mine” (14).
“Revelations” of Teresa of Avila, canonized by the same Pope Paul VI as a Doctor of the Church (16th century), are no less indicative. Before death she cried out: “Oh, my God, my Spouse, at last I will see you!” This cry, an extremely strange one, did not sound by chance. It is a natural result of Teresa’s whole “spiritual” exercise, the essence of which is revealed for example in the following fact.
After numerous appearances “Christ” says to Teresa: “From this day you will be My spouse… From now on I am not only your Creator, God, but also the Spouse” (D.S. Merezhkovsky. Spanish mystics. – Brussels, 1988. – P. 88). “Oh, Lord, I want either suffer with You, or die for You!” Teresa prays and collapses utterly exhausted with these caresses…”, D. Merezhkovsky writes. After this it is no surprise, when Teresa confesses: “The Beloved calls my soul with such penetrating whistle that I cannot overhear it. This call so touches the soul that it breaks down with desire”. It is not by chance that renowned American psychologist William James, analyzing her mystical experience, wrote that “her understanding of religion was reduced to endless flirting between the worshipper and the deity” (James W. Variety of religious experience./Transl. from English. – M., 1910. – P.337).
One more illustration of the idea of sanctity in Catholicism is Teresa of Lisieux (Teresa the Little, or Teresa of the Child Jesus), who died in the age of 23, and in 1997 marking the 100th anniversary of her death John Paul II by his “infallible” decision declared her to be one more Doctor of the Ecumenical Church. Here are a few quotations from spiritual autobiography of Teresa “Story of one soul”, expressively testifying her spiritual state (Story of one soul // Symbol. 1996, No.36. – Paris. – P.151).
“In an interview before taking the veil I revealed what I was going to do in Karmela: I have come to save souls, and first of all to pray for the priests” (to save not herself, but others!).
Speaking about her unworthiness she adds: “I invariably keep a bold hope to become a great saint… I thought I was born for glory and looked for the ways to achieve it. And then the Lord, our God… let me know that my glory would not be revealed to judgment of a mortal, and the essence of it is I will be a great saint!!!” (comp. Macarius the Great, whom people called “earthly god” for the rear highness of his life, prayed: “O God, cleanse me, a sinner, for I have never done anything good in Thy sight”). Later Teresa wrote even more frankly: “In the heart of my Mother-Church I will be Love… through this I will become everything… and my dream will come true!!!”
Teresa’s doctrine about spiritual love is also extremely “remarkable”: “It was kissing of love. I felt beloved and said: “I love You and commit myself to You forever.” There were no requests, no struggle, no sacrifices; long ago Jesus and small poor Teresa understood everything after a single glance… This day brought not only mutual glances, but fusion, when there were no more two of them, and Teresa disappeared like a water drop lost in the depth of the ocean”. I think no comments are necessary to this dreamy romance of a poor girl – a Doctor of the Catholic Church.
Mystical experience of one of the pillars of the Catholic mystics, founder of the Jesuits Order Ignatius Loyola (16th century) was also based on the methodical development of imagination.
His book “Spiritual exercise”, which has enormous authority with the Catholics, calls a Christian to imagining and contemplating the Holy Trinity, Christ, Mother of God, angels, etc. All this fundamentally contradicts the foundations of the spiritual feats of the saints of the Ecumenical Church, for it leads the faithful to the total spiritual and mental disorder.
An authoritative collection of ascetic writings of the ancient Church “The Dobrotolubie” (“The Philokalia”) strictly forbids this kind of “spiritual exercise”. Here are a few quotations from it.
Saint Nilus of Sinai (5th century) warns: “Do not desire to see sensually Angels or Virtues, or Christ, otherwise you’ll go mad taking a wolf for the shepherd and bowing to demon-enemies” (St.Nilus of Sinai. 153 Chapters on Prayer. Ch.115 // The Dobrotolubie: In 5 volumes. V.2. 2nd edition. – M., 1884. – p. 237).
St. Simeon the New Theologian (11th century) reasoning about those who “imagine heavenly blessings, angel hosts and abodes of saints” in prayer definitely says “this is a sign of prelest” (spiritual deceit). “Going this way even those who see light with their bodily eyes, smell fragrance with their nose, hear voices with their ears and the like get seduced (St. Simeon the New Theologian. On three forms of prayer // The Dobrotolubie. V.5. M., 1990. p.463-464).
St. Gregory the Sinaite (14th century) reminds: “Never accept things when you see something sensual or spiritual, inside or outside, even if it has an image of Christ or an angel or a certain saint… The one who accepts it easily gets seduced… God does not resent one being attentive to himself, if one fearing to get seduced does not accept what He gives,… but rather praises him as a wise one” (St. Gregory the Sinaite. Hesyhast instruction // same. – p.224).
So the landowner, whom St. Ignatius Brianchaninov described in his work, was quite right, when he seeing a catholic book “On the Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis (15th century) snatched it out of her hands and said: “Stop playing a romance with God”. The above examples do not leave any doubts in the truth of these words. Unfortunately, the Catholic church has lost the art to distinguish the spiritual from the sensual, and sanctity from reveries, and thus also Christianity from paganism.
That’s what I wanted to say about Catholicism.