Last week I was given a copy of the spiritual classic by Fr Marie-Eugène of the Infant Jesus, entitled ‘I want to see God’ (Je veux voir Dieu). This is a 1200 page commentary on Carmelite spirituality (basically Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and Thérèse de Lisieux). It is not well-known outside France and I may be commissioned to translate it.
I am increasingly drawn towards Carmelite spirituality as the one serious ‘competitor’ to Orthodox spirituality. Basically because it shares, in rather different language, the concept of divinization. It also provides some useful road signing and valuable language, which Orthodoxy tends to be a bit short of.
St Teresa of Avila for me a messy, loquacious writer, and I am glad for Fr Marie-Eugène to simplify her. I particularly like the way he divides St Teresa’s mansions into two stages. In the first (mansions 1 to 3) ‘God provides the soul with the general support of his grace and leaves the faculties duly independent, offering them the humanity of Jesus, from which to nourish themselves and to which to attach themselves, the Jesus who can alone lead them to the summits.’ (pp 221-2). Then ‘during the second phase (mansions 4 to 7), God intervenes with his specific aid, in the form of direct action in the soul. From the start (mansion 4) he introduces the soul into the light of the Word, …. ‘
In other words there is a fundamental pivot point (Mansion 4), where the Christian moves from ‘general support of God’s grace’ to ‘direct action in the soul’. I think this is a distinction and a language which could usefully find its way into Orthodox spirituality. It is also, I suspect, where the Jesus Prayer starts to make real sense.
PèreMarie-Eugène continues: “In the mansion 5 God , having established his reign in the will, may already use the soul as an instrument and entrust it with a mission: an imperfect instrument that the external trials and interior purifications of the sixth Mansion will perfect.”
One question I ask myself increasingly is whether anyone can be a really effective priest (an ‘instrument’ with a ‘mission’) before reaching mansion 5. Yes, one can probably be a workaday one, because ‘in the first three mansions, the soul exercises its apostolic mission with its natural activity seconded by grace’, but not yet a man whom, as Fr Marie-Eugène writes, ‘God seizes to make a perfect instrument of his plans’. But the move from 3 to 5 sounds messy: ‘when God’s reign is established in the soul in mansion 4, it would be harmful to the soul to wish to distribute the spiritual treasures that it receives and which it cannot deprive itself without danger.’ Not a recipe for active parish ministry. OK perhaps with a sympathetic bishop, who has made the jump himself and can give you space. If not, you could be in trouble.