THE WISDOM of EARLY MONASTICISM:
SOURCES and I
NTERPRETERS of the BENEDICTINE WAY

 

 

 


 


THE LADDER,
T
HE GARDEN, and
THE EMBRACE of GOD
 

 

 Christ Embraces St.Bernard from the Cross
Ribalta.
1620

1. Bible;   2. Martyrs3. Lectio 4. Desert 5. Augustine 6. Rule 7. Gregory 8. Interpreters


 

 

 


 


 

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 


 

 



 

1. THE LADDER and THE GARDEN:


 


1. THE LADDER
and
THE GARDEN:
BIBLICAL IMAGES
 

 


THE monastic model of ascent through ascetical practice to the contemplative embrace of God is rooted and prefigured in the biblical  images of:

THE LADDER of ascent to God and

THE GARDEN of delight in the divine presence.

ALTHOUGH the notion of ascent to God is also frequently depicted as climbing a mountain (Sinai, Carmel, Tabor), the image of JACOB'S LADDER is a powerful image of heavenly ascent and descent; and it recurs in patristic depictions of martyrdom and very often in the monastic tradition

THE GARDEN is a very ancient metaphor for gentle rest in the Divine Presence.  The ancient word for garden is Paradise. In the garden of Eden humanity is at peace with God and all of creation.  In the prophets and psalms hope for human struggle and pain is found in the prediction that the desert will blossom and become a garden.  The garden of the Song of Songs was interpreted by both Jewish Rabbis and Christian mystics as an icon of the union between the Divine Lover and His beloved spouse - His people. And in the Book of Revelation the final destiny of saved humanity is described as a lush garden with trees and flowing rivers.


 

 


 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 


 


 

2. MARTYRDOM as PROTO-MONASTICISM


 


2. MARTYRDOM as
PROTO-MONASTICISM:
THE VISIONS of PERPETUA
 

 


IN early Christianity the martyrs were often seen as forerunners of the monks and nuns: that is, intercessors with God who willingly left everything - family, society, even life itself - in witness (martyria) to the Gospel.

CONVERSELY, in the fourth century when martyrdom faded in the wake of a Christian-Imperial Church, monasticism flourished as a context where the earlier fervor of prayer, ascetical practice, contemplation, and the centrality of Christian faith could be seriously practiced as a lifestyle and vocation.

A POWERFUL witness to this are the visions of the martyr St. Perpetua, in which the power of intercessory prayer and the images of ladder and garden are all found.  The record of her martyrdom includes her own personal reflections, and is thus the earliest literature we possess that comes from the pen of a Christian laywoman.


 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 



 

3. LECTIO DIVINA:


 


3. LECTIO DIVINA:
A LADDER of ASCENT and
A GARDEN of CONTEMPLATION
 

 


CENTRAL to Christian monasticism is the ancient practice of LECTIO DIVINAA method of prayer and contemplation inherited from Judaism, Lectio Divina was first clearly recommended as a practice for all Christians by the bishop St. Cyprian of Carthage in the third century, who described both ascent to God and spiritual adornment of the soul. The medieval monks Peter Damien and Guigo II depict lectio as ascent to the banquet or divine embrace.

THE result of lectio divina is the practice of CONTEMPLATIVE EXEGESIS, again, a method of prayerful contemplation inherited from both Judaism and classical antiquity.  Also called allegorical exegesis, this refers to the practice of contemplating the presence and purposes (logoi) of God in Sacred Scripture, in the unfolding of ones' own life, and in the movements of history. A medieval poem describes the interrelationship between the literal and mystical/allegorical senses:


Littera gesta docet,

The letter speaks of deeds;

quid credas allegoria,

allegory about the faith;

Moralis quid agas,

The moral about our actions;

quo tendas anagogia.

anagogy about our destiny


THUS four levels or aspects of biblical and historical contemplation can be described:


 LITERAL
(historical)

God in the Sacred Text

SACRED SCRIPTURE

 MORAL
(tropological)

God guiding us in our choices

OUR LIVES

 ALLEGORICAL
(christological)

God unseen in the events of our lives

HUMAN HISTORY

 ANAGOGICAL
(heavenly/eschatological)

God united to us for all eternity in Heaven

HEAVEN (beyond time)

 A CLASSIC depiction of this is the medieval Benedictine historian Bede's story of Caedmon.



 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 


 

 



 

4. THE LIFE of ANTONY


 


4. THE LIFE of ANTONY,
DESERT LIVES
and
SAYINGS
 

 


IN the earliest literature of monasticism the image of the garden recurs frequently.  Antony was among the first to leave the fertile settled land for the wasteland of the desert, carrying in his soul God's power to consecrate and bless the deadly regions thought to be the habitation of demons. His prayer and ascetical struggle against temptation transformed an abandoned desert fort into a purifying retreat; and upon emerging he eventually creates his own garden in a mountain oasis.

SIMILAR visions of the garden paradise are found in the Lives and Saying of the desert fathers and mothers, where the garden symbolizes the eschatological goal of prayerful union with God.  It was the monastic cell, however, that was the real place of contemplation; and sometimes the beauty of a physical and temporal garden could be a distraction.

 


 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 



 

5. AUGUSTINE:


 


5. AUGUSTINE:
DIVINE ASCENT
and
THEOSIS
 

 


SAINT AUGUSTINE describes in his Confessions experiences/visions of ascent to God, one through mutual encouragement and conversation - an image that will recur in Pope Saint Gregory's depiction of Saint Benedict's transformation from powerful ascetic to ecstatic contemplative.The Letters, Sermons, and Rule of Saint Augustine were important sources for Saint Benedict in writing his own Rule.

FOR Augustine, as for the Greek Christian theologians, this ascent is an experience of theosis / divinization that is especially experienced and effected through the sacraments.

 


 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 



 

6. THE RULE of BENEDICT


 


6. THE RULE of BENEDICT
and

T
HE RULE of THE MASTER
 

 


IN both the Rule of Benedict and in Benedict's principal source, the Rule of the Master, the image of the ladder, with explicit reference to the dream of Jacob, is central as a way of conceptualizing spiritual progress.  Their ladder of humility adapts a similar concept found in John Cassian.

THE Master describes the pleasure-garden of heaven in detail, while Benedict prefers a more succinct allusion to What eye has not seen, nor ear heard. For Benedict the garden of eternal life (ch.72) is attained by running together with others in the sweetness of love (Prol.) along the path that enables the community to be seen - and served - as Christ.


 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 



 

7. THE LIFE of BENEDICT


 


7. THE LIFE of BENEDICT:
GREGORY the GREAT on
THE PATH of SAINT BENEDICT
 

 


POPE Gregory the Great is one of the first interpreters of the rich legacy of St. Benedict.  He is the author of the Life of St. Benedict which comprises the second book of Gregory's famous Dialogues.

THE spiritual progress of St. Benedict from solitary hermit to abbot of a community and from zealous ascetic to receptive contemplative is depicted as a ladder or stairway visible in vision by Benedict's disciples at the end of their teacher's life.

 


 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 



 

8. DISCIPLES and COMMENTATORS


 


8. PS-EPIPHANIUS, ROMUALD,
B
ERNARD and DANTE:
 
DISCIPLES and COMMENTATORS
on
THE BENEDICTINE WAY
 

 


THE disciples, interpreters, and commentators on the life and Rule of Saint Benedict are too numerous to enumerate here.  We will consider only four.

1. An examples of the image of an ascent back to - and even beyond - the primordial garden of Eden is found in the famous reading for Holy Saturday that is clearly influenced by the ascetical/monastic tradition of the early Church.

2. Romuald and (3) Bernard offer examples of the monastic cell as a return to paradise and the Song of Songs as a vision of the monastic goal.

4. And, finally, Dante depicts both Benedict and his disciples, Peter Damien and Bernard as guides up the ladder that leads to God and to the heavenly garden where the saints rejoice.

 


 


 

 

 


 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Garden of Eden,  Thomas Cole, 1828


The Garden of Eden,  Thomas Cole, 1828


 

 


The Garden of Eden,  Fouquet, 1477

 


 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


THE LADDER_The Dream of Jacob, School of Beuron


 

 

The Dream of Jacob, School of Beuron


 

 

 

 

 


Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent, Modern Icon

Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent, Russian, 16th c.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 



CLOISTER GARDENS


 

 


CLOISTER GARDENS
 

 

 


MONT ST-MICHEL ABBEY,  FRANCE

SINGEVERGA ABBEY, OPORTO, PORTUGAL

 



 

 


 

CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL

MAREDSOUS ABBEY, DENEE,  BELGIUM

 



 

 


 

SAINT JOHN'S SEMINARY, 

CAMARILLO, CALIFORNIA

 



 

 


 


SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO

MISSION,  CALIFORNIA

 

 

 

 


 


FR. ELEUTHERIUS' GARDEN,

SAINT ANDREW'S ABBEY, VALYERMO

 

 

 

 

 


 


 

 

 


 


xcxxcxxc  F This Webpage was created for a workshop held at Saint Andrew's Abbey, Valyermo, California in 2021...x....   .