IMAGES OF PILGRIMAGE:

PARADISE AND WILDERNESS IN CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY


CONTENTS
CHAPTER I: BIBLICAL AND PAGAN IMAGES
CHAPTER II: THE OLD TESTAMENT
CHAPTER III: THE NEW TESTAMENT
CHAPTER IV: ST. AUGUSTINE
CHAPTER V: DANTE
CHAPTER VI: RECONCILIATION



Passing on to consider the interpretation of images of pilgrimage in the on-going development of Christian spirituality in the history of the Church, we do not leave behind us the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Indeed, one may see the whole of Christian history as an exegesis, in thought and action, of the word of God. Or, perhaps, we might even better call it an eisegesis - a 'reading in' of ourselves into the word and will of God; a reading of ourselves into the paradise of God, where, in a fundamental and altogether crucial sense, we already are.

Our concern now is with the spirituality of St. Augustine; but in order to preserve the continuity of our theme, we should first attempt to place him in the context of early Christian spirituality in general. There are important differences there, and significant development.

To begin with, it is not, of course, surprising that the Church should think of itself as representing paradise. St. Irenaeus remarks: "The Church is planted as a paradise in this world" [1]. Clearly, the Church, as community of the New Adam, and, indeed, of the New Eve (for that also is Irenaeus' thought [2] ), the community in which the fraternal enmity of Cain and Abel is reversed by Christian amity, seems a return to Eden in this world. Thus, for the Epistle to Diognetus, those who love God rightly, have been made "a paradise of delight". [3] Theophilus of Antioch speaks expressly of redeemed man's return to Eden: "...with a kind of banishment (God) cast him out of paradise, so that through this punishment he might expiate his sin... and after chastisement might later be recalled". [4] The great Alexandrian doctors, Clement and Origen, speak of the consummation as the restoration of the primitive integrity: Semper enim similis est finis initiis, says Origen, "the end is always like the beginning"; God "will restore that state which rational nature possessed when there was no need of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil". [5]

Although the return to paradise has an eschatological dimension, it is also present reality in the Church's life. As St. Gregory of Nyssa. remarks, "It is indeed possible for us to return to the original beatitude, if we will now run backward on the same road which we had followed when we were ejected from Paradise together with our forefather [Adam]". [6] The understanding of baptism as the sign of that return to paradise, the lost and promised land, is, of course, implicit from the beginning in the imagery of Exodus so closely associated with baptism in the Scriptures; but the point is dramatically underlined in early Christian liturgies, when the candidate's feet are washed, "to wash off the venom of the serpent” [7] , or when the newly baptized Christian is given milk mingled with honey, symbolic of the promised land. [8]

In early Christianity, the paradisal image serves as the fundamental image of renewal and reform, and thus it is the basic image of spiritual pilgrimage, in both individual and corporate dimensions. The biblical image is treated typologically: it is at once what it is in itself, historically, and also a foreshadowing of what is to come; it is forma futuri, sacramentum futuri - a sign of what is coming; and that on several levels. What is coming is fulfilled in the soul of redeemed man, in the community of the Church, and also in the summing-up which is the end of time; and thus it has always an eschatological dimension eschatology both "futurist" and "realised".

The reforming force of the paradisal image could be reflected in various and quite different ways". On the one hand, it might be seen, as by Eusebius, in the victory of the Christian Emperor, Constantine, turning a wilderness of lawlessness into a paradise of harmony, doing battle among "thorns and briars making peace and a pleasant "vineyard", after overcoming Satan. [9] On the other hand, for the Desert Fathers, and for many others, seeking the bios theoretikos, the ‘philosophic life’, the integrity of paradise could be recovered only in the freedom of the wilderness, far-removed from the affairs of the Imperial Church.[10] The aim was to recover in the wilderness the lost integrity of Adam; to show how Christian holiness could overcome the enmity of man and nature; and, of course, the lovely tales of tame lions and crocodiles, and repentant wolves, are simply charming illustrations of that point.

All that belonged to the imagery of paradise; but there was more. In the Latin West, in the fourth century, important changes were taking place in Christian spiritual perspectives; changes which would define Western Christian spirituality, through the Middle Ages, through the Reformation, down to our own time. St. Augustine was the great architect of that transformation, although, of course, he did not actually invent it. It was somehow there before him; for instance, in the vast difference between Eusebius and Ambrose with regard to Christian emperors. And its roots were clearly biblical, most evidently in the Pauline theology of sin and grace. In this view, the paradisal image of reform means something different: not the return to the pristine integrity of Eden, however spiritually conceived. The integrity of Eden is not the pilgrim's destination: In melius renovabimur [11], says St. Augustine, "we shall be changed into something better”. That is the watchword of this view.

I suppose the first clear patristic statement of this point belongs not to St. Augustine, but to a slightly earlier document, sometimes ascribed to him: the traditional "Paschal Praeconium", the "Exultet" of the Easter Vigil, now pretty securely ascribed to St. Augustine's great mentor, St. Ambrose of Milan. I refer to the remarkable lines:

O truly necessary sin of Adam, which by the death of Christ is
done away! O happy fault, which merited such and so great a Redeemer! [12]

One may recognise in that an echo of the Pauline doctrine, according to which, "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Rom. 5:20). But whatever may be the Pauline and Ambrosian anticipations of the position, its full elaboration belongs especially to St. Augustine.

In the cyclic view of paradise as return to Eden, the wilderness must be seen as interlude, delaying our return to the innocent integrity of Adam in the garden. But if the New Adam is not just original integrity reconstituted, but something new and infinitely more, then wilderness is not just remedial discipline (though it is that, of course), but the sphere of spiritual activity which results in something better. In melius renovabimur: maturity in Christ is something more than the innocence of Adam. It is this latter view which specifies the terms of pilgrimage for St. Augustine and his successors.

The spirituality of St. Augustine is the spirituality of pilgrimage, and abounds in images of wilderness and paradise, of exile and repatriation. [13]. This theme runs through all his works, but perhaps it is most familiar and most accessible in the Confessions, his own "Odyssey of soul" [14], the story of his liberation from the futility of the social, educational and professional conventions of a dying age, from the "barren land" [15] he had made of himself , to find a new principle of thought and action in the paradise of the word of God. Thus, the work, which begins as a sort of autobiography, turns into a consideration of the nature of the soul, and conclude. as a meditation on the creation narrative of Genesis.

St. Augustine's pilgrimage is the pilgrimage of amor, the pilgrimage of love, the spirituality of rational will, as it aspires to the infinite and absolute good. A passage in Book XIII of the Confessions clarifies the meaning of that journey:

By its own weight, a body inclines towards its own place. Weight does not always tend towards the lowest place, but to its own place. A stone falls, but fire rises. They move according to their own weights, they seek their own places. Oil poured into water rises to the surface; water poured on oil sinks below the oil. They act according to their own weights, they seek their own places. Things out of place are restless (inguieta); they find their places, and they rest.

My love is my weight (Pondus meum amor meus); whithersoever I am moved, I am moved there by love. By thy gift (donum, the Holy Spirit) we are set on fire, and are borne aloft; we burn, and we are on the way. We climb the ascents which are in the heart, and sing the "song of Degrees” [16]. With thy fire, with thy good fire, we burn and go on, for we go up to the "peace of Jerusalem"; for I rejoiced in them who said to me, "we will go into the house of the Lord". There good will will place us, so that we shall wish nothing other than to remain there forever. [17].

In the realm of nature, motion has a necessary character; all created things, by their very natures, by their rising and decline, necessarily seek the good, in ordered and harmonious praise of God; but, in the human order, amor is the activity of rational will. It is precisely in the human will that St. Augustine finds the possibility of a wayward love, which fixes upon some finite good s though that were the absolute and perfect good. Amor, self-blinded to the true object of its quest, becomes distorted, and perverted, and frustrated, and leads the soul to slavery: subservience to the sensible, to idle curiosity, and vain ambition, subject to all the demons of the "present age". [18]

Therefore, Augustinian spirituality has the character of a recovery from bondage, an Exodus from Egypt, the conversion of amor from finite goods to infinite and perfect good, which is the promised land of paradise, and the Prodigal's return from a distant country. The conversion, the ascent, is a movement away from the multiplicity and temporality of worldly experience, a turning inward in search of a vision of the unity and stability of all things in their divine source and end. The meaning of experience is not to be found in external phenomena, as such; they make sense only as they are judged and unified by the conscious self, in terms of principles of truth present to the soul. Turning inward, the soul discovers the presence of eternal Truth, transcending and illuminating, as the necessary pre-condition of its understanding. To see directly that eternal Truth, the ground of the being and intelligibility of all created things, and to know and love all things in that one Truth, and only there, is the final goal of the soul's ascent: the attainment of a beatitude of which the wayfaring soul has only proleptic glimpses.

There is much in that position which bears comparison with those spiritual traditions of ancient paganism we considered earlier. The whole pattern of the asceticism seems basically Platonic: from external things, to the soul's own inner life, and from the soul to soul's divine illuminating principle. Surely, it is all there in Plato's great analogies of the Sun, the Line and the Cave, in the Republic. Indeed, St. Augustine himself informs us that he read, in the "books of the Platonists", all this, and more. He tells us that he found there (in other words) much of the Prologue of St. John's Gospel. But he did not read there, he says, that "the word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us", that "he came unto his own, and his own did not receive him", that "to those who received him, he gave power to become sons of God". [19]. The similarities were striking; but the omissions were altogether crucial, because, as St. Augustine understood it, the spiritual impasse of paganism lay precisely in the evident impossibility of any genuine mediation between the divine and human spheres. Without that via, the blessed homeland must remain only a vision, never an habitation. [20]

Only through the mediation of the Divine Word could Paradise become a home. The last three books of the Confessions are accordingly devoted to a meditation on the Eternal Word as the principium of creation, who is the illuminator of the soul, and also speaks to bodily senses in the words of Holy Scripture, that men immersed in sensible and temporal things might hear and believe that sensible and temporal word, and be recalled to find the truth within. Because of fallen man's preoccupation with external and temporal things, his memory of his patria is dim, and his via unclear, and therefore the prompting of the word, externally and temporally uttered, in the economy of salvation, is the necessary starting-point.

Therefore, shunning the presumption which imperils merely human speculation about divine realities, St. Augustine undertakes an exposition of the spiritual pilgrimage of all creation, in the form of an exegesis of the creation narrative of Genesis. First, creation is seen in its discursive multiplicity in time and space; finally, it is seen in its Sabbath-rest in the unfathomable unity of divine activity, in which motion and rest are identical. All things have been created from nothing, in dissimilitude to God; it is by a conversio, a turning back to God, that they attain the reality of their true life. That is the pilgrimage of all creation, the meaning of its motion, and it is within that context that the pilgrimage of human love is understood.

In melius renovabimur. I think it is important for us to see how sharply the spirituality of amor stands in contrast to the ideals of pagan spirituality. In the City of God, St. Augustine speaks of the pagan myth of endlessly recurring cycles [22], the libridium, the 'mockery', that immortal souls who have attained to wisdom are condemned to alternate endlessly between delusive blessedness and a misery which is genuine. He has in mind, no doubt, such stories as Plato's "Myth of Er", and Virgil's account of Aeneas' journey to the underworld. "By following the road of sound doctrine", says St. Augustine, "one escapes I know not what false cycles, invented by false and misled sages". The Platonists can see, indeed, though in the distance, as it were, and with clouded vision, the patria which must be our home, but they do not hold to the via by which one must travel there. [23]

Criticising Virgil for the view that all our griefs and perturbations arise from the soul's incarceration in sluggish flesh, St. Augustine insists that our ills are neither fated, nor circumstantial; it is the will, he says, the amor, which is all-important in the life of individual and community. It is the principle of amor which informs the spirituality of St. Augustine, and it is that principle which informs and shapes profoundly the new society which rises in the West from the ruins of the ancient Empire. It is the spirituality of amor which shapes medieval Christendom, for a millennium, to the late Middle Ages, and beyond, and defines the Christian pilgrimage in all its forms. It is that romantic spirituality which animates the infinite aspiration of medieval architecture and sculpture; it is that which animates the Marian devotions of St. Anselm and St. Bernard of Clairvaux; and it is the same spirituality, essentially, which informs the popular and vernacular literature of the age.

And that culminating work of medieval spiritual genius, the Divine Comedy of Dante, has the shape of romance, transfigured in the "sweet new style", and fittingly concludes with the image of paradise as the white celestial rose, the image of purified romantic love; and the final line of the final canto celebrates l'amor: "'the love that moves the sun and the other stars".

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Notes: Chapter IV:

1. Irenaeus, Adversus haeres, V, 20, 2.

2. On the Eva-Maria parallel, see Irenaeus, Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, 33; Adv. haeres, III, 32, 1, V, 19, I. The same parallel is found earlier in Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho, 100), and later in Tertullian (De carne Christi, 17). For a full discussion of the matter, see Hugo Koch, Virgo Eva-Virgo Maria (ed. E. Hirsch and H. Leitz.ann, Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte, 25, Berlin and Leipzig, 1937).

3. Epistle to Diognetus, XII, 1; cf. Willians, op. cit., p. 31.

4. Theophilus of Antioch, Ad Autolycum, II, 26 (text and, translation by Robert M. Grant, Oxford, 1970, p. 69).

5. Origen, De principiis, I, 6, 2; III, 6, 3 (tr. Gerhart B. Ladner, The Idea of Reform. Its Impact on Christian Thought and -Action in the Age of the Fathers, Cambridge, Mass., 1959, p. 73). Ladner's section on "The Return to Paradise" (in the Greek Fathers), pp. 63-82, is particularly relevant to our theme.

6. Gregory of Nyssa, De virginitate, 12 (tr. Ladner, op. cit., pp 76-77).

7. Ambrose, De sacramentis, III, I, 7: Lavas ergo pedes ut laves venena serpentis.

8. Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, XXIII, 2. On the paradise theme in ancient Christian art, inscriptions and liturgy, see H. Leclercq, art. "Paradis", in H. Leclercq, ed., Dictionnaire d'archeologie chretienne et de liturgies Vol. XIII (Paris, 1937), coll. 1578-1615.

9. Eusebius, Life of Constantine, III, 3, quoted in Williams, op. cit.,p. 34.

10. Cf. Williams, op. cit., pp. 41-44.

11. De Genesi ad litteram, VI, XX, 31 - VI, XXVIII, 40; quotation from VI, XXVII, 37: In hoc ergo renovamur, secundum id quod amisit Adam, id est secundum spiritum mentis nostrae: secundum autem corpus quod seminatur animale, et resurset spiritale, in melius renovabimur, quod nondum fuit Adam. See Ladner's excellent account of "St. Augustine and the Difference between the Reform Ideas of the Christian East and West", op. cit., pp. 153-283.

12. O certe necessarium Adae peccatum, quod Christi morte deletum est! O felix culpa, quae talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptorem!

St. Augustine evidently wrote a Paschal Praeconium, in laude quadam cerei (City of God, XV, 22), but the familiar one is almost certainly from St. Ambrose; cf. B. Capelle, "L'Exultet pascal, oeuvre de saint Ambroise", in Miscellanea Giovanni Mercati (Vatican City, 1946), I, 219-46.

13. For an excellent selection of texts in translation, with an introduction to "The Spirituality of St. Augustine", see Mary T. Clark, Augustine of Hippo, Selected Writings (Ramsey, N. J., 1984; in the series, "Classics of Western Spirituality").

14. On the Confessions as "pilgrimage", see G. N. Knauer, "Pereginatio animae. Zur Frage der Einheit der augustinischen Konfessionen", Hermes, 85 (1957-58), 216-248; R. J. O'Connell, St. Augustine's Confessions: The Odyssey of Soul (Cambridge, Mass., 1969); R. D. Crouse, "Recurrens in te unum: The Pattern of St. Augustine's Confessions", in E. A. Livingstone, ed., Studia Patristica, vol. XIV, (Berlin, 1976), pp. 389-92.

15. The "barren land", regio egestatis (Confessions, II, X, 18) echoes the Latin text of St. Luke, XV:14, and evokes the image of the Prodigal Son.

16. In the Latin Bible, Psalms 119-133 (K.JV, 120-134), the "Pilgrim Psalms", are entitled canticum graduum.

17. Confessions, XIII, 9, 10 (tr. R. D. C.). 18. Cf. R. D. Crouse, "In multa defluximus: Confessions X, 29-43, and St. Augustine's Theory of Personality", in H. Blumenthal and R. Markus, eds., Neoplatonism and Early Christian Thought (London, 1980), pp. 180-85.

19. Confessions, VII, IX, 13.

20. Confessions, VII, XX, 26. On St. Augustine's criticisms of Platonism, in the Confessions, see C. J. Starnes, "St. Augustine and the Vision of the Truth", Dionysius, I (1977), 85-126; and, on the same matter in the City of God, Dennis House, "St. Augustine's Account of the Relation of Platonism to Christianity in the De Civitate Dei", Dionysius, VII (1983), 43-48.

21. Confessions, XI, VIII, 10.

22. City of God, XII, 14.

23. City of God, X, 29.

24. City of God, XIV, 5.: Interest autem qualis sit voluntas hominis.


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