Saturday, October 15, 2016

Veni, Sancte Spiritus

As an opening salvo, I wanted to share my reflection on a very important prayer, especially for those that seek after wisdom.

Veni, Sancte Spiritus, reple tuorum corda fidelium, et tui amoris in eis ignem accende.

V. Emitte Spiritum tuum et creabuntur;
R. Et renovabis faciem terrae.

Deus, qui corda fidelium Sancti Spiritus illustratione docuisti: da nobis in eodem Spiritu recta sapere, et de eius semper consolatione gaudere. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of thy love.

V. Send forth thy Spirit and they shall be created
R. And thou shall renew the face of the earth

Let us pray:
God, who didst instruct the hearts of the faith by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant us in the same Spirit to know what is right and always to rejoice in His consolation. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

     This common prayer is known by many. It is used as the beginning of the Rosary according to the method of St. Louis de Montfort, and is a common prayer before studying or teaching. It was used in several medieval forms of Mass. It is also a prayer that is very deep in its meaning and says a lot in a few words.

     Catholics who frequent the extraordinary form of Mass will recognize that the prayer is taken from the feast of Pentecost. The collect at the end is the collect of that Mass, and the beginning part forms the verse for the alleluia. Hence the prayer is decidedly liturgical and is more than merely a person prayer; it is sanctioned by the tradition of the Latin Church in her prayer. It can be a great benefit, therefore, to reflect upon what it teaches in its words.

     Attentive readers will notice that I translated the prayer a little different than normal. Instead of “to be truly wise” I have put “to know what is right.” I would like to draw attention to the words in the Latin, recta sapere, what is normally rendered “truly wise.” The word sapere first means "to taste" (sapor means taste or flavor). Derived from this it means to understand, to have sense, or to be wise especially when qualified by the adverb recte. We can see this in English cognates as well. The word insipid is a combination of in and sapere. The in functions as a negation and sapere is changed to sipid. The word means both without flavor and without wisdom.

      The word then has a dual meaning. One is sensual and means “to taste/savor” and the other is “to be wise.” Why is this important? In ancient literature, we see a connection made between wisdom and consolation, which is the second thing we ask for in the prayer. One can see an expression of this in the fifth century work, The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. Wisdom is presented as a cure for the soul. The soul, as a microcosm, is put in order by correct understanding of higher things. This can sound very intellectual and one might ask why is the heart mentioned then? This leads us to the second sense of sapere.

      The imagery used in the prayer is very concrete. It is the heart, and not the mind, that is filled by the Holy Spirit. Wisdom is more than merely knowing the “right things”, the
recta of the prayer. There is a connaturality involved. Connaturality means that there is a certain intimacy and belongingness of what is known and our nature. To be wise is to become intimate with what is true, for it to become “second nature.” The sense of sapere that means “to savor” helps enforce this.

     St. Thomas, in explaining the gift of wisdom, places it under charity rather than faith. He explains that the wisdom that is a gift of the Holy Ghost judges correctly about divine thing as a matter of connaturality. He explains the difference between merely forming a correct judgment by reason and judging by connaturality by an example of chastity. A man may read and learn about chastity and form the right judgment on the matter, but still not be a chaste man. He knows what is right, but while he is not chaste he knows it abstractly and as something other. But a chaste man, someone who has truly trained his appetites to follow right reason, knows it concretely. Chastity has become his second nature and he himself is inclined to it. Likewise, the man who has the gift of wisdom does not merely know the right things about God, he is intimate with them. One might say he is at home with them and he is taken up with them. As such, the gift of wisdom has as its cause the charity of God because it is by that love that we are united to divine things. To be wise is not merely to know the truth, but it is to become intimate with it, to join with it, for it to become our "second nature". Savoring has that sense of really being connected with the truth, which here is the Wisdom God gives us. Which, as St. Thomas explains, is a gift connected to charity more than Faith as it involves that intimacy, and not merely knowledge. Hence the connection with the heart and wisdom in the prayer.

     This gives a unity to the part included earlier in the prayer. The "Come Holy Spirit..." is taken from another part of the same Mass, the gradual. The reason it works so well is that it is in granting us His charity that we are brought to the gift of wisdom, and it is in being wise (in the sense explained above) that we obtain our consolation and joy.

     Lastly, we see another ancient thought pattern in the prayer, exitus reditus, coming forth and return. If you were to pick up the Summa and read just the part where St. Thomas lays out the general plan for the work you see a similar structure. We start with God, then creation and the creature and then Christ who is the path back to God. We go forth from the Alpha and return to the same, the Omega, God. Hence we have the act of the Holy Spirit in creation and renewal (here meaning the forming of hearts, that is charity) and the return back, "in the same Spirit" we obtain that wisdom and consolation which is intimacy with the Holy Spirit.

     Or again, we have creation (exitus, coming forth), renewing the face of the earth (the conversion, turning point) and in the same Spirit (the reditus, the return back to the source).

Third Time is a Charm

There is a danger in trying too many projects at once; you never follow through with any of them.

Last I posted I was publishing a series on the response of the CDF to Msgr. Lefebvre, and I also had never completed my translations of the different drafts of the circular groups at the Synod of the Family.

Well- I am not going to say that I will return to those. No intention right now to do so.  What I am going to do is offer a mix of posts- some commenting on the liturgical day, some on a theological argument, some translations of interesting texts. But not on any ordered plan. But I do have an ultimate goal in mind, and that is to present, to the best of my ability, a voice witnessing, not merely, as many others do, to a Catholic judgment of the present age, but to the depth of the perennial tradition of the Church- whether it be a deep theological issue, or a piece of obscure trivia. I am a Catholic first and foremost, but a convinced Thomist (or at least I aspire to be). We need as many voices, drawing from that well, to be heard. I hope that my voice adds something to those already present.

NB: Because of my unwillingness to constantly police the blog, comments have been disabled. I really wish I could do otherwise though!