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A Program of Spiritual Formation for Candidates to the Priesthood

The Lay Monastic Community of Caryana










Dom Basilio Magno


There is only one Spirituality in the Catholic Church and NOT schools of Spirituality.

  1. The Heroes of the Old Testament had one simple spirituality: Obedience to the Commands of God expressed, in general, in the Ten Commandments and specially explained by the prophets.

    The Ancients, the prophets and heroes of the Old Testament and even the first Christians had no need for books of spirituality or spiritual directors...much less to attend seminars or retreats. Their simple spirituality consists in OBEDIENCE TO GOD. To mention a few, there was Noah who built the Ark in obedience to God and Abraham who went to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, in obedience to God.

    Of course, their obedience must be qualified in that it was different from the obedience of the Pharisees to the law of Moses.

    God had always shown His goodness to Israel and demanded for only one thing in return ... OBEDIENCE to His Will, expressed in His commands. Everything else was empty gestures: the sacrifices, the holocaust and the sprinklings. Living faith meant obedience to God’s commands. Thus though the Israelites had the Ark and the Temple which were signs of God’s presence, yet God’s true presence was in the hearts of men through obedience.

    As of old the temptation to choose empty ritualism over obedience is always a danger today. But any sincere desire to return to God can only be shown in obedience to His Will.

    The norms of the Spiritual Life are simple: foreshadowed in the wisdom books (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom)... good will be rewarded, evil will be punished. Then God, and later on Christ, gave a list of good acts that we must do and a list of evil acts we must avoid. The “good” is to love God
  2. The Early Christian were not known to have many books and yet their era boasted of great saints.

    Only two documents, aside from Scriptures, helped the early Christians: a.) the “Sayings of the Desert Fathers,” and b.) the Life of St. Anthony. Later on the Fathers of the Church would be widely used, too. All these writings interpret the commands of Christ as found in Scriptures.

    The “Sayings” is a collection of short phrases, easy to remember and profound in meaning. In fact one short phrase was more than enough to propel a soul to sanctity much in the same way that just one parable in the Gospel or one command is enough to make a saint of any soul. These sayings are compiled today in the Philokalia. These very short sayings were the main source of spirituality in early Christianity and guided many souls to greatness ...not the entire book but often one or two phrases only.

    The Apothegmata Patrum, as the “Sayings” was referred to, shaped Christian spirituality of both Christian East and West. The goal of these writings is to help us reach the kingdom “...simul perviamus ad vitam aeternam.” At first the Apothegmata was orally transmitted; then written down by the 5th century, the end of the golden age of desert monasticism in Egypt. The collection is, to say the least, chaotic to the uninitiated but very clear to those for whom it was meant to be.

    The Apostolic Fathers, heirs to the Apothegmata, though of different status, origins, etc...spoke of one single spirituality. And the early Church had so many saints at a time it had no theology; they were merely guided by the commands. Their knowledge of Spirituality is said to have been completely developed; otherwise they wouldn’t be saints. And there was no distinction between clerics, religious and lay.

    It is a known fact that the 17th century spiritual treatises, though closer to our times, are less captivating than the desert writings. For seldom are we struck by great depth with stark simplicity. The same can be said of the Fathers in a lesser degree.

    Then, there is the “ Life of St. Anthony” where the saint put the Apothegmata into practice. St. Augustine was greatly influenced by this book. The physical set up by which the spiritual life was lived during these times is exemplified in the Basiliades of St. Basil which were large, self-contained “cities in the desert."
  3. The Spiritually of the New Testament is identical to that of the Old Testament: OBEDIENCE to God’s commands …but as expressed by Christ. Except that the commands of Christ were more difficult being the perfection of the Old Testament commands; though because of grace it has become easier to observe.

    The Spirituality of the New Testament is an improvement of the Old Testament but consisted of the same simple formula, so simple one cannot dissect it and claim that this part is for women and that for men, this for lay and that for religious. Divide it and Catholic spirituality ceases to be Catholic.

    Early Catholic spirituality was symbolized ARTISTICALLY by the ICON, an unchangeable prototype, an art form well protected against all individual private expression. APOCALYPTICALLY, Catholic Spirituality was symbolized by the DESERT since it was first formulated and lived by the first Christians in the desert, the lonely places of the Gospel. The place where the Apocalyptic woman fled to, after the Ascension of Christ. To modernize or urbanize St. Basil or St. John Chrysostom was unthinkable.

    Christ came to perfect the commands of the Old Testament. He became the embodiment of authentic spirituality. And any attempt to construct a spirituality that is “more contemporary” or “more up-to-date” is going towards what Deuteronomy forbade “...to add or subtract ” to the commands of the Lord (4:2).

    With Christ the doctrine on spirituality was completed and the role of the coming of the Holy Spirit was “...to remind you of everything I have said to you (Jn. 14:21). To learn spirituality is to know what Christ said and did for our instruction. Anything outside the commands should be used or avoided depending on the benefit or harm it can do to souls.

    And so a school of spirituality, and NOT schools of spirituality. Christ transcends the history of man though He functions within that context. And so the way the commands are to be observed in the past, present and future is the same. The way the vice of fornication is overcome is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. And the way we must love God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
  4. Early Christian Spirituality was based on the Word of God.

    The Word of God contains the Revelation of the Commands of Christ. The early writings on spirituality, like the “Novellae” of Justinian the Emperor, the “Advices” of Barsanuphius and other writings of the Fathers, for that matter, speak about OBEDIENCE to the commands of Christ as found in Scriptures. So that St. Basil aptly summarized this saying: “Every word and action must be checked with Scriptures.”

    This spirituality is what Christ wanted us to learn when He said: “Learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” Spirituality is being humble and meek . . . like Christ as He showed us in Scriptures. This is man’s portion in the spiritual life; the rest is God’s (though strictly speaking God is needed from the very first steps).
  5. Spirituality, further explained.

    Evidently there is only one way to holiness (or to heaven or to be pleasing to God...however you want to put it). And this is by loving God and neighbor. And there is only one way of loving God and neighbor...and that is by obeying the Commands of Christ. And the first command is to “deny oneself” which leads to the humility and meekness of Christ.

    The magisterium, the saints and founders of religious orders and authors of true spirituality are one heart and mind on this. A spirituality that differs from this is surely a fake; “If even an angel preaches a different gospel let him be anathema (2Cor. 11:4).”

    All saints, whether the apostles, the first martyrs, the Benedictines, Augustinians, Dominicans, Franciscan or Jesuits have one and the same spirituality...in that they loved God in a heroic degree by obeying the commands of Christ summarized in the words: “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me (Mark 8:34).” Besides, the Founder’s Holy Rules were approved simply because they conform to the Evangelical precepts and NOT because they were different or a more up-to-date interpretation of the Evangelical precepts.

    The farther away religious were from being holy the more accentuated the difference, i.e. an unholy Benedictine is very different from an unholy Jesuit...though, really, they are the same, slaves to their vices and passions. It is said that the holy priest, Pierre de Caussade, a Jesuit, was influenced by St. Francis of Sales, a Salesian, and in some way he influ­enced St. Therese of Lisieux, a Carmelite; that Ignatius was influenced by the Spanish reformer, Benedictine Cisneros while Teresa of Avila was guided in her prayer life by St. Augustine and Jesuit, Franciscan and Dominican priests.

    That seems like a hodgepodge of spirituality...but no, they are all holy because they followed one and the same simple spirituality of the Gospel ...they loved God in a heroic degree. There is no such thing as an Ignatian way of loving God, which makes one suspect that there is no such thing as Salesian, Jesuit or Carmelite spirituality...but just one Evangelical spirituality lived by a lay person, a priest and a nun. Not to mention the early Christian saints who were mostly laymen, like Benedict, became great saints and pillars of the Church by this simple Evangelical spirituality.

    Christ preached the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of holiness; but He never defined His terms. The early Christians were not interested in definitions: they were interested in how to enter the Kingdom. The Beatitudes express the different degrees of spirituality; the first is the minimum and the eighth a difficult maximum which must, nevertheless, be our goal while in this world.
  6. Why is Spirituality explained so lengthily today.

    We, however, beginners in the life of the Spirit need instructions; we need sound teachings, examples and rules of conduct. And so arose the long, and often times tedious and repetitious, theological explanations on the spiritual life. The pervading idea seems to be that the longer the explanation the more the pupil will understand...which is not the case. Because in spirituality, the more humble and meek the soul is, the more he will understand. Length or intensity of study has nothing to do with growth in spirituality.

    I guess as years passed the new generation of Catholics became less and less humble considering the treatises on spirituality became longer.


  1. The Goal of Spirituality.

    Among God’s creatures man, alone, has the possibility of transcending himself into a superior being...a participation with the Divine Image by a way of life close to God. Spirituality is that process...the process of becoming a person with a Divine Image. And since this is over and above man’s natural capabilities, it cannot be man-made.

    The goal of Spirituality is to reach a state where our whole being and life are ordered, led and influenced by the Spirit of God. This way of life is opposed to carnal life, a way of life opposed to God’s Spirit. This is not a distinction between the soul and body but between two ways of life. St. Jerome states that the purpose of the teachings of St. Paul was “to advance in spirituality (Jerome, Epist. 7, PL 30: 114D-115A.)”

    Sanctity is the goal of spirituality and this is attained through the following of Christ. There is only ONE way of following Christ. And man becomes a saint by living the spiritual life, not by merely studying the spiritual life. Studying produces a skepticism that requires an explanation or dissertation before obedience. The living of the spiritual life requires faith, i.e. obedience before understanding. Studying theology points the way to contemplation, but obedience to Christ’s commands brings the soul to contemplation. The study of theology is guided by rationalism, obedience is guided by faith.

    Spirituality is the “Imitation of Christ”, the apex of which is martyrdom...and in the absence of opportunities for martyrdom, the monastic life. Monastic life, which was the substitute for martyrdom, was a life of virtue: charity, humility and patience, obedience, chastity and prayer (Didache). And to safeguard these virtues they found it necessary to imitate the hidden life of Christ which consists in some degree of separation from the world. With the Parousia in mind the observance of the virtues and vows became natural.

    The first movement in Christian spirituality is to desire to follow Christ followed by “To deny oneself.” And Christ used the words “hatred for the world.” But even this first step can’t be done unless “the Father draws him to Christ.” And how does one get the Father to draw him to Christ? By prayer accompanied by fasting and good works, all of which must be done with great humility. For the Pharisees did pray, fast and perform good works but they were done proudly.
  2. Spirituality and Monasticism.

    Monasticism, though existing even in the old testament, came to the fore toward the end of the third century as the result of the effort of fervent Christians to live a more perfect life in place of martyrdom. It was available to any Christian who wanted to give an authentic witness to the teachings of Christ.

    Fenelon rightly said; “The persecution made less solitaries...the peace of the Church produced more solitaries. The Christians, simple and opposed to any softness, were more fearful of a peace that might be gratifying to the senses than they had been of the cruelty of tyrants.” The persecution produced martyrs; peace lessened the opportunities for martyrdom so monasticism was provided as a substitute for martyrdom.

    So though martyrdom was the supreme witnessing to Christ one needed a special call to be worthy of it. So those who felt they did not have the call lived as monks or solitaries.

    Condemned as criminals, the first Christians avoided society and this helped in the development of their spirituality. But once Christians obtained their freedom and Christianity even became the official religion, Christians felt at home in the world which became their spiritual downfall; “It is no longer the pagan world that fights and eliminates the Christian soul; it is the Christian soul that takes up the attack and eliminates the world from within his own being.”

    This was the only Spiritual Life described in early Christianity: Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch described it as “Imitation of Christ”. Tertullian and St. Cyprian and later Athanasius, Basil, Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, Ambrose and Augustine and Cassian described this way of life in greater detail...using monastic terms, showing that spirituality, for all purposes, was identical with monasticism.

    This way of life was, at first, lived at home, the natural place for it if the home is truly Christian. But when the home became worldly, fervent Christians grouped themselves together in communities for spiritual safety. The Council of Ancyra (314) declared that such Christians, usually called virgins, who married were guilty of bigamy and those who married such consecrated souls were subject to the death penalty.

    Those who lived in their homes did not go out except on exceptional necessity. They observed fasting the whole year (exceptions were given for reasons of health). One meal a day was the practice. Works of mercy for the poor and needy were part of their life. To create a better atmosphere for their endeavor they left the cities and lived together in some remote place, thus “...building cities in the desert.” Others built cities within a city.

    For further safety and protection double monasteries were introduced wherein the male celibates lived with the female, though in separate buildings and with strict clausura, to protect them and to do the heavy work. But as the spirit of monasticism waned in some places the men were marrying the women instead. So the Church stopped the practice of double monasteries. It was a pretty good idea but not when the candidates were spiritually weak. And so the present set up where men and women are separated became the standard observance.

    John Chrysostom stated that monasteries are necessary because the world is not Christian. If it were, there would be no difference between those inside and those outside the monastery.

    A Christian separated himself from the world by a desert, a cloister, or by vows. A Christian flees the world to seek spiritual safety.

    The Apothegmata Patrum describes good monks in the monastery and holy persons in the world in the midst of their commerce...to show that the place does not really matter.

    Celibacy is one of the ascetical renunciations of the Spiritual life. So all provisions were made to be far from even the thought of what was legitimate. Luke was severe when he said: ”...he who does not hate father, mother...” Matthew was more gentle; “Anyone who loves mother...more than me.” Because the world, like family ties, is at odds with Evangelical life. Family ties can be good or bad. But the worldly family problems always run after the monk in the monastery thus becoming a burden in the quest for God.

    The word “monos,” referring to monks, means simple, uncomplicated, undistracted, single-minded. He is in the monastery in quest of humility. Humility is not self-destructive or self-punishing. And the desert, though not essentially necessary, seems to create an atmosphere of simplicity where one may grow in humility and spiritual insight. The desert, Hosea states, has that alluring atmosphere where God speaks to the soul tenderly.

    The early writings on spirituality were addressed to those who were serious in following Christ first and foremost of whom were the monks. Today, monks are not that serious in being monks, having more contact with the world and engaged in various activities that sacrifice their time for contemplation. All night vigils are unheard of today; fresh and rich foods are easily available and so fasting has become tame. Monasteries are surrounded by conveniences unheard of before. Monastic virtues and obedience are limited by the demands of psychology. The desert has been interiorized while the monks live in the midst of frantic cities.

    The undeniable fact remains that the earlier literature are more captivating to the modern reader than the later spiritual treatises. Their text surprises the reader in their stark simplicity; they break through the complex rational human process and yet render clear what is opaque. And their seeming chaos puts to shame the rational mentality of modern writers.
  3. A Great Need today…to learn and live the Traditional spiritual life.

    Spirituality is most needed now in our highly technological age that preaches that happiness consists in better toothpaste, faster cars, overcoming microbes and cloning sheep. The search for happiness has gone from return to nature to turning to eastern religions, like Zen.

    In their despair and ignorance, Catholics never considered the tradition of the rapidly-vanishing spirituality of the early Catholic Church.

    The pursuit of happiness is in all men and in all cultures at all times. We believe Christ precisely came to show us the way in the way of life of the Gospel...unchallenged for 1300 years until the advent of industrialization and scientific and political upheavals. Wherewith the pure doctrine of Christ was first muddled up by Hellenism and chewed up by the German tribes who only picked up what they could understand...which was very little. Then with the rise in popularity of literature, philosophy and speculative theology plus a sprinkling of superstition, man produced a spiritual monstrosity we now have wherewith we cannot make head or foot.

    By the 12th century the word “spirituality” was so corrupted that only St. Thomas of Aquinas was using it in its true sense.

    Spirituality is to live the life St. Augustine described as the “happy life” or “Angelic life,” to live an angelic life without destroying or giving up the body but as if with no body. This is to live completely detached or indifferent to the demands of the flesh...not exactly denying the needs of the flesh but merely detached from its demands.

    In 17th century France, the word was used extensively but didn’t have quite the same meaning because the French were busy chopping off the heads of those who had the right meaning. The corruption of traditional spirituality was due to the mingling and merging of religion with culture and other religious practices...and adaptations to the demands of the times ...whatever that means.

    SPIRITUALITY, in the words of St. Paul, is a life that begins in the imitation of Christ by obedience to His commands...and, as a result, a life influenced by the Holy Spirit who is given by the Father and Christ...with the consequent result of becoming brothers and sisters of Christ and children of the Father. In Ephesians, St. Paul described it briefly as the Spirit leading man to advance in Christ to the praise of the glory of God’s grace...briefly, most spiritual writers described spirituality as seeking union with God. It is the first duty and activity of any Christian true to his name. Only after becoming spiritual can they spiritualize society, politics and economics.

    Because man is unable to learn from the wisdom of his past, he frustrated himself by groping in circles...as most Catholics, neither affirming nor outright rejecting the forces that made Europe united at one time in history.

    TODAY Catholics and Catholic nations are merely sustained by popular piety but without the foundation of a firm spirituality. The Catholic World must again be exposed to authentic Catholic spirituality and experience the joy it can bring.

    Spirituality is the spiritual growth of man in terms of the soul’s movement towards union with God. St. Augustine simplifies his original seven steps of spirituality into three: namely, first, withdrawal from the world, an activity outside the mind. Secondly, entering into oneself, an activity inside the mind. And thirdly, focus on God, an activity above the mind. This third is a volitional turning towards God well beyond a purely rationalistic search for truth.

    Man cannot avoid sin without grace. No man is able to undertake anything without the Lord. Any growth in the spiritual life results from the gift of grace. True liberty comes only from Divine Grace: “By grace you have been saved through faith.” And faith and liberty are both gifts from God. Even heaven is a grace from God. And so, nothing man-made will ever work in the Spiritual life.

    Spiritual progress depends completely on Divine Condescension. “Neither he that planteth nor he that watereth but God giveth the increase.."

    God works in the hearts of men to incline their wills wheresoever He wills, to good according to His mercy or to evil according to their own desserts.

    In the SPIRITUAL LIFE man must render his REQUIRED EFFORT, then gradually go effortless with the movement of God. Keeping in mind that this “required effort” is “unless the Father draws him to Christ,” i.e. still God’s work.

    The Christian way of life was no abstract idea; it was a pattern and ideal way of life that led to sanctity. And this way of life was in preparation for the second coming or for one’s death.

    A word that often goes hand in hand with spirituality is ASCETICISM, which is exercises to develop discipline or self-control for the attainment of virtue. In the early church it was practiced by all. Today it is a stranger even in its home turf, monasteries and religious houses.

    Every time a reform took place in the Church, the reformers turned increasingly to the Fathers, specially Jerome, Augustine, Gregory the Great, more specifically to the Rules of St. Benedict and St. Augustine’s “Regula Tertia.” Evidently they find the Ordo Monasterii and other Eastern rules exceedingly severe. The NOVUS of reformers was actually older than the ANTIQUUS. But the reformers were faced with the fact that the zeal of the heretics was stronger than the faith of the men in the Church.

    The Premonstratensian with Norbert, Eberwin and Anselm restored the eschatological dimension of Christian spirituality. St. Bernard of Clairvaux with his austere monks became the most perfect embodiment of medieval Christian ideal...Bernard thoroughly knew the Latin Fathers and returned to the spirit of the Fathers for his reform; thus he was described as the Last of the Fathers.

    St. Francis of Assisi was the example of one who was taught directly by God, as in most of the early monks and hermits, “they will be taught by God.” His conversion was totally a work of God. It was during an illness that it all happened. Suddenly he could find no joy in the beauty of nature followed by an aversion for his former way of life.

    His gaze turned inwards and he began to despise himself. This was due to a feeling of emptiness and meaninglessness that accompanies a spiritual awakening. He was resolving a conflict between his desire for deeds of worldly glory versus the unknown God. The invitation to build the Church would come slowly and later.

    The signs of true spirituality are: firstly, the need to be alone, away from material things wherewith Francis sought out deserted places, caves and abandoned churches. Here he won many spiritual battles. And secondly, long moments of prayer with serene humility so much so that every time he came out of prayer he was a new man. Thirdly, the desire to know God’s will which resulted in bending one’s own will. He began by divesting himself of all material possessions. In fact, this was Christ’s first act at the Incarnation. And fourthly, as a result of the first three steps, God’s will became clear to him.

    How was Spirituality taught? Spirituality was taught directly by God through a spiritual father-disciple relationship. No uninitiated soul ever tried the spiritual life without subjection (God teaches through the subjection) to a director or superior. A director was the occasion through which the soul could see into his own heart and discover his intentions and the course appropriate for him.

    The abba was to teach by word and example to be a worthy instrument, while the disciple must be ready to listen and imitate. A director obviously should be one who has practiced what he is teaching. . . he who must lead one to sanctity must himself be holy. The Director, though like the Apostles, merely teaches the commands of Christ and how to observe them; the disciple has to take the “required effort,” the first step.


A. Let us view the golden thread of spirituality from post apostolic times up to the present to show its unchangeableness.

Post Apostolic times taught the importance of being single-hearted (HAPLOTES) in the quest for holiness or the Love of God. Here, everything is used for the acquisition of said goal. The opposite was double-mindedness (DIPSYCHIA), i.e. when you have two or more different purposes in life.

In early times, the disciple would go to his master and make two requests: firstly, “Speak a word.” This was a request for some verbal communication on the Spiritual Life. And the second was: “What shall I do to be saved?” meaning, what action should I take in response to the Words of Divine Life.

It is often said in jest that Christ and the Apostles preached. The Fathers put them into practice and wrote them down. Then came those who made copies of these writings and shelved them in their libraries.

During the age of persecution, this single-heartedness was exhibited in the willingness to give up all things, including one’s life in martyrdom. Here, the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Tertullian and Cyprian were classics.

During the Patristic period, because of the diminishing opportunities for martyrdom, monasticism, a substitute, was propagated for the practice of the life of supreme self-denial. The deserts of Syria, Palestine and Egypt resounded with the life of denial of the five senses to attain this single-mindedness that leads to Love of God. In the East, Anthony and Basil shone. In the west, there was John Cassian who, in His Institutues, summarized the spirituality of Eastern monasticism. And there is St. Benedict who is considered an introduction to John Cassian.

In the 6th century, man-made changes began to adulterate the purity of Christian Spirituality, like Hesychism wherewith rhythmic breathing accompanied prayer. This was helpful but utterly unnecessary as shown by the thousands who became saints without employing such techniques. At this era St. Augustine and Benedict dominated the spiritual life with Augustine emphasizing, again, self-denial of the body to remove all obstacles to single-mindedness in the quest for the love of God, and St. Benedict describing essentially the life of obedience and silence, forms of self-denial, for the attainment of humility and meekness, the necessary virtues for one to be single-minded and open to the Love of God.

Of significant note is Celtic spirituality which re-evangelized western Europe even at that early age (390-460).

The middle ages were totally imbued with worldliness within the Church, herself. And a renewal of Catholic Spirituality was initiated by the monasteries of Cluny and Bec wherein they returned to the original austerities of early Christianity (self-denial, unceasing prayer and good works). The Camaldolese, Carthusians and Cistercian orders were witnesses to this spirituality. Since this spirituality is basically for all, though lived mostly by religious, God would always raise, as in all centuries, mere laymen living the traditional Christian spirituality...and usually in a more austere way than religious. Of special interest were the Beguines in the 1100 and the Brethren of the Common Life in the 1300. The latter produced the “Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a’Kempis.


The Beguines, like the Brethren of the Common Life, were laymen raised by God to witness to the original Evangelical spirituality amidst a Church that badly needed reform. The 1100 were known to have great saints; but they were mostly male...Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Becket, John of Matha, Felix of Valois, John of Lincoln. God had to show that the spirituality that made these men saints is the same spirituality that should make lay women saints. And the Beguines, a group of lay women rose to the task.

The Beguines were an informal aggrupation of women without a single leader or organizational structure. They were single but were free to leave and marry or join an established religious community. What united them was a desire to lead a holy life with other women according to the norms of Vita Apostolica without the constraints of marriage or trappings of formalism found in established religious orders.

John Malderus, Bishop of Antwerp (1500) described them thus; “...they practice the vows rather than promise them. They prefer to remain chaste than make the vow of chastity. They are more eager to obey rather than to vow obedience. They cultivate poverty by frugal use of their fortunes rather than abandon everything at once; they might be the kinder to the poor if something were left. They prefer to obey within the enclosure rather than be enclosed without obedience.”

Caesarius Heisterback (1180) described them thus: “ . . . they remained in secular dress but surpassed in charity those who were cloistered. In the midst of worldly people they were spiritual, in the midst of pleasure seekers they were pure and in the midst of noise and confusion they led a serene, eremetical life.”

In the history of the Church God tends to raise lay people to renew the Church because they lack the canonical constraints of statutes and constitutions that make established religious orders unresponsive to the movements of the Holy Spirit. These lay communities, like the early Christian communities, lived by the Divine Commands of Christ with minimum man-made rules, making them docile to the movements of the Holy Spirit. Like the Basiliades of St. Basil they received whole families with their children (which shows their lay features). In 1207, a girl of seven joined the Beguines at Nivelle, Belgium, to grow up a holy person whose mystical writings we treasure today.

The Beguines (holy women) of Liege were renowned for their good works, religious fervour and learning and inspired others to adopt the Vita Apostolica (they did not follow the rule of any saint). They multiplied literally all around Europe, though in small communities, and were the vanguards against heresies that ravaged Europe at that time.

It is narrated that after the Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste, foremost English theologian of the time and vigorous promoter of reform among religious communities, praised the poverty of the Franciscan, in private he told them that there was still a higher kind of poverty: and that is to live by one’s own labours without burdening the world with their demands. And this was shown by the Beguines. (While it is of some benefit for men to beg, like the mendicants, it has always been considered improper for the female to be exposed to men’s eyes.)

The structure of a Beguinage is identical to the Basiliades of St. Basil or the first Christian communities, for that matter. It was a formidable institution. It contained a church or several oratories for the different groups, a cemetery, hospital, streets and walks, convents for the younger sisters and children undergoing education, individual houses for the grown ups. At Ghent a Beguinage had eighteen convents for different groups of women, young and old, over a hundred houses for more mature women and a brewery and hospital.

A few males followed their sisters and cousins; they were separated from the women and were called Beghards.

As usual, the Beguines had persecutions, hatreds, suspicions and harassment’s which Christ promised would come to whoever follows Him. First and foremost, as prophesied by Christ, is from their families: opposition from the families who were against their daughters’ choice of entering an unapproved austere life of work and prayer. Then clerical opposition due to their inability to understand the deeper spiritual life; wherewith everything they could not comprehend they labeled witchcraft.

The Beguines suffered the same fate as the Jesuits would later. Under clerical pressure the Pope condemned the Beguines in the scandalous Council at Vinne, a council held to please the caprice of the French king. And the wordings of the condemnation sort of went this way: We condemn the way of life of the Beguines but we do not forbid women to live like Beguines.

But like the Jesuits, the Beguines did not completely disappear. They resurrected to help in the great Counter-Reformation of the 17th century. They suffered most during the Reformation and French Revolution. They still exist today. Typical of the lay renewal movements, they were always small communities; the largest numbered around 200 members in a Beguinage.

“By their fruits...“ From the Beguines came mystical writings in the tradition of the desert Fathers; the first stigmatist came from them.

DEVOTIO MODERNA (Lay monastic communities were raised directly by God every time He would renew or take a direct hand in His Church. They are all identical in spirituality and physical set up. Today all we have to look for is a similar community with a similar spirituality and similar set up...and similar persecutions from both the hierarchy and their families.)

The return to the traditional spirit of the founder or the early church is quite evident in the reformation of religious orders but not so among the Catholic Laity. This is because we forget that all religious orders began as lay movements. It was the recognition and approbation of Church authorities that set them apart as religious. But evident through the centuries is that every time the Church needed to be reformed, God would raise up laymen who would surpass religious in zeal and austerities. And the essence of the reforms started by such laymen, like St. Francis and Ignatius of Loyola, not to mention the patriarch of monasticism, St. Benedict, consists in a return to the spirituality of the primitive church...i.e. Evangelical spirituality commonly called vita apostolica.

St. John Chrysostom began as a layman, then a cenobite for 4 years and 2 years as a hermit before he rose to be the great Bishop of Constantinople. His treatises on monasticism, the priesthood and spirituality of the laity say exactly the same things. St. Ammon, one of the desert fathers, and his wife, both obviously laymen, lived celibate monastic lives in the valley of Nitria that once saw 5,000 lay hermits.

Another typical lay movement raised by God in the middle of the 13th century that embraced a return to the early Christian spirituality and became a great influence even up to the present in the Scandinavians is the Devotio Moderna.

It was an age where speculative theology replaced spirituality. “What profit is there in discussing the Trinity if one has no humility. It is not lofty and many words that make man holy but a virtuous life. I would rather have compunction than define compunction. Leave off that excessive desire to know; it is the cause of much distraction and deceit. A man of learning loves to appear wise; but their learning is of no value to the soul. If only man spent as much time in eradicating vices than in speculating there would be less evil, less scandal and less relaxation in monasteries.” These are just a few observations from the “Imitation of Christ.”

Devotio Moderna rose at a time when a renewal in the Church was badly needed. There was schism in the Papacy, laxity among the clergy and religious; Christian life was lifeless. Doctrines were being contested, traditional ideas were not practiced, a Renaissance and the Reformation were in the offing.

God raised Gerard Groote, one of the most learned men of his time, to initiate the Brethren of the Common Life, a community of laymen living the early Christian spirituality. Because he corrected erring bishops, as the Beguines did before, he aroused their hostility. They, in turn, revoked his faculties. His interest was how to live the Christian life, emphasizing on self-denial, detachment and the practice of virtues. The goal was the “Imitation of Christ.” Imitate the humanity of Christ and receive the grace to contemplate His Divinity. Groote’s teachings, in the pattern of the Fathers, were brief, practical and without explanations.

The “Imitation of Christ” written by Tomas a’Kempis but authored by Groote, was second only to the Bible in popularity. It was criticized because it was a reaction to speculative theology. It was for laymen a manual of Christian Life within a Church that needed reform. Its teachings were basic and monastic in nature...separation from the world, repentance, conversion. The first step is knowledge of oneself, to know and, as a consequence, despise oneself.

The “Imitation” describes death to self as resignation. It consists of two elements: renunciation of self and total abandonment to God. Self and God are the opposite ends of a continuum. As one departs from one end he approaches the other end. Death to self necessarily implies submission to God. But choosing God is a grace, although a powerful incentive is meditation on the “Last Things.”

Human nature is described in the tradition of early monasticism and eremetical life:

“Nature draws away many from God, but grace does all for God.

“Nature is unwilling to be restrained; grace wants to be kept under discipline and desires not to have command over anyone but to live under God.

“Nature labors for her own interest; grace for what is profitable to many.

“Nature loves to receive respect and honors; grace gives all respect and honor to God.

“Nature is afraid of shame and to be despised, grace will suffer reproach for the name of Christ.

“Nature loves idleness and bodily rest, grace cannot be idle and willingly embraces labor.

“Nature seeks what is fine; grace what is humble.

“Nature loves temporal and earthly gains, is troubled at losses and even slight injurious words; grace looks at eternal things and is not disturbed by hurts."

Though the aim of Christian Life is Charity, the main preoccupation of the “Imitation”, as in the case of all monastic rules and of the Gospel itself, is humility; “Learn from Me for I am meek and humble of heart.”

John Gerson, Chancellor of the University of Paris (1363-1429) was very effective in clarifying the orthodox theology of the Spiritual Life because he was, aside from being a spiritual person, also a theologian. He preferred ascetical and mystical theology over speculative theology because the former produces patience and humility, the latter produces pride. But he admits that it is better to combine both so that the one who experiences may understand his experience. He was a member of the said community and often thought to be the author of the “Imitation.”

During the middle ages, Theology, and as a consequence, spirituality, was becoming academic rather than a way of life. Theologians were more concerned with describing the union of a soul with God in contemplation rather than reaching contemplation. They were more concerned with the nature of God rather than praying to God. Religion became purely a rational activity rather than a way of life. To refute the thinking of this era and present the original concept of spirituality God raised Francis of Assisi with a life of self-denial in his practice of Evangelical poverty. Francis went one step further than the monks, but just like the hermits. The monks ate very simple meals but they knew where their next meal was coming from. Francis, like the first hermits, didn’t even know where the next meal was coming from. In fact, there could be no next meal, which in fact is desert spirituality in the tradition of Anthony.

Though knowledge and practice of Christian Spirituality had been decreasing since the 600 A.D., it can be said that it hit a new low during the middle ages where it became so complex, confusing and virtually non-existent. As usual God moved some chosen souls to return to the simple and seemingly unstructured traditional spirituality. Though St. Ignatius favored the systematic, definite content, tight structure and uniform regularity presentation of traditional spirituality, St. Teresa of Avila favored the positive, warm, unsystematic approach to traditional spirituality. Both were traditional, emphasizing a life of self-discipline for the attainment of humility, the road to Union with God; one was just systematic, the other unsystematic. But that does not really matter before God.

Spirituality in modern times is, on the whole, moribund. It has been reduced to a set of pious practices and chasing after apparitions...which is really nothing much. The greatest crime of modern times is that it jettisoned the traditional spirituality for a seemingly more relevant but untried spirituality ...which in most cases has no element of spirituality at all.

Whenever God reforms His Church it is because majority of His clergy and religious are useless to the Church. So he raises up reformers, usually laymen, as He raised up monks (who were laymen) in the beginning. Most of the time, though, these lay reformers were later ordained or even became bishops.

Vatican II, rightly or wrongly, had been used by those who wished to veer away from authentic spirituality; this led to the reversal of interest in Traditional Spirituality and the consequent adaptation of LESS austere forms of spirituality that caused the departure of priests and nuns in large numbers. Most of this modern spirituality skipped the first and fundamental step in the spiritual life, SELF-DENIAL...and in its stead in­serted the fulfillment of the SELF’S DESIRES. And that’s where we all are right now.



    When there are different spiritualities, that’s bad. If Buddhism is different from Christianity, that is expected. But when there are different spiritualities within the Church of Christ, like Lutheran, Calvinism etc....or worse, different spiritualities within the Catholic Church, like Franciscan, Dominican, etc....either ignorance reigns or the Catholic Church has ceased to be Catholic.

    The blame must fall on that tendency in man to modify what does not suit him. The differences were man-made, a typical rebellion against the Will of God.

    The so-called “differences” are due to theologians, with nothing better to do, extracting their imagined spiritualities from the lives of saints or even non-saints. I am amazed at how some authors describe the life of St. Francis of Assisi as if he were a mere ecological accident. Theologians who write about the spirituality of the saints usually miss the point. Only saints, I guess, can describe the spirituality of saints. The words “different spiritualities” usually come from theologians and not from saints.

    As the Church grew, observance became difficult. With the external pressures like persecution gone, Christians became more complacent. And as a consequence within the Church the ugly head of Schism and Heresy arose. Then there were the Judaizers caused by excessive nationalism, Hellenism which gave rise to Gnosticism and the ambitions of heads of dioceses...these caused all the “differences.”


      The seeming differences in the spirituality of the Saints are merely on the point of emphasis. All are agreed on the same point that Spirituality is obedience to the commands of Christ; “The way we may be sure that we know Him is to keep His commandments ( IJohn 2:3)” Knowing Him is prelude to Union with Him. The seeming differences are in the commands emphasized. While Francis obeyed all commands but put a little emphasis on poverty, i.e. detachment from objects in the world, Ignatius obeyed all the commands but put a little emphasis on discipline which is detachment from one’s will. The emphasis is not due to the needs of the time as much as it is the needs of the souls of their disciples . . . which, of course, could reflect the needs of the times.

      Now, a beginner can have a problem in that he would not know what Saint to follow because he would not know whether his need is an emphasis on the poverty of St. Francis or the solitude of St. Romuald. So it would be wiser for him to choose a spirituality without any emphasis...the Evangelical Life as interpreted by the Fathers of the Church.

      This is the advantage of the Fathers. Though of different nationalities, cultures, training, backgrounds and eras, they presented Catholic Spirituality in exactly the same identical way. There is not the slightest difference...which is better for us because we alone know what commands of Christ should be emphasized in our personal cases. The Fathers interwove skillfully dogma, morals and asceticism; unlike today where they are dichotomized.

      Other seeming differences are on the non-essentials, like symbols, rituals, liturgy and management.

      The spiritual life has a theological-doctrinal basis but it can be lived though ignorant of these doctrines. A deeper knowledge of these doctrines often follows living the spiritual life. The doctrines do not have to go before or even while living the spiritual life.

      While Spiritual Theology is the study of the theological doctrines and its application to Christian living, Spirituality goes straight to Christian living. Spirituality would not go against any doctrines since it is based on the commands of Christ which, I am certain, do not violate any doctrine of God.

      The first Christians were not concerned with theology; they were concerned with a way of life that leads to Love of God, a way of life that leads to holiness. At this point it is worthwhile to note that knowledge of heresies comes in handy so we can detect the errors to be avoided in the Spiritual Life.


It is said that when St. Teresa of Avila went to visit her newly-founded Reformed Carmelites, her parting greeting was “Live our Religion,” and not “ be faithful to our Carmelite spirit or Carmelite Reformation.” When she was about to die she described herself as daughter of the Church; not a Carmelite or Carmelite reformer. For it was very clear to her that spirituality, the way to perfection, is nothing else but the living of the Catholic Faith and as a result makes one a daughter of the Church. There was nothing Carmelite in her spirituality; she was just a good Catholic.

The Apocalypse states: “ A great and wondrous sign appeared in the heavens: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet ...she gave birth to a son...and her child was snatched up to God...The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God where she might be taken care of...”

The Catholic Church is symbolized by the Woman and personified by the Blessed Virgin Mary, i.e. the Catholic Church will be Marian at the end times for, after all, Mary precisely appeared in Guadalupe as the Woman clothed with the sun and with the moon under her feet. I don’t see any other reason why God would make her appear in that manner and have that image miraculously imprinted and preserved all these centuries if not to remind us of this. At first the Woman, the Church, was in the world. After Christ was “snatched up” to heaven, the Ascension, the Catholic Church fled to the desert, i.e. from the Ascension of Christ, the spirituality of the Catholic Church must be the desert spirituality, the spirituality formulated and lived by the first Christians in the desert and resurrected by the saints through the centuries. This spirituality is the “place prepared for the Church by God where she might be taken care of.”

We are living in an evil age; the world will be filled with false teachers and prophets. Filled with self-love and love of money, man will be blind to the true religion. God’s punishment is “He will abandon them to deceiving spirits and things taught by demons...which will make it impossible for them to find the truth.” It is really simple: the Life and the Truth will be found in them who have the above mentioned spirituality. The true seekers will surely find this; those who are not won’t find it even if it is in their midst.





(updated 01-04-02)

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