Is meditation a form of prayer

I. Introduction

1. Many Christians of our time live the desire to learn to pray genuinely and deeply, even if modern culture puts quite a few difficulties in the way of the noticeable need for silence, concentration and meditation. Even if Christians have been interested in meditation forms related to some Eastern religions and their particular modes of prayer in recent years, this is a no small sign of this need for spiritual concentration and deep contact with the divine mystery. Nevertheless, in the face of this phenomenon, many have also become aware of the need to have at their disposal certain doctrinal and pastoral criteria that allow an education in prayer in its manifold expressions, while remaining in the light of the truth revealed in Jesus, that of genuine tradition communicated to the Church. The present letter would like to respond to this urgent concern, so that in the various particular churches, with the variety of new forms of prayer, the precise personal and communal nature of prayer is not overlooked. These instructions are aimed primarily at the bishops, so that they make them the object of pastoral care for the churches entrusted to them so that the whole people of God - priests, religious and lay people - can regain their strength to pray to God the Father in spirit Christ our Lord feels called.

2. The increasing frequency of contact with other religions and their different styles and methods of prayer has led many believers in recent decades to the question of the value that non-Christian forms of meditation can have for Christians. The question mainly concerns the Eastern methods. [1] Some people today turn to these methods for therapeutic reasons: The mental restlessness of a life that is exposed to the agonizing rhythm of a technologically advanced society also urges a certain number of Christians to find the way to inner peace and psychological balance in them. This psychological aspect is not dealt with in the present letter because it wants to emphasize more the theological and spiritual implications of the question. In the course of the movement to open up and exchange ideas with other religions and cultures, other Christians are of the opinion that their own prayer can gain a lot from these methods. Since they have noticed that not a few traditional forms of meditation specific to Christianity are no longer used, they ask themselves: Should it not be possible to enrich our heritage through a new education in prayer if we also absorb what was a stranger to him before?

3. If we want to answer this question, we must at least consider broadly what the inner nature of Christian prayer consists of in order to then see whether and how it can be enriched by meditation forms that have arisen within other religions and cultures . To do this, it is necessary to formulate a decisive prerequisite. Christian prayer is always determined by the structure of Christian faith in which the truth of God himself and the truth about creation shine. Therefore, in the strict sense of the word, it takes on the character of a personal, intimate and deep conversation between man and God. It thus expresses the communion of the redeemed creatures with the inner life of the Persons of the Most Holy Trinity. This communion, which is based on Baptism and the Eucharist, source and summit of the life of the Church, includes an attitude of conversion and of going out of oneself towards the thou of God. Christian prayer is always genuinely personal and community-related at the same time. It avoids impersonal or self-focused techniques that produce automatic processes in which the person praying remains trapped in a purely inner spiritualism and is unable to open himself freely to the transcendent God. In the church, legitimate research into new methods of meditation must always bear in mind that a genuinely Christian prayer is essentially the encounter between two freedoms, the infinite freedom of God and the limited freedom of man.

4. The Bible itself teaches how a person who accepts biblical revelation must pray. There is a wonderful collection of prayers in the Old Testament that has remained alive through the centuries in the Church of Jesus Christ, where it became the basis of official prayer: the Book of Hymns or Psalms. [2] Prayers in the style of the Psalms can already be found in the older texts or are taken up in the more recent texts of the Old Testament. [3]

The prayers in the Book of Psalms primarily tell of God's great deeds for the chosen people. Israel contemplates, ponders, and re-presents the great works of God by remembering them in prayer.

In biblical revelation, Israel comes to the recognition and praise of God, who is present in all creation and in the destiny of every human being. For example, it calls on him as a helper in danger, in illness, in persecution and in tribulation. Finally, God is always celebrated in the light of his works of salvation, in his divine power and goodness, in his justice and mercy as well as in his royal greatness.

5. On the basis of the words and deeds, the suffering and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, faith recognizes him New testament in him the final self-revelation of God, the word made man, which reveals the innermost depths of his love. It is the Holy Spirit who allows us to penetrate into these depths of God, he who poured out into the hearts of believers "fathoms everything, including the depths of God" (1 Cor 2,10).

According to Jesus' promise to his disciples, the Spirit will explain to them everything that he himself could not yet say to them. Yet this spirit “will not speak out of itself. He will glorify me because he will take what is mine and announce it to you " (Joh 16.13 f). What Jesus calls “his” here is also from God the Father, as he explains immediately afterwards, because “everything that the Father has is mine; that is why I said: He takes what is mine and will announce it to you " (Joh 16,15).

The writers of the New Testament have deliberately spoken of the revelation of God in Christ always within a perspective illuminated by the Holy Spirit. The Synoptic Gospels tell the works and words of Jesus Christ because of the deeper understanding they gained after Easter of what the disciples had seen and heard; The whole of John's Gospel draws from the contemplation of him who is from the beginning the divine Word made flesh; Paul, to whom Jesus appeared in his divine majesty on the way to Damascus, seeks to educate the believers that they “together with all the saints are able to measure the length and breadth, the height and depth (of the mystery of Christ) and to understand the love of Christ which surpasses all knowledge ”so as to be“ filled with all the fullness of God ” (Eph 3.18). For Paul the divine mystery is Christ, "in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden" (Col 2,3), and the apostle specifies: "I say this so that no one can deceive you through the arts of persuasion" (Col 2,4).

6. There is therefore a close relationship between revelation and prayer. The Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum teaches us that the invisible God “in (His) revelation addresses people as friends out of overflowing love (cf. Ex 33,11; Joh 15: 14-15) and associates with them (cf. bar 3.38) in order to invite and receive them into his community ”. [4]

This revelation was made in words and deeds that always refer to one another; from the beginning and continually the whole converges on Christ, the fulness of revelation and grace, and on the gift of the Holy Spirit. This enables man to receive and contemplate the words and works of God, to thank him and to worship him, in the community of believers and in the heart of his own grace-enlightened heart.

The Church therefore always recommends reading the Word of God as the source of Christian prayer and at the same time encourages the discovery of the deep meaning of the Holy Scriptures through the prayer “so that (the reading) becomes a conversation between God and man; because 'we speak to him when we pray; we hear him when we read God's instructions ‘”. [5]

7. From what has been said there are some consequences. If that Christian prayer must fit into the Trinitarian movement in God, its essential content must necessarily also be determined by the twofold direction of this movement: In the Holy Spirit the Son comes into the world in order to reconcile it with the Father through his works and sufferings; on the other hand, in this movement and in the same spirit, the incarnate Son returns to the Father by fulfilling his will in suffering and resurrection. The "Our Father", the prayer of Jesus, clearly shows the unity of this movement: The will of the Father must be fulfilled on earth as it is in heaven (but the requests for bread, forgiveness and protection make clear the fundamental dimensions of God's will for us) for a new earth to be fulfilled in the heavenly Jerusalem.

The prayer of Jesus [6] is entrusted to the Church (“this is how you should pray”), and therefore Christian prayer, even if it is done in solitude, is in reality always a prayer within that “community of saints”, in and with that we pray, both in public and liturgical and in private form. Therefore it must always be carried out in the real spirit of the praying church and thus under her guidance, which can sometimes be concretized in a spiritual guidance based on experience. Even when alone and praying in secret, Christians are aware that they always pray in union with Christ in the Holy Spirit and together with all the saints for the good of the Church. [7]

8. Failed ways of praying invaded the Church as early as the first centuries. Some texts of the New Testament (cf. 1 Joh 4,3; 1 Tim 1,3-7 and 4,3-4) already show traces of it. Two fundamental deviations later show up: the pseudognosis and the Messalianism, with which the Church Fathers grappled. Much can be learned from this early Christian experience and the attitude of the fathers for dealing with today's problems.

Against the malform of the Pseudognosis[8] the fathers assert that matter was created by God and as such is not bad. They also insist that grace, the source of which is always the Holy Spirit, must not be viewed as the property of the soul, but rather must be sought as a gift from God. Therefore enlightenment or higher knowledge of the spirit ("gnosis") does not make the Christian faith superfluous. After all, for the fathers the real sign of a higher knowledge as the fruit of prayer is always Christian love.

9. If, on the one hand, the perfection of Christian prayer cannot be judged according to the sublimity of knowledge in the sense of gnosis, then on the other hand the experience of the divine in the sense of the Messalianism[9] should not be a yardstick. The spurious charismatics of the fourth century identified the grace of the Holy Spirit with the psychological experience of His presence in the soul. Against them, the Fathers emphasized the fact that the praying soul is united with God in mystery, especially through the sacraments of the Church. It can even show itself in the experiences of tribulation or desolation. Contrary to what the Messalians think, these experiences are not necessarily a sign that the spirit has left the soul. Rather, as the teachers of the spiritual life have always clearly recognized, they can be a real partaking of the abandonment of our Lord on the Cross, who remains forever the model and mediator of prayer. [10]

10. These two malformations continue to form one Temptation for the sinful man. They induce him to seek to overcome the distance that separates the creature from the Creator, as if he should not be; to consider the way of Christ on earth, on which he wanted to lead us to the Father, as outdated; but that which is granted as pure grace on the level of natural psychology is to be regarded as “higher knowledge” or “experience”. From time to time throughout history these malformations have appeared on the fringes of the Church's prayer, and today they seem once again to impress numerous Christians and recommend themselves to them as a psychological or spiritual remedy, or as a swift method of finding God. [11]

11. Yes can these malformations, wherever they occur, very easily to be established. The Christian contemplation carried out in prayer seeks to grasp the divine depth in the salvation works of God in Christ, the Word incarnate, and in the gift of his Spirit, which is always revealed there in the human-earthly dimension. On the other hand, with similar methods of observation, even if one starts out from the words and works of Jesus, one seeks to exclude as far as possible everything that is earthly, sensual and conceptually limited in order to ascend to the realm of the divine or to immerse oneself in it, that as such is neither earthly nor accessible to the senses, nor can it be grasped in terms. [12] This tendency, which is already present in the late, Greek piety (especially in "Neoplatonism"), is basically to be found in the religious conception of many peoples as soon as they see the weak character of their portrayal of the divine and their attempts to come close to it, detect.

12. With the current spread of Eastern forms of meditation in Christianity and in church communities, we are once again experiencing the serious attempt to to merge Christian meditation with non-Christian, which does not go without risks and errors. The proposals in this direction are numerous and more or less radical. Some use Eastern methods simply to prepare psycho-physically for truly Christian contemplation. Others go further and try to create spiritual experiences with different techniques, analogous to those described in the writings of Catholic mystics. [13] Still others are not afraid to place the absolute without images and concepts, as is peculiar to the theory of Buddhism, [14] with the majesty of God, which was revealed in Christ and which is above finite reality. For this purpose they use a “negative theology” that goes beyond any statement about God with a specific content and denies that the things of the world can offer a trace that leads to the infinity of God. Therefore, they suggest not only giving up contemplation of the works of salvation that the God of the Old and New Covenants accomplished in history, but also giving up the thought of the one and triune God who is love, in order to instead “ to plunge into the wise-less abyss of the Godhead ". [15]

These or other analogous suggestions to harmonize Christian meditation with Eastern techniques must be constantly checked for content and method, if one does not want to fall into a pernicious syncretism.

13. In order to find the right “way” for his prayer, the Christian must heed what has been said above about the important features of the way of Christ, whose “food (it is) to do the will of him who sent him and to finish his work " (Joh 4.34). Jesus does not live in a closer and more intimate union with the Father than the Father, who is constantly performed for him in deep prayer. The will of the Father sends him to people, to sinners, even to murderers, and, obedient to this will, he cannot be more closely connected with the Father. But that in no way prevents him from retreating into solitude while praying on his earthly journey, in order to unite with the Father, in order to receive new strength from him for his mission in the world at the same time. In Tabor, where he is certainly clearly united with the Father, his suffering is addressed (cf. Lk 9.31), and it is not even considered as an option to stay in the “three huts” on the Mount of Transfiguration. Every contemplative prayer constantly refers to love for one's neighbor, to doing and suffering, and this is precisely how it brings us closer to God.

14. To approach that mystery of union with God that the Greek fathers held Deification name of man, and in order to grasp exactly the ways in which it takes place, one must above all bear in mind that man is essentially a creature [16] and it remains eternal; therefore the human ego will never be absorbed into the divine ego, never even at the highest level of grace. It is of course necessary to recognize that the human person was created “in the image and likeness” of God and that the original form of this image is the Son of God, in whom and for whom we were created (cf. Col 1.16). This archetype now reveals to us the greatest and most beautiful mystery of Christianity: the Son has been “different” from the Father from eternity and yet “identical” to him in the Holy Spirit; consequently, the fact that there is something else does not mean an evil, but rather the highest of all goods. There is difference in God himself, for he is one nature in three persons, and there is this difference between God and creature, who are different in nature. In the Holy Eucharist, as in the other sacraments, finally - and analogously in his works and words - Christ gives himself and makes us partake of his divine nature, [17] without annulling our created nature, in which he himself through his Incarnation has a share.

15. When we look at these truths as a whole, we discover with profound astonishment that in Christian reality all concerns present in the prayer of other religions are fulfilled beyond measure, without the personal self and its nature being dissolved and in the sea of ​​the Absolute must go under. "God is love" (1 Joh 4,8): This deeply Christian statement can be the perfect "Union and the Diversity“Of lovers and loved ones, connecting between eternal exchange and eternal dialogue. God himself is this eternal exchange, but we can partake in full truth as “adoptive sons” of Christ and cry out with the Son in the Holy Spirit: “Abba, Father.” In this sense the fathers speak with full right of a deification of man, who, incorporated in Christ, the Son of God by nature, participates in the divine nature by his grace and becomes “Son in Son”. When the Christian receives the Holy Spirit, he glorifies the Father and truly participates in the triune life of God.

16. Most of the High religions, who sought union with God in prayer also indicated the ways in which one arrives there. Since “the church does not reject everything that is true and holy in these religions”, [18] one should not despise these references from the outset as unchristian. On the contrary, one can pick up on what is useful if one does not overlook the Christian conception of prayer, its logic and its requirements, because within this whole those fragments have to be rewritten and included.

Among these indications one should above all include the humble acceptance of a teacher who is knowledgeable in prayer and his instructions; Christian experience has always been aware of this from ancient times, from the time of the Desert Fathers. This teacher, who is knowledgeable “in feeling with the Church”, should not only provide guidance and draw attention to certain dangers, but also, as a “spiritual father”, introduce him to the life of prayer as a gift from the Holy Spirit, from heart to heart.

17. Non-Christian late antiquity preferred to distinguish three stages in the life of perfection: the path of purification, that of enlightenment and that of union. This teaching served as a model for many schools of Christian spirituality. Although it is valid in itself, some clarification is required in order to arrive at a correct Christian interpretation and to avoid dangerous misunderstandings.

18. The search for God in prayer must be preceded by asceticism and cleansing from one's own sins and errors, and it must also accompany it, because according to the words of Jesus only "the pure hearts see God" (Mt 5.8). The gospel aims above all at the moral cleansing of the lack of truth and love, and, on a deeper level, of all selfish aspirations that prevent man from knowing and accepting God's will in its purity. It is not the passions as such that are negative (as the Stoics and Neoplatonists thought), but rather their selfish tendencies. The Christian has to free himself from this: in order to achieve that state of positive freedom which the Christian classics called “Apatheia”, the Middle Ages “serenity” and the Ignatian Spiritual exercises "Indifference". [19]

This is impossible without radical self-denial, as is also the case with St. Paul sees who openly uses the word "mortification" (of sinful tendencies). [20] Only such self-denial makes man free so that he can do the will of God and participate in the freedom of the spirit.

19. The teaching of those masters must therefore be correctly interpreted, who recommend an “emptying” of the spirit from every sinful idea and all concepts, but with a loving attention to God, so that there is a void in the prayer, which is then of the divine riches can be filled. The emptiness that God needs is that of renunciation of one's own egoism, not necessarily that of renunciation of the created things that he has given us and into which he has placed us. Undoubtedly one must concentrate completely in prayer and exclude as much as possible all things in this world that bind us to our egoism. Here is St. Augustine an excellent teacher: If you want to find God, he says, leave the outer world and come to yourself. But, he continues, don't stay in yourself, but surpass yourself, because you are not God: He is deeper and greater than you. “I look for his essence in my soul, but do not find it; then I began a search for my God, and stretched out after him through the created things, I was able to see the 'invisible reality of God'(Rom 1.20). ”[21]“ Remaining in oneself ”, therein lies the real danger. The great Doctor of the Church recommends concentrating on oneself, but also on transcending the I, which is not God, but just a creature. God is "deeper than my innermost and higher than my highest". [22] God is with us and in us, but surpasses us in his mystery. [23]

20. From the dogmatic point of view it is impossible to attain perfect love for God if one disregards the gift of self in his incarnate, crucified, and risen Son. Under the action of the Holy Spirit we participate in the divine life in him out of pure grace. When Jesus says: "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (Joh 14: 9), he does not mean merely external seeing and recognition of his shape ("the flesh is of no use", Joh 6.63). Rather, he means “seeing” that has become possible through the grace of faith: seeing through the visible figure of Jesus what he wants to show us in truth as the word of the Father (“It is the spirit that gives life ... .; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life ”, ibid.). This “seeing” is not a purely human abstraction (“abstractio”) of the figure in which God has revealed himself, but the apprehension of the divine reality in the human figure of Jesus, the apprehension of his divine and eternal dimension in its time-bound form. St. Ignatius says in his Spiritual Exercises to try to apprehend "the infinite fragrance and infinite sweetness of Godhead" (No. 124), starting from the finite revealed truth with which we began. When he lifts us up, God is free to “empty” us of everything that preoccupies us in this world and to draw us fully into the trinitarian life of his eternal love. However, this gift can only be granted “in Christ through the Holy Spirit”, but cannot be achieved with one's own strength, disregarding his revelation.

21. On the path of the Christian life, purification is followed by enlightenment through the love that the Father gives us in the Son and through the anointing we receive from him in the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Joh 2,20).

The “enlightenment” received in baptism has been spoken of since ancient Christian times. This leads the believers initiated into the divine mysteries to the knowledge of Christ through faith, who is active in love. Yes, some ecclesiastical writers expressly speak of the enlightenment received in baptism as the basis of that sublime knowledge of Jesus Christ (cf. Phil 3.8), which is referred to as "theoria" or contemplation. [24]

Believers are called by the grace of baptism to advance in knowledge of the mysteries of faith and in testimony to them “through inner insight that comes from spiritual experience”. [25] No divine enlightenment makes the truths of belief superfluous. Rather, the possible graces of enlightenment that God can grant help to better clarify the deeper dimension of the mysteries that the Church confesses and celebrates while waiting for the Christian to see God as he is in his glory (cf. 1 Joh 3,2)

22. God willing, the praying Christian can finally have a special experience of the Union reach. The sacraments, especially baptism and the Eucharist, [26] are the objective beginning of the Christian union with God. On this basis the person praying can be called by a special grace of the Spirit to that special form of union with God, which in the realm of Christianity as mysticism referred to as.

23. Certainly the Christian needs certain times of contemplation in solitude in order to collect himself and to find his way anew in God's closeness. But since he remains a creature, a creature that is only certain of grace, the way in which he draws near to God does not depend on any one technology in the strict sense of this word. That would contradict the spirit of childhood required by the gospel. Genuine Christian mysticism has nothing to do with technology: it is always a gift from God, of which the recipient feels unworthy. [27]

24. There are certain mystical graces, which are given, for example, to founders of church institutes for the entire foundation or to other saints. These then characterize their entire prayer experience and as such cannot be imitated and striven for by other believers, even if they belong to the same institute and demand ever more perfect prayer. [28] There can also be different levels and ways of participating in a founder's prayer experience without all having to be granted the same form of participation. In addition, every prayer experience, which has a special place in all genuinely ecclesiastical, ancient and modern institutes, ultimately always remains something personal. But God gives the person his grace with regard to prayer.

25. When it comes to mysticism, you have to choose between the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Charisms which are granted by God in a completely free way. Every Christian can bring the former to life through a diligent life of faith, hope and love. In this way he can also come to a certain experience of God and the contents of faith through a serious asceticism. Regarding the charisms, St. Paul, they were given above all for the benefit of the Church and the other members of the mystical body of Christ (cf. 1 cor 12.7). It should be remembered here that the charisms are not the same as extraordinary (“mystical”) gifts (cf. Rom 12: 3-21) and that furthermore the distinction between the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” and the “charisms” can be fluid. What is certain is that a charism that is fruitful for the church cannot be exercised within the framework of the New Testament without a certain degree of personal perfection, and that on the other hand every “living” Christian has a special task (and in this sense a “charism” to “ Building up the body of Christ ”(cf. Eph 4,15-16) [29] in communion with the hierarchy, which is in a special way not to extinguish the spirit, but to examine everything and to keep what is good (Lumen gentium No.12).

26. Human experience shows that Position and posture of the body are not without influence on the concentration and readiness of the mind. Various spiritual writers from the Christian East and West have paid attention to this fact.

Even if their considerations have points in common with the non-Christian Eastern meditation methods, they avoid those exaggerations and one-sidedness that are often suggested to insufficiently prepared people today.

These spiritual writers have taken up those elements which facilitate gathering in prayer, without at the same time overlooking their purely relative value: they are useful when reformulated with a view to the aim of Christian prayer. [30] Fasting in Christianity, for example, primarily has the meaning of an exercise of penance and a sacrifice, but even with the fathers it could also serve to make people more open to the encounter with God; the Christian thereby gained greater self-control and at the same time became more attentive to the people in need.

In prayer, the whole person must come into relationship with God, including his body, which must take the most suitable position for gathering. [31] The posture can symbolically express the prayer itself and be different depending on the culture and personal feelings. In some areas today, Christians are becoming more aware of how much posture of the body can help in prayer.

27. Christian meditation in the East [32] has the psychophysical symbolism evaluated, which was often neglected in the prayer of the West. It can range from a certain physical posture to the fundamental life functions such as breath and heartbeat. The practice of the “Jesus prayer”, for example, adapts to the natural rhythm of breathing and can - at least for a certain time - be of real help to many. [33] On the other hand, the Eastern teachers have also established that not all are equally suitable for the application of this symbolism, because not all can pass from the material sign to the spiritual reality they are looking for. If symbolism is inappropriately or misunderstood, it can even become an idol and, as a result, an obstacle to the elevation of the spirit to God. To experience the whole reality of one's own body as a symbol in the room of prayer is even more difficult: It can degenerate into a body cult and lead to the falsely equating all one's feelings with spiritual experiences.

28. Some physical exercises automatically produce feelings of calm and relaxation, feelings of satisfaction, perhaps even feelings of light and warmth that are akin to spiritual well-being. But to see them as real consolations of the Holy Spirit would be a completely wrong way of imagining the spiritual path. If one were to attribute a symbolic meaning typical of the mystical experience to them, without the moral attitude of the person concerned corresponding, we would have a kind of spiritual schizophrenia before us, which can even lead to psychological disorders and sometimes to moral aberrations.

Of course, this does not negate the fact that real practices of meditation, which originate from the Christian East and from the non-Christian high religions and exert an attraction on the divided and disoriented people of today, can represent a suitable aid for the person praying, even in the middle of the outside world The hustle and bustle of being relaxed in front of God.

It should be noted, however, that the habitual union or the attitude of inner vigilance and the invocation of the help of God, which the New Testament calls "perpetual prayer", [34] is not necessarily interrupted if one is also following God's will dedicated to work and care for others. The apostle tells us: "So whether you eat or drink or do something else, do everything to glorify God!" (1 Cor 10.31). As the great masters of the spiritual life affirm, genuine prayer awakens in those who pray a burning love that drives them to collaborate in the mission of the Church to serve brothers and sisters for the greater glory of God. [35]

29Every believer can and must find his own way and his own method of prayer from the various forms and riches of Christian prayer as taught by the Church; yet all of these personal paths flow into them in the end Way to the father together, as Jesus Christ called himself. In searching for their own path, therefore, the individual should not be guided so much by his personal taste as by the Holy Spirit, who leads him to the Father through Christ.

30. For those who make serious efforts, of course, times will come when it seems to him that he is wandering around in a desert and, despite all efforts, no longer “feels” anything of God. Then he must know that no one who takes prayer seriously will be spared these trials. He must not confuse this experience, which is common to all praying Christians, with the mystical “dark night”. At such times, the prayer, which he resolutely tries to continue, can give him the impression of a certain “artificiality”, although in reality it is something completely different: it is precisely then an expression of his loyalty to God, in his He wants to stay in the present, even if he is not rewarded with a subjective consolation.

In these obviously negative moments, what the praying person is actually looking for becomes clear: really God, who in his infinite freedom always towers over him or only himself, without succeeding in going beyond his own "experiences", whether it is apparently positive “experiences” of union with God or negative “experiences” of the mystical “emptiness”.

31. The love of God, the only object of Christian contemplation, is a reality which cannot be “mastered” by any method or technique; yes, we must always keep our gaze on Jesus Christ, in whom divine love for us on the cross has gone so far that it has also taken on the abandonment of God (cf. Mk 15.34). So we have to let God decide how he wants us to share in his love. But we must never try in any way to put ourselves on the same level as the object under consideration, God's free love; not even when, through the mercy of God the Father, through the grace of the Holy Spirit in Christ sent into our hearts, we are given a perceptible reflection of this divine love and we feel as it were drawn to the truth, goodness and beauty of the Lord.

The closer a creature is allowed to step to God, the more the reverence for the three times holy God grows in it. One therefore understands the word of St. Augustine: “You may call me a friend, I know myself as a servant.” [36] Or the even more familiar word that was spoken by those who were bestowed with the most intimate relationship with God: “He looked at the humility of his maidservant " (Lk 1,48).

In an audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, Pope John Paul II approved this letter, which had been decided upon in the plenary assembly of this Congregation, and ordered it to be published.

Rome, at the headquarters of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, October 15, 1989, on the feast of St. Theresa of Jesus.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

+ Alberto Bovone
Tit.-Archbishop of Caesarea in Numidia



* AAS 82 (1990) 362-379.

[1] “Eastern methods” are understood here to mean methods which, like “Zen”, “transcendental meditation” or “yoga”, are inspired by Hinduism and Buddhism. So it is a matter of meditation methods of the non-Christian Far East, which today are not infrequently used by some Christians in their meditation. The basic orientation and the methodological notes in this document are intended to provide a point of reference not only for this problem, but also more generally for the various forms of prayer that are used today in church practice, especially in associations, movements and groups.
[2] On the book of Psalms in the prayer of the Church, cf. Institutio generalis de Liturgia Horarum, nn. 100-109.
[3] Cf. B. Ex 15; Dtn 32; 1 Saturday 2; 2 sat 22, some prophetic texts and 1 Chr 16.
[4] Dogm. Const. Dei Verbum, No. 2. This document offers further essential indications for a theological and spiritual understanding of Christian prayer; see e.g. B. No. 3, 5, 8, 21.
[5] Dogm. Const. Dei Verbum, No. 25.
[6] On the prayer of Jesus cf. Institutio generalis de Liturgia Horarum, nn. 3-4.
[7] Cf. Institutio generalis de Liturgia Horarum, n.9.
[8] The pseudognosis regarded matter as something impure and corrupt, which led the soul into an ignorance from which prayer was supposed to free it in order to raise it to true higher knowledge and thus to purity. Certainly not all were able to do this, rather only the truly spiritual people; for the common believer, faith and observation of the commandments of Christ sufficed.
[9] The Messalians were already from St. EPHREM THE SYRIAN displayed (Hymni contra Haereses 22, 4, ed, E. Beck, CSCO 169, 1957, 79) and later et al. by EPIPHANIUS VON SALAMIS (Panarion, also as Adversus haereses designated: PG 41, 156-1200; PG 42, 9-832) and AMPHILOCHIUS, Bishop of Iconium (Contra haereticos: G. Ficker, Amphilochiana 1, Leipzig 1906, pp. 21-77).
[10] See e.g. HL. JOHN OF THE CROSS, Ascent to Mount Carmel, II. Chap. 7, 11.
[11] In the Middle Ages there were extremist currents in the fringes of the church, which are described, not without irony, by one of the great contemplative Christians, the Flemish Jan van Ruysbroek. In mystical life he distinguishes three malforms (Die gheestelike Brulocht 228.12-230.17; 230.18-232.22; 232.23-236.6), he also adds a general criticism of these malforms (236.7- 237.29). Similar techniques were later used by St. Theresa recognized and rejected by Jesus, who astutely remarks that "the very effort to think of nothing leads the mind to think of many things," and if one leaves the mystery of Christ in Christian meditation aside, there is always a kind of "betrayal "Before (cf. ST. THERESA OF JESUS, Life 12.5 and 22.1-5)
[12] Pope John Paul II presented the example and teaching of St. Theresa of Jesus in mind, who in her day had to reject the temptation of certain methods that called for the humanity of Christ to be abandoned in favor of a vague plunge into the abyss of the divine. In his homily on November 1, 1982, he stated that Theresa's call from Jesus to a prayer fully focused on Christ “still applies today to some prayer practices that do not relate to the Gospel and tend to be of Christ to be foreseen in favor of a spiritual emptiness that has no meaning in Christianity. Every mode of prayer is valid if it is inspired by Christ and leads to Christ, the way, the truth and the life (cf. Joh 14.6) ". See. Homelia Abulae habita in honorem Sanctae Teresiae:AAS 75 (1983) 256-257.
[13] Cf. B. The cloud of ignorance, the spiritual work of an unknown 14th century English writer.
[14] The concept of "nirvana" is understood in the religious texts of Buddhism as a state of calm, which consists in the extinction of every concrete reality, insofar as it is transitory and therefore disappointing and causes pain.
[15] Meister Eckhart speaks of an immersion "into the white abyss of the godhead, which is a darkness in which the light of the Trinity has never shone". Compare the Sermon "Ave gratia plena" towards the end (J. Quint, German sermons and tracts, Hanser 1955, p. 261).
[16] See Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, No. 19.1: “A special characteristic of human dignity lies in his vocation to communion with God. Man is called to dialogue with God from his origin: he only exists because he, created by God out of love, is always preserved out of love; and he does not live fully according to the truth if he does not freely acknowledge this love and submit to his Creator. "
[17] As St. Concerning the Eucharist, Thomas writes: “... proprius effectus huius sacramenti est conversio hominis in Christ, ut dicat cum Apostolo: Vivo ego, iam non ego; vivit vero in me Christ (Gal 2:20) " (In IV Sent., d. 12 q 2 a 1).
[18] Explanation Nostra aetate, No. 2.
[19] HL. IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA, Spiritual exercises, No. 23 and more.
[20] Cf. Col 3,5; Rom 6.11 ff; Gal 5,24.
[21] HL. AUGUSTINE, Enarrationes in Psalmos XLI, 8: PL 36, 469.
[22] HL. AUGUSTINE, Confessiones 3,6,11: PL 32,688; See also De vera Religione 39,72: PL 34,154.
[23] The positive Christian sense of "emptying oneself" from creatures shines through with Francis of Assisi as an example. Precisely because he has renounced creatures out of love for the Lord, St. Francis filled them all with his presence and radiant in their dignity as creatures of God, and he intoned the hidden melody of being in his Canticle of the Sun (cf.C. Esser, Opuscula sancti Patris Francisci Assisiensis, Ed. Ad Claras Aquas, Grottaferrata [Rome] 1978, pp. 83-86). In the same sense he writes in the “Letter to the Believers”: “But to him who endured so difficult things for us and did so much good and will do so in the future - every creature that lives in heaven, on earth, in the sea and in is in the depths, give praise, glory, honor, and benediction to God (Rev. 5:13) because he is our power and strength, he who is good alone (Lk 18:19), alone the Most High, alone omnipotent, admirable, glorious and alone holy, praiseworthy and praised through the infinite eternity of eternity. Amen "(cf. ibid., Opuscula..., n.124). St. Bonaventure notes that Francis heard the call of God in every creature and let his soul burst into a great hymn of recognition and praise (cf. Legenda S. Francisci, cap. 9, n. 1, in: Opera Omnia, ed. Quaracchi 1898, Vol. VIII, p. 530).
[24] Cf. B. HL. JUSTIN, Apologia I, 61, 12-13: PG 6, 420-421; KLEMENS OF ALEXANDRIA, Pedagogue I, 6.25-31: PG 8, 281-284; HL. BASIL OF CAESAREA, Homiliae diversae, 13,1: PG 31, 424-425; HL. GREGOR OF NAZIANZ, Orationes 40,3,1: PG 36, 361.
[25] Dogm. Const. Dei Verbum, No. 8.
[26] The Eucharist is stated in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium referred to as the "source and climax of the whole Christian life" (Lumen gentium, No. 11); in it "we really receive a share in the body of the Lord and are raised to fellowship with him ..." (Lumen gentium, No. 7).
[27] Cf. THERESA VON JESUS, Seelenburg IV, 1, 2.
[28] No prayer will strive for an overall view of God's revelation without special grace, as St. Gregory the Great she from St. Benedict describes, or that mystical upswing with which St. Francis of Assisi looked at God in all his creatures, or a similar comprehensive vision as that of St. Ignatius on the Cardoner River and which he says could have basically taken the place of Scripture for him. The St. The “dark night” described by John of the cross is part of his personal prayer charism: not every member of his order has to live it in the same way in order to attain that perfection of prayer to which he is called by God.
[29] The calling of the Christian to “mystical” experiences can include what St. Thomas referred to as the living experience of God through the gifts of the Spirit, as well as the inimitable forms (which one must therefore not strive for) of a communication of grace. See HL. THOMAS AQUINAS, Summa Theologiae, I ª-II ae, q. 68, loc. 1 c, also a. 5 ad 1.
[30] Cf. B. the old writers who speak of the prayer position of praying Christians: TERTULLIAN, De oratione XIV: PL 1, 1170; XVII: PL 1, 1174-1176; ORIGENES, De oratione XXXI, 2: PG 11, 550-553; on the meaning of this gesture see BARNABAS, Epistula XII, 2-4: PG 2,760-761; HL. JUSTIN, Dialogue 90,4-5: PG 6, 689-692; HL. HIPPOLYTE OF ROME, Commentarium in Dan. III, 24: GCS 1, 168, 8-17; ORIGENES , Homiliae in Ex. XI, 4: PG 12, 377-378. For the posture of the body, see a. ORIGENES, De oratione XXXI, 3: PG 11, 553-555.
[31] Cf. HL. IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA, Spiritual exercises, No. 76.
[32] Such as those of the hesychastic hermits. The outward and inward hesychia or rest is seen by them as a precondition for prayer; in its eastern form it is characterized by solitude and collection techniques.
[33] The exercise of the "Jesus prayer", which consists in repeating a formula densely enriched with biblical references, with invocation and request (e.g. "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me"), adapts to the natural rhythm of breathing. See HL. IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA, Spiritual exercises, No. 258.
[34] Cf. 1 Thess 5.17. See on the other hand 2 thes 3.8-12. From these and other texts the problem arises: How should one combine the obligation to constant prayer with the obligation to work? Cf. i.a. HL. AUGUSTINE, Epistula 130, 20: PL 33, 501-502 and HL. JOHANNES CASSIANUS, De institutis coenobiorum III, 1-3: SC 109, 92-93. Also read the Treatise on Prayer from AFRAHAT, the first father of the Syrian Church and especially the numbers 14-15 after the so-called Works of prayer are dedicated (see the edition by J. Parisot, Afraatis Sapientis Persae Demonstrationes, IV: PS 1, 170-174).
[35] Cf. HL. THERESA OF JESUS, Seelenburg VII, 4, 6.
[36] HL. AUGUSTINE, Enarrationes in Psalmos CXLII, 6: PL 37, 1849. S. a. HL. AUGUSTINE, Tract. in Joh. IV, 9: PL 35, 1410: "quando autem nec ad hoc dignum se dicit, vere plenus Spiritu Sancto erat, qui sic servus Dominum agnovit, et ex servo amicus fieri meruit".