November 4, 2010

Elisabeth of the Trinity - Devotion in Prayer

The last couple posts have been short reflections on the spiritual vision of Elisabeth of the Trinity, a French Carmelite nun who lived from 1880 to 1906.  Her memorial is November 8.  This posting continues these reflections.

Almost twenty years ago, I was privileged to speak to the prior of the Carthusians in Vermont about Elisabeth of the Trinity.  Her educational background was modest, and yet her grasp of theology strikes many as profound.  Many contemplatives, especially Carthusians, are drawn to her writings.  I asked Father Prior why this should be the case.  He explained that many contemplatives, in the last five hundred years, struggled with devotion to the Divine Persons of the Trinity.  In fact, many who dedicated their life to prayer had been so taken with the One Divine Nature that the doctrine of the Trinity was sometimes not well maintained.  The result was that many contemplatives were not able to understand their prayer in specifically Christian terms.  Oftentimes, their understanding was more Platonic or Aristotelian than it was Catholic.  This means they were trying to understand their experience of prayer without a firm grounding in Revelation.  And what God has revealed to us in Christ Jesus is not simply intellectual insight.  Contemplative prayer was at risk for becoming a rationally abstract and philosophical enterprise.  This kind of contemplation would not suffice for maintaining the contemplative vocation in the long term.

Father Prior, a former student of Dietrich von Hildebrand, (For info on von Hildebrand, see http://www.hildebrandlegacy.org/main.cfm?r1=1.00&ID=1&level=1) went on to observe that after Pope Leo XIII's Divinum Illud Munus, in 1897,(http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Leo13/l13divin.htmrenewed attention was given to the Divine Persons as an object of theological reflection among academic theologians.  Many works were dedicated to trying to recover what this doctrine means for the Christian life, in particular as it is experienced through the Divine Indwelling.  Unfortunately, few of these works were found to be beneficial for contemplatives.  Most of this theology was done without reference to the experiential or experimental knowledge (mystical theology in the ancient sense).  So this research failed to resonate with contemplative experience.

Blessed Elisabeth, a carmelite from Dijon, attended to the Divine Persons in her own contemplation.  In particular, she composed a prayer call, O My God, Trinity whom I Adore (see http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints/ste46001.htm).  Because her writings are the fruit of deep contemplation, filled with love of God, packed with wonderful quotes from other proven spiritual writers, theologically balanced, and Scriptural - they found something in what she had to say that did more than any other works of formal theological reflection.  Father Prior maintained that for many contemplatives, she helped them recover a devotion to the Trinity that kept their contemplation profoundly Christian.

For a wonderful website about Blessed Elisabeth go to: http://elisabeth-dijon.org/v_en/english.html