thirsting into the fullness of Christ.
The concept of God filling the whole world while
being enthroned above the heavens is crucial to the Old Testament and to
Judaism. ‘“Can a man hide in secret
without my seeing him?” says the Lord.
“Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the Lord’ (Jer. 23:24). We remember also the striking images of
Wisdom reaching mightily from end to end and ordering all things well (Wis.
8:1); or the all-powerful Word leaping from heaven into the midst of the world,
filling it and touching heaven while standing on earth (ibid. 18: 15-16). These are not statements about the permeation
of the material world by the divine, but are concerned rather with the truth of
the omnipresence of the loving Creator in His universe. He is distinct and transcendent, yet He
dwells in His own creation, sustaining and governing it. The earth is full of his glory. If we fail to keep both ends of this cord in
our hands (that is, God’s transcendence and His immanence) we tend to an
impoverished spirituality. If, for
example, we over-emphasise His transcendence, we perceive the fullness of His
presence as residing in a faraway realm.
In fact, fullnesss would be a misnomer here; there is something rarified
and exclusive, and the human side of things would be second-best, must always
be renounced and held-down. But from our
basic knowledge of the Incarnation, we experience this as a distortion of the
truth. The Christ Child came to share
our many-sided human condition and was like us in all things except sin. He revealed to us, too, that the oneness of
Israel’s God is at the same time a living and fruitful Trinity of persons whose
fullness overflows in love on to the world.
If, on the other hand, we overstress God’s
immanence, there is the danger of hubris, of spiritual pride, of
over-fullness. Some mystics have come
perilously close to asserting the simple divinity of the human soul. In between these two extremes, there is, says
Von Hugel, ‘room for a middle position which puts God himself in the soul and
the soul into God in degree and with results varying according to the soul’s
good will and call’. This is more
familiarly called the mutual indwelling of God and the soul, which makes
interchange and therefore fullness possible.
It acknowledges the givenness of grace, yet concedes to man his real
affinity with God. Man may, can become
God’s friend. We may share in God’s
fullness despite the essential difference between them, due to man’s gracious
redepmtion by the Son.
The fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in
this Son, as St. Paul reminds us (Col. 2: 2-9).
Put another way, Christ possesses the fullness of divine being. We hear this so often that our astonishment
can become blunted. How can a man
contain the fullness of God? This is a
mystery and no amount of analysis can explain it adequately. One must simply affirm that God is not
somehow shrunk to the measure of human nature, but that human nature is taken
up, assumed by the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Jesus’ case is unique, for he is the
God-man. A creature can never become
God; we shall always remain creatures even in heaven, even when
divininsed. But man is capax Dei;
he receives to his capacity from the fullness of Jesus Christ, the Word made
Man receives this fullness through the paschal
events, the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. Although the crucifixion was, in reality, a
local shabby affair whose ignominy was the uppermost impression in the minds of
the bystanders, artists have often penetrated to the inner meaning of the
event. However one esteems - or
dis-esteems - some of the more dramatic representations of the scene on Calvary,
there is something accurate in wanting to depict Him crucified from pole to
pole. He fills heaven and earth while
nailed to the wood. He even goes under
the earth to shatter the iron bars of hell before ascending to the Father’s
side above the heavens.
Death, then, cannnot contain the fullness of
life in Jesus. He is so full that His
risen life spills over into His followers, the ecclesia, and hence into
the world, rather like the fragrance of the alabaster jar broken open by Mary
of Bethany. This life spilled out is the
Holy Spirit, the living water promised in John’s gospel, grace and truth, light
and love. It is nothing less than a
share in the divine nature, divine plenitude - divinae naturae consortes
- because in Christ we have received adoption as sons and the freedom of the
Father’s House. As has been well said,
God always gives more than He promises.
The event through which the Church celebrates
this overflowing of Christ’s risen and divine life is Pentecost. The liturgy of the Feast gives rein to images
of fullness and richness. Spiritus
Domini replevit orbem terrarum, the Spirit of the Lord has filled the whole
earth. More initimately, we pray: Veni,
Sancte Spiritus, reple tuorum corda fidelium, while in the Sequence we beg
Him to come with the fullness of the sevenfold gifts - the sacrum
septenarium. From the brimming
fullness of these sacred gifts will come peace and stillness to the believing
Such a sense of fullness is discerned in Mary,
in the pages of the Gospel. She is even
designated as the plena gratia, the one full of grace; and in the previous
image, taken up by the Office of Our Lady, her fullness issues in a mysterious,
fleeting fragrance that draws us after her: Trahe nos, Virgo immaculata,
post te curremus in odorem unguentorum tuorum. Hers is a unique fullness, because, by means
of it, God is conceived in the flesh, as if he flowed from her fullness, though
we are never to forget that her fullness is wholly derived from his. This is the heart of the mystery of the
incarnation; the Infinite is born of the finite, the Creator from the
creature. The liturgy never wearies of
proclaiming that he whom heaven and earth cannot contain is contained in the
narrow enclosure of the Virgin’s womb.
The Church likewise is filled with Christ’s
plenitude, since he grants her his own vital powers. The Fathers like to say that the Church comes
from the side of Christ on the Cross, as the rib was taken from Adam’s side
while he slept. She is, then, the Bride,
the Sponsa who, though distinct from her Head and Bridegroom, shares integrally
in all that he does and is. As St Paul
has it, the Church is “his Body, the fullness of the One who fills all in all”
(Eph 1:23). And there is the bold
statement in Colossians 1:24 that he—and therefore we—fill up what is lacking
in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of the Church. There is nothing defective in the fullness of
the Redemption, but it will be realised only through the great ingathering of
all who acknowledge Christ as Head and share in his Cross and
Resurrection. One may speak, then, of
the Church’s own fullness, her completion, though never separately from that of
The monastery has its own contribution to make
to the fullness of the Church. It shares
in Christ’s plenitude as a cell of the Church and as a recipient of His promise
to be with those who come together in His Name.
He is in our midst; He is literally under our roof in the Blessed
Sacrament. Fullness is here. Again our Baptism, our daily reception of His
Body and Blood, our pondering over His Word and our consecration to His praise,
all open us to the plenitude of His grace.
And by fraternal love in community, we likewise encounter Christ in our
sisters and are called, by giving and receiving, to share in each
For each individual is called to plenitude. This is both a promise and a challenge. It is a promise, since as already indicated
the origin of religion consists not so much in a perception of the infinite as
in the fact that man has the infinite within him. It is a challenge, since we have to bring it
to fruition in our lives. In doing so,
our own capacity for it increases. Thus
St. Gregory of Nyssa writes: “Sharing in the divine fullness is such that it
makes whoever achieves it ever greater, more illimitable, so as never to cease
growing. Because the spring of all
reality flows ceaselessly, the being of everyone who shares in it is increased
to grandeur, so that the capacity for receiving grows along with the abundance
of good gifts received”.
The challenge exists alongside the promise. We are to become hollowed out receptacles, so
that God may fill us with himself. Here
lies the task of clearing away obstacles in his path to our hearts. It was Kierkegaard who said: “When a man has
his mouth so full of food that he cannot eat, then the only way to feed him is
by taking something away.” There is,
then, a wrong kind of fullness and a right kind of emptiness. We have to starve ourselves of our egoism and
pettiness in order to be able to receive God, who cannot come into us if we are
full of ourselves. The right kind of
emptiness, however, does not always seem right.
It seems all wrong to be hungry, to feel unimportant and of shoddy virtue,
to be unable to put two good thoughts together in prayer. Consider that, far from being bad signs in
our spiritual lives, they might be the merciful working of God’s light shining
directly in our souls; that our sense of unimportance and unworthiness and
emptiness is, in fact, an essential permission given by us to God to enter us
in His way and to fill us with his own plenitude. In aridity, the senses are empty and clean;
the fullness of God is not felt but may be deeply experienced as an increasing
purity of love.
In dryness and emptiness
of the senses, the desire of the Spirit burns all the more strongly. As the psalmist declares: “O God, you are my God, for you I long. For you my body yearns; for you my soul
thirsts, as in a dry and parched land where no water is” (Psalm 62:1). The desirous soul, in the thought of Richard
of St Victor, no longer thirsts for God but into God. The pull of its desire draws it into the
infinite plenitude of Christ in God.
Only in heaven shall we pass utterly into that other glory which absorbs
all earthly desire and glory. But even here
and now we may and we must become that desirous heart that thirsts into
Christ’s fullness. become sitientes in plenitudinem Christi, literally
‘thirsting into the fullness of Christ’.
May we all grow in the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that
all may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19).
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