Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The Friendship of Christ, Chapter 3: The Purgative Way

 Previous: Chapter 2, The Friendship of Christ (Interior)


Erin writes about The Purgative Way:

Benson's Purgative Way (to be followed by the Illuminative Way, next chapter) is written as if it were a linear progression, a path.  There is a bit of hedging with words like "usually" and the sort, leaving room for some unusual folks to experience purgation differently.  For example:  

And extremely often, the first sign... lies in a consciousness that there is beginning for her an experience which the world calls Disillusionment....This then is usually the first stage of Purgation:  she [the soul*] becomes disillusioned with human things, and finds that however Christian they may be, they are not, after all, Christ.


The next stage of Purgation lies in what may be called, in a sense, the Disillusionment with Divine things.  The earthly side has failed her, or rather has fallen off from the reality; now it begins to seem to her as if the Divine has failed her too.


There follows... a third stage before the Way of Purgation is wholly passed.  She now has to learn the last lesson of all, and become disillusioned with herself.

There isn't any hedging, however, in the placement of the Way of Purgation before the Way of Illumination in the structure of the book.  

I think perhaps that Benson is showing us that, while the precise journey along the Way of Purgation can vary---perhaps some of us skip over the "first" or "second" stages mentioned in the book, perhaps some of us have to go through a stage he hasn't mentioned, perhaps we take the stages out of order, perhaps we retrace our steps over and over again---no Illumination is possible without some Purgation that precedes it.

I think we'll know more about this when we have dived deeply into the next chapter.   But my thought is that we don't necessarily become entirely purged before we can begin to be illuminated at all; rather that every illumination must be preceded by a thorough purgation of whatever bit is standing in the way of the light. 


This chapter (The Purgative Way) was my introduction to The Friendship of Christ, and I read it I felt, far more than Erin, that Benson was describing to me my own life. There was a time, more than ten years ago, when I hit the Benson's first stage. I had poured myself into liturgical life, fighting for the beauty of the Mass in both rubric and music. I educated myself. I wrote. I pushed for a schola. This, I thought, was my crusade, because honest beautiful liturgy glorified God and aided worship. 

I won small battles. But the fight was uphill all the way, and perhaps doomed from the start. Sometimes we commuted down to the Latin Mass, but the community was insular and uncomfortable, and the liturgy mediocre in other ways. No parish within easy driving distance offered anything better. I felt trapped, week after week, slowly dying in a desert. For the first time in my life, I longed to skip Sunday Mass. Each week as I heard another incoherent Gloria or banal 80s hymn, I felt driven further from God. The Mass, as I experienced it, felt like anti-worship.

I didn't skip Mass, because of the strengthening force of the Sunday obligation. There was no big breakthrough. Slowly, week by week, as I endured the Mass for the sake of the Eucharist itself, I was weaned off of the crutch of idolizing aesthetics, and delivered from the urge to liturgy shop. Eventually we moved, and started attending the local parish, where the music was basic but not aggressively bad. 

Inappropriate music at Mass will always be a thorn in my side, but that dis-illusionment, I hope, has been wrought effectively in me. 


Human loves being cyclical, I expect that disillusionment occurs over and over again, with varying degrees of severity. I do think that Benson is correct, however, that there is an initial stage in which we begin to realize that we have made the Church, and God, in our image, and must begin the sometimes painful process of stripping away all that clouds God's image in us.

Next up: Chapter 4, The Illuminative Way.

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