Yesterday was the anniversary of Paul Irénée Couturier’s death on March 24 1953. A French priest and tireless advocate of Christian unity, he was instrumental in the establishment of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
In 1933, he established a Triduum (three days of prayer) for Christian Unity at Lyon, which later became an Octave (eight days of prayer) in 1934, extending from the feast of the Chair of Saint Peter to the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. Deriving from an Octave for Church Unity which had been established by two Anglicans in 1908, Couturier specifically offered his Octave for the unity of any and all baptized into the Christian faith, including Orthodox, Anglican, and other Christian groups. It was in 1939 that its name was changed to the “Week of Universal Prayer”.
Working to establish closer ties between the various Christian faiths, he also maintained a massive correspondence with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, creating and distributing a number of tracts on prayer for unity as well, keeping all the time in close communication with the World Council of Churches.
He studied the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a fellow scientist, becoming strongly influenced by Teilhard de Chardin’s view of the unity of all humanity in Christ, regardless of their beliefs. He grew to believe that praying for the increased holiness of all peoples would inevitably lead to a greater understanding of God, leading to therefore to a greater understanding of Christ by all peoples of the world.
Thus, for Couturier, understanding – or knowledge – was the key to religious unity.
“Knowledge,” writes Helen Keller, “is love and light and vision.” Simply said, yet so noble is this ideal of knowledge she might have been thinking of Sophia herself when she wrote that sentence. Knowledge as love, light, and vision: is there a better way to state in so few words what true knowledge is? Following Helen Keller, we could say accordingly that wisdom is the light of knowledge empowered by vision, permeated through and through with love.
“Wisdom shines brightly and never fades; she is readily discerned by those who love her, and by those who seek her she is found.” (Wisdom 6:12)
“She is more beautiful than the sun, and every constellation. Compared with the light of day, she is found to excel, for day gives place to night, but against wisdom no evil can prevail.” (Wisdom 7:29-30)
“She spans the world in power from end to end, and gently orders all things. Wisdom I loved; I sought her out when I was young and longed to win her for my bride; I was in love with her beauty.” (Wisdom 8:1-2)
“The real community of man,” writes Allan Bloom, “is the community of those who seek the truth, of the potential knowers.” Regarding the community of those seeking truth together, the anonymous author of Meditations on the Tarot: a Journey into Christian Hermeticism has this to say (see my previous post of “A Spirit of Conversation”):
“.. “. . . It is through the fusion of opinions that truth lights up. Con-versation – the process of “together-versing” (flowing together) – is the very opposite of controversy, the process of “contra-versing” (flowing against). Conversation is the operation of the fusion of opinions; it is a work of synthesis. True conversation always has in principle the underlying statement in the Gospel: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). For all true conversation calls upon the transcendent Center, who is the way, the truth and the life.” (Letter XI Force, p. 276)
It is through the communication of opinions and the mutual valuing of them that a community of those who seek the truth may be born. If we understand opinion here to mean a belief not based on absolute certainty or positive knowledge but on what seems to be true, to be valid, or to be probable in one’s mind, in other words if we understand opinion to be that which arises as a judgment of our understanding, then we know how much Socrates is right to say that true knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing. How often can we say that our understanding of anything, including of our own direct experience, is totally comprehensive, leaving nothing out that might significantly alter our understanding of something or somebody? It is through the work of synthesis in conversation, just as the author of the Meditations on the Tarot suggests, i.e., in the operation of the fusion of opinions, that the truth can light up. It is then that opinion can become knowledge, real knowledge that becomes food for the soul.
“Ignorance is the curse of God,” declares Lord Say in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part II, “knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.” And when Henry David Thoreau tells us that true friendship can afford true knowledge, since it does not depend on darkness and ignorance, he is telling us more probably than even he knew. It is through true friendship that we arrive at true knowledge. There is actually no other way. “I have called you friends,” says Jesus Christ to his disciples (John 15:15b), “for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” We can consider the following words from Rudolf Steiner found in The Christian Mystery: 29 Lectures on Christianity, 1906-1908 (Anthroposophic Press, 1998):
Christ says, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:16). Everyone should say, “I am like a grape on the vine; Christ is my vine” (see John 15:5). Thus, Christ overcomes egoism in the organism of humankind. The Father-spirit, the spirit of our common origin, must enter into the individual I-beings. The I then works on the Father principle; then every I-being creates its own dwelling, yet all are united through the Christ principle. Christ said, “In my father’s house are many dwellings” (John 14:2). He was speaking of the I-dwellings that I-beings build for themselves. Christ, however, must prepare those “dwelling places”. But the Spirit who unites humanity must also come—that is, the Spirit of Truth.
Spiritual Science should help people to understand what human beings have in common; it should bring a higher wisdom—the Spirit of Truth. When it comes to great wisdom we must free ourselves of what we desire. Only those willing to study the Spirit of Truth entirely without personal wishes are mature enough to receive it. The highest wisdom unites people with no personal speculation.
The Spirit of Truth must shine out over human beings. Then, even though they are scattered in their various dwellings, the Spirit of Truth will unite them. In order to fit spirit into the house that the I builds for itself, the common Spirit of Truth must rule those I-beings. Christ promised his disciples the Spirit of Truth on Whitsunday. The disciples then spoke in many tongues, and all the various nations learned to understand one another. Regardless how great egoism may still become, every I-being who participates in the Spirit of Truth will have the spirit of community. Anyone who strives toward this goal must live in the spirit of John’s gospel. That is true spiritual science. Just as all plants incline to the Sun, just as they all grow toward it no matter what their location, so, too, all I-beings will turn to the Sun, to the spiritual light of truth.
The Spirit of Truth – which is to say the Holy Spirit, for, as Steiner points out, Christ promised His disciples the Spirit of Truth on Whitsunday. And we know that it was through Mary Sophia that the Spirit of Truth came to them, that the Spirit of Truth descended into Her Immaculate Heart and from that heart filled the hearts of the disciples, so that “there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them.” Thus from hearts to heads, from heads then to the understanding of each to the other in an event of full inclusion—an event of true friendship—a community was born. For those of us who recognize Mary Sophia’s role at Pentecost, how can we do other than look to her as the mediator of the Spirit of Truth? Without Sophia, what wisdom is there to carry truth? Without Mary, what Sophia is there to know on earth?
To paraphrase Steiner in a statement he made regarding anthroposophy as a path of knowledge, we can say that Mary Sophia guides the spiritual in human beings to the spiritual in the universe, visiting the soul as a need of the heart in the life of feeling. Whatever form spiritual knowledge takes in each human soul, such knowledge can be valid for the soul only to the extent that it meets this inner need. All those who discover in Divine Sophia what they themselves feel the need to discover can of themselves recognize in her divine being the Soul of the World, the Wisdom of Creation, the Holy Daughter of God.
It is through Mary Sophia, and it is through Her only, that the Spirit of Truth in its full purity can come into us and make us whole, just as it is through Mary Sophia – and through Her only – that the Christian community we call the Church can become one, holy, catholic (universal), and apostolic again, uniting all who recognize in Christ the true healer of Earth and humanity into one mystical body. It is through Mary Sophia – and through Her only – that the Church will come to include the believers of all religions worthy of the name, as a greater understanding of God leads accordingly to a greater understanding of Christ by these same believers.
Today is the Feast of the Annunciation. May it signify for us what it was for Mary when the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” For it is only through her heart, the Immaculate Heart she has set in place of our own heart, that we will be able to say, “Be it unto me according to thy word.” It is only through her Immaculate Heart that Christ will then be born within us, within what has become our own heart, that Divine Son who is our love of truth, a love of truth which is nothing less than the Holy Wisdom of God dwelling within.
Pax et Bonum,