Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Lenten Series

Fr Steve Petrica, an old acquaintance from various Anglican discussion groups who recently swam the Tiber, has discovered a book by a 15th century Dutch Carthusian, Denys à Ryckel , entitled A Devout Exercise of the Purgative Way.

This is what he has to say about it:

It was published by the Parkminster Press in 1918 (although my copy is presumably a later reprint). It's a brief thing, only 34 small pages, and with Lent soon to be up on us I thought others might be interested not just in reading it, but taking on the exercise for themselves.

Fr Steve is going to transcribe it over the next week, and I shall post his daily offerings, beginning today with Denys' Prologue and his explanation of the "method" of the exercise, for those who may wish to make use of it during Lent.

Introduction by the Translator

Denys à Ryckel, better known as Denys the Carthusian, was born in the year 1402 at Ryckel, a village near St. Troud, in the Bishopric of Liège. In his twenty-first year he entered the Carthusian Order at Roermond in Holland, and there died in the year 1471 at the age of sixty-nine.

By scholastic writers he has been given the title of Doctor Ecstaticus (the Ecstatic Doctor), both from his frequently having been rapt in ecstasy, as well as from the depth and sublimity of his valuable writings on the contemplative life.

He is also, probably, the most prolific of ecclesiastical authors. His entire works, as recently re-edited, fill no less than forty-two stout quarto volumes, forming in themselves an almost complete ecclesiastical library.

The following Exercise of the Purgative Way is taken from the fortieth volume. It is printed in the hope that it may prove helpful, not only to those who have been lately turned to God's service, but also to devout souls who wish to nurture their spirit of compunction, so necessary to real progress in the spiritual life, for as the Imitation says: "Give thyself to compunction of heart and thou shalt find devotion."


"God hath made foolish the wisdom of this world," as saith the Apostle. For the world counteth as foolishness the wisdom of God. "Therefore", saith the Apostle, "whosoever would become wise let him become foolish, that he may be wise"; that is to say: whosoever would obtain wisdom from God, let him become foolish, as men count things; let him perform or embrace, do or suffer, what seemeth foolishness to the world. Hence St. Denys [the Areopagite] calleth Christian wisdom, mad or senseless, irrational or foolish: not indeed, that it is truly such; but that to men filled with this world's spirit, and not with the spirit of Christ, such seemeth it to be. And because it is above all natural reason and thought, as well. God's chosen ones, therefore, long to be disdained and to be scoffed at by the world, so to please God.

If then, thou desirest to become wise and pleasing to God, spurn the discretion of this world, nor desire to please it. No rational creature, not excepting the angels, can or could be saved, except by laying aside his own will, and by conforming it and subjecting it to the Divine Will. And the more truly shall he so do, so much the mightier grace shall he gain. Therefore, the more fully and completely, for God's love thou shalt forsake thyself, the more perfectly thou shalt subject thy will to the direction of another's, – apt for the matter – by so much shalt thou be dearer to God, and attain to loftier perfection. The proud are likened to hills, the humble to vales, and God's grace is like to rain. Now, just as rain doth not lodge nor gather on the mountain tops, but in the hollows: and the deeper the vales the greater the store of rain there: even so, the Holy Ghost with His grace, abideth not in the hearts of the proud, but of the humble; yea, in greater measure the lowlier those hearts. And because in sinning, man prefereth his self-will and fleeting good to the Divine unchangeable Will, the uncreated and supreme Good, which choice mounteth up to contempt of God; contrariwise, for such contempt, the sinner must first of all contemn himself with all his heart, and count himself worthy of all confusion and punishment. Again, since man, who should take no delight save in his Ceator, in sinning, delighteth in creatures inordinately and corruptly; so ought the sinner take to himself hearty sorrow for such delectation, and bear due punishment for his guilt.

The Method of the Exercise of the Purgative Way

Daily, morning and evening; or on rising and on going to rest, go aside into a retired and quiet place, and then turned to God in soul and body, say:

"Almighty and everlasting God, my creator, my saviour and Lord Jesus Christ, I am that sinner, of all the blackest, lowest and most detestable: wholly contemptible and wicked am I; who so oft and so deeply have dishonoured thy majesty. I have gone from the way of the commandments: thy goodness, holiness and love have I offended, turning away my face from Thee, my Lord. [Such and such] sins have I committed: I have sinned by omission in many things and oft: I have turned thine own gifts against Thee."

Then call to mind some of thy more grievous sins of which thy conscience doth accuse thee; over which too, as in deed over all in general, thou dost heartily sigh, fetching groans and striking thy breast in repentance; and (should God so give thee grace) shedding bitter tears as well.

Kneeling then, or lying prone with joined hands, or with arms outstretched in the form of a cross, pray God for full pardon of all thy sins, saying thus:

"Most merciful God, lovable all things, the goal of all holy desires and infintely sweet; out of the depths of thy bounty, thy love and thy kindness: by all Thou hast done and suffered for my salvation: at the intercession of the Blessed Mary ever virgin and the merits and prayers of all thy saints; grant thy pardon to me an unworthy great sinner. Fill me with the bounty of Thy grace, that for the future I may keep away from sin, and flee from what displeaseth Thee, nor ever again turn my thoughts away from Thee."

After this, in like manner think on the blessings, general and special, God hath conferred on thee, and say thus:

"Almighty and everlasting God, my Lord Jesus Christ, infinite and immeasurable are the benefits Thou hast conferred on me. Thou hast created me to Thine image and likeness. Not with the common herd of creation hast Thou placed me, but Thou hast endowed me with reason. Thou hast given me body and soul, mind and senses, and all the rest of nature's gifts. Thou hast not left me from childhood in the shadows of ignorance, but hast given me schooling and taught me, that I might be thy faithful servant. And when I fell into sin Thou didst pardon me, as Thou dost to this day, though many who have sinned less than I, have been lost eternally. Thou hast given me the spiritual goods of church-membership; and whatsoever good there may be in me and that I may have, I know to be thy gift. Moreover, for my sake Thou didst become man and didst dwell in this world in the deepest depths of poverty; Thou didst suffer persecution and wast tempted, didst suffer scorn: and with all patience, lowliness, obedience, meekness, and with the perfection of love and holiness. And at the end, Thou didst suffer a most cruel death for me. Thou wast weighed down and afflicted; Thou wast "sorrowful even unto death", didst sweat blood, wast taken prisoner, struck, spit upon, blindfolded and clad as a fool in a white garment and a purple cloak. They crowned The with thorns and struck with a reed. Thy blessed face was all bathed in blood: Thou wast torn with scourges and didst suffer contempt, derision and blasphemy. Thou wast condemned to an awful death and wast led forth to the place of execution with the cross on Thine own shoulders. Hands and feet they pierced with sharp nails and "reputed amongst the wicked" Thou didst hang between two thieves. They gave thee gall and vinegar to drink, pierced Thee with a lance and thus brought Thee to a bitter end. Yet more; Thou hast purchased for me the Kingdom of Heaven and promised it to me. And I, graceless and vile sinner that I am, have paid Thee back ingratitude for such favours, rendering evil for good and turning my back on Thee. Yea, so ungrateful and perverse am I become, that it were meet for the world and all that is in it to rise up against me, and wreak vengeance on me for my injuries to my Creator."

"But now, o my Lord Jesus Christ, by thy holy Incarnation, by thy most holy life amongst us, by the passion, thy cross, and thy blood; I beseech Thee, pardon me all my wrong-doing and ingratitude, and for the rest of my life make me daily to grow in devotion and gratitude towards Thee." Amen.

The foregoing belongeth to the purgative way, which must precede the illuminative and perfect ways. First of all then, the beginner should exercise himself for some months in this exercise of the purgative way.

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