The Tropology and Anagogy of Our Social Life

Continuing as promised where I left off last Ad Rem, I pick up here on the second half of the four senses of Scripture as they apply to our religious life together, and as they may be applied, mutatis mutandis, to any Catholic social organism.

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Tropological Sensethe realm of charity and the other virtues under her command, corresponding to oratio in monastic prayer: Leaping up to this plane, we enter the purgavite way and, God willing, from thence to the illuminative way. Here is where faith lives, where virtue is practiced, where merit takes place, and where we enter into a close relationship with Our Lord:

  • “For even as the body without the spirit is dead; so also faith without works is dead.” (Jas. 2:26)
  • “My mother and my brethren are they who hear the word of God, and do it. ” (Luke 8:21)
  • “For whosoever shall do the will of God, he is my brother, and my sister, and mother.” (Mark 3:35)

In allegory, we know truth, but in tropology, we do it, and this has social consequences within the Church, and within the smaller societies of individuals within the Church (families, orders, confraternities, etc.):

  • “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” (Jas. 1:22)
  • “But doing the truth in charity, we may in all things grow up in him who is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body, being compacted and fitly joined together, by what every joint supplieth, according to the operation in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body, unto the edifying of itself in charity.” (Eph. 4:15-16)

Another word for the good works that God wants is “fruitfulness”:

  • “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire.” (Matt. 7:19)
  • “Every branch in me, that beareth not fruit, he will take away: and every one that beareth fruit, he will purge it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” (John 15:2)
  • “But the fruit of the Spirit is, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. Against such there is no law. ” (Gal. 5:22-23)

The world sees in consecrated celibacy and virginity a “waste.” The same is true of the other counsels: so unnecessary, so fruitless. The fecundity of the Virgin Christ gives the lie to this. In eternity, the Son is so fruitful that He, with the Father, spirates the Holy Ghost. This eternal reality is reflected in His fruitfulness with His spouse, the Church, which came out of the open side of the “last Adam” (I Cor. 15:45) as Eve came out of the side of the first Adam (Gen. 2:21-22), and which He renders ever fruitful with new offspring. The same lie against consecrated chastity is dispelled by the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the most fruitful woman ever, indeed, the most fruitful human person ever. As the Church prays in the Collect for the Feast of the Circumcision: “O God, Who, by the fruitful virginity [virginitáte fecúnda] of the Blessed Mary, hast given unto mankind the rewards of everlasting life; grant, we beseech thee, that we may continually feel the might of her intercession, through whom we have worthily received the Author of our life, our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son….” By removing obstacles to the observance of the commandments, our consecrated, celibate chastity liberates us to serve God more closely by worship and good works (cf. I Cor. 7:32, 34). Noblesse oblige. If we fail to avail ourselves of this great gift and the opportunities it occasions, then we make a lie of the consecrated life by making it a fruitless waste. The Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matt. 25:1-12) teaches us that virginity and celibacy are not, in themselves, sanctity achieved; there were, after all, five wise and five foolish virgins. The difference is the oil of grace and virtue that the former possessed and the latter lacked.

This level is where the holy friendship of Mary’s Slaves in this vale of tears will be truly effected, for in this “sense,” we love each other with the love of supernatural charity. Saint Augustine says that virtue itself is the “order of love” (“virtus est ordo amoris”). One of the crucial aspects of divine charity is that it does precisely that: it orders our loves, in accordance with that sublime passage of the Canticle (2:4): “He brought me into the cellar of wine, he set in order charity in me,” which Saint Thomas uses in his explanation of the fact that there is, indeed, an order to the theological virtue of charity. I must practice all virtues in my comportment with my fellow Slaves, especially those which most immediately foster the blessings of community life:

  • “Put ye on therefore, as the elect of God, holy, and beloved, the bowels of mercy, benignity, humility, modesty, patience: Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if any have a complaint against another: even as the Lord hath forgiven you, so do you also. But above all these things have charity, which is the bond of perfection: And let the peace of Christ rejoice in your hearts, wherein also you are called in one body: and be ye thankful.” (Col. 3:12-15)
  • “[W]alk worthy of the vocation in which you are called, with all humility and mildness, with patience, supporting one another in charity. Careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:1-3)

I must be willing to suffer for the good of my brethren and friends in the community, after the sublime example of Our Lord Himself:

  • “Bear ye one another’s burdens; and so you shall fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2)
  • “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
  • “In this we have known the charity of God, because he hath laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (I John 3:16)

In tropology, Cicero’s complete definition of friendship, approved and “baptized” by Saint Augustine, must be lived: amicitia nihil aliud nisi omnium divinarum humanarumque rerum cum benevolentia et caritate consensio (“friendship is nothing other than agreement on all things divine and human with benevolence and love”). This friendship calls me both to will the good of my brethren, including their highest good with all that leads to it, and to love them enough to labor for that good. As a model of this benevolence and loving care, I can, mutatis mutandis, look to the models of familial and religious concord found in the Holy Family and the College of the Apostles, those first religious called and formed in person by Jesus Christ Himself.

Our conversation should be holy so that we edify and support each other in our noble vocation, and not drag each other down. We should ever grow in the spirit of counsel — even availing ourselves when beneficial of that constructive criticism we call “fraternal correction,” which is always to be administered with charity as its motive.

Our friendship must ever remain “in Jesus,” who is our first and best Friend. Jesus first called His Disciples “friends” in His discourse after the Last Supper, when He had given them Himself in Holy Communion — that most intimate act of theandric friendship that unites the members of the Mystical Body both to their Head and to each other. But in that same discourse, He tells them of friendship’s demands: “You are my friends, if you do the things that I command you” (John 15:14). May God’s will signified and His will of good pleasure safely keep us and advance us in the way of tropology. Without the best gifts and perfect gifts of the Father of Lights (cf. Jas. 1:17), we cannot safely traverse that way, therefore we must beseech it of of Him in His Spirit and through the only Mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ Our Lord, in whom and under whom His Immaculate Mother lovingly operates as Mediatrix of grace.

Anagogical Sensethe realm of eschatology, corresponding to contemplatio in monastic prayer: On earth, we abide in faith and charity, with the hope of achieving perfect, consummate anagogy in Patria — the beatific vision of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. In via, only an inchoate or imperfect anagogy can be achieved by contemplation (and, I add, by living the Beatitudes, which Saint Thomas calls “a kind of imperfect inchoation of future happiness in holy men, even in this life” — ST, Ia IIae, Q. 69, A 2). Those who have arrived at imperfect anagogy in this life are in the unitive way.

Each higher sense of the Quadriga sheds a brighter light on what comes beneath it. This has already been observed regarding the literal and allegorical senses. In tropology, the Gifts of the Holy Ghost, especially understanding, enlighten faith by a yet brighter light. In inchoate anagogy, where the Gifts operate at a higher level, the grace of contemplation illumines what is known and experienced in the senses beneath it. In God’s blessed eternity, in perfect anagogy, what was said by the Psalmist is fully accomplished in the saints: “in thy light we shall see light” (Ps. 35:10).

On this plane in its fullness (in Heavenly beatitude), the fecundity I spoke of earlier comes to perfect fruition as faith gives way to vision, hope to possession, with charity alone remaining in an everlasting ecstatic union with the Holy Trinity. Here, the purpose God planted in human nature is fulfilled. Here, wise virgin souls are closest to God, for they “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth” (Apoc. 14:4). Here, in fact, all of the blessed are “as the angels of God in heaven,” for “in the resurrection they shall neither marry nor be married” (Matt. 22:30). By living in celibate chastity during our earthly sojourn, religious silently “preach” to the faithful of the Church Militant concerning this aspect of the Church Triumphant. The Beatitudes being a foretaste of Heavenly happiness, living them, as well as enjoying true contemplation in via, is a mark of an authentic earthly anagogy. As our consecrated life is a sign of the future life, what a horrible tragedy it would be if this thing of which we are a sign is something that we do not partake of, either in this life or, especially, in the next.

As a part of our Christian friendship, we must desire both inchoate and consummate anagogy — each for self as well as for the others — encouraging in our brethren and friends that holy hunger and thirst for justice that Jesus promises to satiate. While contemplation and the living of the Beatitudes are the fruits of grace, mutual edification and support are of invaluable assistance to us, as it was in holy friendships among the saints.

As a concluding thought on anagogy, I note that in addition to the essential happiness of Heaven — the beatific vision — there are accidental joys in Heaven, one of which is “the fellowship of the saints.” Concerning these, Father Faber has written, “The least accidental joy is a world of beatitude in itself.” I hope and pray that I may enjoy the company of my fellow Slaves in Heaven, seeing them “shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43). Through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, may God grant us the grace that our friendship in via be of such a quality as to assist us in enjoying it anew in Patria.

This painting from the Dominican Nuns’ convent in Rome shows St. Dominic and Bl. Jordan with Bl. Diana, Bl. Cecilia, and a third nun traditionally called Bl. Amata. Photo by Father Lawrence Lew, O.P.  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0