Luther famously said that to be a real theologian takes oratio, meditatio, and tentatio. The first two are clear enough: prayer and meditation (on God’s Word). But tentatio is not so easily translated from the Latin. It can mean “trial, test, attack, temptation.” What does THAT have to do with spiritual formation?
John Kleinig, in his book Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today–a book that would make a great Christmas present for any serious Christian–explores this.
Luther proposed an evangelical pattern of spirituality as reception rather than self-promotion. This involves three things: prayer, meditation, and temptation. All three revolve around ongoing, faithful attention to God’s Word.
The order of the list is significant, for unlike that traditional pattern of devotion, the spiritual life begins and ends here on earth. These three terms describe the life of faith as a cycle that begins with prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit, concentrates on the reception of the Holy Spirit through meditation on God’s Word, and results in spiritual attack.
This, in turn, leads a person back to further prayer and intensified meditation. Luther, therefore, does not envisage the spiritual life as a process of self-development, but as a process of reception from a triune God. This process of reception turns proud, self-sufficient individuals into humble beggars before God.” (Page 16)
We’ll be talking more about such “attack” in subsequent posts. But do you know what he’s talking about? Some people see temptation as a sign of spiritual failure, but notice how Luther and Kleinig see it, if it drives us to deeper prayer and meditation, as part of the Christian life and of Christian growth.