Prologue 9

Prologue 9 July 16, 2014

This 1996 translation of the Rule of St. Benedict, by Brother Luke Dysinger, gets it right.

“Prologue 9”? What does that mean, pray tell?

It’s an allusion to the Rule of Saint Benedict, and — by a sort of happy coincidence — also to the Gospel of Saint John. Both the Rule and John are documents renowned for their prologue — and in both documents, verse 9 of the prologue is packed with meaning.

The Prologue to Saint Benedict’s Rule is itself a renowned spiritual document, a stirring cry to holiness and fervor for anyone who might seek to follow the way of Christ without compromise. But it is also a subtly mystical document, inviting Christians not only to a life of devotional fervor and penitential rectitude, but also — and perhaps, most importantly — to a transfigured life in which the seeker becomes, in the words of Saint Peter, a “partaker of the Divine Nature” (II Peter 1:4).

It is verse nine of the Prologue that tips Saint Benedict’s hand.

Here’s the original Latin:

Et apertis oculis nostris ad deificum lumen, attonitis auribus audiamus divina cotidie clamans quid nos admonet vox.

Not every translation of the Rule gets this right, but here’s probably the best literal translation…

Having opened our eyes to the deifying light, let us hear with awestruck ears what the divine voice exclaims, crying out daily to admonish us.

For Benedict, the contemplative life is not just about penance, or fasting, or self-renunciation, even though all these things are part of the life. But such austerities are always means to an end. The key to Life in Christ is that we will be transfigured into the very heart and mind of Christ. As Saint John says, “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (I John 3:2). We shall gaze into the Light of Christ, and we shall be transfigured by this light — which is why Saint Benedict calls it deificum lumen, or the “deifying light.”

This gaze, of which both Saint Benedict and Saint John speak, is beholding — the wordless gaze of contemplation. It is the prayer of the heart, the prayer of silence which takes us beyond all knowing, all language, all interpretation, all experience.

But “Prologue 9” could also point to the ninth verse of the prologue to the Gospel of Saint John. That wasn’t the original idea I had in mind when I first thought of calling this blog “Prologue 9,” but as soon as I looked it up, I realized that the Holy Spirit was having fun with me, for serendipity seemed to be all over this particular allusion. Here is John 1:9, first in Greek, and then in a contemporary English translation.

ην το φως το αληθινον ο φωτιζει παντα ανθρωπον ερχομενον εις τον κοσμον

And now, as rendered in Bibles like the NRSV and the NABRE:

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

The light which enlightens everyone. Notice: everyone. Not just the good people, not just the holy people or the righteous people or the baptized or the ones who vote and think like you do. The true light enlightens everyone. That, my friends, can only be the deifying light.

So both the “Prologue 9” of the Rule of Saint Benedict and the  “Prologue 9” of Saint John’s Gospel invite us to bask on the deifying, enlightening radiance of the love of God. Isn’t this the purpose behind our faith in Christ, broken and halting though it may be? However we express our faith, however we put it into action in the world, doesn’t it always boil down to this: our halting, imperfect efforts, aided by grace, to crawl toward this light? When we pray, we seek the deifying light. When we seek to rest in the vast silence beyond all words, we are seeking the light which is so dazzling bright that it seems utter darkness to us. After all, this is a mystical (hidden light). When we try to foster virtue and eliminate vice, we do it by the grace of the true light which enlightens everyone.

I make no claims to have any more knowledge or experience of the deificum lumen than anyone else. All I claim to be is one who hungers for that light, yearns for it, thirsts for it, and believes in it. Since you have read this far, I suspect you are like me: you hunger, thirst, and yearn for this light as well. We are like heliocentric plants, turning imperfectly but insistently toward the true, deifying, sanctifying, transfiguring light: the light which, after all, enlightens everyone, the light of the God who “makes his sun rise on the bad and the good” alike (Matthew 5:45). It is the light of Jesus Christ, whom Julian of Norwich called “our endless bliss.” Yes, that’s about right.

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