Fr Macquarrie on the ‘practice of religion’

Below are excerpts from John Macquarrie’s book, Paths in Spirituality, chs 1 and 2. These ideas express a thoroughgoing Anglican and Catholic sensibility, which of course is not surprising given the he was a preeminent Anglican theologian of the 20th century.

In what I’ve quoted, Macquarrie discusses themes of practice, adoration, discipline, and ascetical theology. In doing so he is thinking similarly to Martin Thornton:

So I am claiming that man [even today] needs the practice of religion for the fulfillment of his humanity. As Teilhard de Chardin has expressed it, ‘The more man becomes man, the more will he become prey to a need, a need that is always more explicit, more subtle, and more magnificent, the need to adore’.[1] . . . If we in our time are to experience the need to adore, then adoration will need to be interpreted more subtly than on my model of homage paid to an absolute monarch, which is how many people do think of it, and they can scarcely do otherwise in view of so much of the traditional language. But ‘to adore’ (Latin: ad-orare) is ; to pray toward . . . ‘ It is to go out of oneself, to commune with a Reality larger, deeper, purer than one’s own being. Adoration is an enhancement of one’s being, though paradoxically this comes abut through going out of oneself.

. . . The word ‘discipline’ nowadays is usually associated with harsh methods of training enforced by punishment. But the word means simply ‘learning’. Normally, important changes do not take place suddenly in life. They take time, and the more fundamental they are, the longer time they take. The Christian life, with its demand for self-giving love and far continual growth in likeness to Christ, lays a fundamental and extremely difficult demand upon those who embark upon it. Saints who have spent a lifetime in learning, growing and developing, still bemoan their lack of proficiency in following the Christian way. . . .

. . . St Paul is one of the earliest and best guides in these matters, a true spiritual counselor. He himself underwent one of the most dramatic conversion experiences in all Christian history. But it seems that the first thing he did after his conversion was to retire for a time to the deserts of Arabia — he went on retreat, as we would say nowadays. He let three years pass before he went up to Jerusalem, and who can doubt that this time was spent in prayer and preparation for the tasks to which he believed himself called by God? [2]

In one of his letters [3] he compares himself to an athlete who has to run in a race. The athlete ‘exercises self-control in all things’, that is to say, he takes a course of training so that he will be able to run efficiently in the race. The Greek word for such training was askesis, and it is interesting to note that the same word could be used for a ‘mode of life’, for any kind of training does indeed pass over into a life style. And in the case of the word ‘discipline’, so the English word ‘ascetic’ has narrowed the meaning to one particular kind of life style, the one characterized by extreme renunciation and self-mortification. The broader meaning of the original survives in the expression ‘ascetical theology; for that branch of theology which deals with the Christian life and its development toward ‘mature manhood, to the measure of the stature and fulness of Christ’. [4]

[1] from Le Milieu Divin.
[2] Cf. Gal 1.15-17.
[3] I Cor 9.24-27.
[4] Eph 4.13.