“The science of love.” This is the expression St. Thérèse of Lisieux used when speaking about a much needed “science” for every human being. Indeed, this science is not “optional”. It is the only one we need on earth to learn from and to practise.

(see “Divini Amoris Scientia” by Pope John Paul II declaring St. Therese Doctor of the Church)

What is this science? Put succinctly the science of love tells me what to do in order to love God and be loved by Him. It looks easy, simple even, but it is not so.

To love, is to receive the Love God wants to give us. If He died on the Cross, it is because He loved you, He loved me, and the essence of “to love” means “to give himself” to you, to me.

What am I supposed to do in order to receive His love? This is the science all of us need to learn and practise.

Icon Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Doctor of the Church, Carmelite nuns of Lebanon

“Spiritual Theology” or “Mysticism” is the name for this Science. It tells us what we are supposed to do in order to receive the Love of God. It then informs us about what will happen, step by step, as we go along. It tells us that God wants us to be united with Him. Therefore, Union with God, with Jesus, is one of the main teachings of this Science. Furthermore, it explains to us how God will act, and about the stages of the transformation He wants to realise in us.

It is fascinating: this Science shows us the real Goal of life on earth (to reach Union with Jesus and to reach the fullness of Love (charity)); it shows us the stages, the steps to reach that point, and it gives us the means to reach it; and also it teaches us how to discern if we are on the right path.

Indeed, it is the most important science in life.

This science deserves the attention of researchers, students, teachers… consideration of the means to do so, because it is so fascinating, thrilling, and it gives you the meaning of life on earth: it offers you the experience of God.

To reiterate, what is Spiritual Theology, or Mysticism? It is a clearly delineated Science.

It is a Science.

To date, however, it is considered a branch of Theology – I speak of course only for the Catholic Church.  A minor branch, sadly, and quite weak and reduced today. It should be not only a Major Branch in Theology, but it has in itself enough capacity and resources to be considered an independent Faculty, equivalent to TheologyPsychologyPhilosophy… It can provide a complete First Cycle in University Studies.

What defines a Faculty, a new Faculty, is a new science. One can easily understand this by studying the (recent) history of Psychology. This Science, and its Faculty, did not exist before Freud’s efforts and discoveries and what succeeded them.

A science is defined by the object of its scrutiny and by the light under which one can see the object. Thus, in the case of Psychology the object that we study is the Soul. In the case of Spiritual Theology, the object is the Soul and the spirit (or heart). The light in each case is different. Spiritual Theology, or Mysticism is very close to Theology of course, because it relies on the supernatural light of Faith. But it goes much beyond the simple light of Faith. The more God gives His graces, the greater is the light that results.

Spiritual Theology is a Science. But for what purpose we must ask in the next question?

It helps us on our journey to reach God, to receive God himself and be united with Him.

This Science teaches us about the journey (and its stages) toward Union with God and the Fullness of Love. It shows us the means to use in order to grow and be transformed and reach the Goal (Union with God).

As we can guess, being a science, does not mean that it is within reach of just any person. It is a supernatural Science (it uses the super-natural Light of God), and accordingly is infinitely higher than mere Theology. It requires a deeper experience of God in order to be understood properly.

This science is about the experience of God. It has a theoretical aspect, certainly, a rational side, but only because the Loving Light of God falls into our brain. But without that loving light, it can become a real ordeal for the person who delves into it. Its very practical side can provide certain difficulties, in the sense that it explains what to do in order to grow, to take one more step toward Union with God.

Thus, Spiritual Theology necessarily also becomes the science of the Masters of spiritual life. Formators/Educators in Spiritual Life should consequently be Masters in Spiritual Life.

A Spiritual Master is the person who forms the spiritual life, who transmits it to another person, by teaching, by spiritual direction, by his prayers. The Master in spiritual life has in himself three characteristics, united and combined harmoniously within him: Experience of God, the Science of Spiritual Life (Spiritual Theology), and finally Discernment and capacity to transmit.

As we can see, Spiritual Theology is the most important Science, the most useful one.

For me, “The Good Samaritan” symbolises “Spiritual Theology,” as it takes great care of the human being, taking him from a “half dead” state to participation in Divine Life

There is a great thirst today to learn about the ways of reaching God, to enter into contact with Him. This is why there is a very real necessity to revive Spiritual Theology, to change its situation from being the poor relative to the very robust one and Leader of the other Sciences.

See this Article: Teaching How to Contemplate

Teaching with “Greater Precision”

If one is to teach effectively, like preparing a good meal for someone, it should best be done with “greater precision,” or if you prefer “more accurately”.

The following passage aptly illustrates this point:

“A Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, an eloquent speaker, arrived in Ephesus. He was an authority on the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord and, with ardent spirit, spoke and taught accurately about Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way (of God) more accurately.” (Acts 18)

Apollos knew only the baptism of John which did not include the action of the Holy Spirit. Not very accurate indeed. Without the Holy Spirit, there is no possibility of reaching God!

The “Way of the Lord” mentioned is also noteworthy. Jesus is a Way, there is a Way, a Journey… this is what “Spiritual Theology” is about: teaching the way, i.e. the goal, the steps, the means, the discernment that help us reach the goal and not deviate or slow down.

It is then very important not to be amateurish when dealing with “Spiritual Theology”. It is a science that requires precision. One cannot explain how to pray with a vague presentation. Precision, accuracy… is of the very substance of Spiritual Theology.

Not only eternal salvation depends on it, but our life on earth as well depends on it – remember, it is about eating, food, growth….

To sum up then, teaching “Spiritual life” is about preparing words to be said, given, offered as FOOD. Are they edible? Are they fatty? Healthy? Tasty? Well presented? Clear? Useful? Applicable? Can they be Incarnated in us? Can we digest them?

A Science

This science is not just a pure science. Or better said, it is the Science of the Master in Spiritual life.

In order to become a Master (an Elder Monk, or Starets, or simply a Spiritual Master) it is important to combine three things, or at least two of them (1 & 3):

1- Experience of God,

2- Science (Spiritual Theology) and

3- Discernment.

“A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Eccle 4:12)

The combination of these three qualities, makes the “Spiritual Master”. Then afterwards, if he/she is very good at the “Science”, then he can teach it. If you remove the “experience of God”, you will then resemble someone who teaches cooking without ever having tasted any dish. Ridiculous… but it happens. St. Teresa of Avila often says that the person who has the experience will understand what she writes much better.

This is why it is important to have the experience of God, to practise real prayer, real contact with God, according to the Living Tradition of the Church. If you don’t have the Fire, you can’t transmit it, you can’t show it, you can’t explain it. Your words will be empty. Right?

Starting the experience of God will certainly bring you two things:

– wanting to learn more and more about Spiritual Life (the science of it): by reading, by studying and by doing research

– wanting to be guided by a Spiritual Guide, or Master: this will bring discernment.

Seeking Spiritual Direction (you can call it as you like: “spiritual accompaniment”, “spiritual counselling”, …) is fundamental, because one needs a living discernment, or if you prefer, applied discernment. One thing is to study medicine, for example, and another is to go to the doctor.

We are not born with spiritual discernment. We can be very smart, we can be very practical, we can have very good common sense. They help, of course, without a doubt. But they are not “spiritual discernment”.  “Spiritual discernment” is something that takes time to be assimilated by us, and it has various steps within it – it grows in us, parallel to our spiritual growth. The needed discernment at the beginning of the spiritual journey, is not the same at all after a while – when one needs a different spiritual food. Who decides? Who notices the new need, if not the Spiritual Director?

Without seeking discipleship, if one dives into spiritual life, this is to be considered seriously risky. It is like entering in a dark room, and not being able to see the furniture in it. By contrast, the Spiritual Master (or the Spiritual Guide), sees better than us and can guide us and help us move in this huge dark room, and lead us to the following rooms. It is a huge gift from God to find good Spiritual Guides. One has to pray considerably for this Grace.

So,… back to what we were saying in the beginning: “Spiritual Theology” is a science, yes, but it is not a science that one learns just by his/her own efforts of the brain. Not at all. While having its rationality, it is about the Action of the Holy Spirit in us, and it requires experience and discernment when, under these conditions, it can flourish.

One can read Spiritual Theology books, study it, and obtain diplomas in it, all very fine, but with no experience and no discernment received through discipleship, he/she cannot excel in teaching “Spiritual Theology” – Life, Fire… will never be transmitted….

Hope that helps…

Pray for me…