The Seven Excellencies

Earlier this year I began to set aside a few hours one day a week to study/pray/journal through the Gospels using Fr. John Bartunek’s wonderful book The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer. I had purchased the book when researching the Lenten course on lectio divina that I taught in 2013 yet never quite got around to using it. Even this year I’ve struggled for consistency, but now that summer baseball is over and my weekends have opened up I’ve found that beginning at 7:30 in the cool morning air on our deck bears much fruit. It’s a nice weekly recharging of the batteries to which I have added two mugs of coffee, my journal, the Catena Aurea, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Companion to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This last, larger book contains all of the passages of Holy Scripture cited in the Catechism, as well as the conciliar texts, papal documents, writings of the Fathers and of the Saints. It allows one to go deeper.

But really, all you need is Fr. Bartunek’s book (which includes the full text of the Gospel text you’ll be considering) and your journal. And, of course, coffee.

[I do understand that some will still want to have their bible handy as there may be key passages you wish to highlight for later reference. I do this as well.]

I’m still in the first book of the Gospels. This week’s chapter was on Matthew 3:13-17, that is the Baptism of Jesus.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

So the subject is baptism, which brings other items into our realm of focus as well: the workings and conferral of the Holy Spirit, the significance and symbolism in water, Confirmation, the openings of Heaven and…the dove.

dove_flying

As you can imagine there is much to be gleaned from these five verses in Matthew. But I read something in St. Aquinas’s Catena Aurea that I wanted to share today. He quotes something on the dove and its role in this passage as it relates to the baptized. It was written by Rabanus Maurus, the Archbishop of Mayence in 847 A.D.

*****

Seven excellencies in the baptized are figured by the dove. The dove has her abode near the rivers, that when the hawk is seen, she may dive under water and escape; she chooses the better grains of corn; she feeds the young of other birds; she does not tear with her beak; she lacks a gall; she has her rest in the caverns of the rocks; for her song she has a plaint. Thus the saints dwell beside the streams of Divine Scripture, that they may escape the assaults of the Devil; they choose wholesome doctrine, and not heretical for their food; they nourish by teaching and example, men who have been the children of the Devil, i.e. the imitators; they do not pervert good doctrine by tearing it to pieces as the heretics do; they are without hate irreconcileable; they build their nest in the wounds of Christ’s death, which is to them a firm rock, that is their refuge and hope; as others delight in song, so do they in groaning for their sin. – p. 113 of the Catena Aurea, Vol. I by St. Thomas Aquinas, commentary on Matthew 3:13-17.

*****

To summarize:

Dove Baptized
*has her abode near the rivers, that when the hawk is seen, she may dive under water and escape *the saints dwell beside the streams of Divine Scripture, that they may escape the assaults of the Devil
*she chooses the better grains of corn *they choose wholesome doctrine, and not heretical for their food
*she feeds the young of other birds *they nourish by teaching and example, men who have been the children of the Devil, i.e. the imitators
*she does not tear with her beak *they do not pervert good doctrine by tearing it to pieces as the heretics do
*she lacks a gall (audacity or disrespect) *they are without hate irreconcilable
*she has her rest in the caverns of the rocks *they build their nest in the wounds of Christ’s death, which is to them a firm rock, that is their refuge and hope
*for her song she has a plaint (a lamentation) *as others delight in song, so do they in groaning for their sin

 

It’s 9th century language and terms to be sure, but in our muddled age of relativism and inoffensive politically correct speech I have to say I have a healthy appreciation for straight talk.

I’ll leave it to you to ruminate over these comparisons for yourselves and reach your own conclusions. I could (and probably should) write an entire series on these “seven excellencies” if time was available. It does bring to new light another dimension of the relationship between the Holy Spirit, its representation in the symbol and physical manifestation of the dove, and we who are baptized. I found it to be a fascinating and illuminating comparison.

Note: I do not say “we” as a form of triumphalism or to set myself and others above anyone. I say “we” to remind myself and those baptized of the higher calling to which we are to live. It is something far too often neglected and forgotten.

I heartily recommend that you pick up a copy of The Better Part if you are at all interested in learning more about praying the Scriptures while meditating on them. The other books I mentioned are not necessary at all but since I own them I’m putting them to good use in this manner.

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