Christian Spirituality in History and Today

The question of spirituality and relationship of a man and God should be topical today taking into consideration the present cultural and ethical situation in contemporary society. Nowadays mankind is lead by and inspired by material values, the main characteristic of our life and lifestyle is their being mercenary. The aims of people are very often reduced to achievement of a certain level of financial stability and to satisfaction of down-to-earth aspirations. The concept of harmony and happiness is distorted nowadays due to mercenary perception of life. However, New Testament says: “be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit”. Thus, the Holy Bible teaches humanity how to become harmonious with the world that surrounds us. In order to become an organic element of the Universe, a man should possess not only physical harmony, but spiritual unity with everything around him. Thus, spirituality is the quality necessary for healthy existence of a man and for the development of the whole mankind as well. The idea of Holt who says that “Christian spirituality is historical and global”. The analysis of the concept of Christian spirituality should be exercised with the help of historical perspective; that means that the comparative analysis of Christian spirituality in the course of history and the contemporary state of spirituality should be analyzed in order to draw useful lessons from history, which may be applied in the present situation.

First of all, it is necessary to define the notion “Christian spirituality”, which will be the basis of further study. Bradley P. Holt suggests a somewhat metaphorical explanation of the connection of spirituality as the thirst. It is not the physical thirst everyone has experienced many times in life; it is inner thirst for “the living water of God”, the thirst for love. The complexity of the notion of “Christian spirituality” may be shown by the idea of its being oxymoronic. However, the falsity of this idea may be explained by misapprehension of the ties between Christianity and spirituality as mutually exclusive. In fact, spirituality is the necessary part of any religion, it cannot be restricted to Christianity only but it does not mean that they are incompatible. On the contrary, spirituality is the engine of the development of any religion. Variety of possible interpretations of “spirituality” inspired by the understanding of “Spirit” by Christians, or Catholic determination of “spiritual theology” is the evidence of the complexity of the notion. However, let us be guided by the understanding of spirituality as suggested by Holt, as experience, relationship, and practice.

Spirituality, strange as it may seem, still, may be structured in order to understand its essence better. Holt defines four categories of spirituality: the relationship to God, to self, to people, and, finally, to creation. The relationship with God may be defined as emotional (prayers) and intellectual (the view of God as presented in doctrines). As we have already defined the spiritual relationship as the relationship of search for love and granting love, the spiritual relationship to oneself also means relationship built on the basis of love. This love to oneself is not synonymic to egoism or self-centeredness; it means the means the maintenance of the unity of body, soul, mind, and heart. As for the spiritual relations with other people, they may have different forms: they may be in the form of hospitality extended to those who need it, special attention to family and spiritual mentors are also emphasized by Holt. Finally, love from and to creation means that it should be extended over everything existing, the natural world, in particular.

If it is necessary to consider the history of Christian spirituality in its relation to the present situation, then it is necessary to start with the Holy Scriptures that present the embodiment of Christian spirituality, the basis of the its main principles, and the source of information. The importance of Jesus Christ as the grant of the formation of spirituality is evident. The Holy Bible presents Jesus as a human being; this is the most important assumption for Christians. It does not matter how wide the temporal, cultural, and ethnic gap between us is, the Bible presents the attitude towards Jesus that was characteristic of the time of its creation. This attitude presents great importance for us because it is the model of perception of the figure of Jesus Christ as the way to God. Christ as presented in the Bible is the unity of all aspects of spirituality because he manifests love for God, he is a human being himself, God is treated by him as the Father, and, finally, Christ’s self-sacrifice is the eloquent evidence of his love of humanity and creation.

The period of the beginning of global community is significant for the present understanding of spirituality due to the fact that it was the time when certain themes, which retain importance nowadays, appeared. These themes include “worship and sacraments, charisms, witness unto death, spiritual disciplines, monasticism, and mysticism”. Let us consider the example of “martyrs” in their relation to present spirituality. Nowadays this word is characterized by negative shades of meaning that is inspired by radical Muslims who are capable of murdering innocent people or organizing such atrocities as suicide-bombing in the name of their faith. However, the original interpretation of the notion “martyr” may be found in the early ages of Christianity. In the past, martyrs were people who followed the example of Jesus Christ and sacrificed their lives in the name of their faith. The examples of such martyrs as Ignatius of Antioch and Perpetua prove that martyrdom should be treated as the test of spirituality that is, by all means, relevant for contemporary Christian spirituality.

As for the European Era, which is also characterized by Holt in the book “Thirsty for God: A Brief History of Christian Spirituality”, one of the significant questions relating to spirituality as practice is also tackled by the author, it is the appearance of icons, part and parcel of religious practice that is observed nowadays as well. Icons began to appear after the time of Constantine, when the churches acquired stability of existence, large buildings, and considerable financial support. The period is important for the present study because icons are related to categories of spirituality: they serve as the medium of human communication with God, they allot supernatural power to physical objects, what is more, once and for all they claim that the nature of Jesus is human and prove the goodness of creation.

During the period of Reformation, one of the most significant figures was that of Martin Luther. His was remarkable for the changes of the doctrine he provided. However, one of the significant concepts that need mentioning is his key concept of vocation. “Vocation” should not be interpreted in the modern sense of this word, for Luther it encompassed the whole life, “it was God’s call to be a disciple of Jesus”. Vocation is the synonymous to spirituality, it means that we should fulfill our roles in family, establish healthy relationship with surrounding people, and it also concerns our professional duty. Thus, it is evident that the concept of Luther is topical nowadays as well.

On considering the history of Christian spirituality, it is possible to analyze the present situation. It is impossible to understand the nuance of contemporary spirituality if we do not take into account the historical peculiarity of the twenty-first century. It is commonly known that it is marked by such important events as two wars, Great Depression, genocide, etc. Humanity may be characterized by being disillusioned, and this is one of the sources of atheism. Taking into account this situation, it is possible to state that the study of history of spiritual tradition is one of the ways to restore spirituality in modern society. However, Holt offers reliable evidence of the development of spirituality in the twenty-first century. The examples illustrate personalities and movements that focus on particular category of spirituality, but sometimes several categories are employed by them.

Drawing a conclusion, it should be stated that the Christian spirituality is shown as multidimensional phenomenon. The historical analysis of its development creates the possibility of explanation of its essence. The formation and improvement of modern concept of spirituality is possible if its historical development is understood by humanity of the present. Historical study illustrates and proves the reliability of four concepts of spirituality: relationship to God, self, other people, and creation.

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