Daily Meditations

Dwarfs on the Shoulders of Giants

And all that is present today. It is in us.

Granted, there is a certain amount of rubbish: the sins of the Church.

But above all else there is a crowd of wings fluttering in our hearts: the holiness of the Holy One, of God, and the holiness of Christians sanctified by mortification in their faith and their love.

We have the twenty centuries of the Church’s life in our blood.

We are its heirs.

Not only in the sense that we possess an inheritance to administer, but in the sense that we are like we are, because our ancestors were like they were. Our faith has the stamp of their faith. Our hope has the strength of their hope. Our love has the intensity of their love. Our freedom is tinged with the colour of their freedom, whatever it was like: more or less bright, more or less sombre, more or less filled with laughter. We ought to know them in order to know ourselves better. We ought, as they used to say in the Middle Ages, to climb on their shoulders so as to see further.

We are dwarfs: they are giants.

For this very reason we need their shoulders.

By living the Word, they have scanned the horizon of God’s plan for salvation. They can help us to see what they have seen.

Probably we shall see further than they did, thanks entirely to them. This is the miracle of the Christian tradition. By it we are re-united with the source, the Word, and we are nourished with the light and the witness of our predecessors.

Without the tradition we should be really and truly dwarfs. The tradition, if it is truly heard, gives rise to generations of believers whose spiritual stature is continually growing.

Scientists are studying why today children are usually taller than their parents. On the level of the Christian life that is not a problem. The parents feed their children with the struggles of their own faith.

We turn to the past, not to study archaeology, but to make progress. Not to waste time establishing how old the Church is, but to recapture the experiences of its youth.

We turn to the past, to the distant past, to the Church’s infancy, putting forward a plan for meditation, during the course of a year, on the writings of the Fathers.

But, when does the age of the Fathers of the Church begin and end?

The apostles and the first disciples had the privilege of personal contact with Christ. These hearers of the incarnate Word deserve precedence over the rest. It is they who kept and handed on the words of the Word.

The age of the apostles and the other privileged witnesses ends with the death of John the Evangelist at the close of the first century. Immediately after that begins the so-called patristic period.

Some of the Fathers remembered John or Peter personally. They are witnesses who have a personal share in the transmission of the apostles’ testimony. They did not see Jesus in the flesh. Yet they do not regret that fact – for two reasons.

The first is the consideration set out by Paul in the Second Letter to the Corinthians: it is of no importance to know Christ in the flesh. What matters is the certainty that, thanks to Christ and in Christ, we are new creatures, reconciled with the Father. What makes all the difference is the terrifying love of Christ which gives our hearts no rest.

The other reason is the evidence that the promise of the Lord is being fulfilled, the promise that the grace of the Spirit will be manifest to all peoples, that the Church born in Jerusalem will spread to all the nations.

~Adapted from Thomas Spidlik, Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary, Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World